Saturday, July 15, 2006

"Peace for Our Time"

That seems to be the unspoken motto of Cato Institute's vice president for defense and foreign policy studies, Ted Galen Carpenter. In a recent emission about the Iran problem, Carpenter considers various military and non-military options, and rejects each of them, except the least effective (to which I will come). He is especially exercised by the notion of a pre-emptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities:

If the United States attacks yet another Muslim country (which would make three in the last five years), there will not be a Muslim from Morocco to Malaysia who will not believe that Washington is out to destroy their culture and religion. America’s troubles with the Islamic world do not yet constitute a war of civilizations, but [a pre-emptive] strategy could well produce that result.

This is wrong at several levels. First, there is a "war" of civilizations, that war being between radical Islam and the liberal traditions of the West. (By liberal, I mean dedicated to liberty -- as in the tradition of Adam Smith and the Framers of the Constitution -- not dedicated to statism -- as in the tradition of the Roosevelts and today's Democrat Party.) We cannot default in that war simply for the sake of mollifying the "Muslim street."

Second, if the clear purpose of an attack on Iran is the defeat of a dangerous, radical Islamic regime bent on the destruction of liberal values, those who choose to side with that regime would have be unworthy allies in the first place. And -- to anyone who is not blinded by hatred of the U.S. -- our purpose would be clear, given the history of the Iranian regime and its support of anti-American and anti-Western causes.

Third, hearts and minds were aren't won by cringing indecisiveness, they are won by bold action. The "masses" tend to side with a "winner."

Fourth, Iran's regime is far from universally loved in the Islamic world. Many Muslims would rejoice in its humiliation and eventual ouster.

Fifth, massive hatred of the U.S. among mostly powerless Muslims -- if it came to that -- would be better than the alternative, which is to permit powerful Muslims (e.g., the Iranian regime) to pursue their military ambitions.

Carpenter, true to form, nevertheless counsels appeasement:

We should make a serious diplomatic effort to get Iran to give up its quest for nuclear weapons–and that means going substantially beyond the scope of the current EU-3-led negotiations. Washington should propose a grand bargain to Tehran. That means giving an assurance that the United States will not use force against Iran the way we did against such nonnuclear adversaries as Serbia and Iraq. It also means offering restored diplomatic relations and normal economic relations. In return, Iran would be required to open its nuclear program to unfettered international inspections to guarantee that the program is used solely for peaceful power-generation purposes.

It is possible that Tehran would spurn a proposed grand bargain, since the Iranian political elite seems divided about whether to seek a rapprochement with the United States. Indeed, Iran may be unalterably determined to join the global nuclear weapons club. But we will never know for certain unless we make the offer.

If Iran turns down the proposal, Washington’s fall-back position should be to rely on deterrence. The one thing we should not do is start yet another war.

Even if Iran were to "accept" such a proposal it likely would do just what North Korea did when it "accepted" Bill Clinton's proposal in 1994: continue on its present path in secret. (Is there no end to the naïveté of the anti-any-war crowd?)

The fallback to deterrence rings hollow, at least coming from someone like Carpenter, who would counsel restraint in the face of every provocation short of an Iranian missile attack on the continental United States. Deterrence is meaningful only if it promises the use of military force against Iran for any action against the U.S. or Israel, wherever such action occurs. (The action against Israel may have occurred today. AP reports: "Elite Iranian troops helped Hezbollah fire a sophisticated radar-guided missile at an Israeli warship in a surprise blow by militants who had been using only low-tech weapons, Israeli officials said Saturday.")

Why involve Israel? Because our failure to defend a long-standing ally against an overt or covert attack by Iran would invite Iran to attack U.S. overseas interests with impunity.

When Neville Chamberlain declined to defend Czechoslovakia, and instead signed the Munich Agreement, he encouraged Hitler's aggressive designs on Europe. Carpenter and his ilk counsel another Munich. Will they never learn?

We can avoid another Munich -- and its certain consequences -- only if we do not delude ourselves about Iran's intentions, and only if we take decisive action when Iran attacks our allies or our interests.

Related posts:
Libertarian Nay-Saying on Foreign and Defense Policy
Libertarianism and Preemptive War: Part I
Right On! For Libertarian Hawks Only
Understanding Libertarian Hawks
More about Libertarian Hawks and Doves
Sorting Out the Libertarian Hawks and Doves
Libertarianism and Preemptive War: Part II
Give Me Liberty or Give Me Non-Aggression?
More Final(?) Words about Preemption and the Constitution