Iran’s relationship with Hezbollah and Hamas is unique, and uniquely aggressive. ~James Poulos
I don’t know that this debate is really contributing much to a better understanding of what to do with respect to Iran policy, but let me just offer one more rejoinder. Iran’s relationship with Hizbullah and Hamas is unique, provided that we don’t count Syria as having a fairly similar relationship with both groups (plus, if certain reports are to be believed, a relationship with Fatah al-Islam). Iran’s relationship with these multiple proxy armies would be unique, if elements of the Pakistani government weren’t simultaneously backing proxies in both Afghanistan and Kashmir. In some capacity, our government has given tacit or open support to Mujahideen-e-Khalq and Jundullah as part of the opposition to Tehran (and Jundullah is based, of course, at least partly in Pakistan).
I have less trouble with people describing something as a unique threat when it actually appears to be a unique threat. My initial objection to the Stephens article that started all of this was a) the statement was inaccurate and b) if this was the only thing a boatful of alleged policymakers and putative experts on Iran could agree on, there is not only nothing like a consensus on a viable Iran policy, but also the one thing that “everyone” can agree on is probably a myth. Finally, it seemed clear enough that even the consensus of the people described in the original article was one that was ultimately biased towards intervention, despite the fact that many of the attendees did not advocate intervention.
Acknowledging the existence of a reported threat profoundly weakens arguments against intervention, because to believe that weak states on the opposite side of the planet pose some meaningful threat to our national security is to have given away 9/10 of the debate. This is the assumption that has to be challenged at every step, because it is such an obviously bad assumption. The principal conceptual failure of war opponents before the invasion was to grant the reality of the Iraqi threat and the uniqueness of Hussein’s menace. There was not much of a threat and his menace was far from unique, yet it was the combination of the two that supposedly demanded action. I don’t know how we can even begin to have “intellectual probity and policy as clear as it is responsible” when we begin from such a confused starting place as talking about a regime’s “uniquely aggressive” foreign policy when it does not have such a policy. James and I both want clear and responsible foreign policy, but if we do not insist on being precise in our language and fastidious with the details it is just a hop, skip and a jump to talk of smoking guns in the form of mushroom clouds.