The Iran Deal: Consequences and Alternatives

August 14, 2015

In his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Richard Nathan Haass analyses the nuclear deal with Iran and suggests that any vote by Congress to approve the pact should be linked to legislation or a White House statement that makes clear what the United States would do if there were Iranian non-compliance, what would be intolerable in the way of Iran’s long-term nuclear growth, and what the U.S. was prepared to do to counter Iranian threats to U.S. interests and friends in the Region.

Statement by Richard Nathan Haass

President, Council on Foreign Relations

Before the Committee on Armed Services of the United States Senate on August 4, 2015

1st Session, 114th Congress

Richard Nathan Haass

Mr. Chairman: Thank you for this opportunity to speak about the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” (JCPOA) signed on July 14 by representatives of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, Germany, and Iran. I want to make it clear that what you are about to hear are my personal views and should not be interpreted as representing the Council on Foreign Relations, which takes no institutional positions.

The agreement with Iran, like any agreement, is a compromise, filled with elements that are attractive from the vantage point of US national security as well as elements that are anything but.

A simple way of summarizing the pact and its consequences is that at its core the accord represents a strategic tradeoff. On one hand, the agreement places significant limits on what Iran is permitted to do in the nuclear realm for the next ten to fifteen years. But these limits, even if respected in full, come at a steep price.

The agreement almost certainly facilitates Iran’s efforts to promote its national security objectives throughout the region (many of which are inconsistent with our own) over that same period. And second, the agreement does not resolve the problems posed by Iran’s actual and potential nuclear capabilities. Many of these problems will become greater as we approach the ten year point (when restrictions on the quantity and quality of centrifuges come to an end) and its fifteen year point (when restrictions pertaining to the quality and quantity of enriched uranium also end).

I was not a participant in the negotiations; nor was I privy to its secrets. My view is that a better agreement could and should have materialized. But this debate is better left to historians. I will as a result address the agreement that exists. I would say at the outset it should be judged on its merits rather than on hopes it might lead (to borrow a term used by George Kennan in another context) to a mellowing of Iran. This is of course possible, but the agreement also could have just the opposite effect. We cannot know whether Iran will be transformed, much less how or how much. So the only things that makes sense to do now is to assess the agreement as a transaction and to predict as carefully as possible what effects it will likely have on Iran’s capabilities as opposed to its intentions.

I want to focus on three areas: on the nuclear dimension as detailed in the agreement; on the regional; and on nuclear issues over the longer term.

There is understandable concern as to whether Iran will comply with the letter and spirit of the agreement. Compliance cannot be assumed given Iran’s history of misleading the IAEA, the lack of sufficient data provided as to Iran’s nuclear past, the time permitted Iran to delay access to inspectors after site-specific concerns are raised, and the difficulty likely to be experienced in reintroducing sanctions. My own prediction is that Iran may be tempted to cut corners and engage in retail but not wholesale non-compliance lest it risk the reintroduction of sanctions and/or military attack. I should add that I come to this prediction in part because I believe that Iran benefits significantly from the accord and will likely see it in its own interest to mostly comply. But this cannot be assumed and may be wrong, meaning the United States, with as many other governments as it can persuade to go along, should both make Iran aware of the penalties for non-compliance and position itself to implement them if need be. I am assuming that the response to sustained non-compliance would be renewed sanctions and that any military action on our part would be reserved to an Iranian attempt at breaking out and fielding one or more nuclear weapons.

The regional dimension is more complex and more certain to be problem. Iran is an imperial power that seeks a major and possibly dominant role in the region. Sanctions relief will give it much greater means to pursue its goals, including helping minority and majority Shi’ite populations in neighboring countries, arming and funding proxies such as Hezbollah and Hamas, propping up the government in Damascus, and adding to sectarianism in Iraq by its unconditional support of the government and Shia militias. The agreement could well extend the Syrian civil war, as Iran will have new resources with which to back the Assad government. I hope that Iran will see that Assad’s continuation in power only fuels a conflict that provides recruiting opportunities for the Islamic State, which Iranian officials rightly see as a threat to themselves and the region. Unfortunately, such a change in thinking and policy is a long shot at best.

The United States needs to develop a policy for the region that can deal with a more capable, aggressive Iran. To be more precise, though, it is unrealistic to envision a single or comprehensive US policy for a part of the world that is and will continue to be afflicted by multiple challenges. As I have written elsewhere, the Middle East is in the early throes of what appears to be a modern day 30 Years War in which politics and religion will fuel conflict within and across boundaries for decades, resulting in a Middle East that looks very different from the one the world has grown familiar with over the past century.

I will put forward approaches for a few of these challenges. In Iraq, I would suggest the United States expand its intelligence, military, economic, and political ties with both the Kurds and Sunni tribes in the West. Over time, this has the potential to result in gradual progress in the struggle against the Islamic State.

Prospects for progress in Syria are poorer. The effort to build a viable opposition to both the government and various groups including but not limited to the Islamic State promises to be slow, difficult, anything but assured of success. A diplomatic push designed to produce a viable successor government to the Assad regime is worth exploring and, if possible, implementing. European governments likely would be supportive; the first test will be to determine Russian receptivity. If this is forthcoming, then a Joint approach to Iran would be called for.

I want to make two points here. First, as important as it would be to see the Assad regime ousted, there must be high confidence in the viability of its successor. Not only would Russia and Iran insist on it, but the United States should as well. Only with a viable successor can there be confidence the situation would not be exploited by the Islamic State and result in the establishment of a caliphate headquartered in Damascus and a massacre of Alawites and Christians. Some sort of a multinational force may well be essential.

Second, such a scenario assumes a diplomatic approach to Iran. This should cause no problems here or elsewhere. Differences with Iran in the nuclear and other realms should not preclude diplomatic explorations and cooperation where it can materialize because interests are aligned. Syria is one such possibility, as is Afghanistan. But such diplomatic overtures should not stop the United States acting, be it to interdict arms shipments from Iran to governments or non-state actors; nor should diplomatic outreach in any way constrain the United States from speaking out in reaction to internal political developments within Iran. New sanctions should also be considered when Iran takes steps outside the nuclear realms but still judged to be detrimental to other US interests.

Close consultations will be required with Saudi Arabia over any number of policies, including Syria. But three subjects in particular should figure in US-Saudi talks. First, the United States needs to work to discourage Saudi Arabia and others developing a nuclear option to hedge against what Iran might do down the road. A Middle East with nuclear materials in the hands of warring, potentially unstable regimes would be a nightmare. This could involve assurances as to what will not be tolerated (say, enrichment above a specified level) when it comes to Iran as well as calibrated security guarantees to Saudi Arabia and others.

Second, the Saudis should be encouraged to reconsider their current ambitious policy in Yemen, which seems destined to be a costly and unsuccessful distraction. The Saudi government would be wiser to concentrate on contending with internal threats to its security. And thirdly, Washington and Riyadh should maintain a close dialogue on energy issues as lower oil prices offer one way of limiting Iran’s capacity to pursue programs and policies detrimental to US and Saudi interests.

The agreement with Iran does not alter the reality that Egypt is pursuing a political trajectory unlikely to result in sustained stability or that Jordan will need help in coping with a massive refugee burden. Reestablishing strategic trust with Israel is a must, as is making sure it as well as other friends in the region have what they need to deal with threats to their security. (It matters not whether the threats come from Iran, the Islamic State, or elsewhere.) The United States should also step up its criticism of Turkey for both attacking the Kurds and for allowing its territory to be used as a pipeline for recruits to reach Syria and join the Islamic State.

The third area of concern linked to the nuclear pact with Iran stems from its medium and long-term capabilities in the nuclear realm. It is necessary but not sufficient that Iran not be permitted to assemble one or more nuclear bombs. It is also necessary that it not be allowed to develop the ability to field a large arsenal of weapons with little or no warning. This calls for consultations with European and regional governments to begin sooner rather than later on a follow-on agreement to the current JCPOA. The use of sanctions, covert action, and military force should also be addressed in this context.

I am aware that members of Congress have the responsibility to vote on the Iran agreement. As I have said, it is a flawed agreement. But the issue before the Congress is not whether the agreement is good or bad but whether from this point on the United States is better or worse off with it. It needs to be recognized that passage of a resolution of disapproval (presumably overriding a presidential veto) entails several Major drawbacks.

First, it would allow Iran to resume nuclear activity in an unconstrained manner, increasing the odds the United States would be faced with a decision – possibly as soon as this year or next – as to whether to tolerate the emergence of a threshold or actual nuclear weapons state or use military force against it.

Second, by acting unilaterally at this point, the United States would make itself rather than Iran the issue. In this vein, imposing unilateral sanctions would hurt Iran but not enough to make it alter the basics of ist nuclear program. Third, voting the agreement down and calling for a reopening of negotiations with the aim of producing a better agreement is not a real option as there would insufficient international support for so doing. Here, again, the United States would likely isolate itself, not Iran. And fourth, voting down the agreement would reinforce questions and doubts around the world as to American political divisions and dysfunction. Reliability and predictability are essential attributes for a great power that must at one and the same time both reassure and deter.

The alternative to voting against the agreement is obviously to vote for it. The problem with a simple vote that defeats a resolution of disapproval and that expresses unconditional support of the JCPOA is that it does not address the serious problems the agreement either exacerbated or failed to resolve.

So let me suggest a third path. What I would encourage members to explore is whether a vote for the pact (against a resolution of disapproval) could be associated or linked with policies designed to address and compensate for the weaknesses and likely adverse consequences of the agreement. I can imagine such assurances in the form of legislation voted on by the Congress and signed by the president or a communication from the president to the Congress, possibly followed up by a joint resolution. Whatever the form, it would have to deal with either what the United States would not tolerate or what the United States would do in the face of Iranian non-compliance with the recent agreement, Iran’s long-term nuclear growth, and Iranian regional activities.

Mr. Chairman, thank you again for asking me to meet with you and your colleagues here today. I of course look forward to any questions or comments you may have.


US Presidential Election 2016: Restoring America’s Strength

August 7, 2015

In an a op-ed in Foreign Affairs, Marco Rubio, senator from Florida and candidate for the Republican presidential nomination writes that his foreign policy “would restore the post-1945 bipartisan presidential tradition of a strong and engaged America while adjusting it to meet the new realities of a globalized world.”

My Vision for U.S. Foreign Policy

The Obama administration’s handling of Iran has demonstrated this with alarming clarity. Tehran exploited the president’s lack of strength throughout the negotiations over its nuclear program by wringing a series of dangerous concessions from the United States and its partners, including the ability to enrich uranium, keep the Arak and Fordow nuclear facilities open, avoid admitting its past transgressions, and ensure a limited timeline for the agreement.

How did a nation with as little intrinsic leverage as Iran win so many concessions? Part of the answer is that President Obama took off the table the largest advantage our nation had entering into the negotiations: military strength. Although the president frequently said that “all options are on the table” with regard to Iran, his administration consistently signaled otherwise. Several senior officials openly criticized the notion of a military strike, and the president himself publicly said that there could be no military solution to the Iranian nuclear program. This was underscored by a historic reluctance to engage throughout the Middle East, from pulling troops out of Iraq at all costs to retreating from the stated redline on the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

President Obama became so publicly opposed to military action that he sacrificed any option that could have conceivably raised the stakes and forced the mullahs into making major concessions. Iran recognized that it could push for greater compromise without fear that the United States would break off the talks. The president’s drive for a deal caused him to forsake a basic principle of diplomacy with rogue regimes: it must be backed by the threat of force. As president, I would have altered the basic environment of the talks. I would have maneuvered forces in the region to signal readiness; linked the nuclear talks to Iran’s broader conduct, from its human rights abuses to its support for terrorism and its existential threats against Israel; and pressured Tehran on all fronts, from Syria to Yemen.

It is true that Iran, in response to these displays of strength, may have broken off negotiations or even lashed out in the region. History, however, suggests that even if Iran had created more trouble in the near term, increased pressure would have eventually forced it to back down. That is exactly what happened in 1988, when Iran ended its war with Iraq and its attacks on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf after the Reagan administration sent in the U.S. Navy. More recently, after the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, Iran halted a key component of its nuclear program.

It’s not too late to mitigate the damage of the administration’s mishandling of Iran. By rescinding the flawed deal concluded by President Obama and reasserting our presence in the Middle East, we can reverse Iran’s malign influence in this vitally important region and prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. The security of the region, the safety of Israel, and the interests of the entire world require an American approach toward Tehran marked by strength and leadership rather than weakness and concession.

OPEN FOR BUSINESS

The second pillar of my foreign policy is the protection of an open international economy in an increasingly globalized world. Millions of the best jobs in this century will depend on international trade that will be possible only when global sea-lanes are open and sovereign nations are protected from the aggression of larger neighbors. Thus, the prosperity of American families is tied to the safety and stability of regions on the other side of the world, from Asia to the Middle East to Europe.

That is why Russia’s violation of Ukrainian sovereignty is much more than a question of where lines are drawn on the maps of eastern Europe. Russia’s annexation of Crimea and efforts to sow instability in eastern Ukraine were sparked, in no small part, by the decision of a sovereign Ukrainian government to seek closer political and economic ties with the European Union and the West.

Russia’s actions are a historic affront to the post–World War II global order on which the global economy depends, and they set a disturbing precedent in a world of rising powers with surging ambitions. Our halting and meager response sends a message to other countries that borders can be violated and countries invaded without serious consequences. The threat of this precedent is profound. America should never have to ask permission from a regional power to conduct commerce with any nation. We cannot allow the world to become a place where countries become off-limits to us as markets and trading partners because of violence, uncertainty, or the blustering threats of an autocratic ruler.

Russia’s actions are emblematic of a larger global trend. From the Strait of Hormuz to the South China Sea, authoritarian states increasingly threaten recognized borders and international waters, airspace, cyberspace, and outer space as a means of gaining leverage over their neighbors and over the United States. Since the end of World War II, the United States has prospered in part because it guarded those critical pathways, and U.S. engagement has a distinguished record of increasing the well-being of other countries, from Germany and Japan to South Korea and Colombia. By failing to maintain this devotion to protecting the lanes of commerce, the Obama administration has exposed international markets to exploitation and chaos.

I will also isolate Russia diplomatically, expanding visa bans and asset freezes on high-level Russian officials and pausing cooperation with Moscow on global strategic challenges. The United States should also station U.S. combat troops in eastern Europe to make clear that we will honor our commitments to our NATO allies and to discourage further Russian aggression.

If that support is coupled with more robust support for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and a willingness to leverage America’s newly gained status as a leader in oil and natural gas by lifting the ban on U.S. exports, we can help guard our European allies from Russia’s attempts to use trade and energy dependence as a weapon. This will also assist our efforts to help Ukraine’s leaders modernize and reform their economy and ultimately consolidate their independence from Moscow.

By preserving Ukraine’s freedom and demonstrating that the United States will not tolerate such threats to the global economy, the United States can begin to deter other potential aggressors from bullying their neighbors, including an increasingly ambitious China.

DEFENDING FREEDOM

Our approach to China in this century relates to the last pillar of my foreign policy: the need for moral clarity regarding America’s core values. Our devotion to the spread of human rights and liberal democratic principles has been a part of the fabric of our country since its founding and a beacon of hope for so many oppressed peoples around the globe. It is also a strategic imperative that requires pragmatism and idealism in equal measure.

Members of the Obama administration have signaled a disturbing willingness to ignore human rights violations in the hope of appeasing the Chinese leadership. In the administration’s early days in 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that human rights “can’t interfere” with other ostensibly more important bilateral issues, and in the months before Xi Jinping ascended to China’s top leadership post in 2012, Vice President Joe Biden told him that U.S. support for human rights was merely a matter of domestic political posturing.

As we have fallen silent about the true nature of the Chinese Communist Party, the Chinese government has stymied democratic efforts in Hong Kong, raided the offices of human rights organizations, arrested scores of activists, redoubled its efforts to monitor and control the Internet, and continued repressive policies in Tibet and other Chinese regions, all while rapidly expanding its military, threatening its neighbors, establishing military installations on disputed islands, and carrying out unprecedented cyberattacks against America. China’s actions reveal a basic truth: the manner in which governments treat their own citizens is indicative of the manner in which they will treat other nations. Beijing’s repression at home and its aggressiveness abroad are two branches of the same tree. If the United States hopes to restore stability in East Asia, it has to speak with clarity and strength regarding the universal rights and values that America represents.

The best way for the United States to counter China’s expansion in East Asia is through support for liberty. The “rebalance” to Asia needs to be about more than just physical posturing. We must stand for the principles that have allowed Asian economies to grow so rapidly and for democracy to take root in the region. Only American leadership can show the Chinese government that its increasingly aggressive regional expansionism will be countered by a reinforcement of cooperation among like-minded nations in the region.

As president, I will strengthen ties with Asia’s democracies, from India to Taiwan. Bolstering liberty on China’s periphery can galvanize the region against Beijing’s hostility and change China’s political future. I will also back the Chinese people’s demands for unrestricted Internet access and their appeals for the basic human right of free speech. I will engage with dissidents, reformers, and religious rights activists, and I will reject Beijing’s attempts to block our contacts with these champions of freedom. I will also redouble U.S. support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership and ensure that, once the trade deal is concluded, additional countries are able to join, expanding the creation of what will be millions of jobs here at home as well as abroad.

China will likely resist these efforts, but it is dependent on its economic relationship with the United States and, despite angry outbursts, will have no choice but to preserve it. President Ronald Reagan proved through his diplomacy with the Soviet Union that having a productive relationship with a great power and insisting on that power’s improvement of human rights are not conflicting aims. If the United States can pursue this agenda with China even as it continues its economic engagement, it will demonstrate that America remains committed to the cause of freedom in our time. I believe that when true freedom for the 1.3 billion people of China is finally attained, the impact will fundamentally change the course of human history.

FROM DISENGAGEMENT TO LEADERSHIP

These are only three examples of the challenges the United States will face in this century. They are all examples of problems that will require deft, multifaceted leadership. In addition to existing and emerging threats, we undoubtedly will be confronted with unexpected crises in the years ahead. These unknowns highlight the importance of establishing a fixed set of principles and objectives to guide American leadership. After years of strategic disengagement, this is the only way to restore global certainty regarding American commitments.

 By making retrenchment his primary objective, President Obama has put the international system at the mercy of the most ruthless aggressors. They are constantly seeking to undermine the basic principles of the post-1945 world by challenging American military primacy, threatening the global commons, and undermining liberal values. That Iran, Russia, and China are each challenging the United States in these spheres at the same time demonstrates their mutual desire for a departure from the postwar order.

The authoritarian rulers of these nations find an open international system deeply threatening to their exclusive grip on domestic political power. They cannot simply be reassured or persuaded, and they will push their agendas with whatever tools we give them the latitude to use. We cannot assume that these states will negotiate in good faith or see it in their interest to come to an agreement. If we allow the continued erosion of our military, economic, and moral strength, we will see a further breakdown in global order cast a lengthening shadow across our domestic prosperity and safety.

Retrenchment and retreat are not our destiny. The United States, by its presence alone, has the ability to alter balances, realign regional powers, promote stability, and enhance liberty. Only we can form coalitions based on mutual investment and mutual sacrifice. Our sole goal has never been to remain the world’s preeminent power. We will encourage and assist the rise of more powers when their rise is benign or noble. We wish to be a fraternal force rather than a paternal one.

This principle has marked the bipartisan tradition of U.S. foreign policy for the last 70 years. Our recent departure from this tradition has brought only violence, chaos, and discord. By advancing the three pillars of my foreign policy, I intend to restore American leadership to a world badly in need of it and defend our interests in what I’m confident will be another American century.

Reprinted with kindly permission of Foreign Affairs.

 


Desert Storm, the Last Classic War

August 7, 2015

Last Sunday marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the start of the Gulf War. Fought swiftly and successfully, today it looks like something of an anomaly, but its lessons remain valuable.

An Op-Ed by Richard Nathan Haass

Former Director of Policy Planning for the United States Department of State and advisor to Secretary of State Colin Powell

Richard Nathan Haass

Richard Nathan Haass

It was mid-July 1990, and for several days the U.S. intelligence community had been watching Saddam Hussein mass his forces along Iraq’s border with Kuwait. Most of us in the administration of President George H.W. Bush—I was then the top Middle East specialist on the National Security Council—believed that this was little more than a late-20th-century version of gunboat diplomacy. We figured that Saddam was bluffing to pressure his wealthy but weak neighbor to the south into reducing its oil output.

Iraq was desperate for higher oil prices, given the enormous cost of the just-concluded decadelong war with Ayatollah Khomeini’s Iran and Saddam’s own ambitions for regional primacy. Saddam’s fellow Arab leaders, for their part, were advising the Bush administration to stay calm and let things play out to the peaceful outcome they expected. In late July, Saddam met for the first time with April Glaspie, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, and her cable back to Washington reinforced the view that this was all an elaborate bit of geopolitical theater.

But by Aug. 1—25 years ago this week—it had become apparent that Saddam was amassing far more military forces than he would need simply to intimidate Kuwait. The White House hastily assembled senior staff from the intelligence community and the Departments of State and Defense. After hours of inconclusive talk, we agreed that the best chance for avoiding some sort of Iraqi military action would be for President Bush to call Saddam. I was asked to pitch this idea to my boss, National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, and the president.

I rushed over to Gen. Scowcroft’s small West Wing office and brought him up to speed on the deliberations. The two of us then walked over to the East Wing, the living quarters of the White House (as opposed to the working part). President Bush was in the sick bay, getting a sore shoulder tended to after hitting a bucket of golf balls. I briefed him on the latest intelligence and diplomacy, as well the recommendation that he reach out to Saddam.

We were all skeptical that it would work but figured that it couldn’t hurt to try. The conversation shifted to how best to reach the Iraqi leader—a more complicated task than one might think since it was 2 a.m. on Aug. 2 in Baghdad.

We were going through the options when the phone rang. It wasRobert Kimmitt, the acting secretary of state, saying that his department had just received word from the U.S. ambassador in Kuwait that an Iraqi invasion was under way. “So much for calling Saddam,” said the president grimly.

We didn’t know it at the time, but the first major crisis of the post-Cold War world had begun. Looking back on that conflict, which stretched out over the better part of the following year, it now has a classic feel to it—very much at odds with the decidedly nonclassic era unfolding in today’s Middle East. But the Gulf War is still worth remembering, not only because its outcome got the post-Cold War era off to a good start but also because it drove home a number of lessons that remain as relevant as ever.

Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait had taken us by surprise, and it took a few days for the administration to find its bearings. The first National Security Council meeting chaired by the president on Aug. 2—the day of the invasion—was disheartening since the cabinet-level officials couldn’t reach a consensus on what to do. To make matters worse, the president said publicly that military intervention wasn’t being considered. He meant it only in the most literal sense—i.e., that it was premature to start going down that path—but the press interpreted him to mean that he had taken a military response off the table. He hadn’t.

As the meeting ended, I went over to Gen. Scowcroft, who looked at least as worried and unhappy as I did. We quickly agreed that the meeting had been a debacle. He and the president were about to board Air Force One for Aspen, where the president was to give a long-scheduled speech on nuclear weapons and meet with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Gen. Scowcroft asked me to produce a memo for himself and the president outlining the stakes and the potential courses of action, including a U.S.-led military response. I returned to my office and typed away. “I am [as] aware as you are of just how costly and risky such a conflict would prove to be,” I wrote. “But so too would be accepting this new status quo. We would be setting a terrible precedent—one that would only accelerate violent centrifugal tendencies—in this emerging post-Cold War era.”

A second NSC meeting was held when the president returned the next day. It was as focused and good as the first one had been inchoate and bad. The president wanted to lead off the session to make clear that the U.S. response to this crisis would not be business as usual, but Gen. Scowcroft, Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger (filling in for James Baker, who happened to be in Siberia with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze) and Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney all argued that once the commander in chief spoke, it would be impossible to have an open and honest exchange.

The president reluctantly agreed to hold back. Instead, those three top advisers opened the meeting by making the strategic and economic case that Saddam couldn’t be allowed to get away with the conquest of Kuwait. Nobody dissented. A policy was coming into focus.

The next day (Saturday, Aug. 4), much the same group (now including Secretary Baker) met at Camp David for the first detailed discussion of military options. Gen. Colin Powell, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, led off, after which Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf (who oversaw U.S. Central Command) gave a detailed assessment of Iraq’s military strengths and weaknesses, along with some initial thoughts about what the U.S. could do quickly. What emerged was a consensus around introducing U.S. forces into Saudi Arabia to prevent a bad situation from getting far worse—and to deter Saddam from attacking another oil-rich neighbor. A delegation headed by Mr. Cheney and Deputy National Security Adviser Robert Gates would go to Saudi Arabia to make the arrangements.

The U.S. had already put economic sanctions in place and frozen the assets of both Iraq and Kuwait (in the latter case, to ensure that they wouldn’t be looted). The U.N. Security Council—including China and the Soviet Union, with their vetoes—had called for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Iraqi forces from all of Kuwait.

After the meeting at Camp David, everyone but the president hustled back to Washington. He didn’t return until the next afternoon. Gen. Scowcroft called to tell me that he couldn’t be there when the president’s helicopter touched down and asked me to meet Marine One and let the president know what was going on. I hurriedly summarized the latest on a single page and borrowed a navy blazer, arriving on the South Lawn just moments before the president.

Once on the ground, President Bush motioned me over and read my update on the military and diplomatic state of play. He scowled as we huddled. Saddam was showing no signs of backing off, and the president had grown tired of assurances from Arab leaders that they could work things out diplomatically if just given the chance. The president was also frustrated with press criticism that the administration wasn’t doing enough. After our brief discussion, he stalked over to the eagerly waiting White House press corps and unloaded with one of the most memorable phrases of his presidency: “This will not stand, this aggression against Kuwait.”

The stage was thus set for the next six months. Diplomacy and economic sanctions failed to dislodge Saddam. In mid-January, Operation Desert Shield—the deployment of some 500,000 U.S. troops, along with their equipment, to the region to protect Saudi Arabia and prepare to oust Iraqi forces from Kuwait—gave way to Operation Desert Storm. The administration not only won U.N. assent for its bold course but also assembled a global coalition, stretching from Australia to Syria, for the military effort. In the end, it took six weeks of air power and four days of land war to free Kuwait and restore the status quo that had prevailed before Saddam’s invasion.

Those days seem distant from what we now face in the Middle East, with virtual anarchy in much of the region and jihadist extremists holding large stretches of territory. But the Gulf War is not just ancient history. Its main lessons are still well worth heeding.

Economic sanctions can only do so much. Even sweeping sanctions supported by much of the world couldn’t persuade Saddam to vacate Kuwait—any more than they have persuaded Russia, Iran or North Korea to reverse major policies of their own in recent years. Moreover, sanctions against Iraq and Cuba demonstrate that sanctions can have the unintended consequence of increasing government domination of an economy.

Assumptions are dangerous things. The administration of George H.W. Bush (myself included) was late in realizing that Saddam would actually invade Kuwait—and too optimistic in predicting that he would be unable to survive his defeat in Kuwait. Just over a decade later, several assumptions made by a second Bush administration proved terribly costly in Iraq. So did later rosy assumptions made by the Obama administration as it pulled out of Iraq, staged a limited intervention in Libya, encouraged the ouster of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and called for regime change in Syria.

Multilateralism constrains the U.S., but it can yield big dividends.Broad participation ensures a degree of burden-sharing. Due to contributions from the Gulf states and Japan, the Gulf War ended up costing the U.S. little or nothing financially. Multilateralism—in this case, the support of the U.N. Security Council—can also generate political support within the U.S. and around the world; it supplies a source of legitimacy often judged missing when the U.S. acts alone.

Even successful policies can have unforeseen negative consequences. Our one-sided military victory in the Gulf War may have persuaded others to avoid conventional battlefield confrontations with the U.S. Instead, urban terrorism has become the approach of choice for many in the Middle East, while other enemies (such as North Korea) have opted for nuclear deterrence to ensure that they stay in power.

Limited goals are often wise. They may not transform a situation, but they have the advantage of being desirable, doable and affordable. Ambitious goals may promise more, but delivering on them can prove impossible. The U.S. got into trouble in Korea in 1950 when it was not content with liberating the south and marched north of the 38th parallel in an expensive and unsuccessful attempt to reunify the peninsula by force.

In the Gulf War, President Bush was often criticized for limiting U.S. objectives to what the U.N. Security Council and Congress had signed up for: kicking Saddam out of Kuwait. Many argued that we should have “gone on to Baghdad.” But as the U.S. learned the hard way a decade later in Afghanistan and Iraq, getting rid of a bad regime is easy compared with building a better, enduring alternative. In foreign lands, modest goals can be ambitious enough. Local realities almost always trump inside-the-Beltway abstractions.

There is no substitute for U.S. leadership. The world is not self-organizing; no invisible hand creates order in the geopolitical marketplace. The Gulf War demonstrated that it takes the visible hand of the U.S. to galvanize world action.

Similarly, there is no substitute for presidential leadership. The Senate nearly voted against going to war with Iraq 25 years ago—even though the U.S. was implementing U.N. resolutions that the Senate had sought. The country cannot have 535 secretaries of state or defense if it hopes to lead.

Be wary of wars of choice. The 1991 Gulf War—unlike the 2003 Iraq war—was a war of necessity. Vital U.S. interests were at stake, and after multilateral sanctions and intensive diplomacy came up short, only the military option remained. But most future U.S. wars are likely to be wars of choice: The interests at stake will tend to be important but not vital, or policy makers will have options besides military force. Such decisions about the discretionary use of force tend to be far harder to make—and far harder to defend if, as is often the case, the war and its aftermath turn out to be more costly and less successful than its architects predict.

The historical impact of the Gulf War turned out to be smaller than many imagined at the time—including President Bush, who hoped that the war would usher in a new age of global cooperation after the collapse of the Soviet empire. The U.S. enjoyed a degree of pre-eminence that couldn’t last. China’s rise, post-Soviet Russia’s alienation, technological innovation, American political dysfunction, two draining wars in the wake of 9/11—all contributed to the emergence of a world in which power is more widely distributed and decision-making more decentralized.

The Gulf War looks today like something of an anomaly: short and sharp, with a clear start and finish; focused on resisting external aggression, not nation-building; and fought on battlefields with combined arms, not in cities by special forces and irregulars. Most unusual of all in light of what would follow, the war was multilateral, inexpensive and successful. Even the principle for which the Gulf War was fought—the inadmissibility of acquiring territory by military means—has been drawn into question recently by the international community’s passivity in the face of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.

It is a stretch to tie the events of 1990-91 to the mayhem that is the Middle East today. The pathologies of the region—along with the 2003 Iraq war and the mishandling of its aftermath, the subsequent pullout of U.S. troops from Iraq, the 2011 Libya intervention and the continuing U.S. failure to act in Syria—all do more to explain the mess.

The Gulf War was a signal success of American foreign policy. It avoided what clearly would have been a terrible outcome—letting Saddam get away with a blatant act of territorial acquisition and perhaps come to dominate much of the Middle East. But it was a short-lived triumph, and it could neither usher in a “new world order,” as President Bush hoped, nor save the Middle East from itself.

This article appears in full in The Wall Street Journal by permission of its original publisher.


U.S. President Barack Obama campaigns for Iran Nuclear Deal

August 5, 2015

U.S. President Barack Obama will defend last month’s agreement on Iran’s nuclear program in a speech at American University in Washington DC today. Obama is expected to argue that the decision before the U.S. Congress on the nuclear deal is the country’s most important foreign policy debate since the authorization of the Iraq war.

iran nuclear deal

The ministers of foreign affairs of France, Germany, the European Union, Iran, the United Kingdom and the United States as well as Chinese and Russian diplomats announcing the framework for a Comprehensive agreement on the Iranian nuclear programme (Lausanne, 2 April 2015). Photo: United States Department of State

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry received the support of Gulf allies. “We did a nuclear deal. We exclusively looked at how do you take the most immediate threat away from them in order to protect the region. And if we’re going to push back against an Iran that is behaving in these ways, it is better to push back on an Iran that doesn’t have a nuclear weapons than one that does,” said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in an interview with the Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg.

The U.S. Congress has until September 17, 2015, vote on the deal.

Read full story.


Aftermaths of the Ukraine Coup d’État: The new cold war between Russia and the U.S.

February 23, 2014

An Op-Ed by Narcisse Caméléon, deputy editor-in-chief

“The main foundations of every state, new states as well as ancient or composite ones, are good laws and good arms. You cannot have good laws without good arms, and where there are good arms, good laws inevitably follow.” Niccolò Machiavelli

NATO EXPANSION

Putin will probably address the U.S. missile shield, saying Russia would have to respond militarily if the United States continues to deploy elements of the shield to Eastern European countries (especially Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, and now Ukraine).

In the past, Russia also accused NATO of building up naval forces in the Black Sea, though the United States cancelled plans to send a ship to the region.

The Black Sea is critical to Russian defense – the NATO does not have the ability to project power through land forces against Russia but has naval capacity to potentially limit Russian operations in the area. The best way to deal with Russia isn’t to attempt to isolate it, but to cooperate with it.

Anyway: the European people will likely pay the biggest price for the Coup d’État in Ukraine, as this conflict could lead to a civil war and to further instability in the continent.

Never touch a running system.

Let’s see what happens next.


500 Years of Niccolò Machiavelli’s Masterpiece “The Prince” (1513)

December 10, 2013

“The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him.” Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince (1513)

December 2013 is dedicated to one of the greatest theorists of politics in history: Niccolò Machiavelli, whose masterpiece ‘The Prince’ came out on December 10, 1513—500 years ago.

In an op-ed in the New York Times John T. Scott (University of California) and Robert Zaretsky (University of Houston), and authors of “The Philosophers’ Quarrel: Rousseau, Hume and the Limits of Human Understanding.”, explore the legacy of ‘The Prince’.

“Yet Machiavelli teaches that in a world where so many are not good, you must learn to be able to not be good. The virtues taught in our secular and religious schools are incompatible with the virtues one must practice to safeguard those same institutions. The power of the lion and the cleverness of the fox: These are the qualities a leader must harness to preserve the republic.

For such a leader, allies are friends when it is in their interest to be. (We can, with difficulty, accept this lesson when embodied by a Charles de Gaulle; we have even greater difficulty when it is taught by, say, Hamid Karzai.) What’s more, Machiavelli says, leaders must at times inspire fear not only in their foes but even in their allies — and even in their own ministers.”

Read full story.

Historian Quentin Skinner on Machiavelli’s “The Prince” (1513)


Crime Wars: Gangs, Drugs, and U.S. National Security

March 4, 2011
CNAS Report: U.S. and Mexico Should Embrace Regional Cooperation to Combat Drug Cartels

CNAS Report: U.S. and Mexico Should Embrace Regional Cooperation to Combat Drug Cartels

Press Release

Washington, D.C., March 4, 2011 – As Presidents Obama and Calderón continue to discuss the United States and Mexico’s efforts to combat growing drug-related violence, the leaders should look to embrace regional cooperation to combat the cartels, according to a recent report authored by Center for a New American Security (CNAS) Senior Fellow Bob Killebrew
 
In Crime Wars: Gangs, Drugs, and U.S. National Security, Killebrew surveys organized crime throughout the Western Hemisphere and analyzes the challenges it poses to individual countries and regional security. He argues that Mexico will remain a key state in the struggle against violent organized crime in the region, and that the United States should continue to support Mexico’s efforts while examining its own role in the ongoing conflict. In addition, the report notes, the United States and Mexico should:  

  • Increase U.S.-Mexico law enforcement and intelligence cooperation.
  • Increase bilateral training and assistance.
  • Embrace regional cooperation to attack cartels.
  • Attack the cartels’ financial networks and money-laundering capabilities.
“Whether Calderón and his successors can or will sustain a long-term, bloody fight to root out corruption in the Mexican state and reassert the rule of law is a matter of grave concern for the United States,” said Killebrew. Read full story.
 
Press Contact:
Shannon O’Reilly
Director of External Relations
Email: soreilly@cnas.org
Ph: (202) 457-9408

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