The failure to find WMDs in Iraq confirmed that something was very wrong with not only U.S. strategic intelligence but everyone else's too. Many saw it as proof that pre-emptive war was flawed. But the argument cuts the other way too: If we knew so little about Iraq, then there might be other countries, or organizations, that have capabilities that we don't know about.
It turns out that Hezbollah is one of those groups. As O'Hara flagged in the indispensable Morning Brief, the New York Times today reports that both Israel and the United States have been taken aback by the kinds of weapons that Hezbollah fighters have been launching (like the C802 missile pictured here). These weapons seem to have come from Iran. Worryingly, this suggests that neither the U.S. nor Israel has the foggiest idea about what the Iranians are up to. So, we have to accept that Iran might be much further on with its nuclear program than is currently thought. (Equally, they could be further behind.)
Now, considering that the Iranian president wants to wipe Israel off the map, the Israelis will understandably err on the side of caution. This means that once this current conflict is over (and the betting for that is Sunday when Condi will probably start talks), the Israelis are likely to start reevaluating their timetable for when Iran will produce its first bomb. At the moment, the Israelis believe that Iran's first nuke will come off the production line in 2008 at the earliest. If Israel decides that the events of the past few days suggest that it might be even earlier, we'll be even closer to the nightmare scenario of Israel feeling obliged to strike Iranian nuclear facilities while there are still significant numbers of coalition troops in Iraq.
Although Bush and Putin couldn't agree this weekend on Russia's accession to the WTO, they did reach an accord to curtail free trade's dangerous cousin, the illicit international trade in nuclear materials. Happy to find common ground on something, the two unveiled an informal global program that will track weapons and people suspected of carrying them, as well as improve cooperation and encourage joint action to intercept transports and respond to actual threats. The new Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism is a major expansion of the Proliferation Security Initiative, the 70-country effort to track nuclear materials. Rather than focus only on international transfers, the new program will work inside the borders of member countries, setting standards on protection and detection and developing common strategies against terror groups - welcome news indeed from a summit overshadowed by violence in the Middle East.
The big question, though, is whether an informal network can be effective. With no central organization or headquarters, and little except fear to bind its members together, the organization will have to rely on quick communication and coordinated response - and on trust.
French President Jacques Chirac used his Bastille Day interview to criticize Israel's response as "totally disproportionate." Yet in a speech earlier this year, Chirac announced that France was prepared to nuke any country that sponsored a terrorist attack against its interests. In the interview Chirac also declared: "But I have the sentiment, if not the conviction, that the Hamas, the Hezbollah could not have taken these initiatives completely alone. And therefore, that there is support somewhere from this or that nation." So, logically he couldn't call even an Israeli nuclear strike on Iran and Syria disproportionate. Unless that is, there's one rule for France and one for everybody else. Guess those French principles aren't so universal after all.
Iran is a country divided, according to a new Zogby International poll of Iranians out today. Nearly a third of those polled want Iran to become more secular and liberal, whereas just over a third want the country to more religious and conservative.
Nearly as many Iranians believe the government should expand freedoms (23%) as think the country's top priority should be developing an arsenal of nuclear weapons (27%). Unsurprisingly, many divisions are generational. But you may be surprised to learn that older Iranians are more likely to admire American society than younger Iranians. Just as interesting: Iranians with access to the Internet and satellite TV are much more likely to identify the United States as the country they admire most. And more than a third disagreed with the suggestion that Iranian nuclear weapons would make the Middle East a safer place.
Worryingly, one point of consensus emerged:
As Carolyn pointed out this morning, the CW is that China gave North Korea the OK to fire off its missiles. North Korea is totally dependent on China, and so the Bush administration clearly - and reasonably - thinks it's up to the Chinese to put Kim back in his box. Earlier today, Christopher Hill, the State Department's North Korea point man, commented: "We need China to be very, very firm with their neighbors and frankly with their long-term allies, the North Koreans, on what is acceptable behavior and what is not acceptable behavior."
Whenever the Chinese are being difficult, you can bet your bottom dollar that the idea of getting Japan to go nuclear will be floated. Indeed, David Frum, of axis of evil fame, goes even further today, suggesting that we should also remind the Chinese that Taiwan could be a nuclear power too. Now, if the mere sight of Koizumi serenading Bush with a little Elvis was enough to make the Chinese give the North Koreans the nod, one can only imagine how they would react to the prospect of Japan - let alone Taiwan - going nuclear.
Will he or won't he? Reports are out today that the North Korean missile causing heartburn in Tokyo and Washington may not actually be fueled for launch, and even Cheney thinks Kim Jong Il is bluffing. To get a handle on this little chess game, FP spoke recently with Don Oberdorfer, veteran journalist and author of The Two Koreas, about the timing of the missile threat, the prospects for diplomacy, and whether Kim Jong Il is crazy like a fox - or just plain crazy.
The world is waiting with bated breath to see how the Iranians respond to the package of nuclear incentives offered up by the West. You may know how Ahmadinejad stands on the right to build nukes, but Ahmadinejad is hardly holding all the reins. In this week's List, FP takes a look at the men around the Iranian president - both friends and rivals - who jostle for influence in the quest to decide whether the Islamic Republic goes nuclear.
Ghana: A controversial penalty kick against the U.S. squad vaulted the Black Stars into the second round of the World Cup. They’re the only African team to make it—and they beat the superpower.
Chinese-Canadian Immigrants: The Canadian government apologized to Chinese immigrants who arrived between 1880 and 1920 and announced that it will repay unfair “special taxes” levied on them.
U.S.-Japan Relations: As North Korea fueled up its ballistic missile, the United States and Japan inked an agreement to work together on missile defense.
American CEOs: A study released this week reveals that the average American CEO earns 262 times the pay of an average worker.
Saddam Hussein: His ballyhooed hunger strike lasted just one day. Is prison chow that good?
World Bank: Cambodia’s prime minister is refusing to pay back funds cancelled by the Bank because of corruption concerns. Months of squabbling may be ahead.
U.S. Defense Spending: A Senate panel slashes $9 billion from Bush’s proposed defense budget.
Iranian Consumers: The government restricts petrol imports in what may be a preemptive move to weather international sanctions.
Condi Rice’s announcement that the United States will speak to Iran if it suspends enrichment is a major, although not complete, victory for her and the State Department. It is also a sensible move that makes it far more likely that the Western coalition will hold together as European worries that America is rushing to war will be assuaged.
If there is no Western split, Putin is going to be far more cautious about being obstreperous. Although, it does seem extremely odd that Bush didn’t speak to the other troublesome Permanent Member of the Security Council before the announcement—he spoke to the Japanese for crying out loud, but not the Chinese? The NSC, though, tells us that they expect there to be a call between Bush and Hu this afternoon.
I really don’t see the downside to talking to Tehran. And don't bet on the Iranians stopping enrichment, so all this could be academic. As long as the United States makes clear that it still wants to see democratic change in Iran and that it has not forgotten people like Ramin Jahanbegloo, just talking won’t legitimize the regime. Indeed, talks actually give America a chance to get across to the Iranian people that their beef is with the regime - not the people - and that they don’t object to Iran having nuclear power, but nuclear weapons. Also what Rice outlined today doesn’t take the military option off the table.
To finish on a totally flippant note, has anyone else noticed how "allies" is to Rice as "nuclear" is to Bush?
Dick Cheney, December 2003:
I have been charged by the President with making sure that none of the tyrannies in the world are negotiated with. We don't negotiate with evil; we defeat it.
A Bush administration "official," in a May 2006 story entitled U.S. Said to Weigh a New Approach on North Korea:
I think it is fair to say that many in the administration have come to the conclusion that dealing head-on with the nuclear problem is simply too difficult.
That's a must-read, by the way.
A lot of folks, particularly conservatives, see the India nuclear deal as part of a smart, larger strategy of containing China. The Carnegie Endowment's Ashley Tellis, a brilliant scholar who played a role in facilitating the deal, does a good job of nixing that narrative in his recent Senate testimony (pdf):
[T]he Administration’s policy of developing a new global partnership with India represents a considered effort at “shaping” the emerging Asian environment to suit American interests in the twenty-first century.
This should not be interpreted as some kind of thinly veiled code signifying the polite containment of China, which many argue is in fact the Administration’s secret intention. Such claims are, in my judgment, erroneous. A policy of containing China is neither feasible nor necessary for the United States at this point in time. Further, it is not at all obvious that India, currently, has any interest in becoming part of any coalition aimed at containing China. Rather, the objective of strengthening ties with India is part of alarger—and sensible—Administration strategy of developing good relations with all the major Asian states.
Maybe this is for real this time:
Iran has struck a basic deal to enrich uranium with Russia, Iranian state radio has reported.The details have still to be worked out. Tehran claimed a similar deal in February, when a Russian nuclear chief visited Iran. Iran's ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Ali Asghar Soltanieh, told Iranian radio he had struck a basic agreement. Tehran is under pressure from the UN Security Council to freeze enrichment. Mr Soltanieh said the joint enrichment company would operate on Russian soil.
Clausewitz not withstanding, Edward N. Luttwak wrote the book on strategy. "Crazy Eddie," as some who know him call him, has an excellent article in the forthcoming May issue of Commentary, "Three Reasons Not to Bomb Iran -- Yet." It's a call for temporary containment, based on the assumption that the regime in Tehran is burning itself out.
[T]here is no reason to attack prematurely, because there will be ample time to do so before it is too late—that is, before enough fissile material has been produced for one bomb."
Might as well carve those words into the headstone sitting atop the Bush Doctrine's grave. This is the new, dominant post-Iraq mindset.
There is thus no indication that the regime will fall before it acquires nuclear weapons. Yet, because there is still time, it is not irresponsible to hope that it will."
Critics will accuse Luttwak of underestimating the regime's staying power. The Drez, for one, already has. But, given that we are looking at a nuclear time table in Iran that is somewhere on the order of five to 10 years, Luttwak's call for reasoned restraint seems, well, reasonable.
Iran’s announcement that it had succeeded in enriching uranium should have come as no surprise, considering that this is exactly what they said they would do when they broke the IAEA seals on its centrifuges in January. Still, there is increasing talk that the country is crossing a “red line.”
The real question is not whether they can complete the fuel process on a minimal scale but whether they can really press ahead with the 3,000 centrifuges they have planned to be operational by 2006, something that would enable them to produce enough enriched uranium to actually power something meaningful, like a power plant--or a bomb. Does Tuesday’s announcement give any indication of whether Iran is making significant progress in that regard? The answer is, not really. In fact, there’s a good chance that the statement had nothing to do with passing a technical milestone and everything to do with political timing. My guess is that the announcement is more brinkmanship, designed to push the Security Council to act before it is of a unified position. As of now, China and Russia are not ready to approve more than a mild response.
I would be remiss if I failed to post on the argument made by Ray Takeyh and James Dobbins in Monday's FT. The key take-away is that Tehran is having an internal debate and we should know that only issuing threats (military and economic) gives the "good guys" in that internal debate very little to work with. We need to tout the upside of abandoning their pursuit of the bomb and submitting to scrutiny and safeguards, they say.
In order to achieve its counter-proliferation objectives, the US must build the other side of the equation by explaining the benefits Iran would derive from abandoning the same nuclear option that India, Pakistan and Israel have successfully chosen. Only an array of incentives will allow Iran’s leaders to justify suspending the programme in the face of nationalistic public opinion, aroused in no small degree by continual US threats.
I know, it's hard to stomach incentives for an oppressive regime. Like Dick Cheney, I'd rather defeat than negotiate with bad guys. But even Bush ended up holding his nose and offering North Korea incentives.
“Fifty companies lined up for 23 of 26 exploration blocks offered -- each required large signing bonuses to be paid to Tripoli and a relatively small portion of future oil production to be taken by the winning firm. The Japan Petroleum Exploration Company went as low as to only take a 6.8 percent stake in future production rights from its block. ExxonMobil and China National Petroleum Corporation faired somewhat better with 28 percent stakes. Libya is also expected to demand contributions to its downstream refining capacity from foreign investors, and it is likely to see its request granted.”
Recently, the U.S. Department of State updated its list of countries sponsoring terrorism. Libya? Still there.
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