Why Secretary Gates Pre-Emptively Surrendered to Iran
posted at 1:47 pm on May 1, 2009 by CK MacLeod
The estimable Allah Pundit admits to being “stumped” about why Defense Secretary Gates, mistakenly promoted by some as a conservative ally rather than merely a competent functionary, would publically discount the possible effectiveness of the “military option” against Iran’s nuclear program:
Even if it’s a bluff and the Pentagon does think it can stop the program, what do we gain by telling Iran we can’t? It doesn’t give us any extra leverage during negotiations. And is he kidding about convincing them that nukes aren’t in their best interest? The risk of a Middle East arms race was long ago priced into their decision to go nuclear, as was the endless sanctions dance in the UN. Short of Obama threatening to actually give nuclear weapons to Saudi Arabia and Iraq to check the Iranian threat, what’s left to discuss except buying them off somehow? It’s all carrot, no stick.
Allah Pundit’s confusion is easy to understand – if you presume that the military option was still on the table in any meaningful sense. Eric Trager at CONTENTIONS appears to suffer under the same misapprehension – that Gates effectively “withdrew” a “key lynchpin” of US strategy, the credible threat of force, in exchange for nothing. What Trager and the divine one fail to consider is that Gates would have had to overcompensate – dramatically, even blood-curdlingly – to make anyone even begin to believe that the US might “mean business” after all in the Age of Obama.
That’s not to say that the US really doesn’t have any military options – in fact, to the extent Gates’ comments have been accurately reported, he was bald-faced lying. The US has extensive military options, including the option of leaving not one brick stacked on top of another from Khoy to Zahedan.
The salient point is that the Obama Administration sees no compelling reason to re-assert the obvious truth. A detailed, professional’s assessment of US (and Israeli) options vis-a-vis Iran – from “delay” through “reverse” to “end” – can be found at JE Dyer’s “Optimistic Conservative’s Blog” in a series of posts under the deceptively amusing “Hit ‘Em Hard” title. Her conclusion gets at what Gates was really saying, and why he or the administration he loyally serves (as in the past he has loyally served every other flavor of political master) has chosen to prevaricate:
The comprehensive attack option against Iran is, thus, feasible from an execution standpoint. I doubt I am far off in guessing that, for most people, it is nearly unthinkable, if not absolutely so, from a political one. This is the point on which everything turns – because critical thinking about all the options against Iran, each in its turn, leads inexorably to the need for something like the comprehensive attack option. It has been necessary up to now to look at each option in isolation, and assess its feasibility and probable effectiveness. But the inescapable truth is that each option is likely to provoke Iran into retaliation at some level. That retaliation could not be contained or countered, short of eliminating the means and will of Iran’s current leadership..
In brief, the US does not lack the military capacity. We lack the will to deal with the costs and consequences.
Gates apparently does not want to admit that fact, not least because it would be an inconvenient admission for an administration that, in keeping with years of bipartisan US foreign policy, has maintained that an Iranian nuke would be “unacceptable,” “intolerable,” a “game-changer.” Instead, by discounting the effectiveness of any military option, he achieves two objectives. He makes any face-saving agreement achieved diplomatically look like a victory snatched from the jaws of defeat, and, should Iran celebrate its N-Day ahead of some important round of US elections or other political test, he has helped prepare the political battlespace, allowing Obama to claim that there wasn’t really any other choice.
The observations of longtime Middle East observer Amir Taheri suggest that the first objective is primary. He describes how an epochal US policy failure can be made to look like a success:
The 5+1 talks expected to open later this month will focus on a formula to “walk the camel down the roof” — that is to say, find a face-saving way to give Obama his first diplomatic success while allowing the Islamic Republic to pursue its program.
The formula would include a provision under which Iran will make a solemn commitment not to develop nuclear weapons. This is not hard to do. The “Supreme Leader” Ali Khameini has already issued a fatwa, or religious edict, against nuclear arms. Iran analysts believe that, for the time being, the regime is interested in acquiring the wherewithal needed to make nuclear weapons without actually taking the final step towards manufacturing them.
Such an agreement would kill two huge ugly birds with one shiny pebble, turning the reality of an abject blow to US prestige into apparent validation for, rather than a fundamental challenge to, Obama’s speak softly and threaten to get a tad snippy foreign policy. Instead of arguing over “who lost the Middle East?” we would be asked to stand back in awe at the glory of “smart power.”
Whether sufficient numbers of voters are sufficiently mesmerized will likely depend on other factors. It may be ominous for the Democrats that belief among US voters that we’re “winning the war on terror” has plunged in two months from 62% to 42%. Time will tell whether dissatisfaction with the rest of Obama’s national security policy will also rise, and impact upon his approval ratings and political strength. In the absence of obvious losses, unmanageable setbacks, or spectacular attacks, he may skate indefinitely.
And, so, all eyes turn to Israel, amidst widely divergent estimates of Netanyahu’s thinking and intentions, of the Israeli public’s expectations, and of Israel’s true capacities and true long-term interests. US indications, as last week from the Vice President, that Israeli action would be “ill-advised” confirm what even-handedness means in the Obama Era: “You’re on your own.” If the US is otherwise even in the game beyond angling to minimize the appearance of damage under whatever scenario, whatever the front-line players choose to do, it’s a state secret not yet leaked.