Realistic Expectations, or Rooting for Failure?

June 6, 2012

As the talks with Iran that career diplomat and former Under Secretary of State Nick Burns described as a “marathon not a sprint” ramp up for another round next week,  John Bolton has preemptively applauded their “failure” and renewed calls for military strikes.  But senior military and security leaders continue to say that the military option would be unwise; that Iran’s slow technical progress means we have time available for diplomacy to play out; and above all that the Iran talks are “too important to be undercut by meddling from politicians.”

Romney advisor applauds ill-conceived notion of American failure, pushes for war.  As the National Journal’s Michael Hirsh writes today, “Bolton, a key foreign-policy advisor to Romney, created a stir recently by appearing to rejoice in an op-ed in The Washington Times that talks between Iran and the U.S. and the ‘P5 plus one’– the U.N. Security Council members and Germany — had ‘produced no substantive agreement.’ Bolton said any talks with Iran were merely ‘a well-oiled trap’ and declared that President Obama had become ‘increasingly a bystander’ in Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon (despite the disclosure that Obama has authorized aggressive cyber-attacks on Iran’s nuclear facilities).”

Bolton’s assertions are both wrong and surprising from a key adviser to an aspiring commander-in-chief. Former Under Secretary of Defense Michèle Flournoy said in response, “Bolton has made it clear that he’s rooting for American diplomacy to fail and has repeatedly called for a rush to war with Iran. Gov. Romney needs to be clear with the American people: Does he believe there’s still time for diplomacy to work? Or is he ready to take us to war, like his advisor John Bolton is advocating?” [John Bolton via National Journal, 6/6/12. Michèle Flournoy, 6/5/12]

Iranian realities: nuclear experts say ample time for negotiations. Barbara Slavin of the Atlantic Council writes, “Iran’s progress toward bomb capacity is not as fast as some have feared and there is ample time for more talking, according to David Albright, president and founder of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security. Albright told an audience at the Atlantic Council on Tuesday [May 29] that ‘the technical clock is not ticking as fast’ as the ‘political clock.’” [Barbara Slavin, 5/29/12]

Realistic expectations for diplomacy: a “marathon not a sprint.” Last month Dennis Ross, a top Middle East negotiator in both Democratic and Republican administrations, outlined his expectations for the talks to Foreign Policy’s The Cable: “One doesn’t need to see a breakthrough in these talks. That’s unrealistic at this point. The idea that you have a breakthrough after only two rounds, I think, given everything going on, is just not realistic.”

Reza Marashi, former official in the Office of Iranian Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, writes, “Diplomacy was always going to be challenging; making progress means tackling the thorniest issues that have divided the two sides for years. In that sense, these negotiations represent a small step forward in a delicate process that will unfold over months rather than days or weeks. Both sides entered negotiations with their maximalist positions, and neither budged. This is common to any negotiation. By returning to the negotiating table, diplomacy becomes the sustained process it was always supposed to be rather than the one-off meetings that have existed to date. Now the hard work begins: finding an agreement that can be sold to the respective domestic political constituencies. Talks will continue at the working level and reconvene at the political level in Moscow after confidence-building measures and sequencing are agreed upon. There is no other way to find a peaceful resolution to this crisis.” As former Under Secretary of State and top Iran negotiator in the Bush administration, Nicholas Burns, said back in 2010, diplomacy with Iran “is more likely to be a marathon than a sprint.” [Dennis Ross via The Cable, 5/22/12. Reza Marashi, 5/30/12. Nicholas Burns, 8/19/10]

Military, security experts continue to oppose strike now:

Former Under Secretary of Defense Michèle Flournoy. “If Israel would launch an attack prematurely, it would undermine the ability of the international community to come together in the critical long-term campaign. It would ultimately hurt our goal of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.” [Michèle Flournoy via Defense News, 6/4/12]

Former Mossad Chief Meir Dagan. “We are going to ignite, at least from my point of view, a regional war. And wars, you know how they start. You never know how you are ending it…. It will be a devastating impact on our ability to continue with our daily life. I think that Israel will be in a very serious situation for quite a time.” He added, “There’s no military attack that can halt the Iranian nuclear project. It could only delay it.” [Meir Dagan via CBS, 3/11/12]

Loose rhetoric, playing politics on Iran is dangerous. Former Bush administration State Department Chief of Staff Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson writes: “Virtually all of America’s national security leaders, from Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and his predecessor Robert Gates, to Bush administration intelligence chief Gen. Michael Hayden, have stated that the idea of ending Iran’s nuclear program with military strikes is a fiction and that a negotiated solution, backed up by international pressure, represents our best strategy… Negotiations with Iran are simply too important to be undercut by meddling from politicians whose presumptions are not based on sound intelligence and whose political agendas make a positive outcome more difficult. Given the consequences and the American lives that are no doubt on the line, patient and determined negotiations should be given the chance to succeed.” [Lawrence Wilkerson, 5/23/12]

 What We’re Reading

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad appointed his former agriculture minister to serve as new prime minister.

Thousands of Egyptians continued protests in Tahrir Square over the Mubarak verdict they feel is too lenient.

The Libyan government regained control over Tripoli airport following attempted militia takeover.

Two Taliban suicide bombers killed over 20 people at a bazaar near Kandahar.

North Korea’s Kim Jong Un made his second speech at a major public event since taking power, addressing a children’s rally.

Spain’s treasury minister warned that his country was being choked off from access to credit.

Despite an unusual legislative filibuster, the Russian parliament passed a new law that imposes large fines on people who organize or take part in unsanctioned protests.

Sixteen Islamic militants were killed in a firefight in Nigeria.

Some U.S. Senators are calling for hearings on “continuing leaks of classified information.”

Canada moved forward on talks over a military hub in Asia.

Commentary of the Day

Peter Bergen explains what Abu Yahya al-Libi’s death means for al Qaeda.

Richard Weitz argues against sending U.S. tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea, as some in the U.S. Congress have suggested.

Joshua Landis asserts that a foreign invasion of Syria could risk an Iraq- or Afghanistan-like crisis.

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