U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif

By: Harry C. Blaney III

March 26th I opened my New York Times as usual and low and behold there was an op-ed by former Ambassador John R. Bolton of Iraqi war renown with the title “To stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran”, and its sub-headline “Tehran can’t be trusted on a nuclear deal. Force is the only option.” Besides being very wrong on a host of other issues like his view of the United Nations in the past, which having been sent there by a right-wing  Republican president, he straightaway aimed to undermine its authority, cut it resources, and tried in every which way to eviscerate. Now it seems he wants us to go to into a senseless and costly war again with his other neo-con crazy co-conspirators.

At the moment the fate of the nuclear negotiations are still not fully known, and least of all what will follow in the event of an agreement or a failure at this effort. But one thing is certain, and that is that preemptive war is mad and disastrous for all sides.

The only conclusion one can reach from this Bolton essay in fantasy is how crazy we have all become when we fall again into the “war hawks” dead end traps. These traps will bring such destruction to not only Iran and its many anti-regime and pro-American citizens, but to exacerbate more conflicts in the whole region and any hope for a peaceful and diplomatic region wide accommodation that has any hope to batten down the upheavals that have created the current chaos in the first place.

Bolton’s proscriptions, contrary to his flawed conclusions on the behavior of nations in the region, would create those dangerous things which he says bombing would avoid sooner and with more force. Further, most strategic experts including most of the analysis by our own government finds that such a military attack would create such horrific added conflict to an already unstable region and still not a long-term stop to a possible Iranian weapons program.

Bolton says it would do so for 3 to 5 years, but an agreement would stop Iran from just such an effort for at least 10 years and it just might mitigate the existing corrosive Shia-Sunni warfare that it at the real bottom of the existing instability.

Besides poor, almost non-existent analysis of outcomes of war actions, Bolton’s assumption is that Iran will not negotiate away its “nuclear program.”  I am not sure exactly what he means by “nuclear program.” They certainly will not be dissuaded from a civilian nuclear power and research effort that they have invested billions of dollars into, but the reality is that a nuclear weapons effort should be seen by the Iranian leadership as the worst possible outcome for their own security.  It is a course of societal and governmental suicide in the end. That does not mean that the Iranian leaders are fully rational and are acting fully in the interest of the well-being of their people, since if they were they would not be in the current situation.

Yet the likely reason for the present negotiations, contrary to Bolton’s assertion, is that they have decided that sanctions hurt, that having the bomb may be more dangerous to their security than not having it, and that they need to rebuild their failing economy and society. What they want however is clearly a best deal to keep their options open and not be seen as “giving in” to the West.

The key flaw of Bolton’s article is he did not mention the real cost and consequences of his war proposal. The reason is simply it would totally undermine his whole argument and expose its wrong assumptions about the dynamics of the actions he proposes…

Bolton and his Republican neo-con affiliates have argued in the past for (unnecessary and costly) war – in Iraq.  But he still seems to think that indeed war is the answer to anything, but does not want or can’t honestly think through his myopic ideological lenses and truly evaluate the cost of such action, deaths, and risks on all sides of the consequences of his policies.

Secretary John Kerry has been right to test diplomacy and indeed the agreed temporary accord already has inhibited any further push towards a weapon. Nothing in diplomacy in this messy world is easy. The time has come for an end of costly and unnecessary war making which ends mostly in disasters for all. Let’s all hope that in time there will be a “good” agreement since that would be a “win-win” for all sides, for the region, and the world.

We welcome your comments!


F-15E Strike Eagles flying over Iraq after bombing ISIS targets in Syria.
F-15E Strike Eagles flying over Iraq after bombing ISIS targets in Syria.

By Harry C. Blaney III

President Obama has spoken at the United Nations General Assembly and gave an excellent summary of the global challenges that we currently face. He had earlier made a number of short and general statements about his perspective on the U.S. and the international coalition that he has assembled, but now comes the hard part of implementation and fixing the train wreck caused by Bush II’s invasion of Iraq.

Recently, a surge of criticism has focused on President Obama over whether he and the intelligence community misjudged the spread and effectiveness of ISIS forces. This has been used by right wing Republicans, notably Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Michigan), Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, to beat up on Obama: “This was not an intelligence failure, but a failure by policy makers to confront the threat.” This is despite the fact that they too were getting about the same briefings from the CIA on the Syria and Iraq security situation all along. Even the New York Times has played the story on the September 30th front page by Peter Baker and Eric Schmitt, the way the GOP hardliners want to see it played. The White House reiterated that the President took full responsibility, but the fact is that nearly everyone, our intelligence, our diplomats, and the media, did not see in advance the capability and power of ISIS, nor the astonishing weakness of Iraqi forces which collapsed under poor, indeed corrupt and incompetent leadership and a sectarian myopic government. 

Continue reading

Iran: Obama’s Fast Approaching Dilemma

As part of our series about President Obama’s second term national security and foreign policy challenges, we thought Iran needed special individual attention beyond our earlier summary of issues facing America abroad. The fact of the matter is the issue of “Iran” is part of the larger strategic structure and landscape of the greater Middle East. Iran and its nuclear ambitions and its relations to other countries of the region involve a complex weave of problems that are interlinked.


These issues include the Sunni – Shia divide, the influence of Iran over Iraq, and the feeling of vulnerability on the part of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States towards the possible nuclear weapons capability of Iran, and Israel’s sense of strategic danger from such weapons given the attitude of Iran toward them. Not least are the upheavals in the Arab world and especially in Syria, which borders on Israel and where Iran has invested so much on Assad’s regime. Furthermore, the impact on other nearby states such as Afghanistan, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, China, India and Russia are key factors for understanding.  Each of these states believes it has a stake in the future direction and power of Iran. We must not forget this to our peril.


One of our first requirements is to understand the context that is the prism that the leaders of Iran see as their interest and how they view the external danger to their regime. Their first interest, is survival as with all states. The second, is the survival of the regime itself. And the third, is how they view the best approach to securing the first two objectives. They are essentially seeking to keep in power and also prevent others from removing their influence and gaining a strategic advantage. Striking Israel is likely a lower priority than the first three.  It is for these reasons that they have pursued a nuclear weapons path.


The current uncertainties of the region including the Arab Spring, events in Gaza, the growing influence of Egypt and the war in Syria, are all part of the changing landscape that Iran faces and can only raise their concerns. But these events may also make them change their direction and assessment of their situation. 


The sanctions are working and if we have enough time we may help to change the balance of advantages and danger by the Iranian regime. They have unfortunately acted recently with their nuclear activities in ways that do more to heighten concerns by other powers than in ways that lessen tensions and indicate willingness to seriously negotiate. Only time can tell. 


It is not yet clear how far the Iranian regime will go towards entering into true negotiations with the Group of Six plus One. Much will depend on their calculation of their own interests and the cost they might pay versus the gain for each of their options.  If they were rational (a big “if”), they eventually will not go down the path of creating nuclear weapons since the cost undoubtedly would be great to them and the Iranian regime/people. 


We have just heard that Iran has downloaded the rods from its research reactor which could be a provocative move, and bodes badly for a move towards negotiated path.


From the view point of those states most involved and concerned about Iran’s actions, the challenge is to find the right balance of carrots and sticks to tip the balance towards a strategic agreement that removes the “nuclear weapons option” and moves Iran towards a “win-win” strategy and lessens risks for all sides.  There have been a number of ideas to design solutions that all sides can live with including letting them have a certain capability for enrichment but with such restraints, transparency and control that the danger of any use for weapons would be obviated.


Most likely (in my view) is that with the right sanctions in place along with proposals on the table that give incentives for the Iranians to halt their nuclear weapons ambitions and a larger regional “settlement” that brings security and stability to a wide range on regional countries, we may avoid the catastrophe that would be making war on Iran or Iran making war on the world.

This is a role that Obama and our allies can play which might help more than the Iranian dilemma but also help stability for the whole region.

Comments on New York Times Op-ed “Falling In and Out of War”

Today I would like to draw our readers’ attention to an outstanding op-ed in the March 19th edition of the New York Times by Bill Keller, entitled Falling In And Out of War.” It addresses a lot of issues that our blog, “Rethinking National Security,” is all about. Keller notes the need to rethink our strategic options and choices and ask very hard questions. He sets forth, specifically, five questions that need to be asked, including: “How is this our fight?”; “At what costs?”; “Or what?” (Looking at alternatives to war); “And who else?”; And finally, “Then what?”

Having been around the decision making bureaucracies when wars were considered, wars were undertaken, and wars were averted, I find Keller’s arguments and perspective compelling and worth our full attention and reflection.

I especially like his last comment, “before you deploy the troops, deploy the fact checkers.”  I remember asking who was around when the decisions were made about the Vietnam War that was in the know and close to the top, and being told that rarely, if ever, was there in the room itself anyone who really knew Vietnam.  We know that those who were skeptical and really knowledgeable about Iraq were kept from the table and those who knew little and made the decisions had only blind ideology as a guide.

As cries go out to make war on Iran now, this is an excellent antidote to these ignorant and unthinking voices who themselves you can bet won’t go to war.

By Harry C. Blaney III.