I am off to Texas today to broadcast tomorrow from the state GOP convention. Dean will be sitting in today. Before I go, a quartet of pointers.
First, Dr. Barnett posts more on our exchange from Tuesday here at his blog. I will invite him back for an extended conversation next week as his analysis is usually valuable and often unique and perhaps I am missing it, which is what Dr. Barnett clearly believes. I put what I thought was a fair summary of key parts of his views to three other professionals yesterday –General Simmons, Christopher Hitchens and Dr. Kimberly Kagan. Their responses:
From Major General James E. Simmons, Deputy Commander for Support of Multi-National Forces, Iraq:
HH: Now General, yesterday, I don’t know if you’ve read Thomas P.M. Barnett’s The Pentagon’s New Map, but he comes on frequently, Pentagon strategist and briefer, and he said look, the Shia and the Sunni have just got to go at each other, there’s got to be a bloodletting, it’s Saudi Arabia versus Iran in Iraq, and we ought to get out of their way, and let the killing go until they’re tired of it. That’s kind of a fatalist and almost a nihilistic approach. What’s your reaction to that, General?
JS: I don’t think that’s…I don’t think that’s necessary. My dealings with the Iraqi people here is that there are many, many well educated, reasonable, middle of the road people who want to come to a political settlement to the differences here between the different political parties, the different sects that are here in Iraq. And I do not believe there needs to be any kind of bloodbath in Iraq to solve inter-religious or inter-sect problems here in Iraq.
HH: I know, we disagree. I want to get to the key, though, of Dr. Barnett’s argument, which is repeated a lot, which is only a diplomatic solution will work, and we’ve got to force Iran to come bargain with us and with the Saudis, who are representing the Sunni fundamentalist…
HH: Do you see any evidence that Iran wants to bargain with us on that kind of a grand scale to settle our differences and get about the partitioning of power in the Middle East?
CH: No, I see no such evidence. I mean, I think that all the evidence is that the Iranian mullahs, for some insane reason of their own, hugely overestimating, I think, their own strength in a confrontation, are looking for a fight on several fronts, not just in Iraq, but in Lebanon, where they’ve been trying to detonate again a fragile but very defensible and very honorable non-sectarian government, in Syria, where they’re the insurance of the only remaining and very weak and discredited Baathist dictatorship, on the international front by sending death squads to commit acts of terrorism in foreign cities as far away as Argentina, and London, and of course, in the very grand overarching scheme of things, at the UN and at the European Union, not minding being caught flagrantly lying about every agreement they’ve ever signed on nuclear matters, quite extraordinary. They seem to be looking for a fight.
HH: President Sarkozy said we are rapidly approaching, this week, either an Iranian bomb or the bombing of Iran. Do you agree with his assessment?
CH: Well, I must say I think that the logic of that is very, very hard to impeach. Yes, we’ve either got to say all right, we give it up, we give it up all over our attempts to negotiate with them, to bribe them, to give them inducements, to allow in proper inspections, to stop lying and cheating, that all of that, the whole wage of international law, this time run by the European Union and the International Atomic Energy Authority, not by the Defense Department or the CIA, by the way, in case that counts, that all of that’s worthless, that we simply allow an outlaw regime to acquire apocalyptic weapons when it displays a messianic ideology, an ideology of ultimate destruction, not just of Israel, but the whole world. Its leaders claim to believe that their messiah’s return is imminent. People like that shouldn’t have apocalyptic weaponry.
HH: Would any attempt to do that, just to throw in the towel, yield any result appreciably different than what we got in ’37, ’38 and ’39, when we tried it with a different fascist regime? Would they be bought off, Christopher Hitchens?
CH: No, it doesn’t seem to me that they do. I mean, look, these are people who have publicly, with really incredibly little protest, arrested four or five senior American citizens of Iranian descent, returning peacefully to their own country to have discussions, arrested them, framed them up, tortured them, forced confessions out of them on television, behaved in the most barbaric manner, with no cost. The Canadian-Iranian journalist, recently a woman was beaten to death in prison, and the Canadian government’s appeals to have the head of the Iranian Secret Police arrested when he traveled were met with no response at all. It’s outrageous that we don’t band together against this international gangster regime.
HH: I want to test a couple of theories off against both your researches and your experience when you were visiting Iraq, Dr. Kagan. I had Thomas P.M. Barnett on yesterday, and Dr. Barnett, of course, the author of The Pentagon’s New Map, is of a couple of opinions, one of which is that look, we’re in the middle of a conflict between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran, and they’re going to have to go at it with each other, and there’s an inevitable clash here that’s going to cost hundreds of thousands of casualties, minimum, and it’s just got to happen, maybe we’d be best to get out of the way. Your assessment of that?
KK: First of all, as a military historian, I would have to say that there’s no such thing as inevitability within a conflict. One of the things we learn about war is how much chance and decision making plays in the outcome of any particular diplomatic or military negotiation. That said, the point is that within Iraq, I think that we have a much more complicated situation, and the one thing I’m sure of is that U.S. forces were to withdraw prematurely, then we would see a rise in sectarian conflict, and a rise in regional intervention within the state of Iraq. And so I think actually that U.S. forces, working with the government of Iraq, are preventing rather than promoting conflict between Iraq and its neighbors.
HH: Now let me ask you about Dr. Barnett’s second proposition, which is that George Bush has failed to do that which could have been done to bring Iran into serious peace negotiations. When I finished reading your piece today at the Weekly Standard, I concluded, as I had previous, there’s just no evidence that they want to genuinely negotiate with us. Am I wrong?
KK: You are correct. The U.S. embassy within Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker, have conducted diplomatic talks with the Iranians, both at the end of May, and also at the end of July. And although it is certainly worthwhile to engage in certain kinds of discussions to find out what Iranian aims are, it seems as though the Iranians have not actually admitted that they are supporting violent activities and militia groups within Iraq, despite the evidence that Ryan Crocker and others have presented to them. And so that really indicates that they do not seem to be willing to negotiate on this point, but rather are looking toward the diplomatic talks as some way of circumventing having a real discussion.
Dr. Barnett wrote “the debate is getting so dysfunctional on our end: all name calling and cries of traitor if you discuss our options in anything less than totally unconditional terms (to be against Bush is to hate America and its military and be a surrender monkey).” While the reverse of that sort of extreme and useless rhetoric certainly goes on in some precincts on the left, that isn’t what is going on here, and I don’t think I have seen any such charge laid against Dr. Barnett from any of the key analysts of the center-right. I do think Dr. Barnett’s recommendations concerning Iran and Iraq –his professional analysis– looks like the appeasement policies of the 1930s towards Germany. Those policies were not put forward by “traitors” or “surrender monkeys,” but by profoundly wrong British patriots who raised their hopes above the evidence above them, and thought the sacrifice of various populations a necessary evil.
It seems to me that the question President Sarkozy out forward –“an Iranian bomb or bombing Iran”– is the key question of the next two years. Keeping it front and center is the job of journalists. The job of analysts is to persuade the government and influential policy makers of the right steps to take, and that persuasion often takes place through the media and those journalists interested in the question. Though Dr. Barnett has persuaded me of quite a lot in our past conversations, he is far from doing so on the questions of what to do next vis-a-vis Iraq and Iran.
I hope he’ll be back next week to try again. Off to the Lone Star State….