This is Richard Clarke, former national coordinator for security and counterterrorism and Steven Simon, former senior director for counterterrorism at the National Security Council warning that a war with Iran would be disastrous. There is also a second editorial noting the shift in foreign policy over the last four years from realists such as Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft who advocated balancing world stability and the promotion of democracy toward the Neo-Con idealists:
Op-Ed Contributors Bombs That Would Backfire By Richard Clarke and Steven Simon, Op-Ed, NY Times: ...We would like to believe that the administration is not intent on starting another war, because a conflict with Iran could be even more damaging to our interests than the current struggle in Iraq has been. A brief look at history shows why.
Reports by the journalist Seymour Hersh and others suggest that the United States is contemplating bombing a dozen or more nuclear sites, ..., scores of air bases, radar installations and land missiles would also be hit to suppress air defenses. Navy bases and coastal missile sites would be struck to prevent Iranian retaliation ... Iran's long-range missile installations could also be targets of the initial American air campaign.
These contingencies seem familiar to us because we faced a similar situation as National Security Council staff members in the mid-1990's. American frustrations with Iran were growing, and in early 1996 the House speaker, Newt Gingrich, publicly called for the overthrow of the Iranian government. He and the C.I.A. put together an $18 million package to undertake it.
The Iranian legislature responded with a $20 million initiative for its intelligence organizations to counter American influence in the region. Iranian agents began casing American embassies and other targets around the world. In June 1996, the ... covert-action arm of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, arranged the bombing of an apartment building used by our Air Force in ... Saudi Arabia, killing 19 Americans.
At that point, the Clinton administration and the Pentagon considered a bombing campaign. But after long debate, the highest levels of the military could not forecast a way in which things would end favorably for the United States.
While the full scope of what America did do remains classified, published reports suggest that the United States responded with a chilling threat to the Tehran government and conducted a global operation that immobilized Iran's intelligence service. Iranian terrorism against the United States ceased.
In essence, both sides looked down the road of conflict and chose to avoid further hostilities. ... Now, as in the mid-90's, any United States bombing campaign would simply begin a multi-move, escalatory process. Iran could respond three ways. First, it could attack Persian Gulf oil facilities and tankers — as it did in the mid-1980's — which could cause oil prices to spike above $80 dollars a barrel.
Second and more likely, Iran could use its terrorist network to strike American targets around the world, including inside the United States. Iran has forces at its command that are far superior to anything Al Qaeda was ever able to field. ... We might hope that Hezbollah, now a political party, would decide that it has too much to lose by joining a war against the United States. But this would be a dangerous bet.
Third, Iran is in a position to make our situation in Iraq far more difficult than it already is. The Badr Brigade and other Shiite militias in Iraq could launch a more deadly campaign against British and American troops. There is every reason to believe that Iran has such a retaliatory shock wave planned and ready.
No matter how Iran responded, the question that would face American planners would be, "What's our next move?" How do we achieve so-called escalation dominance, the condition in which the other side fears responding because they know that the next round of American attacks would be too lethal for the regime to survive?
Bloodied by Iranian retaliation, President Bush would most likely authorize wider and more intensive bombing. Non-military Iranian government targets would probably be struck in a vain hope that the Iranian people would seize the opportunity to overthrow the government. More likely, the American war against Iran would guarantee the regime decades more of control.
So how would bombing Iran serve American interests? In over a decade of looking at the question, no one has ever been able to provide a persuasive answer. The president assures us he will seek a diplomatic solution to the Iranian crisis. And there is a role for threats of force to back up diplomacy and help concentrate the minds of our allies. But the current level of activity in the Pentagon suggests more than just standard contingency planning or tactical saber-rattling.
The parallels to the run-up to to war with Iraq are all too striking: remember that in May 2002 President Bush declared that there was "no war plan on my desk" despite having actually spent months working on detailed plans for the Iraq invasion. Congress did not ask the hard questions then. It must not permit the administration to launch another war whose outcome cannot be known, or worse, known all too well.
Here is the commentary from the Financial Times on the shift from realism to idealism in our official foreign policy:
Curious disconnect in US foreign policy, by James Mann Commentary, Financial Times: ...In pursuit of President George W. Bush’s call for the spread of democracy around the world, the administration has explicitly repudiated the realist approach to foreign policy that once dominated the Republican party under Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft.
The latest sign was the statement by Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state ... on her recent UK visit, that America had abandoned 60 years of trying to “buy stability at the expense of democracy” in the Middle East. The more significant indication was a little-noticed change in the administration’s view of the world, laid out in its new national security strategy last month.
For decades now, the Republicans have been divided into two camps on foreign policy. The first are realists, such as Nixon, Kissinger and Scowcroft, who emphasised national interests, not ideals; they stressed considerations such as the preservation of stability and the balance of power. Their opponents – today’s neo-conservatives, the Republican wing once led by Ronald Reagan – contend that the US should devote its foreign policy to combating tyranny.
In its first national security strategy in mid-2002, ... the administration summarised its policies with a key phrase: the US would seek ... a “balance of power that favours human freedom”. Those words represented a classic compromise – or call it a truce – between the party’s two warring wings: “balance of power” for the realists, “human freedom” for the neo-cons.
The 2002 document contained some far-reaching ideas about dealing with terrorism – including, most prominently, the call for pre-emptive military attack. Yet, outside the Middle East, the administration seemed to view the world in conventional Kissingerian terms: stability, national interests, balance of power. The 2002 strategy singled out China, Russia and India as three centres of global power.
The new national security strategy is strikingly different. The phrase “balance of power that favours human freedom” has been dropped. There is quite a bit about freedom and spreading democracy, but not about the realist concept of a balance of power. Gone is the section that four years ago grouped China, Russia and India as great powers. They are treated in the 2006 document as three countries among many. For the first time, the US seems to be saying its power is so great that there can be – and need be – no balance or stability.
What has happened in four years to change the administration’s view? One factor is certainly the aftermath of the Iraq war. After failing to find weapons of mass destruction there, the administration increasingly seized on the idea of democracy as the principal justification for the war. Since then, the idea of democracy promotion has become the guiding rationale for the administration’s foreign policy.
That means the Bush foreign policy team is now operating with a curious disjunction between its rhetoric and its personnel. When it comes to personnel, the neo-cons have clearly been in decline in Mr Bush’s second term. ...
But that is in the realm of personnel. On the underlying principles that guide US foreign policy, the neo-cons have the upper hand and the realists are in decline. To be sure, Ms Rice, Mr Hadley and other officials have tried hard to work more closely with Europe and avoid the assertive unilateralism of Mr Bush’s first term. But they now regularly espouse the ideas first put forward by the neo-cons. ...
Four years ago, such views were offered primarily by Mr Wolfowitz and other neo-cons; these days, the president and secretary of state are embracing them. Most significantly, the administration is no longer willing to commit itself to the same ideas for a balance of power and international stability that it embraced in 2002. That is a conceptual change of breathtaking magnitude.