August 27, 2005

Don't Overplay Your Hand

I was reading a piece about invading Iran on Chicago Boyz, basically a hypothetical or a thought experiment more than a real examination. It was intended to focus on the argument that attacking Iraq made us less able to attack Iran, and I found this part thought-provoking:
    Now, assuming that we decide to use force to deal with Iran, would we be in a better or worse position if we hadn't dealt with Iraq? Without a large body of troops already in Iraq, how exactly would we invade Iran? Over the mountains of Afghanistan? From Kuwait? Let's not be silly. Not only that, if you don't think we can invade Iran with an active insurgency in Iraq, how'd you like to try an invasion and occupation of Iran with Saddam Hussein in power next door? Maybe invade both at once? (Actually, that wouldn't have been a bad idea two years ago... better to be hung for a sheep, as they say. What're people going to do, accuse us of imperialism?).
It seems to me that by calling the Bush Administration fascist, imperialist and murderous, the hand has been WAY overplayed. If the Administration were to do something ACTUALLY fascist then the legitimate complaints could get lumped with the bad ones. It weakens the arguments.

Just like taking pills builds up a tolerance and a partial immunity, overplaying a political hand continuously for five years weakens your arguments and the influence they have over the audience.

Now, of course it actually doesn't make sense that attacking Iraq made us weaker in dealing with iran. If anything, the Libya effect acts to persuade the Iranians to stop fucking around and get on board, while the military board is FAR more favorable with access through the Iraq-Iran border, as well as the less accessible Afghanistan-Iran border. In a way, the Western powers overplayed their hand on nuclear proliferation by talking about it for years and years but not backing it up when it counts. The US action against Iraq, not just bombing but an actual invasion, definitely restores credibility behind a US threat.

Remember, Iran, Saddam was convinced up until mid-March, 2003 that France, Russia and Germany would stop the US invasion of his country. Don't think that the US would be scared to blow up some reactors if in two, five or ten years you're still non-compliant and threatening the world (Israel did it to the Iraqi Osirak reactor in the 1980s). Of course, here's hoping that diplomacy will pull out some really victories here.

Still, better a definitive military solution that fixes the problem than a feel-good diplomatic situation that only facilitates proliferation (exactly what happened in the 1994 Agreed Framework deal with North Korea).

The real reason some people think Iraq puts us in a worse position to attack Iran is that they see things in terms of victimhood. The US attacking Irq is a non-victim thing to do, so we're not in a good place to do more non-victim things. Cindy Sheehan, however, lost her son and that allows Maureen Dowd to bestow upon Sheehan the power of "absolute moral authority" for her victimhood. Certain people don't see it in terms of effectiveness or of overreach, but in Kindergarten terms of reference like meanies, bullies and so forth.

This sort of perspective would say that our victimhood gained by 9/11 was spent on the Taliban, overdrawn by Iraq, and that iran is just too far from our reach. It's not based in military strategy, since if anything we'd have more trouble holding down the no-fly zones over Saddam and invading Iran from Afghanistan, and it's not based on effectiveness, since even a horrible, violent quagmire in iran would still allow us to bomb their nuclear facilities. I really don't want to go to war with the Iranians, because I have many hopes for reform and a little hope for diplomacy. However, let's not assume that Iraq made us worse off in dealing with these guys.

Iraq gave us teeth to add to our threats, and it shows that even against a brutal insurgency and a chorus of negativity from allied countries we can make good on our threats. Libya's learned its lessons, and it's not going to help Iran's position to have a US ally on their border. Now what we need to do is hold up the carrot to balance the stick: dropping the sanctions and engaging in normal relations if they drop all the nuclear work and join the NPT.

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