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Another thread of Iran

Another thread of Iran story: North Korea.

In its policy on the Korean Peninsula, the White House came in talking tough and making threats, but then proceeded to do nothing over five years as the North Koreans proceeded to build a small nuclear arsenal (at least that seems to be the present consensus of where they are). The Bush administration policy on North Korea has been the worst sort of policy failure. Better to cower from the start than make threats and draw lines in the sand and then cower and make excuses later, which sums up what the administration has done.

Is it any different with Iran?

As many others have argued, we don't seem to have any good military options in Iran. The physical arrangement of the Iranian nuclear facilities does not appear to leave it vulnerable to the sort of program-decapitation the Israelis dealt the Iraqis back in 1981. Nor do we have the land resources to mount an invasion of Iran even if we were inclined to.

The White House may see this problem as a means to game the 2006 elections with a bunch of talk that will be conveniently forgotten after November. But where was the White House on this issue in 2002 or 2003 or 2004 or 2005?

To the post below

To the post below, TPM Reader AB responds thus ...

Sorry -- completely disagree with your post on Iran policy. Democrats and the media were too scared/naive/stupid to put up any serious questions about going into Iraq before the war. (for bias interpretations, I was with Dean on this, but it didn't matter.) So there really was no substantial debate. But that was the point of Iraq.

The really important point here is that the neocons wanted into Iraq regardless of WMD. They wanted the inspectors out before it became obvious that the main rationale for the war was fictional. They never guarded any of the potential WMD sites (probably) because they were pretty sure that the WMD case was way overblown. This was about democracy dominos in the Gulf. Draining the swamp. With our troops there to protect our interests (oil, Israel) and put a massive stake in the aground against our enemies (terrorists, Iran, Syria...).

Remember this? 'One senior British official dryly told Newsweek before the invasion, “Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran."'

But Iran is something completely different now. It's closer to N. Korea in its ability to defend itself. Very large army, WMD, and a president who just might be itching for a war.

More importantly (to your point) the neocons are out of power on foreign policy. We don't have the ability to confront Iran on the ground. We're talking sanctions or special forces/air strikes either by ourselves or Israel.

The public setting is so different now that the Bush admin does not have the free reign it had in 2003 with Iraq.

My point? An Iran policy in the abstract is exactly what we should be talking about because the choices are so limited and the administration is so hamstrung. With strong involvement by the democrats and the media (due in large part to the polls on Iraq -- backbone supplied by voters) we may actually force the administration's hand on how to deal with Iran. They're already doing the diplomacy thing even if Iran is unimpressed.

The starting point should not be the incompetents of the Bush administration. It should be level headed ideas on what would work.

Hope you can find someone who's got some of those ideas...



I wrote back: 'I'm really not sure how this contradicts anything I've said. Did you think I'm saying we just shouldn't discuss Iran at all?'

I'm printing this response because perhaps others are thinking the same and I wanted to address the point.

My point is certainly not that we should be digging our heads in the sands or refuse all discussion of the matter because President Bush is in office. My point is that the correct policy can't be arrived at without taking the implementer into account. Say you have a certain physical infirmity. The best thing to do is to have an operation. But what if there's no surgeon? What if the best you can do is round up someone who once took college anatomy? Maybe then surgery isn't such a good idea. Yes, this is a broad brush analogy. But this is the sort of calculus I'm getting at.

Meanwhile, another TPM Reader KB says ...

You know I'm one of your biggest fans, but I have to disagree with your early throat-clearing on the "Iran Question." Why? Because it really is not a question. That is how the GOP and the White House want it framed, and I'm afraid you are buying into that framing. The truth is much simpler: Iran will have the bomb if they want it. It's a done deal. There is no realistic military option. None. We're stretched too thin. There are no good sites to bomb that would insure we could deny them the bomb. Their program is too hidden and dispersed. It would be an endless campaign of bombing and lead to endless war and terror attacks on us. The question is not how to stop Iran. They will get it. The question is: Who lost Iran? How did it come to this? Who left us in the position? Who ignored the REAL threat? That's what the White House doesn't want you asking. Please don't become Joe Leiberman on this "Iran Question." There is no question. They will get the bomb and there's nothing we can do except learn to live with them and contain them, as we did the Soviets.

I'll leave this for another post.

So here we are

So here we are again -- I'm speaking of course of the brewing crisis with Iran -- only this time with a country that pretty clearly does have a nuclear program, and a fairly ambitious one at that. For good measure, let's throw in the fact that Iran really does have genuine and meaningful ties to international terrorist groups, though more of the Hezbollah variety than al Qaida.

Regular readers of this site know I've been focusing on other issues. So I haven't yet taken the time to delve into the particulars of this question to the degree I plan to. But let me offer a few observations based on the lessons I think we've learned from the experience in Iraq and those I have myself.

Let me start with one: I'll call it the fallacy of foreign policy abstraction.

During the two years between 9/11 and March 2003, there was a group of commentators (I'd include myself among them) who bought into the basic argument about the danger posed by the Iraqi regime (though not the extremity of it), were willing, at a minimum, to put military force on the table as a means of resolving the problem, were perhaps willing to go as far as supporting an invasion, but were adamant critics of administration policy in the Middle East.

Looking back on that debate, what didn't make sense about 'my' position was that folks like myself were debating Iraq policy in the abstract. How would I deal with Iraq if I were president? What would be the sensible approach if we had a president and foreign policy team which we thought was acting in good faith and competent at handling the issue.

The problem was that there was no Iraq policy in the abstract. That was just a fantasy. There was Iraq in 2002 and 2003 with President Bush et al. calling the shots. Any discussion of the issue which didn't take those key facts into account was just a parlor game, no more than words. What's more, the existence of a cadre of commentators from the political opposition who espoused a policy that looked a lot like the president's actually gave him a great deal of cover. It made his policies look more reasonable. It greased the skids for its implementation.

So with Iran.

The prospect of a nuclearized Iran seems far more perilous to me than anything we faced or seemed likely to face with Iraq. But for those of us trying to think through how to deal with this situation, we have to start from the premise that there is no Iran Question, or whatever you want to call it. There's only how to deal with Iran with this administration in place.

Do you trust this White House's good faith, priorities or competence in dealing with this situation?

Based on everything I've seen in almost five years the answer is pretty clearly 'no' on each count. To my thinking that has to be the starting point of the discussion.

Learn Rep. Bob Neys

Learn Rep. Bob Ney's (R-OH) deep secret: he was a reform man before it was cool. That and other news of the day in today's Daily Muck.

Ahh Rep. Ney R-OH

Ahh Rep. Ney (R-OH), the lobbying for Iran, free trip courtesy of a thrice-convicted felon now doing business out of Cyprus edition. It just gets better and better.

Will Tom DeLay even

Will Tom DeLay even serve in the next Congress. According to a new Houston Chronicle poll "Only half of those who cast ballots for DeLay in 2004 said they will do so again." Only 28% of voters in his district view him favorably.

Summa Abramoffica.For a lot

Summa Abramoffica.

For a lot of you this will cover old ground. But there have been a number of questions on this. So let me try to briefly sort out some of the main points and make a couple key distinctions.

Did Jack Abramoff give money pretty much equally to both parties? Or did he only give to Republicans?

You can hear people saying both on the web and the airwaves. And in almost every case the seeming contradictions stem from the fact that the people talking -- either intentionally or otherwise -- are comparing apples and oranges.

Did Jack Abramoff give money to Democrats? To the best of my knowledge Abramoff never contributed any money to Democrats. And that's hardly surprising. Abramoff is a life-long professional Republican. How much money do you figure James Carville has contributed to Republicans over the last two decades. Or Paul Begala? It's almost a silly question.

When you hear about Republicans and Democrats getting 'Abramoff money' what's being talked about aren't personal contributions from Abramoff but contributions from entities he worked for as a lobbyist. So, for instance, Abramoff lobbies for Indian tribe X. Indian tribe X contributes to politician Y. Hence, politician Y got 'Abramoff money'.

(Often these calculations figure in only the tribes and not other groups and individuals Abramoff worked for; but that's another story.)

Now, is that logic fair? Is that 'Abramoff money'?

As a political matter, it probably makes sense now for every pol to unload that money -- a conclusion most of them, as you can see, are coming to on their own.

On the merits, though, it's more difficult to make generalizations.

We know from some of the publicly released emails, that Abramoff in many cases used his clients' bank accounts very much as if they were his own, often giving them specific amounts and recipients for political contributions. In many cases, too, he had them make donations that had little or nothing to do with their own interests (defined in lobbying terms). For instance, what interest did a couple of Abramoff tribe clients have giving money to the New Hampshire Republican party a day or two before they pulled their phone-jamming scam?

There are other cases though where a given politician was associated with Indian rights issues either before Abramoff came on the scene or because of the state or district they represent. There are members of Congress in both parties who fall into that category and are, to some extent, being unfairly tarred.

For these reasons, pure dollar amounts can't tell the whole story without getting more deeply into the context.

More generally, I think you'll see over the course of the next year that these federal 'hard' money contributions -- either from Abramoff or his clients -- aren't where the real game was being played. The real action was in money funnelled or laundered through various DC-based non-profits or de facto cash payments to members of Congress or their staffs.

Stay tuned.

Such a small world

Such a small world, such a small world.

You remember defense contractor Brent Wilkes. He was the ur-briber at the heart of the soon-to-expand Duke Cunningham scandal. Mitchell Wade got a lot more attention. But a closer look at the backstory of the scandal shows that Mitch came up through the Wilkes operation.

Anyway, one of the choice nuggets from the Wilkes-Duke saga was the fact that Wilkes set up an actual airline that at one point owned no more than a mere 1/16th of a plane (Don't worry. It was a share. So it flew okay.). He called it Group W Transportation. And it existed for pretty much the exclusive purpose of ferrying members of Congress around the country on a Lear Jet.

Needless to say, Duke himself logged the most hours of any congressman on Group W. But the article in the San Diego Union-Tribune that broke the story notes that Tom DeLay repeatedly flew the friendly skies of Air Wilkes.

And one other member of Congress flew Air Wilkes too.

Who would that be? None other than Rep. Roy Blunt.

Just the man to clean up the House.

Fly the friendly skies.