Thank goodness Karl Rove has no influence in the White House any longer. Here is his idea of “thinking strategically” about Iran:
But if he thought about Iran strategically, he would have backed Iran’s Green Revolution after the stolen 2009 parliamentary elections. He would also not have sabotaged chances for a U.S. military presence in Iraq by insisting on parliamentary approval of a status-of-forces agreement. A U.S. presence in Iraq would have reduced Iranian influence in Baghdad and diminished the likelihood of sectarian conflict in Iraq.
A lot of this relies on the same exaggerated view of presidential power that afflicts so many pundits writing on failed domestic legislation. Rove’s argument boils down to saying that these things would have been done and they would have been successful if only Obama had been willing to do them. All of this is tied to the fantasy that Obama’s Iran policy has been anything other than the cruel, unwise continuation of his predecessor’s Iran policy. In fact, each of these claims is wrong on the merits, and none of them would have changed a thing about Iran’s nuclear program had U.S. policy been different.
I’ve explained many times that backing the Green movement wouldn’t have resulted in the movement’s success, because the U.S. has virtually no constructive ability to influence events or opinion inside Iran. Indeed, public American backing for the movement could very well have hastened its demise. According to most of the critics that have made this charge in the past, “backing” the Green movement meant nothing more than offering stirring speeches on their behalf. That was the main criticism: Obama should have “spoken out” more forcefully. Funny how Rove dredges up this example just a few sentences after he complains about Obama’s habit of mistaking speeches for policies. Regardless, a successful Green movement would not have produced an Iranian government that was more cooperative on the nuclear issue. The leaders of the movement didn’t and don’t disagree with the current leadership over the nuclear program, and they certainly weren’t about to capitulate to the U.S. when the Iranian public also supports the program. However, the main problem with this tiresome, oft-repeated argument is that it invests American administrations and presidents with magical powers to direct the course of events in other nations simply by exercising more willpower.
If Obama had kept a large residual force in Iraq over the objections of most Iraqis, he would have made them targets for Iranian-backed militias and Sunni insurgents for the foreseeable future. Far from increasing U.S. influence, we would have seen a resumption of even worse violence, and an increased Iranian role in internal Iraqi politics. There would have been intensifying Iraqi resentment, because most Iraqis would continue to see our soldiers as an occupying force, which is what they would have been. It is doubtful that a U.S. military presence in Iraq would reduce the likelihood of sectarian conflict, but if it did it would be because armed Iraqi groups would be directing their attacks against Americans instead. Instead of liquidating a bad, costly commitment, remaining in Iraq would have allowed Iraq to continue to bleed the U.S. with more casualties and waste countless billions of dollars. That’s some clever strategy, Rove.
As we go through Rove’s list of what Obama should have done to “think strategically” about Iran, we find that he recommends doing the most foolish, irresponsible thing in each case. For instance, he also thinks the U.S. should have quickly moved to collapse Assad’s regime. A collapsed Syrian regime might be a setback for Iran, but it would be a nightmare for Syrians and their neighbors that could be far worse than their current suffering. Rove’s recommendations for “thinking strategically” are all short-sighted and suggest that neither he nor the Republican hawks that he stole them from have been thinking very seriously about any of these problems.