TCS Daily


The Realists Return

By Michael Young - November 10, 2006 12:00 AM

If there were any doubts that congressional elections this week handed the Bush administration a sound spanking, Donald Rumsfeld dispelled them. There was irony in the fact that the defense secretary was brought down by a war initially planned to spur a democratic transformation in the Middle East. Rumsfeld never bought into that grand ambition and yet he now lies prostrated, its most senior victim.

The Democrats' gains in Congress will almost certainly bring about a change in the Bush administration's Iraq strategy, though that was coming anyway, if at a slower pace. However, it would be naïve to expect that much will happen in the near term. The Democrats are as lost as anybody when it comes to addressing the war, and after more than a decade in opposition, and five years of American absorption with foreign affairs, their instinct and promise is to focus on a domestic agenda.

But Bush is more vulnerable than before in defining events in Iraq, and a resolution of the mess there. With the administration still unable to put together a comprehensive, let alone a comprehensible, road map for success in the conflict, it now has less wherewithal to tell an energized Congress, and its Democrats, to butt out. This means the president can be pushed in directions he doesn't want to go. The situation will complicate planning in Iraq, and could mean that the administration's strategy will be more than ever anchored in readying for a withdrawal.

To be fair, Bush has already had to accept that logic, courtesy of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, co-chaired by his father's secretary of state, James Baker, and former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton. The group, whose creation was urged by Congress, is preparing to recommend new ways for the administration to deal with Iraq. No one doubts that the main task of these Establishment stalwarts is to offer the administration a convenient way to pull out: exit with honor. Baker, a Bush family confidant, is unlikely to embarrass the president by tying his hands with proposals he dislikes. However, the former secretary has also said publicly that he believes it necessary for the United States to "engage" Syria and Iran in Iraq, an option that is unpopular at the White House, but which Bush may not be able to easily avoid given his electoral setback.

Lebanon is one place where this is being watched with nervousness. Last week the Bush administration cited "mounting evidence" that Iran and Syria planned to topple the Lebanese government. This came as Hezbollah threatened to take to the streets to impose a change of government in Beirut. The present cabinet is dominated by the so-called March 14 coalition opposed to Syria, and its members are fearful that any U.S. arrangement with Syria and Iran over Iraq might mean American acquiescence in the expansion of their influence over Lebanon. The Lebanese recall that Baker belonged to an administration that essentially ceded Lebanon to Syria in 1990 in order to win over Syrian support for the international effort to oust Iraqi troops from Kuwait.

The current White House, particularly the National Security Council and the Vice President's office, has no enthusiasm for transacting with Syria or Iran. But now it must contend with Robert Gates at the Pentagon. A member of the Iraq Study Group, he also served in the administration of George H.W. Bush. In tandem with the chameleon-like Condoleezza Rice at the State Department, he may become a bureaucratic cornerstone favoring more foreign policy "realism", where talking to old foes is regarded as suitable. Pushing in that direction will be easier if a Congress with little patience for administration ideologues is on board.

On Iran, Bush will continue to enjoy broad congressional support, but his latitude to order an attack against Tehran's nuclear installations has been reduced. That's partly because with the discrediting of the president has come the discrediting of his doctrine of military preemption. It's partly, too, because Bush would have to convince a far more hostile House and Senate that all other means of containing Iran have been exhausted. While Bush might conceivably act without consulting Congress, he would inevitably need to prepare an already dubious public for war. The Democrats would doubtless respond by putting the administration under the uncomfortable microscope of congressional hearings.

One place where the administration and Congress will see eye to eye is the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Everyone seems to agree that nothing is to be expected on that front. There is no incentive in the House or Senate to demand from Israel or the Bush administration that it take steps to bring about a final settlement with the Palestinians. Nor is there any sign that the parties themselves are ready to negotiate a lasting peace. The Hamas-led Palestinian government has refused to recognize Israel in its 1967 borders, which will only help avoid the issue.

Bush's electoral defeat also means that, more than ever, his (inconsistently applied) policy to advance democracy in the Middle East has been permanently derailed. Regional democratization is on virtually no one's mind in Washington amid the unruliness in Iraq. Suddenly foreign policy realism is back in vogue, and one of its tenets was always to deal with Arab regimes on the basis of interests, not values, no matter how tyrannical they were. We should expect the White House to feel increasing heat from a Congress so outraged with Iraq that it will once again defend the predictability of dealing with reliable thugs. The president may put up some resistance, but even within his administration there are those hinting they would like a return to past behavior.

And that's where the problem lies. A by-product of Arab despotism has been militant Islam, which in its most ambitiously destructive form led to the 9/11 attacks. Revulsion with Iraq has already led to apathy toward Bush's soundest principle: the need to pay more than lip service to democracy in the Middle East. The realists are returning, reheating an approach to the region that is bound to bring more calamities down the road. The new shape of Congress makes their job easier.

Michael Young is opinion editor of the Daily Star newspaper in Lebanon and a contributing editor at Reason magazine in the United States.


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51 Comments

talking to Iran & Syria is OK, appeasing them is not.
As long as the conversation goes somethnig like, "that city you mullahs live in, Qom? like it much?" things will work out OK for us.
Iranian mullahs respect nothing but force, to deal with them on any other level is like dealing with a crocodile up close, if you aren't an already dead croc hunter, dont do it.

This has been the second biggest mistake of this war, not hurting Iran over it's actions in Iraq. It's strait out of the "what NOT to do in order to avoid vietnam quagmire" playbook.

I have NO faith or belief in the Dems to wage "realistic" war. I have faith in them to wage "realistic appeasment" or "realistic thugocracy building".
I have faith in them to fellate Achmedinajad.

Tragedy or farce?
We need no more evidence that TCS believes its readers live in a dream world than this sentence:

"The Democrats are as lost as anybody when it comes to addressing the war, and after more than a decade in opposition, and five years of American absorption with foreign affairs, their instinct and promise is to focus on a domestic agenda."

The Democrats won power because they are very specific about what they will do about the war. And they have scarcely addressed any domestic agenda, as the nation has told us the most important problem we have today, by far, is the war.

It has been a disaster from its inception. The writer admits that the man responsible for conducting it was uninterested in the "grand ambition" of setting up a transformative plan for democracy in the Middle East, and now that it has been revealed we still have no plan at all other than to somehow prevail, the whole enterprise has been shown to have no center.

So what can a new team do about such a debacle? The only option out there is to withdraw in as orderly a fashion as is possible, and hope that in another hundred years they don't still hate us.

And this is what the D's have given us. Don't wait for benchmarks, because no measurable progress can at this point be possible. Just tell the Maliki government we'll be leaving soon, and is there anything we can do for them before we're out of there.

It bears mentioning again that there has never been any good reason proferred for beginning this war. The intelligence agencies were bullied into providing some basis that might justify an invasion and told the White House repeatedly there was nothing there. The baseless and oversold war that followed has done inestimable harm to our standing among nations-- as has our willingness to unilaterally go it alone in any other invasion we choose to incur. As has been our drive to wreck the nuclear arms treaties that have been our umbrella against mutual assured destruction for the past thirty years, replacing them with an illusion of defense by weaponising space. The list of vital safeguards we have undone goes on and on, but foremost among the casualties of our war policy has been our disregard for the rule of law among nations. A change of regime is the very first thing that had to be done, before American authority can begin to be repaired and restored.

So-- on to our "exit with honor". Is the plan to be that belatedly we offer our apologies to Iran and Syria for demonizing them and threatening forcible regime change on them, and ask them now to become Iraq's guardians? That will be an interesting trend, as Maliki's government is currently being backed into the camp of the Shiite theocrats, to whose increasing influence he has no alternative if he is to survive. So, in short, the sum of our efforts in Iraq will have been to create a second Iran.

Good going, guys. The D's and the Iraq Study Group have their work cut out for them, putting lipstick on this tragic and expensive misadventure.

Missile Defense
At least someone had the foresight to deploy a missile defense before Iran could put a nuclear weapon on their missiles.

Let's hope the Democrats don't kill too many people in the process.

Amen to that
Hard to imagine the D's killing more people than the R's have done. 650,000? It's a hard record to match.

Socialists have pretty impressive record of killing.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but...
Couldn't all of this have been easily avoided had the White House chosen to strengthen rather than scuttle the ABM treaty? Iran would have been constrained by the general climate of world opinion had this treaty been upheld.

Check out this timely description of how the decision to undo it was made before 9/11:

http://www.nixoncenter.org/publications/articles/9_5_01pjsdks.htm

Instead we use treaties selctively to paint Iran into a corner of our making. As a signator to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, Iran has always supported the rule of international law. And under that treaty she enjoys the right to conduct a peaceful nuclear program, including the right to process uranium fuel through enrichment in a light-water reactor, such as is planned at Bushehr. By twisting this right, the uS fatally weakens the unedpinnings of international law that will in the real world be the only workable constraint against Iran's some day turning their plowshares into swords.

We need to wise up and turn our course back to the main channel. By strengthening international law instead of thwarting it, we can add to our own voice the voices of all the rest of the world's responsible nations, and achieve a consensus toward the peaceful development of nuclear power. In such a context it is unlikely that a nation with a 2,500 year old existence would decide to commit suicide by threatening Israel or the US with nukes. To me, your concern that Iran might pose a danger of aggressive action is unfounded.

There's nothing in it for them-- while in the present world there is everything in it for them to rush to develop a defensive nuclear capability, which would shield them from the US as it now shields the DPRK.

To combat this distressing turn of affairs we should admit we are subject to the rule of law, not of men, and lead by example-- by not threatening regime change to anyone who questions our moral right to dictate terms of suzerainty to them.

Explain
I believe what you are saying by simplistically reducing your argument to idiocy, is that Nancy Pelosi is the equivalent of Joe Stalin. Is this a correct interpretation of your comment?

Iran has really been constrained by IAEA
MAD is still an option with Iran. How has that constrained their nuclear weapons program?

In general, wouldn't it be better to have a capability to destroy the threat, a nuclear warhead, rather than retaliate an kill millions?

She is a socialist.
Socialists know what is best for us. Just ask them.

Hitler, Stalin, Mao were all of the same mentality, they knew what was was best and hungered for power.

Give the democrats enough rope and they will hang us if you don't confrom.

Democracy Indeed
I find it fascinating that there are still those among us who champion the cause of imposing democracy via regime change.
Correct me if I'm wrong but isn't that the root cause of the chaos we see in Irak today?
Lets face it. There are places in the world that are'nt ready for democracy.
The foudation for democracy lies in the desire of individuals to pay any price for personal freedom and the willingness of those same individuals to accept the responsibilities that go along with that freedom.
When the collective populace in the middle east decides to emerge from the 12th century time capsule they live in and join the rest of us in the 21st century, maybe they will start their own democratic revolution.
Until then all we can do is damage control whether in the form of appeasement or isolation.

In a global economy
any **** ant dictator can cause quite a disruption in economic activity.
And it is becoming increasingly more difficult to isolate these morons.
So it is either follow the path of empire , invade and colonize, or threaten to destabilize ( and actually do it when the bluff is called) and hope they join the world, which Libya apparently did.

No Subject
Come now Marjon, "follow the path of empire to invade and colonize"? That sounds like good strategy for the "Manifest Destiny" crowd from days of yore. As for destabilization, I'd say the current situation in Irak is evidence of the effectiveness of that approach.
I agree that nailing Libya succeeded in thumping Mr. K but that was a case of precise decisive unilateral action by a confident leader who was perfectly willing to take full responsibility for the outcome and felt not the slightest inclination to get permission from the clowns at the UN. That kind of leadership is rare. We could sure use it now.

You believe isolation is possible?
Has it worked with DPRK?

DPRK
We have not been attacked by DPRK. Only annoyed.

unclear on the concept of MAD
>MAD is still an option with Iran. How has that constrained their nuclear weapons program?

What it's done is to highly motivate the Iranians to get nuclear weapons, because they're afraid that if they don't, what happened to Iraq will happen to them. That's not complicated.

Reading the Iranian mind
I know this is a matter of belief with you-- and Iranian leaders are certainly not short on rhetorical bluster. But do you actually have any concrete evidence that they would voluntarily commit national suicide by initiating a nuclear attack on anyone?

BTW Iran does not yet have any nuclear "weapons" program. They may very well at some point in the future. What they are doing now is asserting their right to enrich uranium-- which is certainly allowable under the NNPT, a document to which they have signed and appear to adhere.

Ask me whether enriched uranium has uses other than for weapons.

Democracy
"The foudation for democracy lies in the desire of individuals to pay any price for personal freedom and the willingness of those same individuals to accept the responsibilities that go along with that freedom."

You are right. You can't force people to want freedom or to create a democracy by knocking heads together.

A few weeks ago, there was a report on television about Iraqi soldiers and security forces going AWOL or disappearing. Here you have people who have sworn to protect their fellow citizens, and they're running away. Meanwhile, our guys are staying put and getting shot up.

When they were drafting the Constitution for Iraq, I recall them trying to get everyone to participate. Anyone who refused to come to the "table" was going to be left out. I knew it wasn't going to work.

IMO, putting together a Constitution before all the concerned parties even want to be in the same room together is like going to a closing for a house when the buyers won't speak to each other, much less agree to the terms of the sale. Chances are good that things will get ugly. In the case of a country and a constitution, the risk of civil war is great.

That is about the dumbest thing I've ever heard
And all it has done is make them a target; N. Korea as well. Or didn't you hear the latest (about two weeks old)? The U.S. has brought bombing N.Korea to the table in talks with China, Japan et. al. And they are talking hitting the nuclear plant and enrichment facilities; the strategy is on the table with Iran as well.

Iraq wants nukes for the sole reason they say they want nukes; to destroy Israel.

You are only annoyed by nuclear weapons?

The threat from Iraq was the apparent motivator, not the USA.
"Since the end of the Iran-Iraq War, Tehran redoubled its efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and ballistic missiles."

http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/world/iran/nuke.htm

Iraq is no longer a threat and the USA is not a threat if they abide by thier agreements.

The moon is made of cheese and Iran is not developing nuclear weapons
"it is believed to be operating a parallel clandestine nuclear weapons program. Iran appears to be following a policy of complying with the NPT and building its nuclear power program in such a way that if the appropriate political decision is made, know-how gained in the peaceful sphere (specialists and equipment) could be used to create nuclear weapons (dual-use technologies have been sold to Iran by at least nine western companies during the early 1990's). Also, in this atmosphere of deception, unconfirmed reports have been made that Tehran purchased several nuclear warheads in the early 1990's

It is evident that Iran's efforts are focused both on uranium enrichment and a parallel plutonium effort. Iran claims it is trying to establish a complete nuclear fuel cycle to support a civilian energy program, but this same fuel cycle would be applicable to a nuclear weapons development program. Iran appears to have spread their nuclear activities around a number of sites to reduce the risk of detection or attack.

Iran does not currently have nuclear weapons, and would appear to be about two years away from acquiring nuclear weapons. By some time in 2006, however, Iran could be producting fissile material for atomic bombs using both uranium enriched at Natanz and plutonium produced at Arak. The Natanz facility might produce enough uranium for about five bombs every year, and the Arak facility might produced enough plutonium for as many as three bombs every year. "

http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/world/iran/nuke.htm

Then you should be able show what's wrong, instead of calling it dumb
I mean, this just doesn't jibe with history:

>And all it has done is make them a target; N. Korea as well.

They were a target alreadty: Bush announced that three countries were an "axis of evil:" Iraq, Iran and N. Korea. Then he invades Iraq. Was your idea that they were just going to throw up their hands and surrender??

>The U.S. has brought bombing N.Korea to the table in talks with China, Japan et. al.

When did the U.S. ever take bombing off the table? The problem is, if we do, half of S. Korea is flat, and maybe part of Japan too.

>the strategy is on the table with Iran as well.

Good thing we don't need any oil from the Persian gulf, which the Iranians could close about 15 minutes after the bombs hit, and which would take months to reooen.

>iraq wants nukes for the sole reason they say they want nukes; to destroy Israel.

I think you mean Iran. Israel has about 200 nukes already, which would mean Iran would be toast after a strike. But they don't care??

Sure: we call Iran part of the 'axis of evil' and won't talk to them...
...but we're not threatening them. I wonder why they don't see this as clearly as you?

So: Hitler, Mao, Stalin and Pelosi
And you expect to be taken seriously??

Adhering to the NNPT
You've found a pretty good assessment. I tend to go along with the things I read on globalsecurity.org. And I find no fault with this one.

The language is properly hedged. I am quite confident that in pursuing uranium enrichment for peaceful purposes they have an eye toward its eventual uses down the road in weapons technology. They'd be fools if they didn't. They are being threatened by a nuclear state. And it is obvious that this state pursues a policy of crushing nations it's not afraid of, while leaving little yapping dogs with a bad bite, like the DPRK, strictly alone. This is the lesson we have taught the world.

So they say that Iran "is believed to be operating a parallel clandestine nuclear weapons program. Iran appears to be following a policy of complying with the NPT and building its nuclear power program in such a way that if the appropriate political decision is made, know-how gained in the peaceful sphere (specialists and equipment) could be used to create nuclear weapons".

This belief is a surmise. They have not said that Iran is currently operating a weapons program.

There is also a lot of unadulterated BS going on out there, passed by unmitigated liars like Ghorbanifar. Iran has its own share of people like Chalabi. So you hear things like "Also, in this atmosphere of deception, unconfirmed reports have been made that Tehran purchased several nuclear warheads in the early 1990's". This kind of thing is worthless as intelligence.

The thing to do under the circumstances is to maintain a strict inspections regime and to demand unrestricted access-- as was done in Saddam's Iraq. But it is clearly unsatisfactory to tell Iran that they can't enrich uranium simply because we said so. The treaty they signed allows every signator country to have such a program.

They should be considered to be in compliance up to the day an inspections team discovers they are not in compliance. This is all very simple.

Evil is as evil does.
Remember 1979?

Iran supports the Hez in Lebanon and has certainly made threats and makes a point of showing their hardware.

Iran also bombed Al Kobar towers in Saudi Arabia killing US military pesonnel.

That's not the issue
You asked why Iran should feel threatened. Echoing the official Washinton position thta they are "evil" and are our enemies would certainly seem a good reason to feel threatened. Let's take it as a given that they are evil: fine. They are evil and they feel threatened. Why is this complicated?

" You asked why Iran should feel threatened. "
No I did not.

I said Iraq began its nuclear weapons program in response to a threat from Iraq.

And if any state violates diplomaic immunity by kidnapping embassy personnel, they should feel threatened.

However, Libya has demonstrated that if it cooperates, the threat diminishes.

Like some one said, if the Palestinians laid down their arms there would be peace. If Israel laid down its arms they would be exterminated. See the difference?

Hitler was once a coporal
They all have to start somewhere.

Surmise
"This belief is a surmise. They have not said that Iran is currently operating a weapons program."

Do you believe that everything that is known to the west about Iran has been published?

Until the New York Times leaks it, I would hope that the intelligence services from Russia and Israel to UK and US know much more than is being reported.

So like Reagan said, trust but verify and assume the worst. (Don't know if Reagan said "assume the worst".)

I love Roy's fantasies=I'll bet he was Chamberlain's adviser
Seldom do you see such dementia. If only the ABM treaty had been renewed! I guess America's refusal to renew this treaty is the reason for Iran's nuclear weapon-I mean nuclear research for peaceful purposes program.

I never can be sure if Roy is torturing the truth or is simply as dull as he appears. You know like the seventy year old wanna be hippies who appear at MoveOn's demonstration topless?

Yes Roy lets send in Pelosi with a warrant to arrest the whole gang. And then send Reid in with a warrant to arrest Bin Laden. I do so enjoy my saturday night videos provided by the religion of peace.

Guess this explains how Germany and Japan became democracies
A rather shocking example of how the American education system has failed.

I guess that explains the Cuban crisis
And why Kennedy was ready to attack Russia.

Are tinfoil hats optional or required to write a comment like that birdie?

Certain knowledge
I don't know that this is something I would take on faith. After all, we've recently had the assurances of Mr D Cheney that he "knew" Saddam had WMD's.

And regarding "trust but verify"-- isn't this exactly what I was saying, that we should insist on comprehensive inspections?

And she's a mother of 5. And you're off the deep end
This kind of hyperventilated namecalling doesn't make Pelosi look bad, it makes you look ridiculous.

Iraq v. Iraq?
I don't understand your point, but maybe you have one.

>And if any state violates diplomaic immunity by kidnapping embassy personnel, they should feel threatened.

So I guess maybe Reagan shouldn't later have sold that state weapons in order to fund terrorist activity.

You have led by example.

Hillary Lied
" In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al Qaeda members, though there is apparently no evidence of his involvement in the terrible events of September 11, 2001.

It is clear, however, that if left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons. Should he succeed in that endeavor, he could alter the political and security landscape of the Middle East, which as we know all too well affects American security. "

http://clinton.senate.gov/speeches/iraq_101002.html

Typo
"I said Iraq began its nuclear weapons program in response to a threat from Iraq."

Should be: " I said Iran began...."

Iran Contra lessons: NEVER negotiate with kidnappers and NEVER tie your hands fighting communism.

"willingness of those same individuals to accept the responsibilities that go along with that freedo
If that is a criteria for a democracy, the USA is not ready.

Surely you know better than that
"It is clear, however, that if left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons."

But anyone who knows anything of the situation understands that Saddam was not being "left unchecked". The IAEA inspections kept any such programs perpetually off base. Do you believe one can conduct bacteriological weapons production in mobile labs, while those mobile units are continually being monitored for traces of banned substances? Much less, do you think one can produce plutonium inside an RV?

It was a low cost, effective means of containing a person universally considered to be a potential no-goodnik. And it put him continually under a spotlight, like a meth freak who has a member of the DEA bunking in his living room.

It was working just fine.

Sure. You say an elected U.S. official, a grandmother, is somehow like Hitler...
...but i"m the one out of line. Take this to the voters: I know they'll think you're persuasive. Or, wait: you just did: how did that work out??

Your whole argument's a typo
As for the lessons -- again, take this stuff to the voters. Oh, wait - you just did.

The problem with realists is ...
The problem with realists is they are too willing to compromise and then assume that is all they can do.

The problem with idealists is they won't settle for less than the ideal.

The problem with most of our enemies is that they are idealists who compromise, consolidate their positions and then advance again and then compromise again.

Just doing what North Korea did
Nice comment Marjon. Iran has seen that North Korea was very successful as was Iraq. Is it any surprise that the people who believed Saddam and North Korea wouldn't be taken in by Iran? There's a sucker born every minute. Its got to be genetic with the believers of Marx.

Amazing that Roy would dare make such a superficial & frivolous lie
Just like North Korea? Dissembling from dawn till dusk.

With so many mistakes it's hard to know where to start...
Michael,

You said: "The Democrats are as lost as anybody when it comes to addressing the war" I agree that the Democrats have no idea what to do with this war other than to use it as a way to get people elected. And yet you say that this was a "war initially planned to spur a democratic transformation in the Middle East. [yet] Rumsfeld never bought into that grand ambition..."

That last statement is simply not true. This was a war to bring about a regime change within a demonstrably dangerous rogue state that was running a WMD bluff and defying the world to do something about it. Saddam Hussein broke the rule against the annexation of his neighbors (Kuwait in this case) all the way back in 1990 and we took his overreaching as our opportunity to convince all sovereign nations that such military hegemony would simply no longer be tolerated. Saddam Hussein had 12 years to learn how to behave. But in the light of September 11th, we simply could not wait any longer. So we called his cards. And he was bluffing.

Of course, following the successful regime change we needed to wait until Iraq was able to come up with its own legitimate government or civil war was a certainty. Some sort of constitutional democratic republic was certainly called for rather than for us to install a puppet dictator. But the point was not to bring democracy to a region that may not want democracy. The point was regime change.

Given democracy, some of these nations elect people like Hamas or Hezbollah to lead them. This does not speak well for pure democracy over there.

Donald Rumsfeld needed to step away so we might disengage without him seeming to have backed down or to have yielded to political pressure. If the other side thought that our Secretary of Defense could be "worked" then they would never stop trying to push him around.

The President can now talk just as tough as ever regarding the War on Terror. He can have lunch with Nancy Pelosi. And Robert Gates can quietly disengage. We gave Iraq the opportunity to transition into a peaceful global player. They seem to have chosen to continue with their centuries old sacred tradition of mutual genocide.

Where in the world did you get the idea that the White House now needs to "contend with Robert Gates at the Pentagon"? The White House just now appointed him! Are you simply making this article up to suit some prepackaged agenda of your own?

And then you said: "A by-product of Arab despotism has been militant Islam, which in its most ambitiously destructive form led to the 9/11 attacks." Al Qaeda was not a product of any Arab despotism such as the government of Saddam Hessein. Militant Islam is a product of militant Islamic teaching perpetutated by militant Islamic mullahs. Despotic governments in that region are consistent with the cultural heritage of their societies. It is really none of our business how other contries constitute their political sovereignty. As long as they do not attack us, attack our friends or try to annex anyone.

Michael. If you are going to hold yourself out as an expert regarding these matters you should at least not distort the history. A lot of these good people think you know what you are talking about. Such behavior is obviously self-serving and it does a lot more harm than good. No matter what your opinion or your politics might be you have some duty to act responsibly.

Are you kidding?
Never "off the table" but never actively discussed either. Hit them now and take out most, if not all, of their capability. Right now NK has, perhaps, a couple of active weapons. Give them another year or two and they will have those weapons (and many more) mated to missiles and other delivery systems. At that point your scenario is real. diplomacy on this simply buys NK time to actually become a nuke threat; they aren't one yet.

Tried before; didn't work. The strait of Hormuz is narrow, but not that narrow. They could slow it down quite a bit, but the cost to Iran would be much higher than it is to anyone else.

Sorry, yes; I meant Iran. Israel has some nuke capability, but the actual number isn't known. Also, they don't have any that are already dispersed and mated to any weapon system (except a few gravity bombs and, perhaps, some arty shells). Iraq is talking like a massive hit; in this case that would mean four or five small bombs. That would pretty much take out Israel, especially if one of them hit directly on the Nuke plant and facilities (I would bet a large part of their stockpile is in that area as well; makes it impossible to find with radiation detection gear). With a strike like that, any retalitation would be weak at best. Unlike the U.S., with it's massive and dispersed nuke aresenal, Israel would be lucky if they had enough left to launch any return strike at all.

Strategically speaking, MAD is simply not an option that works between Israel and Iran. Therefore, I have to take the Iranian leadership at it's word; it wants to destroy Israel. This would be a means to that end.

Most people don't think so
N. Korea doesn't need nukes to flatten huge areas. Seoul is within range of huge batteries of heavy guns. Likewise, closing the straits of hormuz is quite within Iran's capabilities. The situation in bothr Iran nor N. Korea has deteriorated under the Bush administration. As far as them starting other was -- the one they started in Iraq has worked out really, really well, hasn't it?

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