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.