Who is this Muravchik?

I had never heard of Muravchik before his Foreign Policy article "Operation Comeback," which I blogged about here. But now he has popped up again in the LA Times, in an op-ed titled "Bomb Iran." Reading it frustrated me. I will now issue a point-by-point refutation.

Bomb Iran
Diplomacy is doing nothing to stop the Iranian nuclear threat; a show of force is the only answer.
By Joshua Muravchik, JOSHUA MURAVCHIK is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
November 19, 2006

WE MUST bomb Iran.

It has been four years since that country's secret nuclear program was brought to light,
The CIA states that there is no evidence that Iran even has a secret nuclear program except for one Israeli agent who's reports the White House won't let them read.
and the path of diplomacy and sanctions has led nowhere.
Muravchik claims we have tried diplomacy, despite the fact that no American officials have talked with any Iranian officials about this matter. Muravchik's claim that diplomacy has failed is false (aka a lie) because we haven't tried it yet.
First, we agreed to our allies' requests that we offer Tehran a string of concessions, which it spurned. Then, Britain, France and Germany wanted to impose a batch of extremely weak sanctions. For instance, Iranians known to be involved in nuclear activities would have been barred from foreign travel — except for humanitarian or religious reasons — and outside countries would have been required to refrain from aiding some, but not all, Iranian nuclear projects.

But even this was too much for the U.N. Security Council. Russia promptly announced that these sanctions were much too strong. "We cannot support measures … aimed at isolating Iran," declared Foreign Minister Sergei V. Lavrov.

It is now clear that neither Moscow nor Beijing will ever agree to tough sanctions. What's more, even if they were to do so, it would not stop Iran, which is a country on a mission. As President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad put it: "Thanks to the blood of the martyrs, a new Islamic revolution has arisen…. The era of oppression, hegemonic regimes and tyranny and injustice has reached its end…. The wave of the Islamic revolution will soon reach the entire world." There is simply no possibility that Iran's clerical rulers will trade this ecstatic vision for a mess of Western pottage in the form of economic bribes or penalties.

So if sanctions won't work, what's left? The overthrow of the current Iranian regime might offer a silver bullet, but with hard-liners firmly in the saddle in Tehran, any such prospect seems even more remote today than it did a decade ago, when students were demonstrating and reformers were ascendant.
At least Muravchik takes ground invasion off the table. You know, given that regime change is an impossibility, deleting "regime change" from our official policy towards Iran might be a diplomatic tool (not that Muravchik has heard of such things).
Meanwhile, the completion of Iran's bomb grows nearer every day.
...but is still approximately ten years off in the future, according to the same editorial page that printed this op-ed.
Our options therefore are narrowed to two: We can prepare to live with a nuclear-armed Iran, or we can use force to prevent it. Former ABC newsman Ted Koppel argues for the former, saying that "if Iran is bound and determined to have nuclear weapons, let it." We should rely, he says, on the threat of retaliation to keep Iran from using its bomb. Similarly, Newsweek International Editor Fareed Zakaria points out that we have succeeded in deterring other hostile nuclear states, such as the Soviet Union and China.

And in these pages, William Langewiesche summed up the what-me-worry attitude when he wrote that "the spread of nuclear weapons is, and always has been, inevitable," and that the important thing is "learning how to live with it after it occurs."

But that's whistling past the graveyard. The reality is that we cannot live safely with a nuclear-armed Iran. One reason is terrorism, of which Iran has long been the world's premier state sponsor, through groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah. Now, according to a report last week in London's Daily Telegraph, Iran is trying to take over Al Qaeda by positioning its own man, Saif Adel, to become the successor to the ailing Osama bin Laden. How could we possibly trust Iran not to slip nuclear material to terrorists?
Well we could always trace the source of the nuclear material. That would enhance our deterrence threat.
Koppel says that we could prevent this by issuing a blanket warning that if a nuclear device is detonated anywhere in the United States, we will assume Iran is responsible. But would any U.S. president really order a retaliatory nuclear strike based on an assumption?
Op-eds that are filled with rhetorical questions are generally filled with crap. Also, as noted above, if we are able to trace the origin of the nuclear material or trace the path the bomb took in more traditional ways, any retaliatory nuclear strike would be based on fact, rather than assumption.
Another reason is that an Iranian bomb would constitute a dire threat to Israel's 6 million-plus citizens. Sure, Israel could strike back, but Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president who was Ahmadinejad's "moderate" electoral opponent, once pointed out smugly that "the use of an atomic bomb against Israel would totally destroy Israel, while [the same] against the Islamic world would only cause damage. Such a scenario is not inconceivable." If that is the voice of pragmatism in Iran, would you trust deterrence against the messianic Ahmadinejad?
Not to be a cold-hearted bastard, but Israel is not part of the United States. They are an ally with their own nuclear arsenal and can take care of themselves. And as for Rafsanjani, he also said "We have no problems with Jews and highly respect Judaism as a holy religion."
Even if Iran did not drop a bomb on Israel or hand one to terrorists, its mere possession of such a device would have devastating consequences. Coming on top of North Korea's nuclear test, it would spell finis to the entire nonproliferation system.
As I see it, this is the real danger of an Iranian nuclear weapon - the precedent that it creates for the rest of the world.
And then there is a consequence that seems to have been thought about much less but could be the most harmful of all: Tehran could achieve its goal of regional supremacy. Jordan's King Abdullah II, for instance, has warned of an emerging Shiite "crescent." But Abdullah's comment understates the danger. If Iran's reach were limited to Shiites, it would be constrained by their minority status in the Muslim world as well as by the divisions between Persians and Arabs.

But such ethnic-based analysis fails to take into account Iran's charisma as the archenemy of the United States and Israel and the leverage it achieves as the patron of radicals and rejectionists. Given that, the old assumptions about Shiites and Sunnis may not hold any longer. Iran's closest ally today is Syria, which is mostly Sunni. The link between Tehran and Damascus is ideological, not theological. Similarly, Iran supports the Palestinian groups Islamic Jihad and Hamas, which are overwhelmingly Sunni (and as a result, Iran has grown popular in the eyes of Palestinians).
First, it's ludicrous to believe that ideology and theology can be separate. Second, Syria, while overwhelmingly Sunni, it is run by a Shi'ite (Alawite) government - any attempt to characterize its foreign relations as "Sunni" is dishonest. Third, Iran is a country of 70 million people, as many as Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iraq combined (in the region, only Egypt has a higher population, 80 million). Between its population and oil reserves, it will be the significant regional player whether it has a nuclear weapon or not.
During the Lebanon war this summer, we saw how readily Muslims closed ranks across the Sunni-Shiite divide against a common foe (even as the two groups continued killing each other in Iraq). In Sunni Egypt, newborns were named "Hezbollah" after the Lebanese Shiite organization and "Nasrallah" after its leader. As Muslim scholar Vali Nasr put it: "A flurry of anti-Hezbollah [i.e., anti-Shiite] fatwas by radical Sunni clerics have not diverted the admiring gaze of Arabs everywhere toward Hezbollah."
Lebanese support for Hezbollah is not only amongst Muslims, but also significant amongst Christians and Druze, as this poll shows. Thus, characterizing it as "Iran ganging up with its fellow Muslims" is inaccurate. Many in Iran frame the conflict equally as imperialists versus natives.
In short, Tehran can build influence on a mix of ethnicity and ideology, underwritten by the region's largest economy. Nuclear weapons would bring regional hegemony within its reach by intimidating neighbors and rivals and stirring the admiration of many other Muslims.
As I stated earlier, Iran has regional hegemony within its reach with or without nuclear weapons.
This would thrust us into a new global struggle akin to the one we waged so painfully with the Soviet Union for 40-odd years. It would be the "clash of civilizations" that has been so much talked about but so little defined.
When Muravchik says "so much talked about," he really means "that we neoconservatives dream about at night." However, as Doug Muder, says, the struggle is in reality a struggle between extremists and moderates, rather than between Christians and Muslims.
Iran might seem little match for the United States, but that is not how Ahmadinejad sees it. He and his fellow jihadists believe that the Muslim world has already defeated one infidel superpower (the Soviet Union) and will in time defeat the other.

Russia was poor and weak in 1917 when Lenin took power, as was Germany in 1933 when Hitler came in.
Both Russia and Germany had been Great Powers in 1914, and both were uniquely poised to return to Great Power status. Anyone who argues that Iran is a Great Power will be laughed at.
Neither, in the end, was able to defeat the United States, but each of them unleashed unimaginable suffering before they succumbed. And despite its weakness, Iran commands an asset that neither of them had: a natural advantage in appealing to the world's billion-plus Muslims.
To assert that the Soviet Union had no "natural advantages" to appealing to populations outside its own borders is laughable. Wasn't that the whole theme of neoconservatives before 1991 - that Communists were everywhere because their ideology was so attractive? Also, Iran's natural advantage only exists because a) of the total lack of public diplomacy by the United States, and b) the United States' support for policies that can be perceived as anti-Muslim (perception matters more than reality in these cases).
If Tehran establishes dominance in the region, then the battlefield might move to Southeast Asia or Africa or even parts of Europe, as the mullahs would try to extend their sway over other Muslim peoples. In the end, we would no doubt win, but how long this contest might last and what toll it might take are anyone's guess.
Didn't Muravchik get the memo? The battlefield already is in Europe, and it has less to do with Iran and more to do with our ally, Saudi Arabia.
The only way to forestall these frightening developments is by the use of force. Not by invading Iran as we did Iraq, but by an air campaign against Tehran's nuclear facilities. We have considerable information about these facilities; by some estimates they comprise about 1,500 targets. If we hit a large fraction of them in a bombing campaign that might last from a few days to a couple of weeks, we would inflict severe damage. This would not end Iran's weapons program, but it would certainly delay it.
Iran is already ten years away from a nuclear weapon, if they are trying to build one at all. I do not understand why we need to kill people in order to delay them further, when everybody acknowledges that this is not even a real solution. I also do not agree that the only way to forestall an Iranian bomb is by force - using force will merely encourage Iran to speed up any potential nuclear weapons program they have, just like Israeli action at Osirak did.

What should be the timing of such an attack? If we did it next year, that would give time for U.N. diplomacy to further reveal its bankruptcy yet would come before Iran will have a bomb in hand (and also before our own presidential campaign). In time, if Tehran persisted, we might have to do it again.
Can President Bush take such action after being humiliated in the congressional elections and with the Iraq war having grown so unpopular? Bush has said that history's judgment on his conduct of the war against terror is more important than the polls. If Ahmadinejad gets his finger on a nuclear trigger, everything Bush has done will be rendered hollow. We will be a lot less safe than we were when Bush took office.
Ahmadinejad will not have his finger on a nuclear trigger, because the President of Iran is not the commander in chief of the Iranian military - the Supreme Leader, Khamenei, is.
Finally, wouldn't such a U.S. air attack on Iran inflame global anti-Americanism? Wouldn't Iran retaliate in Iraq or by terrorism? Yes, probably. That is the price we would pay. But the alternative is worse.

After the Bolshevik takeover of Russia in 1917, a single member of Britain's Cabinet, Winston Churchill, appealed for robust military intervention to crush the new regime. His colleagues weighed the costs — the loss of soldiers, international derision, revenge by Lenin — and rejected the idea.

The costs were avoided, and instead the world was subjected to the greatest man-made calamities ever. Communism itself was to claim perhaps 100 million lives, and it also gave rise to fascism and Nazism, leading to World War II. Ahmadinejad wants to be the new Lenin. Force is the only thing that can stop him.
Communism did not cause fascism or Nazism. That is just silly.

Many neoconservatives insist on seeing the world through the prism of Munich 1938. The reality is that Ahmadinejad is not Hitler and is not the dictator of Germany. Iran, unlike Germany in 1933, has no extra-territorial ambitions.

Similarly, Islam is not Communism, and is not a great evil to be defeated. There is no "Clash of Civilizations." The "War on Terror" is not the new Cold War. Al Qaeda will never threaten the existence of the United States or the existence of humanity.

Muravchik's logic goes like this:
Iran is making a bomb --> they must be stopped --> non-coercive measures haven't worked yet --> coercive measures will work --> we must bomb Iran.

My logic goes like this:
Iran may or may not be making a bomb --> let's not kill people until we know wtf is going on.

No comments: