The American press and government make no effort to cover what Iranians actually think. Instead, they demonize them.
But Obama’s multilateral efforts which have secured a Treaty barring Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon are applauded by the world, and approved by much of Israeli intelligence (they are barred by Netanyahu from speaking out – see the second article below).
Further, the American Jewish newspaper Forward sent Larry Cohler-Esses, a reporter and assistant managing editor, who was admitted by Iran for a week. Cohler-Esses spoke to many ordinary people and to leaders. Among ordinary people, he learned that Jews are prosperous and can speak out fearlessly – walk around Teheran in yarmulkas – though second class citizens and discriminated against for government employment (but surprisingly, not for protesting about it). The government observes a sharp distinction between Iranian Jews and dislike for Zionism (the Israeli state). Among leaders, Cohler-Esses learned that support for a two state solution for the Palestinians is real, if the Palestinians agree to it (see the New York Times, third article below).
Listening to only one side, ignoring both the Iranian and American people, insisting ever more fiercely on war is, of course, the very approach – as Peter Beinart and Obama said; see “Obama’s Speech on the Iran Nuclear Treaty; why we should all support it” here – which got the US into committing aggression against Iraq in the first place, squandering American and more rampantly Iraqi lives, engendering endless war and now ISIL…
The same approach is likely to get the US, if the foolish warmongers in Congress have their way, into a new aggression in Iran. Against even his intelligence services, Netanyahu pursues this, because the US, as if following Richard Perle’s 1996 memo to “A Clean Break: a new strategy for securing the realm” written originally for Netanyahu but Perle became an “American” advisor to the Pentagon Review Board under Bush-Cheney, which seeks to banish negotiations and smash all of Israel’s main regional competitors, has already waged one crazy aggression in Iraq. After 12 years of failure, as Netanyahu/Adelson/Republicans and Schumer recommend, why not another in Iran?
That a foreign leader and an internal lobby – AIPAC, Sheldon Adelson – one distant from the opinions of ordinary American Jews who do not want war, overwhelmingly support the nuclear Treaty (2 to 1), and oppose bombing Iran (80% in polls last spring…), are trying to take advantage of oligarchy and make Congress push through invasion and “regime change” when an often “Imperial” President achieves successful multilateral negotiations for their stated objective – barring Iranian pursuit of a nuclear weapon – is hard to swallow. That neocon belligerents and torturers are again taken “very very seriously” in the commercial press – without comment on their record in Iraq and hiding Obama’s powerful arguments – see here – is bizarre.
And that all the Republicans – imperial authoritarian racists misnamed “conservatives” in the commercial press as opposed to serious conservatives like John Mearsheimer who are often wisely skeptical of aggression and conquest – rejected the Treaty before even reading it (the “anti-Obama, pro-Netanyahu toxic brew” as Ilene Cohen says below) is even more bizarre. Even Rand Paul wanting desperately to be Presidential nominee of the Republican party, has betrayed his decent foreign policy instincts, embraced Israeli domination of the Occupied Territories and denounced the Treaty)… The Republicans will shed hardwon American allies and a serious nuclear agreement, attack another country on the most threadbare and counterproductive pretexts, strengthen Iranian patriotism in support of the Islamic Republic and diminish the Green Revolution rather than have any serious checks on any Iranian nuclear pursuit and an opening with the Iranian people.
Against decency and, of course, the interests of ordinary Americans, the Republicans will tie the United States to the reactionary government in Israel, and to larger Middle East War, one with unpredictable consequences but in which Israel has a big supply of nuclear weapons and enormous fears…
The Republican and Democratic crusaders will not pursue what realists like Mearsheimer call off-shore balancing against IS. That is the policy of Empires that do not undercut themselves as the US has in the post-Cold War period (see John Mearsheimer, “Imperial by Design” and “America Unhinged,” The National Interest, 2011, 2014 here, here, here and here). Instead, these fantasists seek to rule by invasion. In fact, the Iranians are enemies of IS, Saudi Arabia and Israel and Turkey often, at minimum, tolerant of it. The latter hope to maneuver the US into trying to smash Iran/invade for “regime change” (not very likely). Just see how that policy worked out in Afghanistan and Iraq…
But growing ties to democracy and trade with the West would strengthen the forces from below in Iran that made the Green Revolution and could actually change “The Islamic Republic of Iran.”
Further, a wiser America (Obama is trying) would work with Iran to defeat IS, move away from its blatant embrace of Middle Eastern reaction, try to encourage a two state settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and work to diminish tensions between Iran and Israel.
In contrast, mad pursuit of hegemony by war – Netanyahu and his Republican and Democratic minions – undercuts these possibilities, and leads into increasingly dangerous and unpredictable territory.
Steve Walt, a sober commentator on these matters (viciously attacked for mentioning the Israel lobby but now given Netanyahu’s/the Republicans’ toxic attacks on Obama, the vehement lobby – AIPAC/Sheldon Adelson – glaringly act against the interests of most Americans, most Iranians – Iranian dissidents as Danny Postel underlines, support the Treaty – see here – and of course. most Israelis. Steve identifies below the “Magical thinking” of these imperial racists:
“Like FP (the journal Foreign Policy) contributor Jeffrey Lewis, by “magical thinking,” I mean analysis and prescriptions resting on unrealistic assumptions, unspecified causal relationships, inapt analogies, a dearth of supporting evidence, and wildly naïve optimism. People who do this are like the scientists in that old cartoon whose blackboard solution to a thorny problem consists of writing, “And here a miracle occurs.’”
His piece below was sent to me by Ilene Cohen who also wrote a telling introduction
“August 11, 2015
And what is that myth concerning the P5+1 agreement with Iran? As the Israelis, the Republicans, et al. like to put it: to get the better deal, “simply” reconvene the P5+1 and Iran and start from scratch, and, while you’re at it, move the goalpost—away from the single aim of preventing Iran from developing and making a nuclear weapon, which, after all, has ostensibly (but not really) been Netanyahu’s stated goal since he discovered more than a decade ago that banging the anti-Iran drum was the gift that keeps on giving. Instead, advance a new set of terms according to which the Iranians will give up the nuclear program to which they are entitled by treaty, agree to regime change, release our hostages, and become Israel’s new best friend. Surely they jest.
The weight of informed opinion from nuclear physicists and arm control people, as well as from diplomats and military people, in both the United States and Israel, supports the agreement. See, for example, the second article following: Netanyahu is trying to suppress expert opinion because it contradicts his political point of view. I see the expert outliers who oppose the agreement as analogous to the outlier “scientific” opinion denying climate change, a viewpoint of a tiny minority underwritten by the likes of the Koch brothers and Exxon Mobile. Note, too, that Gary Samore just resigned as the president of the advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran because he supports the agreement whereas the organization opposes it. He as been replaced as president of the group by Joe Lieberman: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/12/world/middleeast/head-of-group-opposing-iran-accord-quits-post-saying-he-backs-deal.html?_r=0. ‘Nuff said.
So what’s underlying the opposition to the deal and the myth of a better deal? On the part of the Republicans, it’s flat-out opposition to anything and everything Obama does. On the part of the Israelis, it’s a complex stew. Regarding Iran, Netanyahu fears a conventional counterweight from a large country that is not a failed state to Israel’s supremacy in the Middle East. Ostracizing Iran, with or without a nuclear weapons program, is his mother’s milk. And then there’s the fact that so long as he blathers about Iran, he doesn’t need to talk about Palestine. And Israelis lap up the fearmongering.
From imaginary weapons of mass destruction to fantastical currency unions, “magical thinking” in foreign policy leads to nothing but catastrophe. Let’s not do the same with Iran.
- By Stephen M. Walt
- August 10, 2015
Foreign policy is serious business, because getting it wrong has real consequences. When countries conduct foreign policy in a cavalier or incompetent way, real human beings lose their lives or end up much poorer than they would otherwise have been. In extreme cases, states that mismanage relations with the outside world end up completely isolated and maybe even conquered and occupied. This is rarely, if ever, a pleasant experience.
That’s why it is so surprising when allegedly “serious people” rely on various forms of Magical Thinking when they talk about foreign affairs. Like FP contributor Jeffrey Lewis, by “magical thinking,” I mean analysis and prescriptions resting on unrealistic assumptions, unspecified causal relationships, inapt analogies, a dearth of supporting evidence, and wildly naïve optimism. People who do this are like the scientists in that old cartoon whose blackboard solution to a thorny problem consists of writing, “And here a miracle occurs.”
What sort of “thinking” do I have in mind?
The most obvious example of magical thinking in contemporary policy discourse, of course, is the myth of a “better deal” with Iran. Despite abundant evidence to the contrary, opponents of the JCPOA keep insisting additional sanctions, more threats to use force, another round of Stuxnet, or if necessary, dropping a few bombs, would have convinced Iran to run up the white flag and give the United States everything it ever demanded for the past 15 years. The latest example of such dubious reasoning is the New York Times’s David Brooks, who thinks an agreement where Iran makes most of the concessions is a Vietnam-style defeat for the United States and imagines that tougher U.S. negotiators (or maybe war) would have produced a clear and decisive victory.
Never mind that while the United States ramped up sanctions, Iran went from zero centrifuges to 19,000. Never mind that there was no international support for harsher sanctions and that unilateral U.S. sanctions wouldn’t increase the pressure in any meaningful way. Never mind that attacking Iran with military force would not end its nuclear program and only increase Iran’s interest in having an actual weapon. Never mind that the deal blocks every path to a bomb for at least a decade. And never mind that the myth of a “better deal” ignores Diplomacy 101: To get any sort of lasting agreement, it has to provide something for all of the parties.
Instead of serious analysis, opponents of the Iran deal are just imagining that there was a secret spell, magic wand, or incantation that would have somehow produced a miraculously better result. Which is why they cannot in fact explain how their imaginary “better deal” could ever be obtained.
The United States is hardly the only country that has succumbed to magical thinking, of course. Europe’s leaders fell victim to it when they created the euro in the 1990s, blithely ignoring the many critics who pointed out that the conditions for a workable currency union did not exist. The euro’s advocates convinced themselves a common currency would magically turn Greeks into industrious Germans and Germans into free-spending Greeks and that eurozone members would meet their various obligations in an honest and forthright way. If by chance some country cheated or economic storm clouds gathered (as they did in 2008), these magicians assumed European countries would suddenly abandon deep-seated national feelings and quickly create the institutions needed to make the euro work. Presto! In short, they assumed the euro would magically succeed no matter what, and such reasoning continues today, in the assumption that continued austerity will magically put Greece back on its feet and enable it repay all its debts. That is one heck of a rabbit to pull out of a small and threadbare hat.
Fortunately, some of our adversaries seem equally prone to their own forms of magical thinking. Mao Zedong was a plentiful source during his years in power, and the Chinese people suffered mightily from idiocies like the Cultural Revolution and Great Leap Forward. Ditto Gorbachev’s belief that glasnost and perestroika could fix the accumulated problems of the former Soviet Union and somehow keep the whole ramshackle enterprise from imploding. U.S. leaders have succumbed to delusions of their own over the years (e.g., the “domino theory,” McCarthyism, etc.) but fortunately not on quite the same scale [Vietnam was a pretty big scale; and the Truman-McCarthy period, bad as anything in universities in China…].
Today, the leaders of the Islamic State appear to genuinely believe that their puritanical and intolerant perversion of Islam will capture a wide following throughout the Muslim world and that beheadings, rapes, and other forms of violence will make them broadly popular (as opposed to attracting mostly marginalized misfits). They also seem to think their weak, landlocked, and Sunni-based “caliphate” is going to expand like a prairie fire and eventually spread into Europe and beyond. Such beliefs will no doubt cause a certain amount of trouble in various places, but their long-term goals are a fantasy that will never come to pass.
How can you spot “magical thinking” when you hear it? Jon Stewart’s disquisition on bulls—t from his final show is a good start, and I fully endorse his advice that “when you smell something, say something.” Here’s a quick guide on how to hone the necessary olfactory instincts.
First, when a leader, policy analyst, or foreign-policy organization suggests you support a policy that has never been done before and says that it will be easy, your nostrils should start twitching. Policy innovation does occur, of course, and history doesn’t always repeat itself. Occasionally, a government tries something unprecedented, and it works out really, really well. Nonetheless, when somebody says they are going to do something challenging and achieve results that nobody has ever managed to accomplish before, you should read the fine print. Carefully.
Second, when somebody says they’ve got a great solution to a thorny problem but won’t tell you what that solution is, it’s either a sign that they have no plan at all or that they believe they have rare powers that will enable them to do what mere mortals cannot. When Donald Trump says he has a “foolproof” plan to defeat the Islamic State but won’t say what it is, it’s either just a boldfaced lie or evidence he thinks he is a magician who can come up with a plan that has somehow escaped the entire U.S. government, even though he knows next to nothing about national security policy, the Islamic State, or the Middle East more generally.
Third, magical thinking invariably depends on a whole bunch of optimistic assumptions.
To pull off a miracle, you need to assume that all will go exactly as planned, that opponents will react exactly as you expect, that unintended consequences will not occur, and that the ball will always take a home-team bounce.
To pull off a miracle, you need to assume that all will go exactly as planned, that opponents will react exactly as you expect, that unintended consequences will not occur, and that the ball will always take a home-team bounce. The corollary to this mode of reasoning is to assume the worst if the prescribed action is not taken. Policy magicians do this sleight of hand in order to convince you that taking their advice will produce a miraculous success, but rejecting it will lead to a terrible tragedy.Fourth, and following from the last point, a good miracle promises something wonderful for little or no cost. (“The invasion of Iraq will pay for itself!” “The troops will be home by Christmas!”) Advocates of U.S. military intervention routinely use this ploy, focusing solely on the supposed upsides and studiously ignoring the potential risks. Most of us have learned to discount anyone who promises us something for nothing, and that instinct is especially useful when it comes to foreign policy.
Finally, a lot of magical thinking assumes that the world is poised on a delicate knife’s edge and that small inputs will have far-reaching effects. In this view, a tiny reduction in the U.S. defense budget or overseas military presence will embolden enemies everywhere, dishearten all of our allies, and trigger a rapid cascade of setbacks and retreats, leaving the United States isolated and vulnerable (if not utterly defeated). But by a similar magical logic, very small increases in defense spending, or a single successful military campaign, will discomfit enemies far and wide, reassure allies in every corner of the world, restore credibility and revitalize deterrence, and guarantee generations of lasting peace. Or at least until the next challenge emerges, when another dose of magical thinking will be supplied.
People like a good fantasy, which is why Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Game of Thrones are so popular. In these works of fiction, magical powers and miraculous events are central. But there are no wands, rings, wizards, or dragons in the real world, just a complicated set of policy issues and many complex interactions between a wide array of self-interested actors, some of whom have real capabilities of their own. In the rough-and-tumble world of international politics, states achieve wealth, influence, and foreign-policy success by generations of hard work, careful analysis, smart decisions, and (if they are lucky) some amount of good fortune. To obtain these things, successful states create political institutions that can resolve conflicts, learn from past errors, and maintain a firm grasp on reality. Letting national decisions be shaped by unrealistic fantasies guarantees trouble, and even a country as powerful and secure as the United States pays a price when it allows magical thinking to shape national policy.
Photoillustration by FP
Netanyahu must stop silencing intel chiefs who find Iran deal acceptable
There are those in the Intelligence Corps whose views on the nuclear agreement are at odds with Netanyahu’s position; their opinions are being kept from the public.
The head of the Israel Defense Forces Intelligence Corps, Maj. Gen. Herzl Halevy, and the chief of his research division, Brig. Gen. Eli Ben-Meir, are lying low like carp who don’t relish a future on a plate as gefilte fish. They are hushing up the voices of those in the Intelligence Corps, whose opinions the populace whom they have sworn to serve – and not the prime minister – must hear.
Halevy and Ben-Meir’s predecessors, Aviv Kochavi and Itai Brun, dared make their assessments public, but Halevy and Ben-Meir don’t want to get tripped up, don’t want to be proven wrong, making fools of themselves publicly or riling Benjamin Netanyahu.
The eternal catch phrase – about how Israel will never be caught unprepared as it was in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and how IDF personnel will no longer blindly follow their higher-ups – has suddenly fallen by the wayside.
These people are falling into line toward the right. Eating with their mouths closed, in unison. Hiding any disturbing thoughts.
They are emptying of any substance the pretensions of the Agranat Commission that investigated the failings of the Yom Kippur War, which put most of the responsibility on the shoulders of the intelligence services, to be redeemed by the top brass – as if they and not the people at the command and policy levels have been given the authority to decide and act — and then they disseminate the assessments and warnings so that in addition to the IDF, the Mossad espionage agency and the Foreign Ministry will also speak out.
Since Egypt was the initial instigator of the 1973 war, the inclination has been to measure local intelligence successes and failures using an Egyptian yardstick. However, the problems with intelligence assessment actually related not only, and perhaps not even primarily, to the Israel-Egyptian or Israeli-Arab sphere. It was and still is a subject involving Israel, the Arabs and the world powers, and above all it is a subject that falls within the Israeli-American realm.
When people at the political level conceal crucial information about the Jerusalem-Washington axis from those in the IDF Intelligence Corps who make the assessments, or perhaps themselves constitute an assessment problem – the process gets disrupted.
The old situation still prevails: Entities tasked with making strategic assessment that were set up decades ago (the IDF General Staff planning division, the National Security Council) are weak and mute. Netanyahu is currently not only the direct overlord of the Mossad, but also, in the absence of anyone else being formally appointed to the post, the foreign minister who has imposed a director general and a chief of staff on that ministry.
The professional echelons at the Mossad and the Foreign Ministry, as at the Shin Bet security service – whose experts are supposed to evaluate the impact of the Israeli-American conflict on the effort to impel the Palestinians to take diplomatic or violent courses of action – are emitting groans. All of them, including the head of the IDF Intelligence Corps, may be subordinates, but they must not be untrue to themselves. The price to the country is too high for that.
Three sets of factors are involved here: the balance in favor of or against the world powers’ nuclear agreement with Iran; Israeli-American relations resulting from the ongoing Netanyahu-Obama confrontation; and the loss of intelligence assets — the daily bread of the Intelligence Corps — which Netanyahu is forgoing in his continuing effort to recruit Democrats in the Senate who may favor him over their president.
There are those in the Intelligence Corps, including those in the research division dealing with Iran, who have a very positive view of the nuclear agreement. Their views, at variance with the totally negative stance taken by Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, have bubbled up to the level of Halevy, Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and others, but there too they have been swallowed up as if they had never existed. Although this is not usually the case in the Intelligence Corps, as opposed to that regarding state secrets, these views are being concealed from the public. Where is the oversight department that is supposed to present contrarian views to the accepted wisdom?
The damage that has resulted to Israel and its ally, American Jewry, is there for all to see. But this is not the case when it comes to unprecedented openness with which raw intelligence materials gathered exclusively by the United States, whether from space or air or land or sea, is offered to Israel on the condition that it refrain from acting independently against the entire world.
Netanyahu is depriving Israel of this intelligence capacity. Even more serious, in the process, he and Ya’alon are transforming the Jewish state, as one senior U.S. military official told his Israeli intelligence colleague, from a friendly force into an enemy that requires intelligence monitoring of its own movements and decision making.
Netanyahu, who is afraid of the publication of intelligence assessments that contradict his own, wants to prevent the public and the U.S. Congress from seeing the cracks in the false facade of a unified Israeli front that opposes the agreement with Iran. Military officers who cooperate with this approach are in breach of their national duty.
Mr. Cohler-Esses’s reporting, coming as Congress prepares to vote on the nuclear agreement next month, presents a more nuanced view of Iran compared with the dark descriptions advanced by a number of Jewish-American advocacy groups that consider Iran a rogue enemy state.
Among some of Iran’s senior ayatollahs and prominent officials, he wrote, there is also dissent from the official line against Israel.
Iran’s government, he wrote, “makes a rigid distinction between hostility to ‘the Zionist entity’ and respect for followers of Judaism.”
Initially hoping to interview Mr. Rouhani when he visited the United Nations in September 2013, Mr. Cohler-Esses wrote that Iran’s United Nations mission advised him to seek a visa to visit Iran instead. He tried at least twice.