alien & sedition.
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
  Right-Wing Think Tank Review - 2/28/07

American Enterprise Institute (Sourcewatch profile here)

Deja Vu: Repeating Past Mistakes with North Korea
By Nicholas Eberstadt and Christopher Griffin
Pub. 2/26/07; orig. pub. in the San Diego Union-Tribune 2/25/07.

The authors condemn the recent six-party agreement in Beijing, which will provide North Korea with fuel oil and other assistance, in return for the communist state's promise to begin dismantling its nuclear programs. This accord, says Eberstadt and Griffin, "was a strategic blunder masquerading as a diplomatic triumph."

According to the authors, this "capitulation in Beijing" represents a retreat from Washington's previous insistence on "complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization," and it is likely to create a wedge between the United States and its partners. While the Koreans consented to freezing their plutonium program at Yongbyon, they refused to discuss their highly enriched uranium (HEU) program - "the discovery of which sparked the current round of North Korean nuclear brinkmanship." Moreover, the agreement fails to address the nuclear weapons already manufactured by North Korea. Yet the Koreans may have conceded just enough to string the process along, so that "only the most blatant breach of faith is likely to rupture the six-party talks in the near term" - otherwise, "international pressure" will "keep the agreement alive." Thus any attempt by Washington to strengthen the terms of the accord will be met with resistance from Seoul and Beijing. Meanwhile, by failing to resolve the issue of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korean agents, the agreement may end up alienating America's most reliable ally in the region.
How can Washington recover from this self-inflicted setback? As a first step, when North Korea presents its list of nuclear programs in 60 days, the Bush administration must be prepared to reject any document that does not include a complete accounting of the HEU program... Only American pressure can keep the issue alive.

The United States might also make any move toward removing North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism contingent upon the satisfactory resolution of the abductee issue. [...]

Looking beyond the six-party framework, Washington should consider a policy that leverages U.S. strengths against North Korean weaknesses. As North Korea depends on international extortion to survive, the United States should follow Japan's lead and refuse to support the failed North Korean economy until Pyongyang delivers real progress on denuclearization and other issues. Cooperation with Tokyo to increase pressure against Pyongyang's proliferation and counterfeiting activities is a vital measure. And pushing Beijing to facilitate the flow of North Korean refugees though its border along the Yalu River would deliver both humanitarian and strategic dividends.
The pact has been criticized from both right and left, though a number of observers have noted that, given Washington's weak bargaining position, the agreement was the best that could have been expected. The larger problem, as this article explains, is that hardliners like Eberstadt and Griffin have weakened the American position by pushing an approach that has backfired repeatedly. Indeed, there might be no need for this "defeat without a war" - or for similar concessions that may have to be granted to Iran - had neoconservative ideologues not encouraged American policies that have only given "rogue states" incentive to withdraw from negotiations and build up nuclear arsenals as protection from American attack.

Table Talk
By Michael Rubin and Danielle Pletka
Pub. 2/21/07; orig. pub. in the Wall Street Journal, 2/21/07.

Rubin and Pletka are leading neoconservative hawks who have been pushing for confrontation with Iran for some time. Their article, written in anticipation of last week's deadline for Iran to suspend uranium enrichment, condemns those calling for dialogue with Tehran - arguing that Iran uses "engagement" as cover for advancing the interests of the hard-line clerical leadership. European negotiations with Iran, say the authors, failed to slow the pace of Tehran's investment in nuclear and conventional arms, nor its export of weapons to terrorist groups. No amount of effort to identify and strengthen "reformists" within Iran will change this basic fact, they say:
Western efforts to game the Iranian system, in short, misunderstand the nature of politics in the Islamic Republic. Politicians rise and fall, but the supreme leader’s authority remains supreme. Rhetoric notwithstanding, the president is more figurehead than commander. Factional differences add color to the Iranian scene, and there are nuances in economic and social policies. But politicians do not alter the regime’s ideological underpinnings.
The article seems clearly aimed as a rebuttal to those who have pointed out that Iran's hardliners stand to benefit from any American attack. On the contrary, say Rubin and Pletka, there is no substantive difference between Tehran's "reformists" and hardliners, and anyway, "dialogue and the attendant relaxation of U.N. sanctions will strengthen and validate the Ahmadinejad regime." The authors are eager to abandon engagement, and they argue that more dialogue will only get in the way of tougher sanctions:
Those eager to sit down with Tehran say that dialogue does not mean abandoning sanctions. This is hardly serious. Washington has already offered and delivered inducements to the regime--a clear path to World Trade Organization accession and spare aircraft parts--in exchange for behavior modification. In response, Tehran has offered no confidence-building measures. All that remains are direct talks, and even there, Washington has dropped the price from ending Iran’s nuclear program to a temporary suspension of enrichment.


To change course now would signal the impotence of international institutions and multilateral diplomacy. History shows that when the supreme leader believes Western resolve is faltering, Iran will be more defiant and dangerous. Now is not the time to talk. If Washington and Europe truly believe in the primacy of multilateralism and diplomacy, now is the time to ratchet up the pressure.
The authors do not explain why, as in North Korea, "ratcheting up the pressure" would not merely add to the incentive for Iran to develop nuclear weapons as quickly as possible. Nor do they acknowledge that the "inducements" Washington offered in June 2006 were not rejected out of hand, but because they ignored the security questions at the heart of the Iranian negotiating position. Essentially, Rubin and Pletka conflate the idea of engagement with the Bush administration's current incoherent Iran policy, then offer a false dichotomy between this and a strategy of "ratcheting up the pressure," clearly intended to push the United States and Iran closer to war.

The Heritage Foundation (Sourcewatch profile here)

Don't Count on the Security Council to Curb Iran's Nuclear Ambitions
By James Phillips
WebMemo No. 1370, pub. 2/26/07.

Phillips offers a look at what "ratcheting up the pressure" might mean:
The United States must push hard for stronger sanctions against Iran, not only at the Security Council but also directly with European and Japanese allies, who have considerable untapped leverage over Tehran. Relying solely on U.N. sanctions, which are likely to be diluted and delayed by Russia and China, will be to too little, too late. Unless the European Union and Japan agree to withhold foreign investment, strategic trade, and technology from Iran, there is little chance that Iran's nuclear ambitions will be stopped, short of war.
The article was written after it had become clear that Tehran had ignored the Security Council's February 21 deadline to suspend nuclear enrichment. Phillips argues that the new sanctions under consideration at the UN, while "long overdue," are "far from sufficient to convince Iran's radical Islamic regime to change its behavior." The primary problem, says Phillips, is that China and Russia are likely to use their veto power to limit the strength of any sanctions passed through the Security Council:
Washington cannot depend on the U.N. to take decisive action. Both Moscow and Beijing have a vested interest in protecting Tehran from sanctions that would disrupt their growing economic and military ties.
Thus, argues Phillips, the US should organize efforts to "exploit Iran's Achilles heel, its faltering economy." Specifically, American policy should target foreign investment, loans, and technology and trade deals - as well as imposing a travel ban on Iranian leaders. This would be coupled with "public diplomacy programs to explain to the Iranian people the growing costs of their leaders' stubborn refusal to abide by Iran's treaty commitments."

Gary Hufbauer and Jeffrey Schott have argued that sanctions are extremely unlikely to be effective as a tool for stopping Iranian nuclear development. To have any real impact, the sanctions would have to be as complete as those imposed upon Iraq during the 1990s. However, as in Iraq, this would largely have the effect of punishing the Iranian people rather than the regime, while "inflam[ing] Iranian nationalism" rather than undercutting the government. Moreover, the Iraqi sanctions came at a time of low oil prices, which lessened their pain for the rest of the world - by contrast, Iran would be positioned to retaliate against sanctions by driving up the price of oil to more than $100 per barrel - which would be politically unsustainable both in the United States and for any international cooperative effort, and which could plunge the world economy into recession.

If Hufbauer and Schott are correct, than an analysis like the one presented by Phillips, Rubin, and Pletka would place the United States in a very dangerous position - for these authors suggest that harsh sanctions are the only alternative to war. One might even argue that their papers could be seen as an exercise in self-fulfilling prophesy - by pursuing a strategy that shuns engagement in favor of stronger sanctions, the United States would be propelled down a path that would lead inevitably to war.

Joseph Cirincione and Andrew J. Grotto of the Center for American Progress have produced an in-depth report on American strategy options with regard to Iran. They analyze the shortcomings in various possible approaches - including the one advocated by neoconservative intellectuals - and argue for a strategy of "contain and engage" that could slow Iranian nuclear development in the short term, while opening up possibilities for comprehensive arrangements in the long term. It's worthwhile reading for those who take the Iranian problem seriously - but who believe that the neoconservatives are seriously wrong.

(All emphasis mine)

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