The Iraq debate split the country into two partisan camps, but the Iran debate is much more complicated. It's opening up a rift between conservatives and the Bush administration. It's dividing Democrats into rival factions: those who can contemplate the eventual use of force against Iran and those who can't.
Every so often reading Brooks I'm reminded that the Russians hurling a tin can into space in October, 1957, split the country into two partisan camps: those who flew into a screaming panic at the sound of a discouraging word, and those who didn't. Unfortunately, then as now, the former frequently includes people with their hands on the national purse strings or New York Times columns.
It's amazing how, back when we lived with the real threat of Global Thermonuclear war, we did so. Not that we weren't given to panics, sabre-rattling, bad decisions (the atomic-powered bomber, anyone?) or outright bullshit for domestic consumption (phony "missile gaps" and "Soviet superiority in land-based missiles"), but we carried on as though our cherished Us vs. Them was so vital that the danger was an acceptable, if unfortunate, by-product of that weltanschauung. Now everytime somebody says something we don't like we pull the bedclothes over our heads.
By the way, in case I don't get around to mentioning it, this column is dishonest, and Brooks has fallen in love with the whole "conservatives vs. the administration" thing on the grounds that it distances him from the disaster in Iraq.
It's an anguished debate because all the options are terrible. But this will be the major foreign policy controversy of the 2008 presidential election, and you can already see four different schools emerging:Pre-emptors would work with Europe and the U.N. to step up pressure on Iran.
THE PRE-EMPTIONISTS John McCain and most American conservatives believe the situation reeks of Nazi Germany in 1933. An anti-Semitic demagogue is breaking treaties and threatening to wipe Israel off the map. The madman means what he says and can't be restrained by normal economic or diplomatic incentives....
Got that? This is not
Let's face a fact or two here, just for the novelty of it. Everybody in Washington knows John Murtha was right. We don't have the troops to invade Iran, or anybody else with something resembling an army, without a massive, multi-year rebuilding program. That would include a draft, and it would include some serious tax increases. When you've named me the "conservative" with the honesty and guts to stand up and say that--and get Murthaed for his trouble, ending the Presidential bid Brooks mentions for Democrats but not McCain--I'll listen.
Absent an invasion force our pre-emptive options are limited. We can try air strikes. We can let the Israelis try air strikes. If the Iranians were unaware of this before we invaded Iraq, they certainly know it now.
And let's review our Current Events, shall we, class? "Pre-emption" and "appealing to Europe and the U.N." are, if not mutually exclusive, certainly a complicated juggling act. As we saw with our phony U.N. consultation in February, 2003, the Pre-emption boys tend to have minimal patience.
THE SANCTIONISTS Democratic presidential contenders like Hillary Clinton and Evan Bayh have begun hitting the Bush administration from the right. But as Ivo Daalder of the Brookings Institution notes, this is not just campaign posturing. Centrist Democrats also believe Iranian nukes are unacceptable. Such nukes would set off a regional arms race. They would lead to Cuban missile crisis standoffs in the world's most unstable region. If Iran completes its program, that would completely delegitimize the international system.
The Sanctionists don't rule out a pre-emptive strike, but they don't emphasize it. Instead, they say the U.S. should be directly involved in negotiating with Iran...
Forgive me, but Ivo Daalder, frequently mentioned as a possible national security advisor, or even Secretary of State, in a DLC cabinet, is not a disinterested observer. That's not to say he isn't speaking the truth as he sees it, just that Brooks and I have very different notions of what constitutes a good wet dream.
A DLC President faces the same issues a Pre-emptor does, with or without emphasizing military action. You wanna keep throwing around military threats you're gonna have to rebuild the Army, pronto. The smoke and mirrors that are so effective domestically don't impress the international community quite so much. Not any more, they don't, thanks in no small part to the war-sanctioning votes of Hillary Clinton and Evan Bayh.
THE REFORMISTS Oddly, the Bush administration finds itself on the cautious, noninterventionist side. Bush officials have been walking away from broad economic sanctions and pre-emptive strikes (while not formally ruling them out). Blustery threats may sound good, they say, but when you are governing you have to consider the consequences; you have to hold the global coalition together; you have to make sure Iran isn't provoked into really dismantling Iraq.
In all my conversations with with senior administration officials, I have never heard them be so cautious about what they can know and tentative about what they can achieve....
Privately, some administration officials believe there is no way to prevent Iran from getting the bomb; we might as well try to make the regime as palatable as possible.
Leave us remember, anytime Mr. Brooks quotes his pals in the administration, his "Multiple Reality Syndrome" piece last month, where he told us how he'd often walk away from conversations with administration officials on Iraq "feeling my intelligence had been insulted," despite the fact that all he wrote about in that period was how honest and candid they were.
I'm not really interested in uplifting tales of the sudden lucidity experienced by habitual drunkards after they've lost everything. Tell it to Oprah. "Blustery threats sound good, but we have to govern?" When does that start?
THE SILENT FATALISTS Mainstream Democrats have been remarkably quiet on this issue. Their main conviction is that American-led military action would be disastrous. This shapes their definition of the problem. A nuclear Iran may no be so cataclysmic, they privately say. Why shouldn't Iran have as much right to the bomb as any other nation? The regime may be nasty, but it's containable with deterrence and engagement.
These liberals argue that if we weren't in Iraq, we'd have a lot more freedom to act against Iran, though you could also say the crisis would be worse if Saddam were still in power.
As always, Brooks' third-chair-trombone insights into Bartok's String Quartets are remarkably convincing, but they'd be even more so with, I dunno, some evidence. No lack of names in the first three, after acknowledging that Bush administration officials do not, in actuality, have names. None here. I'd like to know who's saying "Iran should have as much right to the bomb as everyone else does," thereby implying that they think a nuclear-armed globe would just be a minor irritant? I'm not surprised that these people would be talking to Brooks in private; private is where they ought to be talking to someone like Brooks who imagines the potential for military disaster shouldn't shape your thinking. My problem is that wherever it is they're holding these conversations seems to provide insufficeint nursing care and inadequate security.
Two things should be noted here, on the grounds that our earlier little excursion into fact was rather satisfying. One is the Cuban Missile Crisis Dilemma. A moment's reflection will tell us that Russian missiles in Cuba were a political dodge. They couldn't be used. Either the missiles in Cuba would have been fired first, which would have meant immediate retaliation against Cuba and the assumption that the Soviets were about to fire theirs, or the Soviets would have had to launch first, in which case we would have destroyed Cuba in a minute. An Iranian nuke program suffers from the same problem. They can launch against a much-better armed Israel, and say their prayers, or they can hand some off to the Global Terrorists, in which case they won't be destroyed until several seconds after one gets used. As with Cuba, nukes are a bargaining chip and they're a defensive move against vastly superior forces. As such they're a sound argument for the use of diplomacy, international co-operation, and a dedicated seach for peace in the Middle East. And as such, it's much better to confuse the issue in public if you're not really in favor of those things.
Second, I suppose it's just an unfortunate coincidence for Bobo, but on the same day his column comes out the Washington Post reports that our latest intelligence review puts the Iranians ten years away from getting a bomb, which brings us in line with British and Israeli estimates. The Post, not having Brooks' entrée into the upper reaches of anonymous Bush administration officials, seems to imagine this "contrast[s] with forceful public statements by the White House."