Monday, April 19, 2010

Obama, Iran, and the Underpants Gnomes

Wow, this is a great way to start Monday morning...
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has warned in a secret three-page memorandum to top White House officials that the United States does not have an effective long-range policy for dealing with Iran’s steady progress toward nuclear capability, according to government officials familiar with the document.

Several officials said the highly classified analysis, written in January to President Obama’s national security adviser, Gen. James L. Jones, came in the midst of an intensifying effort inside the Pentagon, the White House and the intelligence agencies to develop new options for Mr. Obama. They include a set of military alternatives, still under development, to be considered should diplomacy and sanctions fail to force Iran to change course.

Officials familiar with the memo’s contents would describe only portions dealing with strategy and policy, and not sections that apparently dealt with secret operations against Iran, or how to deal with Persian Gulf allies.

One senior official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the memo, described the document as “a wake-up call.” But White House officials dispute that view, insisting that for 15 months they had been conducting detailed planning for many possible outcomes regarding Iran’s nuclear program.

In an interview on Friday, General Jones declined to speak about the memorandum. But he said: “On Iran, we are doing what we said we were going to do. The fact that we don’t announce publicly our entire strategy for the world to see doesn’t mean we don’t have a strategy that anticipates the full range of contingencies — we do.”

But in his memo, Mr. Gates wrote of a variety of concerns, including the absence of an effective strategy should Iran choose the course that many government and outside analysts consider likely: Iran could assemble all the major parts it needs for a nuclear weapon — fuel, designs and detonators — but stop just short of assembling a fully operational weapon.

In that case, Iran could remain a signatory of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty while becoming what strategists call a “virtual” nuclear weapons state.

According to several officials, the memorandum also calls for new thinking about how the United States might contain Iran’s power if it decided to produce a weapon, and how to deal with the possibility that fuel or weapons could be obtained by one of the terrorist groups Iran has supported, which officials said they considered to be a less-likely possibility.
First of all, I'm always wondering why the New York Times finds it worthwhile to print classified information, but I suppose I should be grateful that this time they're not publicizing a way of gathering intelligence on terrorists. Hell, I'm not even sure this qualifies as news; the fact that our government is thoroughly unprepared to deal with the threat of a nuclear Iran -- while saying we won't tolerate a nuclear Iran -- seems to be par for the course, no matter which party is in power. Allahpundit says it well...
Of course they didn’t prepare alternatives. How could they possibly fathom that diplomacy might fail? The core plank of “smart power,” such as it is, has always been the Obama charm offensive. Simply by being the anti-Bush and offering an open hand to Iran, he would convince Tehran to unclench its fist and open a dialogue. Bush was the problem (he always is!) and once the problem was removed, solutions would inevitably follow. So why bother developing a Plan B? The result: Iran’s now enriching uranium to 20 percent purity and rolling out advanced centrifuges, which means nuclear “breakout” capacity, i.e. the ability to build a bomb quickly even if they haven’t yet done so, won’t be long in coming. I can’t believe The One would ever order a strike on Iran — see this Aussie op-ed citing security sources who claim the U.S. has all but given up on stopping them from building a bomb — so Israel’s going to do what it has to do sooner rather than later. In fact, in my darker Machiavellian moments, I wonder if one of the reasons The One has picked a fight with Netanyahu lately is because he knows they’re planning to act and wants to put maximum distance between America and Israel before they do. Iran will blame Washington for ordering the attack anyway, but plausible deniability may limit the extent of the reprisals.

No need to put all the blame on Obama here, though. Bush knew what it would mean to hand this issue off to a Democratic president and he went ahead and did it anyway. Invading Iraq necessarily left him with fewer military options against other threats; now the bill is coming due. As for Europe, Russia, and China, here’s the Times’s almost poignant description of the White House’s naivete: “Administration officials had hoped that the revelation by Mr. Obama in September that Iran was building a new uranium enrichment plant inside a mountain near Qum would galvanize other nations against Iran, but the reaction was muted.” The fact that western powers had been waltzing with Iran over its nuke program for fully seven years at that point might have given them a clue that no action would be taken, but that’s “smart power” for you.
The Bush Administration also took a diplomatic approach, although it's worth noting that the constraints weren't just logistics related to Iraq -- remember the leak of the NIE in 2005 that said Iran was at least ten years away from a nuke?  I don't think that leaked NIE ended up being right, but it did end up leaving us with diplomacy as the sole route by which we could tackle the problem of Iran's nuclear ambitions, although practically we had little choice in the matter.  And the diplomacy we've pursued has led to little in the way of results, unless you think Iranian progress toward a nuke is a good thing.  Of course, the foreign policy establishment seems to be hell-bent on building a road where we can keep saying we won't tolerate a nuclear Iran, right up until we actually actually, you know, tolerate a nuclear Iran.

At the end of the day, I'm not sure there is a good approach here -- one just may not be available.  But the government's approach to dealing with the issue reminds me of the business model used by the Underpants Gnomes on South Park...

Actually, if the Obama Administration hired Robert Reich to run foreign policy... sorry, that's a cheap shot. Anyway, I keep thinking that Phase One is "Diplomacy". And Phase Three is "No Nuclear Iran." But it's Phase Two that looks way too much like the Phase Two from the Gnomes business plan.

Then again, my guess is that I could have used this same videoclip to describe the healthcare plan.  At least we know where Obama is drawing his ideas from -- it's not Saul Alinsky, it's Parker and Stone.

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