Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, speaks during a nuclear deal review meeting in Tehran, August 9. Raheb Homavandi / Reuters.

Iran didn’t win, because America didn’t lose

By Haroon Moghul

Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, speaks during a nuclear deal review meeting in Tehran, August 9. Raheb Homavandi / Reuters.

Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, speaks during a nuclear deal review meeting in Tehran, August 9. Raheb Homavandi / Reuters.

I must confess to a certain delight in watching longtime warmongers literally lose their—this is a Muslim newspaper, so I’ll just say “you know what”—over the prospect of negotiation instead of confrontation. In an August 7th column, “3 U.S. Defeats: Vietnam, Iraq and now Iran,” David Brooks dismisses the Iran deal as “a partial U.S. surrender,” a fait made accompli when President Obama “effectively took the military option off the table.” Unfortunately for David Brooks, the military option he means is the very one parked and idling in the title of his column.

Vietnam and Iraq. Two wars we didn’t have to fight, two conflicts in which the United States applied overwhelming military force and, tens of thousands of dead (civilians) later, lost. Two instances in which a reasonable negotiation would have been far better for all involved. Brooks writes as if he represents a moral voice otherwise in danger of going extinct, although of course he is the more presentable face of the ideology more likely to drive animals and other living things into extinction in the first place. Even as he publishes essay upon essay, and book after book, encouraging morality, integrity and introspection, the only evidence we have of such rectitude is his repeated insistence on it.

For what is the alternative to the Iran Deal? There’s none—the ideologue who insists on stricter terms is only elaborating on his idea of diplomacy, which is as solipsistic as anything else he does. He lives in SimCity, whereas we live in reality. We know there is no cheat code to create a new set of conditions conducive to our aims. If the Iran Deal does not succeed, we are faced with two options: Going to war to prevent a nuclear Iran, or trying sanctions again, apparently to force Iran to change its behavior even as that has failed in the past.

Let us visit each of these in turn.

First: War. Would that be “surgical strikes”—it’d be, to paraphrase John Kerry, a “hell of a pin-point operation”—or all-out conflict? The former would be insufficient, and the latter inevitable. (Mission creep is like death and taxes: Good luck not getting audited.) Given that Iran is three times the size of Iraq (nearly Alaskan in proportion), has a far stronger government and a more capable military than Iraq, and is one of the most stable countries in the region, defeating Iran would not just be a hugely costly and bloody endeavor.

Moreover, after we won–and it is likely we would, at least formally–we’d immediately begin losing. Not because we don’t want it enough, but because you cannot win with armed forces that which is not amenable to a violent solution. The reason President Obama allegedly took the military option off the table is because there is no military means available to us.

If after all the Iranian government collapsed, which is usually what happens when you attack a country, who would take its place? If Iran even only lost sovereignty over part of its territory, whose armed forces, and whose budget, would pay to prevent that massive country going from a bulwark against extremism into a toll-free jihadist superhighway, linking real and planned cells and wilayats from the Sinai to the supposed Khurasan? ISIS jihadists from Libya and the Sinai would have far readier access to their far more demographically preponderant South Asian kin, and who would then be forced to put a stop to such conflicts—and immediately find the battlefield supersized? We would, of course.

American taxpayers. American soldiers. Who would pay to stay for how long? And under what mandate? And in that time, what if the United States was actually, really threatened elsewhere What if we had to respond to a Russian, or Chinese, provocation? We couldn’t, because we’d be in no shape to. (This scenario can easily continue in apocalyptic vein, but there are only so many times you can kick an argument when it’s down.)

Second: Stricter sanctions. Nice idea in theory, piss-poor in practice. (If David Brooks was a Marxist, he’d be the best kind.) We are hanging on a shred of moral capital; for all his nonsense about character and integrity, Brooks is fully, developmentally, categorically incapable of grasping the world’s amazement, astonishment and anger that we, the only country to have ever nuked another, and to have done so twice, against wholly civilian targets, in entirely unnecessary circumstances, having recently also launched wars of choice that ended badly for all concerned, are now flailing our arms about the possible threat posed by a country entirely surrounded by our military bases and more than counter-balanced by our fully nuclear ally in the region.

The Iran Deal was always about our real competitors, which are China economically, and Russia strategically, and their partnering to weaken America, or America’s interests, whether in the Middle East or in other parts of the world. We have strong, critical and historical relationships to and responsibilities towards Japan, Taiwan and South Korea, in Northeast Asia, and the Baltic States and our other European allies, and these allies are threatened by China, by Russia, or by North Korea, or worse yet, a combination of them.

We cannot act so irresponsibly in one arena so as to put at risk its allies in other arenas. And irresponsibility does not just mean war, of course. A wise leader acts not only to seize opportunities for his own country, but a wiser leader denies opponents their opportunities. While we spend American lives, treasure and diplomatic and political capital on sideshow conflicts in the Middle East, great powers are investing in their economies, building alliances and threatening our alliances, most importantly in Northeast Asia and Eastern Europe.

Nixon went to China to break its alliance with the USSR, not to endorse Maoism. A country as stable, well educated but historically as isolated as Iran offers rare opportunities for investment and therefore economic advantage, in a strategic region, to whoever has the resources and initiative to take advantage of them. Why should China and Russia benefit from Iran’s need for planes, infrastructure, energy and investment, and not American companies and American workers? Why should America’s diplomatic and political strategy confuse its global interests for local and regional politics? Why should we rush to war, and risk our lives, our security, our diplomatic capital, our future prosperity, our resources and reputation, and gain nothing for it?

It’s simple. We shouldn’t.

Editor’s Note: Haroon Moghul is the author of “The Order of Light” and “My First Police State.” His memoir, “How to be Muslim”, is due in 2016. He’s a doctoral candidate at Columbia University, formerly a Fellow at the New America Foundation and the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School, and a member of the Multicultural Audience Development Initiative at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Connect with Haroon on twitter @hsmoghul. The views expressed here are his own.


Netanyahu Killed the Peace

Pres. Bill Clinton says that Netanyahu now rejects the deal that all others, including Israel’s past leaders, wanted.

By Josh Rogin 


Palestine’s Pres. Mahmoud Abbas holds up a copy of the letter that he had delivered to UN Sec. Gen. Ban Ki-moon requesting full UN representation for a Palestinian state, September 23, 2011.     

REUTERS/Mike Segar

Who’s to blame for the continued failure of the Middle East peace process? Former President Bill Clinton said today that it is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — whose government moved the goalposts upon taking power, and whose rise represents a key reason there has been no Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

Clinton, in a roundtable with bloggers today on the sidelines of the Clinton Global Initiative in New York, gave an extensive recounting of the deterioration in the Middle East peace process since he pressed both parties to agree to a final settlement at Camp David in 2000. He said there are two main reasons for the lack of a comprehensive peace today: the reluctance of the Netanyahu administration to accept the terms of the Camp David deal and a demographic shift in Israel that is making the Israeli public less amenable to peace.

“The two great tragedies in modern Middle Eastern politics, which make you wonder if God wants Middle East peace or not, were [Yitzhak] Rabin’s assassination and [Ariel] Sharon’s stroke,” Clinton said.

Sharon had decided he needed to build a new centrist coalition, so he created the Kadima party and gained the support of leaders like Tzipi Livni and Ehud Olmert. He was working toward a consensus for a peace deal before he fell ill, Clinton said. But that effort was scuttled when the Likud party returned to power.

“The Israelis always wanted two things that once it turned out they had, it didn’t seem so appealing to Mr. Netanyahu. They wanted to believe they had a partner for peace in a Palestinian government, and there’s no question — and the Netanyahu government has said — that this is the finest Palestinian government they’ve ever had in the West Bank,” Clinton said.

“[Palestinian leaders] have explicitly said on more than one occasion that if [Netanyahu] put up the deal that was offered to them before — my deal — that they would take it,” Clinton said, referring to the 2000 Camp David deal that Yasser Arafat rejected.

But the Israeli government has drifted a long way from the Ehud Barak-led government that came so close to peace in 2000, Clinton said, and any new negotiations with the Netanyahu government are now on starkly different terms — terms that the Palestinians are unlikely to accept.

“For reasons that even after all these years I still don’t know for sure, Arafat turned down the deal I put together that Barak accepted,” he said. “But they also had an Israeli government that was willing to give them East Jerusalem as the capital of the new state of Palestine.”

Israel also wants a normalization of relations with its Arab neighbors to accompany a peace deal. Clinton said that the Saudi-inspired Arab Peace Initiative put forth in 2002 represented an answer to that Israeli demand.

“The King of Saudi Arabia started lining up all the Arab countries to say to the Israelis, ‘if you work it out with the Palestinians … we will give you immediately not only recognition but a political, economic, and security partnership,’” Clinton said. “This is huge….

It’s a heck of a deal.”

The Netanyahu government has received all of the assurances previous Israeli governments said they wanted but now won’t accept those terms to make peace, Clinton said.

“Now that they have those things, they don’t seem so important to this current Israeli government, partly because it’s a different country,” said Clinton. “In the interim, you’ve had all these immigrants coming in from the former Soviet Union, and they have no history in Israel proper, so the traditional claims of the Palestinians have less weight with them.”

Clinton then repeated his assertions made at last year’s conference that Israeli society can be divided into demographic groups that have various levels of enthusiasm for making peace.

“The most pro-peace Israelis are the Arabs; second the Sabras, the Jewish Israelis that were born there; third, the Ashkenazi of long-standing, the European Jews who came there around the time of Israel’s founding,” Clinton said. “The most anti-peace are the ultra-religious, who believe they’re supposed to keep Judea and Samaria, and the settler groups, and what you might call the territorialists, the people who just showed up lately and they’re not encumbered by the historical record.”

Clinton affirmed that the United States should veto the Palestinian resolution at the U.N. Security Council for member-state status, because the Israelis need security guarantees before agreeing to the creation of a Palestinian state. But the Netanyahu government has moved away from the consensus for peace, making a final status agreement more difficult, Clinton said.

“That’s what happened. Every American needs to know this. That’s how we got to where we are,” Clinton said. “The real cynics believe that the Netanyahu’s government’s continued call for negotiations over borders and such means that he’s just not going to give up the West Bank.”