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Chris Bolan
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President Obama expressly eschewed a policy objective of regime change and instead sought limited accommodation that would minimize the prospect of Iran developing a functional nuclear weapons program. Moreover, it's important to recognize that even if the Trump administration's ultimate goal is 'capitulation' or 'regime change', it would nonetheless benefit from an effective deterrence strategy aimed at preventing Iran from striking out in dangerous ways that would seriously damage US and allied interests. Sec State Baker's warnings to Saddam against employing WMD in advance of Desert Shield/Desert Storm are a classic case of employing deterrence even on the verge of war. Perhaps the Trump administration can muster such diplomatic competence and sophistication....but perhaps not.
Andrew Bacevich has a thought-provoking piece in Foreign Affairs today arguing for a restrained U.S. military strategy focused on defense and deterrence (rather than never-ending military operations & commitments) that also includes a call for "conscription-based reserves".
Sadly, despite the disastrous outcomes in Iraq and Afghanistan, neither US political leaders nor the Washington DC-based foreign policy community can admit to the limits of American power and influence. In this case, Russia's (local) geopolitical dominance virtually ensures Putin's ability to dominate the escalation ladder at every turn. And yet the insatiable need to appear 'tough' as 'leader of the free world' in order to bolster US 'credibility' (whatever that is or however it is measured) constantly demands further US action, deepening involvement, and increased investment in a contest we have little prospect of 'winning'. This unfortunately is this the state of much US foreign policy debate these days -- stand by for more of this dribble as the 2016 Presidential campaigns get into full swing. I hope the American public demands better.
Yes, this in combination with ignorance of things 'foreign' is a recipe for ill-advised military adventures. See this poll indicating that the less Americans know about Ukraine, the more likely they are to support US intervention.
I think you are overestimating the potential for genuine public rage or 'massive civil disobedience' in the event of even unpopular military action. We have had an all volunteer military for decades now and the public no longer has 'skin in the game'.
Of course military strikes could be limited in terms of duration and/or scope, e.g., restricted to a particular target set such as WMD facilities, Command and Control, air defense sites, airfields, armored formations, etc. The problem as CJCS Dempsey has said in public forums is that such strikes are an act of war and the course of war, retaliation, escalation, etc., is inherently unpredictable. Once the US is committed there will be inevitable pressure to 'win', however victory is defined. The question always becomes 'what next' if the initial limited strikes either don't achieve the proclaimed objective or the targeted states manages an effective retaliation? I agree with you that in the case of Syria, no one has defined a strategic objective for military operations that is reasonable or attainable at an acceptable cost. The US military will be left 'holding the bag' for imposing order and stability, preventing sectarian bloodshed & retaliation, and restoring a functioning state in the aftermath of any military operation -- witness Iraq and Afghanistan.
Toto: The intent was not an explicit criticism of either of these operations. My primary purpose was to highlight the fact that this is not a new debate in terms of civil-military relations. Moreover, even in relatively 'successful' operations such as SFOR, the costs are nearly always greater than anticipated. I recall that in making the case for SFOR, President Clinton pledged that US forces would only be there for one year.
According to the Wall Street Journal Online today: “Frustrated by the stalemate in Syria, Secretary of State John Kerry has been pushing for the U.S. military to be more aggressive in supporting the country's rebel forces. Opposition has come from... Continue reading
Posted Apr 8, 2014 at Sic Semper Tyrannis
As you imply, these are precisely the reasons the US should fully exploit this particular opportunity for a negotiated outcome. Our position will not improve over time. Unfortunately, many now equate 'compromise' with 'appeasement' (in what is surely the most over-used historical metaphor of all time). With all of our muscle-bound military strength post-1990, the U.S. government has chosen to let our ability to conduct serious diplomacy atrophy. Nonetheless, progress in Syria could generate some momentum for progress with Iran, and then who knows maybe even with Israel-Palestine....okay, that last one was going too far into an optimistic never-never-land.
I don't pretend to know what in Obama's (or any other man's) heart or mind. However, I feel fairly confident in anticipating that many in Congress will seek to undermine any genuine effort at rapprochement. Some of that opposition will be heart-felt, some will be for pure calculations of domestic politics, and much of it will be out of an immature fear and lack of empathy for 'the other.' That said, some Congressional leaders have already penned a letter to the President encouraging a diplomatic solution.
I agree that this initial US offer will be inadequate to the task. However, opening 'bids' in any serious negotiations are just that. Ultimately, we'll see how 'serious' the US is. Nonetheless, the US has a genuine strategic interest in reaching a deal with Iran short of war. The President has been making this case since he's been on the election trail, so I suspect he is interested in actually testing the possibilities. Presidents in their last term begin to think seriously of the judgment of history. I suspect Obama would think it a huge plus in his foreign policy legacy if he could accomplish something along the line of Nixon's rapprochement with China.
One doesn't have to believe that Rouhani is 'warm and cuddly' to make the case that Iranian interests are not served by developing a nuclear weapon. Nuclear weapons have little utility beyond deterrence and the political & economic costs can be burdensome, e.g. sanctions. What proof do you offer that Iran has a nuclear weapon? People have been predicting for decades that Iran is within months of developing a nuclear weapon. Why have those predictions been so errant? Maybe...just's because for their own reasons, they don't want one. Did you also think that Saddam had a nuclear weapon? Why have only nine states developed nuclear weapons when so many more have the technological capability to produce them?
Good strategy requires the identification of an achievable objective that can be obtained at a reasonable cost. President Obama and his senior officials have done exactly that with respect to Iran. President Obama has repeatedly said that America’s overriding strategic... Continue reading
Posted Oct 7, 2013 at Sic Semper Tyrannis
Micah Zenko at the Council on Foreign Relations offers a strong critique of Senator McCain and others advocating for stronger US military intervention at As he observes, “modest measures to aid the Syrian rebels won’t topple Assad…and despite protestations, even Washington’s hawks don’t want to go further.” This analysis highlights a basic strategic flaw inherent in the positions advanced by many of these advocates for a deeper US military commitment in Syria: they are not willing to commit the required military resources necessary to accomplish whatever strategic objective (rarely specified) they hope to accomplish. This is a recipe for a failed strategy that further damages American interests globally and regionally.
Toggle Commented Jun 5, 2013 on Aleppo is next. at Sic Semper Tyrannis
International negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program have resumed this week in Kazakhstan. Initial reporting suggests that Iran will be offered some limited sanctions relief in return for restrictions on Iran’s nuclear enrichment activities. However, these talks have a... Continue reading
Posted Feb 26, 2013 at Sic Semper Tyrannis
Yes, other countries (particularly in Asia) are heavily dependent on Iranian oil. As I said, the rational calculus is for both sides to avoid war -- on that much we may agree. However, as Record's historical analysis suggests, countries can go to war despite this rational analysis for precisely the reasons I outline. Chris
In Thursday’s Washington Post David Ignatius discusses the results of a war game simulation conducted at the Brookings Institution. He observes that “the scariest aspect of a U.S.-Iran war game…was the way each side miscalculated the other’s responses – and... Continue reading
Posted Sep 22, 2012 at Sic Semper Tyrannis
But 'some' or even 'many' does not equal 'all'!
Perhaps, but politicians and pundits alike must largely advance their public arguments in the language of national interests.
Micah Zenko at the Council on Foreign Relations observes that based on the most recent USG official statistics on global terrorism for 2011, "the number of U.S. citizens who died in terrorist attacks [is comparable to those] crushed to death... Continue reading
Posted Jun 11, 2012 at Sic Semper Tyrannis
The broad outline for a negotiated deal over Iran’s nuclear program that would satisfy essential U.S. and Iranian national interests is fairly clear. Iran would agree to limit its nuclear enrichment activities (to levels between 3-5 % seems to be... Continue reading
Posted May 30, 2012 at Sic Semper Tyrannis
This development may also provide a much needed boost to diplomatic efforts. The broad outlines of a diplomatic deal based on a cold calculation of shared US and Iranian interests have been visible for some time. The essential trade-off in all of these reports is that the West would allow Iran to enrich uranium to 3.5% (the level usually required for power plants) while Iran would agree to an intrusive inspection regime that would offer the West some assurances that Iran is not actively pursuing a nuclear weapons program. The Feb 2012 NY Times op-ed, “Envisioning a Deal with Iran” (, by Ambassadors Luers and Pickering is but one example of this kind of reporting. As you noted in a previous post, the 17 April op-ed by David Ignatius, “The State is Set for a Deal with Iran” ( is a more recent variation on this theme. Lending further credence to this possibility, Iran’s former chief nuclear negotiator who now teaches at Princeton said today that there is now a “historic opportunity” ( resolve this dispute. The main obstacles to such a deal may well reside not over these substantive issues themselves, but instead rest with the domestic hard-line politicians in Washington, Tel Aviv, and Tehran – a point underscored by Fareed Zakaria in his 11 April op-ed, “The Shape of Deal With Iran” ( In the event of any diplomatic deal (and regardless of the merits), political opponents of President Obama will immediately accuse him of ‘appeasing’ Iran, exposing Israel to nuclear blackmail, and otherwise made to be the historical equivalent of Neville Chamberlain.
Toggle Commented Apr 25, 2012 on IDF CofS and Iran Nucs at Sic Semper Tyrannis
The National Security Archive published a recently declassified memorandum from a senior U.S. State Department advisor Philip Zelikow who in 2006 courageously (if belatedly) opposed the Bush Administration's authorization of water boarding and other methods of what is often euphemistically... Continue reading
Posted Apr 10, 2012 at Sic Semper Tyrannis
 Several recent events can only reinforce the assessment that after a decade of tremendous expenditures of American blood and treasure, the U.S. strategy of military invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq was ill-conceived from the start, poorly executed throughout,... Continue reading
Posted Apr 6, 2012 at Sic Semper Tyrannis
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Mar 15, 2012