Posts Tagged ‘Iran’
“I’d simply say that given the limited size and capability of the Iranian navy they would be far better off focusing on the challenges closer to home”
Over the weekend news broke that Libya’s former intelligence services had links to the CIA and MI6. This news shouldn’t shock anyone who acknowledges that after the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Libya agreed – through a process that included back-channel negotiations – to relinquish its nuclear weapons program. Reportedly, however, the relationship expanded after 2003, to include cooperation on counter-terrorism efforts. In this arrangement, Libya shared information on terrorist groups and took-in rendered suspected terrorists. Again, news that shouldn’t shock anyone.
However, criticism against the U.S. and NATO now centers on two things: 1) How immoral it was to collaborate with Qaddafi. And 2) How that collaboration may affect our role in the future government of Libya.
To the first point. Saying it was reprehensible to work with Qaddafi presumes that other options were more preferable. In reality, had the U.S. forgone collaboration it would have lost a strategic asset in Northern Africa and been worse off. Essentially, intelligence played the hand it was dealt.
To the second point. Rebel forces, unless oblivious, most likely had already suspected U.S. and NATO involvement with Qaddafi before the discovery of these documents. At worst, this could deepen suspicion of Western influence, but that does not deny they will still need Western support to survive. Lastly, it would have been significantly more difficult for Western intelligence to grapple with the rebellion in Libya, had it not already established a foothold in the country through Qaddafi. The reality did not present a choice between good and bad, but instead a chance to choose the less worse of two options.
Perhaps the most worrisome part of this story has been covered in the Christian Science Monitor. By relinquishing his nuclear weapons program, Qaddafi lost his most important security umbrella. This made it easy for NATO to turn on him and aid the rebels. Essentially, this has signaled to countries like Iran and North Korea that by giving up their nuclear weapons program they face greater risk of Western backed rebellion.
It’s been a slow news week for some. But in parts of the world it got interesting. Here’s a short roundup of some of the oddball news stories going on throughout the world. Feel free to fill me in on any stories I might have missed.
- Fidel Castro made two public appearances this week, his first in almost a year. On Monday, he appeared on Cuban TV to warn of possible Israeli attacks on Iran. He then confessed his admiration for Argentinian soccer.
- In Washington D.C., an Iranian scientist claims to have been tortured and kidnapped by the CIA while on pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. Said Iranian scientist then escapes to Pakistani embassy where he seeks permission to return to Iran. American officials deny accusations of torture and kidnapping; which are affirmed by said scientist in video he made while supposedly in captivity.
- Airport in Zhejiang Province, China closes after UFO blazes through night sky. Turns out UFO might actually just be a ballistic missile. No big deal.
- The front page absorbing spy saga finally comes to an end with completed “spy swap“. Hopefully, our newspapers will cover important news now, so we don’t have to get lame James Bond references and pictures of the red-headed femme fatale who infiltrated the secret world of the Manhattan party scene.
- Foreign Policy magazine examines the “sleaze factor” of five politicians from democratic countries to see if there is “an epidemic of corruption in the world’s democracies”.
- And perhaps this is the most uplifting news story: Female members of the Czech parliament posed for a provocative, yet classy calender to highlight the growing presence of women in Czech politics. Below my favorite.
Strategy is like magic. Both the magician and strategist use art and science to wow their audience by seemingly pulling off the implausible. It’s not the rabbit emerging from the hat that is magic, it’s the process making it happen that is magic. The same goes for strategy. So when President Obama makes “Disrupting, Dismantling, and Defeating Al-Qa’ida and its Violent Extremist Affiliates in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Around the World” a key component of this year’s National Security Strategy (NSS), he is missing the point. That is a goal, not a strategy.
Of course, it is intriguing that the U.S. would even feign interest in publishing its national security strategy for the entire world to see but that’s not the point. The point is no matter which document you read, whether the Quadrennial Defense Review, this year’s NSS, the NSPD (for G.W. Bush) or PPD (for Obama), there is hardly any coherent plan in any of these so-called “grand strategy” documents. All these documents get strategy wrong. They fail to recognize how strategy is more than just stating a goal; it is establishing preferences, prioritizing interests, and employing the available means in a coherent plan to achieve those interests.
Going back to the previous example, the NSS aims to “disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qa’ida … through a comprehensive strategy that denies them safe haven, strengthens front-line partners, secures our homeland, pursues justice through durable legal approaches, and counters a bankrupt agenda of extremism and murder with an agenda of hope and opportunity.” These statements are hyperbole more than strategy. The U.S. should strengthen partners and secure the homeland anyway, regardless of any al Qa’ida threat.
A better strategy against al Qa’ida would recognize that the organization has morphed into an ideological program that can be adopted by self-starters who want to carry out homegrown terrorism. America’s strategy has to distinguish between what it wants to do and what it can do against these types of organizations. Fighting a global amorphous threat requires infinite reach and infinite resources. Without these, the U.S. must prioritize and seek defenses where it knows it can protect. Extending itself in distant theaters only exposes America to greater security risk.
In addition to violent extremism, there are two other areas where the NSS falls woefully short: Iran and North Korea. Admittedly, these challenges are hard. But if the U.S. wants Iran to “live up to its international responsibilities” it must recognize that Iran has different perceptions of these responsibilities. As well, the U.S. must recognize that Iran has sufficient leverage over American policy in the region that it can avoid certain amounts of coercion. The U.S. should make a sober assessment of itself to see exactly what it can coerce Iran to do. Trying to alter Iran’s behavior beyond America’s capability to do so is really just wasting time. The same goes for North Korea and the developing problems on that peninsula. The U.S. is severely handicapped in what it can make North Korea do. The U.S. must reassess its position in that region as well.
Lastly, the national security strategy should include only those things which are absolutely imperative. Needlessly adding peripheral interests complicates planning. Thus, while interests such as countering nuclear proliferation, combating terrorism, and securing cyberspace are all a must. It is less true that growing America’s space capabilities, opening foreign markets to trade, or cutting carbon emissions are essential to national security. To be sure, these are all valuable goals but they do nothing but add complexity to the already difficult task. Likening it to magic, the objective of strategy is to draw in the audience with one hand while the other performs the important functions which make the trick work. By overloading America’s national security strategy it can ruin the trick.
Diminishing supplies of rare earth elements could thwart innovation in high tech industry.
Tuna is dangerously close to being “threatened with extinction.”
Iran’s military is strange, powerful. (also, Life Magazine has jumped the shark)
It’s the end of the semester here at The Fletcher School. With that comes finals. One of my finals was a policy options memo on how the U.S. could respond to the current Iranian nuclear issue. The memo is about 1,500 words, but I just wanted to share about 600 words that cover, what I think, are the 3 courses of action available to U.S. policy-makers. Here goes:
The Obama administration has essentially three viable courses of action in which to proceed: engagement, containment & deterrence, and rollback. These three options cannot be pursued simultaneously but exist along a continuum. These options can be augmented by supplementary inducements, both political and economic.
- Engagement has been “Plan A” for this administration. Whether in a multilateral framework or bilateral talks, negotiations with Iran have been shrouded with threats of punitive economic action. To compel Iran to put its nuclear program on the negotiating table will likely require harsher sanctions on the regime. However, it will be tremendously difficult to gain international support for what essentially would be a near-boycott of Iran.
- The downside to engaging Iran with the threat of economic sanctions is the policy’s risk of hardening disapproval against the U.S. in the region. Further, the success of this policy is inextricably linked to our ability to gain an international coalition to impose such sanctions.
- Connected to engagement is the “Plan B” option of what the U.S. could do to oppose an Iran with nuclear weapons. Here, U.S. policy would be one of containment and deterrence against the regime. This option becomes enacted whence the failure of engagement. To maximize the utility of containment and deterrence, the U.S. will need to form multinational strategic partnerships and explicitly convey these partnerships to Iran.
- Necessarily, the U.S. would have to extend its nuclear umbrella to allies, deterring Iran based on our second-strike capabilities. As with engagement, containment will require increased international cooperation to isolate Iran.
- The rollback option will emphasize less engagement, although engagement can be a tool to gauge Iranian intentions. Rollback will begin with increasingly stringent sanctions; then it will be followed by preventative strikes against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. The rollback policy will require significant calibration to signal our resolve against Iran. Necessarily, regime change will be seen as an escalation of this policy. By gradually escalating the use of force, the U.S. could dissuade Iran sufficiently to cease its nuclear activities.
- The risks posed by this option are great. The American image abroad will suffer should another attempt at regime change occur. Additionally, there is the risk that escalation could draw the U.S. into a larger war with Iran. Further, it will be difficult to predict the behavior of an Iran that has been directly attacked by the U.S.
- Supplementary inducements include the repeal of current sanctions against Iran. Additionally, political concessions to Iran will have to be made. The U.S. will most likely have to back Iran’s ascent to greater regional leadership.
- As an supplement, inducements are most likely to succeed with the rollback option. However, this combination still holds the most risks to American interests. Inducements coupled with engagement could produce positive results, but the “Plan B” containment and deterrence option must remain as a safety mechanism.
Recommendation: Engagement coupled with political and economic inducements should be this administration’s priority. However, this policy should be prefaced with explicit statements that any and all available means will be employed to contain and deter Iran if engagement does not work. Although this strategy may strengthen Ahmadinejad’s hold on power, it offers the best chance of de-nuclearizing the country without having to resort to force.
Last week, the Etemad-e-Mobin consortium purchased a 50 percent plus one share of the Telecommunications Company of Iran (TCI). Etemad-e-Mobin is composed of three companies, two of which are reportedly owned by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
This telecoms purchase adds to the already robust economic and social power of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. Seemingly, the purchase also increases the government’s power to control future twitter revolutions.