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The Democrats on Iran
Posted by: Jon Henke on Thursday, April 06, 2006

At Red State, Baseball Crank writes on Iran, citing two Kevin Drum posts...
(1) "If Democrats don't start thinking about how they're going to respond to this, they're idiots."

(2) "Democrats ought to figure out now what they think about Iran. [...] The chances of this coming up as an issue this year are strong enough that it would be foolish not to be prepared to deal with it."
The reaction of the liberal punditocracy to the Iranian problem has been very frustrating. Sure, they acknowledge that it's a very serious problem — but they seem convinced that the problem is electoral rather than geopolitical. Baseball Crank takes note of that, writing that "implicit in his framing of the question is what we already know: you have to speak in tactical-electoral terms to get Democrats to pay attention to a serious threat to national security".

Unfortunately, at least in the prominent public discourse, the Democratic approach to Iran seems to be to frame it in domestic political terms, and to agitate for meetings, talks and negotiation. The only mention of Iran in the Democrats recent Real Security [pdf] platform was as follows...
Redouble efforts to stop nuclear weapons development in Iran and North Korea.
Re-double — that'll stop 'em. And if that doesn't work, they'll triple the effort. The Democratic Party: you can't stop our multiplication!

But while some Democratic pundits are accusing Republicans of fear-mongering and exacerbating the Iranian problem, another, more expansive release [pdf] from the Democrats claims Iran's "devious behavior indicates that it is racing to join the nuclear weapons club", that Iran is the "#1 state sponsor of terror" and has "meddled in Iraq and Afghanistan, armed militants hostile to Israel and harbored al Qaeda suspects", that a "nuclear Iran threatens regional and global security" and "[e]ndanger[es] world oil supplies". ("oooiiiillll!")

Meanwhile, their prescriptions for the Iran problem — actually a word-for-word transcription of this July 2005 report from the National Security Advisory Group; apparently it took them a year of polling to decide that it would be an effective electoral foreign policy strategy — are as follows...
What Should Be Done Now: An Alternative Diplomatic and Military Strategy

To achieve any deal the U.S. government must settle on a course of action. A five-year global moratorium on all new enrichment and reprocessing, as called for by Mohammed ElBaradei, is the key.
  • Will require international cooperation in assembling both a bundle of carrots and an arsenal of sticks.

  • U.S., the EU3, Russia, and the IAEA need to present Iran with a bargain, packaged as an offer Iran cannot refuse.

  • It would offer cover for Iran to comply with an international obligation without explicitly yielding to American or EU3 demands.

The doable deal:
  • EU3 delivery of important economic benefits under the terms of an agreement. Iran is eagerly seeking trade and investment.

  • No U.S. objection to the supply of spare parts for U.S.-origin aircraft and negotiations with Iran about its entrance into the WTO.

  • Credible assurances by the U.S. not to attack Iran to change its regime by force – if Iran ceases all work on its reprocessing and enrichment facilities that could support a nuclear weapons program.

  • Slow-rolling of fuel delivery by Russia until Iran agrees to comply with the five-year moratorium.

  • A combined Russian-EU guarantee to give Iran the opportunity to buy additional civilian nuclear reactors.

  • A promise by Russia to provide an internationally-guaranteed supply of fuel for these reactors and removal of spent fuel at bargain prices.

Carrots are not enough:
  • Iran should be concerned that it has no realistic possibility of making its enrichment and reprocessing facilities operational.

  • Accordingly, Iran should understand the existential threat of a military response under some conditions.
On the merits, that's not really a bad strategy. It's a bit uncomfortably similar to the unfortunate Agreed Framework in which we agreed to subsidize North Korea's civilian nuclear program in exchange for North Korea pretending it was just a civilian nuclear program. On the other hand, beyond a little up-front concessions, they're not proposing something radically different than we're already doing. But If Iran really is determined to acquire nuclear weapons — and the Democratic plan acknowledges that Iran has made "avowals not to step back from its right to enrich" — that puts us exactly where we are now.

So does the Democratic base know that, even as Democrats criticize Bush for considering a preemptive strike on Iran if they continue their race to "join the nuclear weapons club", the Democratic Party insists it will do exactly the same thing for exactly the same reasons?

What are the odds the Democrats strategy would succeed? I'm agnostic. Perhaps Iran is just trying to "win security guarantees from the United States". If so, then a basket of concessions and security guarantees could be effective, leaving Iran better off and the US worse off than the status quo ante, but both of us better off than with military confrontation. But if Iran is determined to follow the North Korean path and achieve nuclear weapons, then our willingness to make these kinds of concessions leave them in an excellent negotiating position.

And the geopolitical incentives involved point to an eventual Iranian nuclear program. As Ehsan Ahrari points out, "China, Russia, and Arab nations view the Iranian nuclear program as a way to constrain the West" and their differences give Iran a great deal of negotiating room — and protracted negotiations could be the security cover they need to develop nuclear weapons. Plus, everybody is well-aware that any military strike on Iran — initiated by a Republican or Democrat — would likely result in "Iranian missile and truck bombs against targets in Iraq, Turkey, Israel, Jordan. . .and truck and car bombs in Europe and the United States".

Ultimately, as Matt McIntosh pointed out, the "Iranian public overwhelmingly supports the nuclear program, and it’s the one thing the entire regime is united on. They want it for regional prestige, influence, and security."


Iran is a difficult foreign policy problem. There's no clear solution here — just a series of bad ideas, improbable paths and difficult compromises. When Republican and Democratic pundits accuse each other of being unreasonable on the question of Iran, they're probably more interested in solving electoral problems than in solving geopolitical problems. At the end of the day, if both Parties are unwilling to accept a nuclear Iran, then our options are fairly limited and the course of this problem will be pretty much the same regardless of which Party conducts US policy.
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Previous Comments to this Post 

Problem #1 with the security guarantees thing is that the current Iranian regime is already a threat to us via its sponsorship of terrorism. Promising not to harm them while they maintain operations against us is not a great deal.
Written By: Crank
The problem isn’t Iran’s nuclear program, it’s the mullahs. If we take out anything, it should be the mullahs and the mullahs only—plus their lapdog president.

As far as NK goes, it’s too late, we’ve already lost it. We should leave, now. The only way to beat NK without causing four million casualties is to buy off China into opening their border with NK and emptying out the country a lá East Germany. You know, last one out of NK turn of the lights (such as they are).

Written By: Peter Jackson
Where there isn’t points to be scored in self-deprecation and narcissm, Democratic foreign policy is domestic policy, and nothing more.

-General maxim.
Written By: Cutler
The QandO points out to obvious things in this essay: (1) The Democratic is struggling to find ideas in foreign policy that provide an alternative to the American electorate; and (2) The Democratic Party idea on Iran if followed to its conclusion is the EXACT same thing as the Bush Administration’s plan. Apparently the Democratic Party is approaching the 2006 and 2008 elections with a defeat "the Republicans and use the Republican ideas" when or if we win. That is a shaky platform indeed.
Written By: Theway2k
I think the best thing to do is....Nothing, that right, We have as little to do with them as possible, we warn them that if any terrorist hit the USA with nuclear weapons we nuked Teheran whether they were behind it or not. And we warn them of similar reprisals for other terror attacks. Then we just wait, that regime will topple if they no longer can whip up anti american sentiment.
Written By: kyle N
The problem is, I have no faith that a Democratic majority in Congress would approve of using force against Iran.

Support for and exporting of terrorism
Pursuit of weapons of mass destruction
Regime that subjegates their population

Hmmm, where have I heard this song before.

And the Democrats want to claim that this time, they know the danger is real, and will do something about it.

’Course, they were singing that tune in 1999 and 2000, before there was a Republican President. And even singing that tune before we went to war with Iraq.
Written By: Keith, Indy
URL: http://
Let me remind you that the republicans have the senate, the house, the white house and the supreme court. They don’t need democrats to implement any policy. Yet RED State, (and you) say the democrats need to do something? Heres news, the REPUBLICANS NEED A POLICY.

Anything the dems suggest just makes them a target at this point. It is the responcibility of the party in power to make policy. Its the responibility of the oppostion party to poke holes in it. If that doesn’t work then hopefully we can try a coaliton government with dems having one branch and the repubicans having another. Only then you can say that the dems need a policy. Until that happens the finger is pointing at your guys. Pointing the finger back just shows us how incompentent the republican party really is.

Written By: cindyb
URL: http://

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