Schadenfreude over seeing the warrior pundits eat crow over Hagel will, alas, be short-lived. For a while I had anticipated producing a post comprised of Jennifer Rubin quotes predicting that Hagel was “toast”—a forecast she made seemingly every two or three days for much of the past two months. But readers will have to imagine it.
Meanwhile foreign-policy issues have been piling up. A new round of negotiations with Iran has started: the American war party and Likud hope they fail, with the idea that Obama is so boxed in politically that he will have no option but to start a war. Iran has been pressured by a mounting pile of sanctions, computer attacks, and targeted assassinations. Perhaps Iran will succumb. But if it did, it would be contrary to virtually everything we know both about human nature and Iranian internal politics.
Jack Straw, Britain’s foreign secretary from 2001 to 2006, has a piece here (interestingly enough in the right-wing Telegraph) arguing that a successful outcome to the negotiations remains quite possible. But even if negotiations fail, he argues, containing a nuclear Iran is preferable to trying to bomb it into submission. Straw also reminds us that Iran was extremely helpful in Afghanistan after 9/11—and after which George W. Bush and the neoconservatives “rewarded” it by naming to the “the axis of evil.”
Straw’s view is not without backers in the Washington policy community—including perhaps, Obama himself. But it has been rendered politically radioactive; it was no accident that Chuck Hagel vociferously disavowed interest in “containing” Iran during his confirmation process—that is, until he misspoke in what was quite likely a Freudian slip and endorsed “containment” at his hearing.
If Straw’s perspective is more widely held among prominent Europeans, and I believe it is, it is not too late for them to speak up: European voices do resonate in Washington. Were it not for Tony Blair’s encouragement, it is far from certain that George W. Bush would have invaded Iraq. If there are more European leaders (and U.S. senators) who think privately that a contained Iran is preferable to a bombed country with tens or even hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties, uncontained radioactive waste, and an empowered Islamist regime—not to mention the war’s impact on the petroleum markets—they should loosen their tongues. Israel’s pressure on the U.S. to do its bombing for it (to be on florid display at next week’s AIPAC conference) resonates more than it might because of Europe’s silence.
The broader issue of nuclear proliferation did not begin and will not end with Iran. Israel was first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East, contravening the wishes of the United States, its “ally.” The question of whether the Israeli nuclear monopoly is more a source of stability or resentment and unrest in the region will continue to rear its head, no matter what happens in the Iran talks. In the 1970s, Robert W. Tucker, a top international relations scholar and one of the first generation of neoconservatives, argued (in Commentary, no less) that balance of nuclear deterrence in the Middle East would help stabilize the region.