In my last post, I suggested that maybe Afghanistan is a bridge too far. More generally after 8 years of the GWoT, I am starting to think the GWoT more generally is going that way too. I know it is vital for US security, but the costs are really starting to scare me, encouraging the isolationist hidden in every American: if they don’t want our help in Eurasia, fine – let them kill each other as they wish.
A friend went to hear a Council on Foreign Relations speaker on Iran – inevitably an ex-national security type. The speaker said we are leaving Israel in the wind to deal with Iran, and that the likelihood of an Israeli strike is rising faster than most people think. Here was my response.
“She sounds to me like your standard neo-con hawk actually – mixing analysis with policy preferences, trying to scare the hell out of the West with frightening scenarios that imply if only the US was tough and committed, this would not have happened. I think she reads the Kagans too much.
A few points:
1. Nuclear proliferation is inevitable. It’s already underway in Asia seriously. The US can’t bomb, sanction, invade all these places. We better find a way to live with this, instead of saying every time a proliferator is on the cusp that we should consider military force. That’s a recipe for forever war as the costs of nuclearization continue to come down.
2. Israel’s security is not America’s security. If they want to start a war with Iran, then that’s their issue. The US informal security guarantee to Israel cannot mean that we get chain-ganged into every conflict it wants to fight.
3. I think the likelihood of an Israeli strike is wildly overrated. They’re not stupid, and they know they are deeply isolated on this one. Israeli hawks are probably bluffing to encourage the US and UN to move more meaningfully on Iran. It’s the Richard Nixon ‘madman’ theory all over again: if Israel acts wild and erratic enough, maybe others will be spooked into doing something.
4. Iran with nukes is more dangerous, but let the locals balance/contain it first. It should not be our affair firstly.
5. We don’t really have much choice. Iran is genuinely committed to nuclearization, and Americans are unwilling to use serious force to stop that. So all we can really do is watch from the sidelines. Our hands are tied by a US public opinion that has been deeply anti-interventionist after Afghanistan and Iraq.”
Asked if I had suddenly become a dove on the GWoT:
“I don’t know. Maybe. But I think more that I am really beginning to worry about the costs of the war on terror. It goes on and on, and the US is bankrupt now, seriously, and really overstretched. We just cannot afford this stuff much longer – we’re becoming like Britain in the 30s or the USSR in the 80s. I can see the enthusiasm out here in the Chinese scholars I meet. They are relishing watching American fritter away its power running around the caves and deserts of the ME. Israel is our friend and should be, but the ME is becoming a sinkhole for US power. We desperately need Israel to find peace with its neighbors, or to cut it loose, because its exceptionalism is becoming just too expensive for the US now. We need to start seriously telling the Israelis that American support is not a blank check. If the Jewish religious right wants an apocalyptic war over the territories, and to bomb Iran…, well, that’s just a bridge too far. Right now Iraq and Afghanistan are enough. Do we really need to risk a regional war between Israel and the US on one side, and Muslims on the other? Increasingly, I am thinking we need a long-term out from the ME. It’s bankrupting the US. I don’t know. My thinking on the ME is in real flux; maybe because I am watching Asians get rich and strong while we are stumbling. The trend lines are just not good. The ME just seems so intractable, and it is becoming such a huge drain on the US.”
To the charge I might abandon Israel:
“Well, I am watching Asians get rich while we are hunting ghosts in the ME. The Chinese love this. They are watching the world’s only superpower blow its lead and fritter away its power in a probably vain effort to bring peace to the ME. It is becoming increasingly apparent that this is a fool’s errand. You must be thinking the same…”