Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Israel Matzav: What went wrong in Iran

What went wrong in Iran

This one gets it right.

Military action — whether it was bombing Iran’s nuclear sites or blockading the Hormuz Straits at one extreme, or providing arms and cover aid to the country’s many anti-regime groups at the other — has been treated as the last option, or the ultimate stick, instead of the U.S.’s first and most important diplomatic asset. Both Bush and Obama saw military action as an alternative to diplomacy, and vice versa. This is a severe miscalculation, one that has consistently hobbled American foreign policy from Vietnam to North Korea, and now Iraq.

The alternative is to see force and diplomacy as mutually supportive aspects of the same exercise of power in defense of our national interest. We have failed to do this in Iran for several reasons.

One is that we underestimate the fanatical tenacity of the Iranian regime, just as we tend to overestimate the desire of other countries around the world to cooperate with us and be our friends, or at least avoid our displeasure. We believe this even when our displeasure has no severe consequences, including military action.

The second is that we overestimate the damage done to our international standing by unilateral military action. It was the failure to remove Castro with the Bay of Pigs invasion that humiliated the Kennedy administration and tempted the Soviets to new foreign adventures, not the invasion itself. Likewise, it was the passive acquiescence to the fall of South Vietnam, not the bombing of the North or the Cambodian invasion, that crippled American foreign policy for almost a generation. And likewise it was the failure to defeat the counterinsurgency in Iraq, not Operation Iraqi Freedom, that almost sank our credibility as a force in the Middle East — that is, until the Petraeus surge reversed the tide.

Contrary to the currently fashionable analysis, diplomacy and “soft power” tactics (such as economic sanctions) don’t form a continuum with military force, but rather a circle. Neither has credibility without the other, and neither can be effective without the full weight of the other behind it.

I would add that the pacifist tendencies of the Obama administration mean that they cannot use military power as a deterrent. No one will believe them. That wasn't as true of previous administrations.

Read the whole thing.

Israel Matzav: What went wrong in Iran

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