Iran and the “Or Else” Doctrine

By this point, it has become blatantly obvious to me that the Bush Doctrine is specifically designed to eliminate all options with unfriendly nations short of total capitulation or war. I have taken to referring to it as the “Or Else” Doctrine, because the gist is, “Do what we say or else.” It’s usually tough to break foreign policy doctrines down this simply, but there you have it.

One only has to peruse the pages of the Weekly Standard to see how truly out of control the neoconservatives have gotten. Columnists like Jonah Goldberg have been calling George Bush an appeaser, Neville Chamberlain, and various other unkind epithets for refusing to attack Iran posthaste for the better part of two years.

Now this may seem a bit extreme, but it’s because they are not only devoted adherents to the Bush Doctrine, the public face of America’s current foreign policy, but also to the Cheney Doctrine, the private face. The Cheney Doctrine, referred to as the One Percent Doctrine by the Ron Suskind book of the same name, basically boils down to this: If there is a one percent chance that a hostile nation or group is developing WMDs and planning to hand them off to terrorists, it must be treated like a hundred percent certainty. The response is the important thing, not the analysis or a preponderance of the evidence.

Iran obviously fits this description, but the problem, most everyone in the developing world fits this description. As a guiding foreign policy, fairly applying it across the world would be, to be kind, absolutely insane, which is why you don’t see Saudi Arabia or Egypt being hassled.

The drive to portray Iran as an evil, irrational, apocalyptic state actor and their (mostly ceremonial) president as a Hitleresque madman is that they have already decided war is the only option, it is just a matter of when.

Their claims to want negotiations when certain conditions are met are disingenuous at best. Because the neoconservative preconditions include ending uranium enrichnment, recognition of Israel, an end to support of Hizb’allah and other terrorist groups, an end to support of the Iraqi government and insurgents and other wish list items that are never ever going to come about without negotiation. So the choice remains: Either Iran totally capitulates to every demand without reservation and we’ll think about being nice to them, or we go to war. And the former option is never going to happen; the Persians consider themselves our cultural equals if not superiors, and will never give in to our demands in such a humiliating fashion.

Because when you think about it, if all these preconditions are met, what exactly are the pressing issues that America needs to negotiate with Iran about? They will have conceded to all our important demands before we sat down with them; they will be playing nice and no longer be a “rogue state.” At that point, there is certainly nothing overwhelmingly important to American national interests to discuss.

The main problem with the Bush/Cheney Doctrine is than an “or else” approach to unfriendly states only works as long as those states know that massive and punishing retaliation will answer any deviation from towing our line. As soon as that fear is lost, they will begin to act against us, first in secret and then openly, and would even encourage our erstwhile allies to go off the reservation, as there is obviously no punishment in between the silent treatment and war that is going to be used against them.

Iran, really, is the perfect example of the phenomenon mentioned above. When we spurned their diplomatic entrees after the fall of Baghdad, the mullahs knew they had America over a barrel re: Iraq because they were literally allied with both sides of the Shi’a-on-Shi’a conflict: both the government (dominated by the Islamist Iraqi exile movements Dawa and SCIRI) and the rebel Mahdi Army. This gave the recent conflict in Basra a surreal quality, knowing that no matter which Iraqi faction won Iran had won by proxy.

The Bush/Cheney Doctrine presupposes that America will always have the strategic upper hand on hostile regimes, and with Iran nothing could be further from the truth, they have us at a severe disadvantage in Iraq; it’s their best asset against us, and they know it. Which makes our refusal to even talk to them, outside some low-level Foreign Service contacts, even more bizarre and verging on the criminally stupid.

When you’re this deep in a hole, it’s usually a good idea to stop digging, but the Administration seems hellbent on getting us into another war; according to Seymour Hersh, they have been running operations into Iranian territory for more than three years, attempting to provoke the mullahs into a response. Thus far, Iran has been wise enough not to respond, knowing it would mean the end of their reign, even though an Iranian war would open a Mideastern Pandora’s Box that would damage the US almost irretrivably, which sort of disproves the “apocalyptic intentions” nonsense constantly heard from the neocon wing.

With a little less than six months left for the Bush Administration, it is still an open question whether or not a war with Iran is imminent. The fact that I don’t trust the president not to start another preemptive war in order to “hand it off” to his successor either really says a lot about how divorced our foreign policy has become from the legitimate national interests of the country.

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by Tommy Brown

“The fact is that a man who wants to act virtuously in every way necessarily comes to grief among so many who are not virtuous.”

-Niccolo Machiavelli

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