Article: Iraq II or a Nuclear Iran?

From the April 19th NYT:

Iraq II or a Nuclear Iran?
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

If these are our only choices, which would you rather have: a nuclear-armed Iran or an attack on Iran’s nuclear sites that is carried out and sold to the world by the Bush national security team, with Don Rumsfeld at the Pentagon’s helm?

I’d rather live with a nuclear Iran.

While I know the right thing is to keep all our options open, I have zero confidence in this administration’s ability to manage a complex military strike against Iran, let alone the military and diplomatic aftershocks.


As someone who believed — and still believes — in the importance of getting Iraq right, the level of incompetence that the Bush team has displayed in Iraq, and its refusal to acknowledge any mistakes or remove those who made them, make it impossible to support this administration in any offensive military action against Iran.

I look at the Bush national security officials much the way I look at drunken drivers. I just want to take away their foreign policy driver’s licenses for the next three years. Sorry, boys and girls, you have to stay home now — or take a taxi. Dial 1-800-NATO-CHARGE-A-RIDE. You will not be driving alone. Not with my car.

If ours were a parliamentary democracy, the entire Bush team would be out of office by now, and deservedly so. In Iraq, the president was supposed to lead, manage and hold subordinates accountable, and he did not. Condoleezza Rice was supposed to coordinate, and she did not. Donald Rumsfeld was supposed to listen, and he did not. But ours is not a parliamentary system, and while some may feel as if this administration’s over, it isn’t. So what to do? We can’t just take a foreign policy timeout.

At a minimum, a change must be made at the Pentagon. Mr. Rumsfeld paints himself as a concerned secretary, ready to give our generals in Iraq whatever troops they ask for, but they just haven’t asked. This is hogwash, but even if the generals didn’t ask, the relevant question, Mr. Rumsfeld, is: What did you ask them?

What did you ask them when you saw the looting, when you saw Saddam’s ammo dumps unguarded, when you saw that no one had control of the Iraq-Syria border and when you saw that Iraq was so insecure that militias were sprouting everywhere? What did you ask the generals? You didn’t ask and you didn’t tell, because you never wanted to send more troops. You actually thought we could just smash Saddam’s regime and leave. Insane.

So if our choice is another Rummy-led operation on Iran or Iran’s going nuclear and our deterring it through classic means, I prefer deterrence. A short diplomatic note to Iran’s mullahs will suffice: “Gentlemen, should you ever use a nuclear device, or dispense one to terrorists, we will destroy every one of your nuclear sites with tactical nuclear weapons. If there is any part of this sentence you don’t understand, please contact us. Thank you.”

Do I wish there was a third way? Yes. But the only meaningful third way would be to challenge Iran to face-to-face negotiations about all the issues that divide us: Iraq, sanctions, nukes. Such diplomacy, though, would require two things.

First, the Bush team would have to make up its mind on something that has divided it for five years: Does it want a change of regime in Iran or a change of behavior? If it will settle only for regime change, then diplomacy has no chance. The Iranians will never negotiate, and our allies will be wary of working with us.

Second, if the Bush team is ready to live with a change in Iran’s behavior, diplomacy has a chance — but only if it has allies and a credible threat of force to make the Iranians negotiate seriously. The only way Iran will strike a grand bargain with the U.S. is if it thinks America has the support at home and abroad for a military option (or really severe sanctions.)

The main reason Mr. Rumsfeld should leave now is because we can’t have a credible diplomatic or military option vis-à-vis Iran when so many people feel, as I do, that in a choice between another Rumsfeld-led confrontation and just letting Iran get nukes and living with it, we should opt for the latter.

It may be that learning to live with a nuclear Iran is the wisest thing under any circumstances. But it would be nice to have a choice. It would be nice to have the option of a diplomatic deal to end Iran’s nuclear program — but that will come only with a credible threat of force. Yet we will not have the support at home or abroad for that threat as long as Don Rumsfeld leads the Pentagon. No one in their right mind would follow this man into another confrontation — and that is a real strategic liability.

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