A new Washington report headlined by former US under secretary of state for
political affairs Thomas R. Pickering argues that America should end its
confrontation with Iran over Tehran’s nuclear weapons drive.
and his senior “Iran Project” colleagues want President Obama to altogether drop
sanctions and covert action against Iran. They assert that sanctions are only
“contributing to an increase in repression and corruption within Iran,” and alas
“may be sowing the seeds of long-term alienation between the Iranian people and
the United States.”
Pickering’s call for American capitulation to Iran is
now being echoed across the Washington wag world. Numerous think tanks are
seeding the American diplomatic and political discourse with similar messages,
and paving the way for a climbdown from Obama’s declared policy of preventing
(and not merely containing) Iran’s obtainment of a nuclear weapon.
week, the Center for a New American Security, a think tank closely affiliated
with the Obama administration, made it clear which way the Washington winds are
blowing. Its study, “The Challenges of Containing a Nuclear-Armed Iran,” was
primarily authored by former Obama administration deputy assistant secretary of
defense for the Middle East Prof. Colin H. Kahl. He outlines “a comprehensive
framework to manage and mitigate the consequences of a nuclear-armed Iran.” In
other words, stopping the Iranian nuclear effort is already a passé
Last month, an Atlantic Council task force (which Chuck Hagel
co-chaired until he was appointed secretary of defense), similarly released a
report that called for Washington to “lessen the chances for war through
reinvigorated diplomacy that offers Iran a realistic and face-saving way out of
the nuclear standoff.” That’s diplomatic- speak for a containment
To top it all off, the Defense Department allied Rand
Corporation concluded this week that a nuclear-armed Iran would not pose a
fundamental threat to the United States and its regional allies. In “Iran After
the Bomb: How Would a Nuclear-Armed Tehran Behave?” Rand’s experts assert that
the acquisition by Tehran of nuclear weapons would above all be intended to
deter an attack by hostile powers, presumably including Israel and the United
States, rather than for aggressive purposes. “An Iran with nukes will still be a
declining power,” they say. “Iran does not have territorial ambitions and does
not seek to invade, conquer, or occupy other nations.”
Similarly, Paul Pillar, a veteran CIA analyst who served as
the National intelligence officer for the Middle East and South Asia, has
published a lengthy essay in The Washington Monthly titled “We Can Live With a
Nuclear Iran: Fears of a Bomb in Tehran’s Hands Are Overhyped, and a War to
Prevent It Would Be a Disaster.”
And finally, the leading realist
theorist of the past century, Prof. Kenneth N. Waltz of Columbia University’s
Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies (who died last week), actually
argued in his last published article that Iran should get the bomb! It would
create “a more durable balance of military power in the Middle East,” he wrote
in the establishment journal Foreign Affairs.
You could see this coming.
Last November, ambassador Pickering showed up in Israel and asked to meet
associates (including me) at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.
Pickering wanted our understanding for a “nuanced” and “sophisticated” view of
Iran. Iran is emerging as a significant regional and global actor, he said, that
must be engaged.
What about the use of military force to crush the
Iranian nuclear bomb program? Well, Pickering was basically not prepared to
countenance the use of American military force against Iran under any
Military force should be the very last resort taken by the
US, Pickering told us, “and probably not at all.” The financial, strategic and
diplomatic costs of a military operation against Iran, he said, would be too
Pickering had nothing to say about the long-term strategic costs
to the West of not confronting Iran.
Needless to say, he got a cold
shower from his Israeli interlocutors. We understood what he was doing:
Preparing America for accommodation with a nuclear Iran.
to understand that Pickering, Pillar, Kahl and Waltz faithfully represent the
views of large segments of the academic, diplomatic and defense establishments
in Washington and New York, who don’t see Iran as an oversized threat to
America. They view Iran as a rational actor, and are seeking a “Nixonian
moment,” in which Washington would seek strategic accommodation with Tehran, as
it did with Beijing.
One of the only front-ranking Washington policy
wonks who has argued that Tehran’s nuclear program should be bombed is Prof.
Steven David of Johns Hopkins University (who is on the academic advisory board
of the Israeli Begin- Sadat Center). In a powerful essay in this month’s issue
of The American Interest, he argues that “Any non-casual examination of the
mullahs’ writings and sermonizing about Israel and Jews reveals unalloyed
anti-Semitism of a very familiar, protogenocidal type.... Even with all its
horrendous implications, a military solution is preferable to a nuclear-armed
Iran whose leaders are likely one day to find themselves with nothing to lose,
and everything to destroy.” Another is former Pentagon adviser Matthew Kroenig
who has written that a US strike on Iran “is the least bad option.”
the moment, and at least on record, the administration is sticking by its “dual
track approach of rigorous sanctions and serious negotiations.”
Secretary Chuck Hagel (who was once a member of the Iran Project and Atlantic
Council task forces) reassured The Washington Institute two weeks ago that
“President Obama has made clear that our policy is to prevent Iran from
obtaining a nuclear weapon, and he has taken no option off the table to ensure
But the softer signals and acquiescent music coming from
Washington are increasingly hard to miss. The grand climbdown from confronting
Iran seems inexorable.