Logan's 'Ran

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Justin Logan and Ted Galen Carpenter have a provocative piece up at the Fox News site advocating a "grand bargain" with Iran, in which we offer normalized relations in exchange for their abandoning any effort to acquire nuclear weapons. Justin elaborates and replies to critics over on his own blog. I'm sympathetic to the idea, not least because one thing that seems clear on the basis of our experience in both Latin America and the Middle East is that terrible regimes love having the U.S. as a bogeyman to distract from their own failures.

I do have two reservations—though my default position here is that Justin and Ted know what they're talking about and will set me straight next time I run into one of them. First, a grand deal of that sort seems like it might make launching a nuke program look like an awesome idea to bad regimes that had previously lacked such plans. Bonus: You don't even have to fund the thing all the way through, just be in a position to credibly threaten to. Second, I wonder (and I mean really wonder; this isn't a rhetorical question) how long it's actually going to be, as technology and scientific expertise become cheaper and more widespread, before building a nuke isn't fairly easy for any country that's not a total backwater. Two decades? Three? Are we spending a lot of energy corking a genie that's getting out sooner or later anyway?

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  1. Are we spending a lot of energy corking a genie that’s getting out sooner or later anyway?

    A few Sisyphean tasks are worth attempting. At least with non-violent means. This seems to be one of them.

  2. I’m in agreement with Sanchez’s reservations.

    Whenever you want someone to trade with you, you have to offer than something better than what they already have. The status quo is in Iran’s favor, the status quo being Iran is not a very enticing target for US invasion, particularly considering the little pyromaniacs are holding one end of the fuse in Iraq. …as well as the fact that without a US invasion, they’re free to continue developing nuclear weapons.

    …and, besides, so long as Iran has fairly good relations with China, Russia and everyone else who wants access to their resources, what makes normalized relations with the US better than having a nuclear program?

    As for tilting at windmills, however, nothing’s impossible until it’s impossible.

  3. i don’t see why libertarians get up-in-arms over nukes; like guns, everyone should be able to have ’em

  4. Let’s offer them statehood. Yeah, they’d have to give up Islamic law and everything, but they’d have some serious street cred in the Middle East as the 51st state. Besides, we’re friggin’ rich. Oh, and we can give them one of those state quarters with a crescent moon on it.

  5. “Are we spending a lot of energy corking a genie that’s getting out sooner or later anyway?”

    As I understand it, that is Russia and China’s unofficial position, which is why their state industries routinely sell nuclear technologies to developing nations. Why let the Pakistanis, Malaysians, South Africans, South Koreans, and Brazilians make all the money?

  6. SR, then let’s one-up them and sell H-bombs. With “lasers”.

  7. Logan’s ‘Ran

    Wait, is this a 24 thread?

  8. My guess is that if a “grand bargain” did occur, it would cover a lot more than the nuclear program. It would have to involve Iran’s support for Palestinian terrorist groups, its military support for Hizbollah, and its harboring of Al-Qaeda figures, as well as some kind of mutual understanding regarding Iran’s actions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unless the deal brings about a systemic change in Iran’s foreign policy, it’s unlikely to find much favor with either the Bush Administration or Congress. And there were rumors that Iran offered something very similar through diplomatic back-channels back in the summer of 2003, but then again, that was before the impression of shock and awe had given way to the impression of sectarian quagmire.

    Also, I second thoreau’s point: Even if nuclear non-proliferation efforts against rogue states and the like proves to be a quioxtic endeavor over the long run, it’s worth giving it a shot, given the potential costs of failure. That said, judging by the long bomb-development timetables given for Iran’s nuclear program (and this for a country that isn’t a complete industrial/scientific lightweight), large-scale failure on this front isn’t a sure thing just yet.

  9. No, thoreau. However with the Planet of the Apes thread title followed by the Logan’s Run reference, I am expecting a Soylent Green moment.

  10. I though it would be an overpopulation thread, or at least about domed cities.

  11. How about this deal: Iran can have the bomb, and we stop subsidizing Israel.

  12. I prefer a different bargain. If there is a terrorist nuclear attack anywhere in the world against the U.S. or its interests my list of suspects with the means, motive and opportunity are N. Korea and Iran. N. Korea would be instantly attacked with nuclear weapons as well as non oil producing regions of Iran. The troops in Iraq will take over the oil producing regions. This makes the safety of Iran and N. Korea dependant upon the least stable terrorist in the world. They then have a choice of giving up nuclear weapons or helping us take down A.Q. and friends. That’s my grand bargain.

    Granted this is not a long term solution if Julian is right about nuclear weapons being relatively available. But for now it would work.

  13. The “grand bargain” Justin and Preble contemplate would resolve a large array of outstanding issues, as the Iranians proposed repeatedly from 2001-2003, and stave off what would be a ruinous war for both parties. It would be the first good-for-both-of-us interaction between the US and Iran since before the CIA started this whole ball rolling by maneuvering the Brits out of Persia and tossing over Mossadegh. If that’s a perverse incentive, throw me in that fvcking briarpatch, baby.

    As to Julian’s second point, yeah: medium-term, nuclear nonproliferation is an unsustainable fantasy.

  14. If it ain’t our business to clean things up in Iraq, how is it our business to clean things up in Iran by dictating Iranian defense policy?

    Post PC is right…..if libertarian philosophy dictates that we are non-interventionist, then, it follows that Iran’s nuke program is none of our fargin’ business until such time as they nuke Grand Central Station. At that point, we should turn the place (Iran) into a sea of glass.

    Of course, libertarians are as hypocritical as everyone else. Jesse can vouch for this: When the much reviled and now deceased editor of Liberty polled the LP convention about gun control it turned out that most libertarians were drawing the gun control line in the sand at howitzers and tanks. It was near-unanimous that the Smith’s next door were to be prohibited from keeping a small tactical nuke in the garage.

    And therein lies the problem that reduces all politics to squabbling. When there isn’t a universal principle then it’s only a matter of degree and/or opinion. Case in point is what kinds of guns the pro-gun lobby agrees is okay for us plebes to have at home. Hint: Bazookas and M-60’s ain’t on the short list.

    Why shouldn’t Iran have nukes? We got ’em and we’ve proved we’ll use ’em too.

  15. Oh, and the grand bargain is an illusion. Iran is not going to stop producing nukes. Doesn’t matter what carrot is offered.

  16. Are we spending a lot of energy corking a genie that’s getting out sooner or later anyway?

    Yes.

    Wasn’t a similar thing tried with Germany after WWI?

    Since when are libertarians in favor of gun control?

    Besides, prohibition doesn’t work.

    Really, are we saying “Iran, it’s OK for you to treat your citizens like complete and utter shit and we’ll look the other way as long as you don’t have nukes.” We basically did the same with the House Of Saud. How’s that going for us? Are people really so stupid as to believe that “normalized relations” with Iran means they won’t try buying/creating nuclear weapons anyway? How naiive can you get?

  17. Why shouldn’t Iran have nukes? We got ’em and we’ve proved we’ll use ’em too.

    That’s precisely why hey shouldn;t have them.

  18. I don’t trust the grand bargain, because the incentives won’t work out right.

    Unless you believe you are going to be invaded for doing so, going nuclear has gigantic strategic advantages – and at that point you will have normalized relations to boot. See North Korea on the efficacy of grand bargains. See also Pakistan and India.

  19. I remain unconvinced that normal relations with the US are that important to Iran.

  20. or how i learned to stop worrying and love the bomb

  21. I remain unconvinced that normal relations with the US are that important to Iran.

    Eh. The Iranians have repeatedly suggested talks on moda vivendis (or whatever the plural is). One way to find out what the Iranians want, though, would be to actually talk to the Iranians, which is a step we’ve obstinately refused to take.

  22. Why shouldn’t Iran have nukes? We got ’em and we’ve proved we’ll use ’em too.

    If there’s any geopolitical lesson that’s been taught by history over the last 55 years, from the Korean War onwards, it’s that nuclear weapons have tremendous value with regards to waging proxy conflicts, even if they’re never used. And over the last 25 years, arguably no country has mastered the art of the proxy conflict better than Iran.

  23. I hate to be such a pessimist, but I see no prospect by which fission bombs won’t become ubiquitous, by today’s standards, within 15 to 30 years. Eventually, one is going to be controlled by a non-rational (through our prism) actor, with either an insufficient self-preservation instinct, or an inflated estimate of his ability to control events, and then, well, we will all be living in very, very, interesting times. If it isn’t the Holocaust denier who now is President of Iran, then it’ll be some other charming personality. Smoke ’em if ya’ got ’em, and enjoy your drinks, ladies and gentlemen.

  24. Didn’t we make a Grand Bargain of this variety with Kim Jong-Il a few years back (with Jimmy Carter leading the initiatve, just for a nice circular diplomatic reference)?

    Seems like that one has worked out so well, we surely ought to give the Iranians a crack at the same opportunity, no?

    No? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

  25. Will, you make a relatively persuasive case for not living in (or downwind of) a large metropolitan area in the United States within a few years… Who’s for joining me in the Free State?

  26. Didn’t we make a Grand Bargain of this variety with Kim Jong-Il a few years back (with Jimmy Carter leading the initiatve, just for a nice circular diplomatic reference)?

    That would be a No. Unless there’s a North Korean Embassy downtown somewhere and a mutual non-aggression pact I haven’t seen.

  27. Reading through this thread again, I get deja vu. It feels like the Cold War but different. …maybe it’s lookin’ ahead rather than looking back?

  28. The North Korean “grand bargain” wasn’t on the same terms as the ones being thrown about for Iran, but a deal was made in which economic and technological incentives were promised, along with an agreement to remove American nuclear weapons from South Korea, in exchange for the North agreeing not to pursue a nuclear weapons program.

    One key difference between the North Korean crisis in the mid-’90s and the Iranian situation today is that, in the former case, the concern was that the Norks would obtain fissile materiel by reprocessing spent nuclear fuel from a reactor that they’d built in order to extract plutonium, whereas in the latter case, the concern is that Iran will do it through a uranium enrichment program. The deal struck with North Korea did in fact keep the reactor from being used for plutonium extraction for quite a while; but it turns out that they had a clandestine uranium enrichment program going all the while, which they used to build their first bomb(s). And when the program was discovered in 2002, the Norks responded by pulling out of the NPT and beginning to extract plutonium from their reactor fuel, which they’ve apparently used to create several more bombs.

    The bottom line is that North Korea succeeded at least in part because the outside world was focused on a different approach to obtaining fissile materiel than the one that they ultimately used to (initially) go nuclear. This isn’t likely to be the case with Iran, though it isn’t altogether impossible that they could set up a hidden uranium enrichment program completely independent of the one that’s come to public attention, and keep it hidden until they’ve got a bomb or two.

  29. Oh, I think most large metropolitan areas, with the exception of N.Y., D.C., and L.A. will likely be off the hook; why bother with blowing up Cleveland, when there are more attractive targets that really aren’t much harder to attack? It may be that American cities don’t get nuked first, given that there’s plenty of targets all over the world.

    What is pretty sure, however, is that nuclear deterrence will almost guaranteed to be unmanageable once enough actors have fission bombs. The model depends on having everybody believe in certain responses, and with enough actors, although the exact number is hard to pin down, certainty fades away, especially once surreptitious delivery is factored. Nope, absent some remarkable luck, the chances of having at least a few cities nuked in the next thirty years is pretty high.

  30. Also, one dirty little secret about the failed North Korean “grand bargain” is that the US never lived up to its end of its either. While it did remove its nuclear weapons from South Korea (not a big deal since nuke-toting ships from the 7th Fleet are always nearby), it never provided the North with the light-water nuclear reactors that it promised. Nor did it deliver on promises to lift sanctions on the sale of telecommunications equipment, take initial steps towards normalizing diplomatic relations, and do a couple of other things as well. Both the Clinton and Bush Administrations were guilty on this front.

    Given the nature of the North Korean regime, I still think it’s possible that they would’ve gone ahead with their uranium enrichment program regardless of whether the U.S. lived up to its committments. But given that these committments were being reneged upon even just a short while after Carter was seen hobknobbing with the Hermit King, the subject does make for an interesting historical “What if”.

  31. What post pc said.
    I’m glad I’ve been busy going to my atheist meeting tonight, because post pc said it better than I could have.
    The only thing funnier that listening to Dubya say nuclear proliferation is the mental excercise of coming up with ways to prevent it.

  32. Ken Schultz,
    Speaking of the Cold War all over again.
    Some of society’s memes are just damn robust.
    Look at the March of Dimes. It used to be against polio. I had polio, so I’m attuned to the March of Dimes.
    Look at an Army artillery proving ground near here. They closed it as part of defense cutbacks, but I’ll bet the overall budget is little changed–if not greater–what with the EPA moving in to remove the lead in the soil.
    Look at the Crusades. How many were there over how many years? Next time a new one came along there was surely a Ken Schultz talking about de ja vu.

  33. Modus vivendi
    –>
    Modi vivendi

    xxxus —> plural xxxi

  34. THERE IS NO SANCTUARY!!!

  35. So I guess the Adventures in Nihilism meeting is later in the week, huh, Ruthless?

  36. Eric II,
    Adventures in warm jello are this week.
    Nihilism is the week following.

  37. “Modi vivendi” would be a great name for a band.

  38. Well, I guess that’s better than nothing…

  39. “If there’s any geopolitical lesson that’s been taught by history over the last 55 years, from the Korean War onwards, it’s that nuclear weapons have tremendous value with regards to waging proxy conflicts, even if they’re never used. And over the last 25 years, arguably no country has mastered the art of the proxy conflict better than Iran.”

    Comment by: Eric II

    After the USA, USSR, possibly the UK. Think of who has troops on whose borders, here.

  40. The US does have a recent history of waging proxy wars (the Afghan-Soviet conflict being the most notable instance), but the presence of American troops on the Iranian border is, by itself, irrelevant to the subject matter. And if Iran arms and/or finances one faction or another fighting the US in Iraq, they’re still the ones guilty of instigating a proxy conflict.

    Now the million-dollar question with regards to Iran’s nuclear program is: How much more of this stuff will the Iranian regime feel that it can get away with, without having to worry about direct military retailiation, once it has a nuclear shield to hide behind?

  41. Now the million-dollar question with regards to Iran’s nuclear program is: How much more of this stuff will the Iranian regime feel that it can get away with, without having to worry about direct military retailiation, once it has a nuclear shield to hide behind?

    Eric II,
    As post pc said, stop worrying and learn to love the bomb.
    And, yes, nihilism is better than nothing.
    How can that be?
    The trick is in getting the proper Ben Hogan grip on the ankles.

  42. Though I don’t really agree with you, I’ve gotta say there kind of an odd nobility to your fatalism.

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