Daniel R. DePetris: The Political Docket

Shame on the New York Times Editorial Page

Posted in Iran by Dan on January 2, 2010

Can the NY Times please get with the program?

Anyone who is anyone in the field of international relations understands the catastrophe that would occur if Iran’s nuclear-facilities were bombed.  Or at least this is what I thought a few days ago, before I turned to the infamous New York Times editorial page.

And what did I read in this so-called “highly acclaimed news source?”  No, it was not another piece arguing for a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.  Nor was it an editorial blasting the Republican and Democratic Parties for their strict partisanship in the U.S. Congress.  No…what I found was none other than an Alan Kuperman article stressing the need to take preventive military action against Iran for its less-than transparent nuclear program.

All in all, Mr. Kuperman suggests that the United States faces two choices.  In sum, the first basically calls appeasement, allowing Ahmadinejad to continue modernizing Tehran’s nuclear capability.  The other policy choice- wholeheartedly supported by Mr. Kuperman- is to make sure that Iran’s nuclear weapons program is destroyed before it is too late.

Here are some memorable quotes from the article, published this past Christmas Eve:

1) “Since peaceful carrots and sticks cannot work, and an invasion would be foolhardy, the United States faces a stark choice: military air strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities or acquiescence to Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons.”

2) “If Iran acquired a nuclear arsenal, the risks would simply be too great that it could become a neighborhood bully or provide terrorists with the ultimate weapon, an atomic bomb.”

3) “History suggests that military strikes could work. Israel’s 1981 attack on the nearly finished Osirak reactor prevented Iraq’s rapid acquisition of a plutonium-based nuclear weapon and compelled it to pursue a more gradual, uranium-based bomb program. A decade later, the Persian Gulf War uncovered and enabled the destruction of that uranium initiative, which finally deterred Saddam Hussein from further pursuit of nuclear weapons.  Analogously, Iran’s atomic sites might need to be bombed more than once to persuade Tehran to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons.”

4) “Incentives and sanctions will not work, but air strikes could degrade and deter Iran’s bomb program at relatively little cost or risk, and therefore are worth a try.”

With foolhardy statements such as these, one would think that the New York Times was deliberately trying to expose the idiocy of the neo-conservative doctrine in order to shore up support for the doves in Washington.

In fact, virtually every single point that Kuperman uses to bolster his argument is questionable at best.  For one, bringing up Israel’s preemptive bombing of the Osirak reactor fails to convince skeptics such as myself that a similar campaign against Iran would boast a similar amount of success.  Iran has learned from the Iraqi experience.  Contrary to Saddam Hussein’s nuclear weapons program, the Iranians have been constructing uranium enrichment sites in multiple locations across the country; making it extraordinarily difficult for an air-strike to be 100 percent successful.

Secondly, there is no evidence whatsoever that Iran would pass nuclear technology to terrorist groups in the Middle East.  Tehran spends billions of dollars and spends countless days perfecting their nuclear expertise for one reason and one reason only: building a nuclear deterrent for themselves.  Doing anything other than that- such as working with Hezbollah or Hamas on atomic weapon designs- would only raise alarms across intelligence agencies worldwide.  Establishing a nuclear connection with Islamic proxies would sacrifice the very tenants of self-preservation; a concept that the mullahs take to heart.

What a disgrace. It is hard to believe that the New York Times- a paper that is already highly discredited by many scholars across the IR field- could dig itself deeper into amateurism. But with Mr. Kuperman’s “bomb-Iran or face Armageddon” argument, this is precisely what the editors of the New York Times did. How can anyone take this paper seriously if warmongers like Kuperman are allowed to boast their ill-fated arguments on such a national platform?

Sure, everyone is entitled to free-speech and free-expression. But lets face it…even the most liberal American among us would cringe at this editorial.

Getting down to business, let’s review some possible counter measures that Iran would take in the event of a U.S. or Israeli air-strike on its nuclear facilities:

1) Iraq and Afghanistan would be far more conflicted than they already are for U.S. troops. Shia militias in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan would step-up their attacks on U.S. and NATO forces; not only diminishing the operation’s success but demoralizing the troops in the process.

2) Through Iran’s Hezbollah and Hamas proxies, Israel would be forced to endure a wrath of asymmetrical violence that would be far more devastating than the deadliest Palestinian intifada.

3) Yemen- a state that is already grappling with a Shia insurgency to the North and a separatist movement in the South- would become a failed state without any resemblance of order or authority. And with a fragile Yemen, Saudi Arabia would probably feel compelled to step-in the mix.

4) World oil prices would rise to cataclysmic levels

5)  Iran could withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, thereby cutting off the only link the international community has to Tehran’s nuclear program.

6)) Lastly, Arabs that were once hopeful for a peaceful future would be held hostage to Iranian retaliation.

Good job Mr. Kuperman, your NYT op-ed just solidified the neo-conservative image as an irrational and baseless camp in American politics. And this is a Republican speaking!

-Daniel R. DePetris


17 Responses

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  1. Grant said, on January 2, 2010 at 11:52 pm

    If this were 2003 I would have expected it, but it isn’t. As Mr. Drezner mentioned in his own article, it is exceedingly difficult for a president to drastically change policy. One of the ironies of the an executive position is that they have to rely on officials on lower levels to further those policies even if they threaten the policies that those officials have sought for their entire career. It would take something literally earthshaking like testing a nuclear weapon for the U.S to bomb Iran.

  2. OakHill 1863 said, on January 2, 2010 at 11:52 pm

    it has been obvious for some time that neither the u.s. nor europe has the slightest intention of doing what is necessary to stop iran from getting nukes, despite obama’s many statements on the campaign trail and thereafter that such an outcome is “unacceptable.” the truth is, that to obama, and bush2 for that matter, that outcome is/was acceptable and iran will get its nukes. so, world, get ready to deal with that, because it’s going to happen if the current policy (including new sanctions) remains in effect.

    let’s play pretend, however, and imagine that such an outcome is “unacceptable.” if that outcome is unacceptable, then if obama could talk iran out of its nukes, great; if it takes finger pointing, fine; if it takes sanctions, all to the good; but if it takes bombs, well they may have to used if an iranian nuke is truly “unacceptable.” therefore, taking this president at his word, it is entirely proper for the nytimes to run such articles.

    here is a tougher question for mr. lynch, however. the left always wants uncle same to look at himself in the mirror and ask, “how does the world see me; am i bringing this all on myself by myopia and my own ill-suited words and bad conduct?” let’s assume that the answer to uncle’s questions are all, “yes.” well, if looking at oneself in the mirror is the world standard, then when nations such as north korea and iran (and saddaam before them) spout off about “setting [south korea and japan] on fire; and wiping israel off the map, why shouldn’t the intended, if still hypothetical, victims simply take north korea and iran at their words and destroy them? why does the intended victim have to take ANY risk that the threat-maker is not serious?

    keevan d. morgan, esq., chicago

  3. janbekster said, on January 2, 2010 at 11:53 pm

    If we go back to square one, Iran denies that it intends to develop nuclear weapons, and there is no tangible evidence yet which is contrary to its claims.

    Therefore, the talk in the US for a military strike against Iran, cannot even be justified as pre-emptive, because it is solely based on assumptions that Iran intends to develop nuclear weapons, and that it has the knowledge to do so.

    One is the first to admit that the Iranian regime is dangerous, and it may require a military strike against it once evidence can be acertained, that Iran is actually developing nuclear weapons, but not on the basis , of might, and may, sometime in the future. In this argument often, the subjects of Israel and Pakistan crop up, and why not ? on moral grounds at least. However, what makes the Iranian regime different, is the fact that while Israel’s nuclear weapons have been accepted as a fait accompli by most in the international community; save for between now and then making noises about a nuclear-free Middle East, and Pakistan remains firmly under the US’ thumb, almost everyone in the international community does not wish to see Iran with Nuclear weapons. Is this fair and moral?, indeed might not be, but then again, an Iran with nuclaer weapons will increase the potential for a nuclear war in the Middle East and probably beyond, and will certainly enable Iran to impose its hegemony on a region which has proved to be more than once; very volatile.

    I know that sanctions will not work, but an attack by the US or Israel on Iran, will throw the region into far more turmoil than probably the advocates of war can anticipate, unless there is intelligence on the ground, which indicates that in the event of such an attack, the Baluch of Iran, Arabs of Khuzistan, and Kurds of Iran, will rise up and the regime with collapse. Mind you the last time such an assessment was made, it was in Iraq when thousands of Kurds and Shi’ite were massacred after the liberation of Kuwait.

    khairi janbek.paris/france

  4. RKERG said, on January 2, 2010 at 11:54 pm

    Israel, which, with its American made jet planes and weapons systems is the unquestioned supreme power
    in the region. Iran is now actively seeking to challenge Israel’s supremacy. From this background emerges a cast of characters who seem intent on persuading America to attack Iran on Israels behalf. For me, this begs the question of what was the point of arming Israel to the teeth if it is reluctant to take on its challengers?

    In op-ed columns you find articles written, often by Iranian exiles who, probably think that (like Chalabi) they can return to Iran, after we have softened it up, and run it in their own vision, along with the ever present AIPAC worthies who, it sometimes seems, would have us believe that Israel is a defenseless little country in need of protection from its big brother. I suspect that the neo-cons who sold the Bushies the Iraq invasion idea are now perplexed at the strengthened position that it has put Iran in, and seek an American/Iran military confrontation to change that, but, since the American military is already engaged in cleaning up one of their earlier messes in Iraq, it is a tough sell.

    Who would buy another war from these guys, one that would probably see the price of oil go up to 1000 dollars a barrel and send the U.S. economy back down to where it was a year ago?

    As I said, the ball is in Israels court for this one.

    • janbekster said, on January 2, 2010 at 11:54 pm

      I don’t think Israel will do anything to that effect, without the consent of the USA, because it would not want to bear the consequences of such attacks on its opinion; especially if the Iranian devastating retaliatory capability is to be believed, and also, Israel would certainly need the US diplomatic muscle in the region to facilitate such attacks.

      khairi janbek.paris/france

  5. Dickerson3870 said, on January 2, 2010 at 11:55 pm

    I once loved the NYT, but now I look forward to the possibility that some day it will ‘go under’ (hopefully not ‘down under’). The only recent thing I can credit them for is the 2007 resale by Tishman Speyer Properties of the old New York Times (15 story) Building to Lev Leviev (Africa-Israel diamond magnate & builder of illegal settlements in Judea/Samaria) at the height of the real estate bubble (for three times what the NYT sold it for in 2004). The building (along with others) has lost so much in value since Leviev’s 2007 purchase, that his empire is now on the verge of bankruptcy. Well done, NYT (and Tishman Speyer)!

    P.S. FROM WIKIPEDIA: …New York Magazine reported in 2007 that a security company hired by Leviev [at his Angolan mines] had been accused by a local human rights group that year “of participating in practices of ‘humiliation, whipping, torture, sexual abuse, and, in some cases, assassinations.’[12] Leviev did not directly respond to the charges, but noted his charitable activities in Angola.[13]… SOURCE – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lev_Leviev

  6. A Balanced View said, on January 2, 2010 at 11:56 pm

    If we or Israel were ever dim and shortsighted enough to bomb Iran without Iran actually making an overt military threat (not this ridiculous rhetorical or theoretical threat ,7 times removed from reality, that is being sold now) they would mine the gulf, and take other measures, that would ensure that the price of oil would go to about $500 per barrel, and send gas to about 12 or more dollars per gallon.

    This would CERTAINLY be enough to send the US into a depression which would rival or surpass the great depression in its economic destruction. There would be massive job losses, vast numbers of businesses laid low, and there would STILL be greatly higher priced for food and products, as transportation and petroleum based materials would skyrocket in price.

    The damage that would occur would take decades to reverse. Some might say that we could somehow minimize the threat to the gulf, but that would most likely be the cheapest and most effective method for the Iranians (and other parties who would collude in this effort) to cause damage to the US and Israel, and it would really only take the THREAT of interruptions in that major thoroughfare to allow the speculators to drive the price of oil up to the sky and beyond.

    This price for adventurism in Iran MUST be considered first and foremost before we would ever be silly enough to risk our financial security and stability at the behest of the very same people who endangered and and robbed the US by using precisely the same flawed and factually bankrupt rhetoric to get us into the ultimately pointless and bottomless sinkhole of a failure is the Iraq war.

    finally, regarding the NYTimes, they are, in the final analysis, about as guilty as any Neocon think tank for putting us in Iraq. Their reporting, opinion and and analysis of the “facts” that led us into that were were so flawed for so long as to belie an obvious prejudice in the matter.

    They never asked ANY of the right questions, they CONTINUE to employ Tom “suck on this” Friedman, and they are more than likely, at this very moment, to be hiring the next Judith Miller, who is willing to allow the Neocon Hawks to phone in their version of events as “news” without the slightest critique of their motives or their “facts”.

    Meanwhile, news sources like MCClatchy were asking all the right questions and being ignored, so it WAS possible for the right questions to be asked. That is why it is so egregious that the NYtimes never did.

    The NYTimes is simply and completely unreliable in these matters and has been for quite some time.

  7. Grant Budding said, on January 2, 2010 at 11:56 pm

    This idea is so bad, and the op-ed so horrible written that I wonder if this is a deliberate attempt by the New York times to main-stream the stupidity of the idea.

    I remember one poorly written article by a New York Times columist of the Responsibility to Protect school who has written much in favour of intervening in Darfur. I guess New York times had changed their editorial policy at that time towards withdrawing from Afghanistan so he wrote a wonderful article about why the Americans should learn from the Soviets and withdraw, subtling hinting that the chain of events which followed the collapse of Najibullah lead to the rise of the Taliban, the coming of Osama Bin Ladin and the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Could this be a trojan horse of similiar nature?

  8. janbekster said, on January 2, 2010 at 11:57 pm

    I agree with Deptris. Plenty has been said before on Iran in this forum, and plenty is being said now also through the various messages above, and below. I have the feeling if there is any sense of diappointment reflected, it is because the article appeared in the NY Times, and not due to the lack of understanding of Iranian affairs, by Dr.Lynch and contributors alike.

    khairi janbek.paris/france

  9. King Paddy said, on January 2, 2010 at 11:58 pm

    I am seeing and hearing evidence of Iran’s intent being leaked and suggested and I think this is the propaganda that precedes military action. I am positive that this is a last resort as it will require the United States to reveal some of it’s military capacity.

    The revolutionary Guard has made clear that they control Iran and they have an agenda. We have plenty of evidence of Iran’s nuclear weapons programs. The equipment to form warheads has been purchased from German and Taiwan and enriched uranium has been detected in on site visit of the nuclear regulatory commission.

    The centrifuges can be heard from space, you really can’t hide them. destroying the anti-aircraft defenses will be difficult but also can be done. Then the rockets and missiles need to totally destroyed along with their factory.

    The leadership and command and control must be taken out at once along with their naval forces.

    Leave the people be. Syria and Lebanon will attack along with Hamas.

    Isreal is thought to have a large arcenal of nuclear weapons which were built to protect themselves from Russia. They have threatened no one.

    Perhaps they may use one in a high altitude EMP burst knocking out all their electronics.

    Iran has warned them that they will not stop until the very last Jew is dead.

    Perhaps we could help them. Perhaps we don’t need to. All their planes are not US made. They have many trading pardners.

    WE could pay back a favor long owed to the Jews of the revolution Haym Solomon was an investment banker and friend of George Washington. In today’s dollars he raised $40 billion dollars from his personal accounts and the rest in loans from France and Spain. He wanted the [personal freedoms that he could have anywhere in the world.

    Without Hayam George Washington would of lost at valley Forge

    He was never repaid for his loyalty.


  10. PsychoBabble said, on January 2, 2010 at 11:58 pm

    A military strike on Iran would be disastrous–not least because it’s not necessary.

    I keep hearing the same argument that Iranian leadership (particularly Ahmadinejad) has vowed time and time again to wipe Israel of the map. But the truth is that actions speak louder than words. If Ahmadinejad/the Revolutionary Guards/Khamenei wanted to destroy Israel, why aren’t there daily suicide bombings in Tel Aviv? Why aren’t masked gunmen terrorizing the streets of Haifa? Iran or its proxies, like Hezbollah, clearly have the ability–witness the truck bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut or Hezbollah’s near-constant rocket attacks of a few years ago. So, why isn’t this happening? To me the most logical conclusion is that whoever’s calling the shots in Iran is far more pragmatic than we give him credit for. Iranian leadership has clearly calculated that the costs of conducting war on Israel far outweigh the benefits. Even adding a nuclear weapon to Iran’s side of the equation wouldn’t tip the scales. Right now, an Israel nuclear strike is off the table, but that all changes if Iran strikes Israel with nukes first. At best Iran could only produce a handful of bombs compared to Israel’s arsenal of a couple hundred, so the equation once again favors Israel. No matter what Iran does, a war with Israel simply isn’t in its best interests.

    The argument for justifying a preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities is often that either A) Iran will attack Israel, or B) Iran will give nukes to terrorists that will attack Israel. Iran’s current actions blow both of those arguments to pieces. So, let’s start talking sensibly and stop pretending that Iran is run by a bunch of long-bearded, Quran-toting fascists.

    • King Paddy said, on January 2, 2010 at 11:59 pm

      Dear Mister PSYCHOBABBLE

      Iran is run by the Revolutionary Guard not a bunch of long-bearded, Quran-toting fascists. They have been at war with us since 1976.

      They have a plan to destroy Israel and when ready will do so. Israel does not have a right to exist according to the Revolutionary Guard.

      Iran was given the plans to build a nuclear weapon by Pakistans father of the bomb. In fact he gave them to all Muslim nations and Korea.

      Iran has purchased all the needed gear to make a warhead and has developed delivery systems.

      Cut off the head o0f the snake (the revolutionary guard) Take out the anit-aircraft systems, production capabilities, and missile sites and factories. Didtroy the navey. Don’t harm the people.

      Non of this is about the best interests of anyone. It is about a sworn duty to kill all the jews in the middle east.

      They will do it too if not stopped.

    • arvay said, on January 3, 2010 at 12:00 am

      your only concern is israel.

      As far as many of us are concerned, it would be great if Israel magically disappeared. It is an albatross and a source of hatred for the US around the world.

      If the iranians can make it disappear, I’ll send them money.

    • Pennflyer said, on January 3, 2010 at 12:00 am

      “if Israel magically disappeared”

      great. that’s great.

      it might be more productive for some of us who are soooo concerned with other people’s business to focus a bit more on integrating our own disenfranchised and inextricable but not-about-to-magically-disappear masses of compatriots, such as millions of African Americans and Latinos, most of whom didn’t ask to be in this situtation any more than you or I asked to be born–then we might realize the huge obstacle facing Israelis trying to embed themselves within a cultural landscape that is largely alien to them, and yet, THERE IS NO CHOICE. Israel’s process of integration into the wider Middle East will take centuries just like the ongoing integration of Africans into America, not to mention Native Americans, etc. thinking reactively and in the short-short term leads directly to stupidities like suggesting that Iran should be bombed. Iran should be bombed, and proportionally, in line with the laws of war, WHEN THEY ARE BOMBING US.

  11. JayDee001 said, on January 3, 2010 at 12:02 am

    Have all these war enthusiasts who still believe the only solution is a military strike and invasion of Iran considered how well this is turning out in both Afghanistan and Iraq? Are there any facts to support the conclusion that a nuclear armed Iran will pose any greater threat to peace in the region than nuclear armed Israel, or the continued mistakes of the blundering colossus of the world (Uncle Sam)? North Korea achieved the production of nuclear weapons while we were preoccupied with islamic terrorism. It did so at least partly because it saw that the US is inclined to invade those countries which do not have nuclear weaponry. Iran may feel the same way – build it and they will not come!

    It is so stunningly ignorant of us that we ignore even very recent history by fulminating against a potential Iranian nuclear capability. The failures, thus far, of our adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan should have at least caused us to view our own capacity to wage unlimited war with a great deal more humility. Recent news reports that our CIA has covertly opened another from against al Quaeda in Yemen show again that our ability to control our military and intelligence services resembles that of a third-world country – perhaps Pakistan? We simply do not have the military to fight another war in the Middle East”. At some point, it is hoped the American people will wake up an realize they have been sold a false bargain – that these wars will cause our nation to become bankrupted morally and economically, while they actually contribute little to our safety and security. The Leibermans, Cheneys, and their kind will never comprehend the fact that our ability to wage war is eventually going to be curtailed by the capacity of our faltering economy to pay the bills and our families to send their sons and daughters to die or be maimed in far away places in endless adventures.

    Another war? Is this all they can offer as a solution to the world’s problems? We started one war of opportunity in Iraq based on lies and deceptions from these same people. We do not need to follow their lead again. Their belief in the invincibility of American arms is incredibly short-sighted.

    We will not be directly threatened even if Iran does build a bomb. The day before they employ such a weapon will be the last best day of their existence as a nation. They probably know that, even if we and the Israelis don not.

  12. UzbekPolicy said, on January 3, 2010 at 12:02 am

    Guys, please relax, America is not going for the third war. Kuperman just wants to prepare the wide public (that’s why he chose NYT) for the upcoming *Israeli* attack on Iran.

    Though the money for the operation, of course, will still come from our taxes 🙂

    • Bani said, on January 3, 2010 at 12:03 am

      I completely agree with you:”prepare the wide public”, to make them think in a particular way rather than providing them with useful info ,pros and cons and let them think and analyze the events,enabling them to get of their media shell once in a while and ask themselves:Is it the only way of looking at things? or are there other facts that are intentionally hidden for some reasons?

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