The Continuing Folly of Lindsey Graham
Matt Duss comments on the folly of Graham’s efforts to endorse an Israeli attack on Iran and provide authorization for a U.S. attack:
As for the idea that the specter of a belligerent Congress somehow strengthens the United States’s negotiating hand and makes a deal more attractive to the Iranians, it’s worth considering whether the reverse would be true. “If Iran took comparably provocative steps in the wake of a negotiating round, many voices in the United States would be yelling about how this shows how hostile are Iranian intentions, how Iranians are not serious about negotiating an agreement, and how the United States must respond by making its own posture even more hard line and inflexible,” wrote Paul Pillar, a 28-year U.S intelligence veteran, in the National Interest. “We should not be surprised if when the provocation is in the other direction, Iranians might react similarly.”
The constant drumbeat of threats likely does inspire the opposite reaction of the one that Graham desires. It is a common reaction to view another state’s repeated threats that it might start a war against your country as evidence of deep-seated, implacable hostility. Not only would we respond the same way if a vastly more powerful state were threatening us, but we routinely overreact to the smallest provocations and insults from states that are much weaker than our government. American hawkish suspicions and distrust are on a hair-trigger. Many of them view the smallest unfriendly gesture as evidence of the other state’s irrational aggression. At the same time, hawks usually take for granted that other governments are impressed and cowed by demonstrations of “strength” and “resolve” that would infuriate and provoke them if the roles were reversed. One would think that hard-liners here would be aware that hard-liners in other countries respond to threats and bluster in the same way that they do, but apparently lacking such awareness is part of being a hard-liner.
Is it likely that the U.S. will have more leverage in negotiations with Iran if the latter sees the Congress pass hostile resolutions? No, it isn’t. Another reason for this is the way that the U.S. has handled previous authoritarian regimes with which it had some dispute. There is no danger that Iran’s government would think that the U.S. isn’t ready and willing to attack. Over the last twenty-five years, Iran has witnessed the U.S. greatly increase its military presence in their region, wage three major wars in neighboring countries, carry out a few smaller invasions and military interventions in Central America, the Balkans, and North Africa, and help to depose at least one government that had already negotiated a deal with Western powers. During this same period, the U.S. has not issued a threat to use force against another government that it failed to carry out sooner or later. In order to believe that American threats of military action lack credibility, one must have been paying no attention to U.S. actions abroad since the end of the Reagan administration. Because of this, one of the real dangers is that Iran’s leaders will keep assuming that the U.S. is negotiating in bad faith and has no intention of ever accepting a deal no matter how many concessions they make. Graham’s resolutions make that response more likely, and as a result they make conflict with Iran harder to avoid. The other real danger is that our Iran policy has committed the U.S. to the absurd position of “prevention” that it increasingly makes Iranian capitulation or war the most likely outcomes.