August 3, 2010
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This column originally appeared on the Lobelog.
Despite some questionable choices of scholars — like neocons Elliott Abrams and Max Boot — the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) is an enduring institution in Washington foreign policy circles. The New York- and Washington-based think tank has long been seen as representing mainstream, establishment dialogue matters of U.S. relations with the rest of the world.
But the close contact, and cross-pollination of ideas between the CFR and the powers-that-be is troubling in light of the CFR’s increasingly hawkish direction — especially on Iran. Just like during the run-up to the Iraq war, liberals and realists at the Council seem to be abandoning their traditional allies and sidling up to neoconservatives and their view of the U.S.’s fraught relationship with the Islamic Republic. And just like the run-up to Iraq, they are getting their opinions uncritically published in mainstream outlets that are widely read in Washington.
This week, we have yet another pair of ostensible liberals, CFR fellows Ray Takeyh and former Clinton NSC aide Steve Simon, using rather alarmist language to ask if President Barack Obama would strike Iran if faced with the as-yet-hypothetical scenario of Iran getting close to acquiring nuclear weapons. In the Sunday opinion section of theWashington Post, they list some of the top factors the administration would need to consider should it choose to bomb Iranian nuclear sites, including international outrage, domestic public support, cooperation of Arab Gulf states (the likely staging grounds would also need protection after a bombing run), whether to warn Iran, and “make sure a confrontation [does] not escalate out of control.”
The last point is particularly laughable. Analyst Tony Karon — who, on his blog, derided the WaPo piece as “a ‘how-to-bomb Iran’ manual” — called an attempt of an aggressor to control the level of a hot conflict amid tense relations “quite simply bizarre”:
Of course Iran is going to retaliate, painfully, over years and even decades. Bombing will, as sober heads have warned , almost certainly spark a protracted war with potentially devastating consequences for Iran (its government and people, including its opposition), Israel, the United States (which has hundreds of thousands of troops stationed in Iran’s immediate neighborhood and the wider Middle East. And it’s more likely to make Iran acquire nuclear weapons than to deter it from doing so.
Takeyh and Simon also got the facts wrong by re-hashing a misinterpretation of something said last weekend by former CIA and National Security Agency chief Michael Hayden. Hayden raised eyebrows when he appeared to say, on a CNN talk show, that a U.S. strike on Iran “seems inexorable.” But a spokesperson for Hayden later walked back the statement, asserting that the word “inexorable” referred to the Iranian nuclear program’s advancement, not a U.S. military strike. The AP, whose story is picked up in the above link from the Washington Post, issued a clarification just one day after the comments — that is, last Monday ( h/t Robert Naiman ). I’m not sure how that got by Takeyh, Simon, and editors at the Post’s opinion section, where the comment appeared in specific reference to a “U.S. military strike against Iranian facilities.”
The mistake is troubling, but not as troubling as the shift towards hawkish rhetoric coming from this bellwether of Washington conventional wisdom. Leave aside, for a moment, that CFR puts a roof over the heads of arch-neocons like Abrams and Boot. Even realists at CFR seem to be joining their neocon and liberal colleagues in the march to war with Iran!