The question gets some surprisingly serious attention.
(Best of the Tube This Weekend: We'll be on "The Journal Editorial Report" tomorrow, discussing the Second Amendment and the Supreme Court. Tune in at 2 and 11 p.m. ET on Fox News Channel--and this week there is a 6 a.m. Sunday showing as well. Also: We won't publish a column Monday, as the Fourth of July falls on July 5 this year.)
Here's a pair of questions that some people are, surprisingly, asking: "Is Obama Really a Socialist? Some Say So, but Where's the Evidence?" That's a Christian Science Monitor headline, and while the second question is entirely rhetorical, suggesting the paper (or is it just a website now?) comes down on the negative side, the story is actually inconclusive:
The assertion is getting louder: President Obama is a socialist, a wealth-redistributing wolf in Democrat's clothing gnawing at America's entrepreneurial spirit.
It's easy to buy "Obama is a socialist" bumper stickers on the Internet. Political commentator Dick Morris said, in a column circulated on GOPUSA.com, that conservatives are "enraged at Barack Obama's socialism and radicalism." Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich titled his new book "To Save America: Stopping Obama's Secular-Socialist Machine."
So, is Mr. Obama trying to form The Socialist Republic of America? Or are the accusations mainly a political weapon, meant to stick Obama with a label that is poison to many voters and thus make him a one-term president?
As is often the case in politics, the answer is in the eye of the beholder.
Well, "Answer Is in Eye of Beholder" is about the dullest headline one could write without mentioning Canada, so we can see why the Monitor went for something with an ever so tiny bit more sex appeal. Still, what's interesting here is that the Monitor is treating the question even as a legitimate one.
The left has portrayed the assertion "Obama is a socialist" as the product of hallucinogenic tea. Polls attempting to show that Republicans are crazy--both the one Markos Moulitsas commissioned and the one John Avlon inspired, helped design and touted but did not commission--have included it along with such genuinely insane claims as "Obama was not born in the U.S." and "Obama may be the Antichrist." Yet you won't see a mainstream publication weigh the pros and cons of those claims and conclude that "the answer is in the eye of the beholder."
What's more--and this was our first thought on seeing the Monitor story--we're pretty sure we never saw a similar story during George W. Bush's time in office seriously pondering the question of whether he was a fascist, though left-wingers called him that all the time.
We suppose this is in part because the left has so cheapened the term "fascism" as to leave it with little meaning other than as a term of abuse. Socialism also has better PR than fascism does, and hence is more respectable: Some European countries have socialist parties that are part of mainstream politics, and although Obama does not call himself a socialist, one member of the Senate Democratic Caucus, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, wears the label with pride.
These days "fascism" is less often associated with Mussolini's party, which was its namesake, than with the Nazis, even though Nazi is an abbreviation for National Socialist. And somehow the socialist label seldom gets applied to the other defunct totalitarian state, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
If the media take somewhat more seriously the claim that Obama is a socialist than the claim that Bush was a fascist, it certainly isn't because they're biased in favor of Bush. Rather, it has to do with the merits of the assertions.
Merriam-Webster defines fascism as "a political philosophy, movement, or regime . . . that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition."
M-W defines socialism as "any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods."
Calling Bush a fascist is flatly false; his philosophy and administration met none of the criteria in the definition. Calling Obama a socialist, by contrast, is merely a gross overstatement.
When a Democrat is in the White House, media coverage of the economy tends to be a lagging indicator of bad news and a leading indicator of good news--which is another way of saying that, as we noted yesterday, reporters' usual approach can be summed up as "always look on the bright side of life."
Things must be really getting bad, because the lagging indicator seems to be catching up. In yesterday's column we analyzed a dispatch by Christopher Rugaber of the Associated Press that previewed today's jobs report and tried to explain away the expected bad news. Later yesterday, though, Rugaber filed another dispatch that was far dourer, including its title, "Evidence Mounts That Recovery Is Hitting the Skids."
Rugaber weighs in again today with a story on the actual jobless numbers, and his mood hadn't improved overnight. The title gave the bad news first: "Payrolls Drop by 125K, Jobless Rate Falls." The story, too, begins with the bad news, and swiftly explains why the good news isn't so good:
A weak June jobs report offered the latest evidence that the economic recovery is slowing.
Employers cut 125,000 jobs last month, the most since October, the Labor Department said Friday. The loss was driven by the end of 225,000 temporary census jobs. Businesses added a net total of 83,000 workers, the sixth straight month of private-sector job gains but not enough to speed up the recovery.
Unemployment dropped to 9.5 percent--the lowest level since July 2009--from 9.7 percent. But the reason for the decline was more than 650,000 people gave up on their job searches and left the labor force. People who are no longer looking for work aren't counted as unemployed.
Neither dispatch uses the phrase "jobless recovery," which was a staple of economic coverage during the Bush years--even though, before the last few months of 2008, unemployment seldom topped 6%.
When the war in Afghanistan was getting under way in 2001, some journalists evoked a favorite cliché, likening it to Vietnam. Of course, every war since Vietnam has been called the "next Vietnam," so this was easily dismissed. Now that the Afghanistan effort has gone on longer than Vietnam (as measured from the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution though the Paris Peace Accords)--albeit with only a fraction of the casualties--the comparison seems less implausible.
And the Democratic Party, which nearly unanimously backed both wars at the start, does seem to be repeating history, now that one of its members is in the White House. For some time Democrats have been turning against the war effort, and in the House, their support "has eroded to a point where President Barack Obama is now so reliant on Republican votes that he's backtracking from his own party's efforts to add new education funding to avert teacher layoffs," Politico reported on Tuesday:
The conflict showed itself Tuesday night as Democrats began spelling out the details of what domestic funds are proposed to be added to a Senate-passed version of the same war-funding bill. The 110 page amendment was posted on the House Rules Committee website even as the House Democratic whip organization circulated a summary that included border security and nuclear energy credits along with nearly $15 billion for education.
No indication was given of an administration position pro or con: TBA was the operative acronym. But unless it steps forward more, the White House risks further straining relations with Democrats, already frustrated by the president's lukewarm support of new jobs and economic relief legislation going into November's elections.
In the end, the Democrats had their way on the additional spending, and all but three Republicans opposed the appropriation, which passed 239-182. But it's not over: As CNN notes, "war funding passed the Senate without the add-ons in the House version, so the Senate must take up the bill again."
CNN adds that 153 Democrats and 9 Republicans supported an unsuccessful amendment that "would have forced Obama to commit to a timetable for completing troop withdrawal from Afghanistan":
The White House issued a veto threat, warning members of President Barack Obama's party that he would reject the bill if they placed money conditions that would "undermine his ability as commander in chief to conduct military operations in Afghanistan."
Lyndon B. Johnson ended up abandoning his re-election bid in 1968 because of his own party's division over Vietnam. It would be ironic if Obama is saved from a similar fate by increased Republican strength in Congress in 2011-12.
Grounded by Global Warmism
Visiting London may get harder in the years ahead because of the new Conservative-led government's odd priorities, the New York Times reports:
In a bold if lonely environmental stand, Britain's coalition government has set out to curb the growth of what has been called "binge flying" by refusing to build new runways around London to accommodate more planes.
Citing the high levels of greenhouse gas emissions from aviation, Prime Minister David Cameron, a Conservative, abruptly canceled longstanding plans to build a third runway at Heathrow Airport in May, just days after his election; he said he would also refuse to approve new runways at Gatwick and Stansted, London's second-string airports.
The government decided that enabling more flying was incompatible with Britain's oft-stated goal of curbing emissions.
It's hard to imagine Margaret Thatcher doing something like this. Meanwhile, The Daily Caller reports that Deutsche Welle, Germany's publicly funded broadcast network, held a "Global Media Forum" last week:
According to the conference website, this year's event drew some 1500 participants from 95 countries. The topic: "The Heat is On: Climate Change and the Media." . . .
One workshop, however, sparked particular controversy. Its title: "How to professionally deal with climate skepticism"--or as its German title translates: how to deal with "skeptics." As the description of the workshop makes clear, "deal with" here is a euphemism. "Let both sides make their point and let the audience sort out what is true" is the traditional "mantra" of journalism, the organizers admit. "But with climate change, things are not so easy," the text continues. "Falling back on a 'neutral' journalistic position can mean playing into the hands of the skeptics at the expense of the basis of life."
Yet while German journalists may be abandoning professional standards in favor of propaganda, the Times notes that Frankfurt International Airport has "recently been expanded" and will pick up some of the traffic Heathrow is forgoing.
Other Than That, the Story Was Accurate
"Tim Rutten: His June 23 column on the gubernatorial race included several inaccurate figures in its comparison of California and Greece. The state's gross domestic product, which the column put at $333 billion, is in fact about $1.85 trillion. Greek unemployment is not the highest in the Eurozone; Spain's, at about 20%, is higher. The column said California generates 17% of United States GDP, but the actual number is closer to 13%. The column also said that Sacramento was "sitting on" $500 billion in debt; that number referred to an estimate of unfunded pension liabilities. The inaccurate numbers in Rutten's column were taken from an article on the Web--http://usactionnews.com/2010/05/will-california-be-our-greece--that was subsequently corrected. They should have been double-checked for accuracy and, to the extent that we relied on the research of others, attributed to the original source."--correction, Los Angeles Times, July 1
Some Hoped for More Than Hope
- "Obama Offers Hope"--headline, Kenosha (Wis.) News, June 30
- "Obama Disappoints Even Lowered Expectations"--headline, Washington Examiner, June 28
Stop Wasting Your Breath
- "Boehner Tells Obama to Stop Whining"--headline, RollCall.com, July 1
- "Ariz. Gov. to Obama: Do Your Job!"--headline, CNN.com, July 1
We Drink to Forget Soccer
- "Finding a World Cup Bar--There's an App for That"--headline, Crain's New York Business, June 18
- "Apple 'Stunned' to Find iPhones Show Too Many Bars"--headline, Associated Press, July 2
No Wonder He Couldn't Afford a Haircut
"Blagojeviches Spent $400K on Suits, Ties, Underwear"--headline, Chicago Sun-Times, July 1
The Lonely Life of Gene
"High Phenolic Olive Oil Changes Gene Expression"--headline, FuturePundit.com, June 30
'Trees Cause More Pollution Than Automobiles'--Ronald Reagan
"EPA Rejects Air Permits of 122 Texas Plants"--headline, Houston Chronicle, July 1
'I'm Looking for the Man Who Shot My Pa'
"Three-Legged Dogs Aid Robot Study"--headline, BBC website, July 1
Questions Nobody Is Asking
- "Success or Mess: Who Is the Real Lindsay Lohan?"--headline, Associated Press, July 2
- "Chelsea Clinton to Walk Down Aisle at Astor Mansion?"--headline, People.com, July 1
- "Is Bill Stealing Obama's Mojo?"--headline, TheDailyBeast.com, June 30
- "Which Is Weirder: Jersey or Area 51?"--headline, Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Va.), July 2
- "Can Organic Cannibalization Actually Be a Good Thing?"--headline, MediaPost.com, July 2
Answers to Questions Nobody Is Asking
- "Why Corn Ethanol Is Like Chewing Tobacco"--headline, Autoblog.com, June 30
- "How Obama Can Lead on Immigration"--headline, CNN.com, July 1
- "Why Obama's Immigration Speech Was a Failure"--headline, TheDailyBeast.com, July 1
- "Why Canada Will Rule the 21st Century"--headline, MSN.com, July 2
It's Always in the Last Place You Look
"Young Zebra Mussel Found in Red River Between Breckenridge and Whapeton"--headline, Associated Press, July 2
Too Much Information
"Pecker's Tight Squeeze"--headline, New York Post, July 2
"Police Seek Mischief Maker Dressed as Leprechaun"--headline, Associated Press, July 1
Everything Seemingly Is Spinning Out of Control
- "Moose Remains on the Loose in Maine After Running Through a College Campus and Cemetery"--headline, FoxNews.com, July 1
- "Naomi Campbell Subpoenaed in War Crimes Case"--headline, Associated Press, July 1
- "Yikes! A 50-Foot Nancy Pelosi"--headline, Newsweek.com, July 1
News of the Tautological
"Longevity Genes May Predict Who Has the DNA to Live"--headline, Bloomberg, July 1
Breaking News From 1814
"Mount Vernon Sells Out of Washington's Whiskey"--headline, WTOP-FM website (Washington), July 1
News You Can Use
- "Warning: For-Profit Colleges Are After You"--headline, PoliticalMavens.com, July 1
- "Before You Leave for Vacation, Make Sure Everything's Packed"--headline, Patriot-News (Mechanicsburg, Pa.), July 2
- "Raj Salwan: Pets and Fireworks Don't Mix"--headline, Oakland (Calif.) Tribune, July 2
Bottom Stories of the Day
- "Gloria Allred, Lawyer for Tiger Woods' Alleged Mistress, Says Mel Gibson Is a Womanizer and Racist"--headline, Daily News (New York), July 2
- "Morning Must Reads--As Economy Falters, Obama Prepares to Attack Republicans"--headline, Washington Examiner website, July 2
- "Feds Wasted Millions in Utilities Programs for Poor"--headline, Associated Press, July 1
- "Obama Trumps Reagan, Academics Say in Survey"--headline, Washington Times, July 2
A Cute Angle
"Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle backed away Tuesday from remarks in which she referred to the Second Amendment right to bear arms and the need to 'take . . . out' Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid," the Associated Press reports:
Angle, in her first extended Nevada interview since winning the June 8 primary, said she was speaking broadly about the Constitution and her words about the Democratic leader were "a little strong."
The Republican nominee stopped short of an apology but said she no longer uses that phrase.
"I meant take him out of office, and taking him out of office is a little different," Angle said. "I changed my rhetoric."
If you're puzzled as to how Angle's rhetoric might have been misunderstood, consider this Salon.com headline: "Lindsey Graham Is Not Going Out With Ricky Martin."
Which leads to a thought: If Angle wants to take out a senator, why not Lindsey Graham? After all, Harry Reid is married, and we can't imagine he'd be much fun on a date.
(Carol Muller helps compile Best of the Web Today. Thanks to Michele Schiesser, Ethel Fenig, James Foster, Hillel Markowitz, Richard Haisley, Bill Palmer, Kyle Kyllan, John Rosenthal, Don Undis, John Bobek, John Williamson, Mark Finkelstein, Michael Ellard, Bruce Goldman, July Linett, Robert Firriolo, Don Williams, Edward Himmelfarb, Mordecai Bobrowsky, Merv Benson, Paul Cordes, Brian Warner, Bryan Fischer, Joey Bedford, Chad Ott, Dan Tracy, Michael Segal, David Gerstman and Lewis Sckolnick. If you have a tip, write us at email@example.com, and please include the URL.)
Petraeus: 'We Are in This to Win'
KABUL—Gen. David Petraeus took command of coalition forces under the pine trees near NATO headquarters in the Afghan capital Sunday, and called on civilian and military leaders to unite in their support for the war and show "we are in this to win."
Despite mounting casualties and a stiff insurgency, Gen. Petraeus vowed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization coalition had a long-term commitment to Afghanistan and that "neither insurgents nor our partners in the region should doubt that."
The suddenness of Gen. Petraeus's assumption of command in Kabul was evident in who was absent from the ceremony, in which he accepted the colors of the U.S. and NATO: Gen. Stanley McChrystal, his predecessor who was fired by President Barack Obama just over a week ago for making remarks that belittled some senior administration civilians in a Rolling Stone magazine article.
Since his arrival in Kabul Friday, Gen. Petraeus has made soothing the rancor among top U.S. officials a prominent theme of his public appearances, including attending a U.S. Embassy reception over the weekend hosted by Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, a skeptic of the troop surge who Gen. McChrystal openly criticized in the Rolling Stone piece. Gen. Petraeus called Amb. Eikenberry his "Ranger buddy"—a reference to both men's past tenure with the elite Army Rangers—and said he planned to work closely with the U.S. envoy, who himself is a former military commander in Afghanistan.
As if to reinforce the point, in his 11-minute address Sunday—made before the top echelon of coalition forces in Afghanistan, many of whom were appointed by Gen. McChrystal—Gen. Petraeus said "cooperation is not optional" and added that civilian and military efforts are "part of one team with one mission."
The change in command comes at a time that senior Pentagon officials, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Gen. Petraeus himself, have acknowledged progress isn't going as quickly as anticipated, prompting a renewed debate over the wisdom of Mr. Obama's decision to begin withdrawing troops in July 2011. For the first time on Sunday, a senior Afghan official entered the fray, with Said Jawad, the Afghan ambassador to the U.S., saying the deadline was unhelpful to the war effort and could actually make the U.S.-led effort more difficult.
Speaking on the CNN program "State of the Union," Amb. Jawad said the declared deadline sent the wrong message to the Taliban and the U.S. should instead commit publicly that it will remain in Afghanistan "to finish the job."
"If you overemphasize a deadline that is not realistic, you are making the enemy a lot more bold," Mr. Jawad said. "You are prolonging the war."
The July 2011 deadline has been the war plan's most controversial element since it was unveiled by Mr. Obama in his war strategy in December.
In his address, Gen. Petraeus avoided any direct mention of the date, but said NATO was looking forward to Afghan forces taking more responsibility for security, and that "certainly the character of our commitment will change over time."
In his confirmation hearings last week, Gen. Petraeus acknowledged that the July 2011 date wasn't one that was proposed by the uniformed military. At the same time, he said he agreed with the deadline as a way to give the Afghan government a sense of urgency.
Still, Republican war supporters continued to hammer at the issue on Sunday, with Arizona Sen. John McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, saying the deadline has sowed confusion in the region.
"I'm all for dates of withdrawal, but that's after the strategy succeeds, not before," Mr. McCain said on the ABC News program "This Week" during a visit to Kabul. "That's a dramatic difference. And I can tell you for sure, our people in the region are not sure whether we are going to be here after the middle of 2011, whether we have succeeded or not."
The administration has worked hard in recent weeks to emphasize that any withdrawal will be based on conditions on the ground and that it doesn't necessarily mark the beginning of a large-scale drawdown.
But Mr. Jawad appeared to agree with Republican critics, saying it has raised questions about whether the U.S. is fully committed to winning the war. "If that's not the feeling, we lose the support of the Afghan people and also make the neighboring countries who have an interest a lot more bolder to interfere in Afghanistan," Mr. Jawad said.
Gen. Petraeus acknowledged that his appointment as commander in Afghanistan came at a "critical moment" as both casualties and the number of coalition troops in the country are peaking. Some front-line troops have bristled at rules of engagement put in place by Gen. McChrystal, which restricted their ability to go after insurgents in some scenarios out of a desire by U.S. commanders to avoid civilian casualties.
Gen. Petraeus has said he would review the rules, but in a letter to soldiers under his command issued Sunday, he wrote that while they must continue "killing, capturing or turning the insurgents," civilian casualties would continue to be a priority for his command. "We must also continue our emphasis on reducing the loss of innocent civilian life to an absolute minimum," Gen. Petraeus wrote. "We must never forget that the decisive terrain in Afghanistan is the human terrain."
Calling Islam "Islam"
"Islamic Fundamentalism", "Islamic Extremism", "Totalitarian Islam", "Islamofascism", "Political Islam", "Militant Islam", "Bin Ladenism", "Islamonazism", "Radical Islam", "Islamism", etc....
The enemy calls it "Islam".
Imagine, if during past wars, we used terms such as "Radical Nazism", "Extremist Shinto" and "Militant Communism". Those who use terms other than "Islam" create the impression that it's some variant of Islam that's behind the enemy that we're facing. A term such as "Militant Islam" is redundant, but our politicians continue praising Islam as if it were their own religion. Bush told us, "Islam means peace" -- after 2,996 Americans were murdered in its name. He maintained that illusion throughout his two terms, and never allowed our soldiers to defeat the enemy. And now we have Obama, who tells us, from Egypt: “I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear." Washington's defense of Islam has trumped the defense of America and this dereliction of duty could well be called Islamgate.
Islam is a political religion; the idea of a separation of Mosque and state is unheard of in the Muslim world. Islam has a doctrine of warfare, Jihad, which is fought in order to establish Islamic ("Sharia") Law, which is, by nature, totalitarian. Sharia Law calls for, among other things: the dehumanization of women; the flogging/stoning/killing of adulterers; and the killing of homosexuals, apostates and critics of Islam. All of this is part of orthodox Islam, not some "extremist" form of it. If jihadists were actually "perverting a great religion", Muslims would have been able to discredit them on Islamic grounds and they would have done so by now. The reason they can't is because jihadists are acting according to the words of Allah, the Muslim God. From the Koran:
"Slay the idolators wherever you find them..." Chapter 9, verse 5
"When you encounter the unbelievers, strike off their heads until you have made a great slaughter among them...." Ch. 47:4
Beyond the doctrine, there is the historical figure of Mohammad, who, more than anyone, defines Islam. How would you judge a man who lies, cheats, steals, rapes and murders as a way of life? This evil man is Islam's ideal man, Mohammad. Whatever he said and did is deemed moral by virtue of the fact that he said it and did it. It's no accident that the only morality that could sanction his behavior was his own. Nor is it an accident that Muslims who model themselves after him are the most violent. For the 13 years that Mohammad failed to spread Islam by non-violent means, he was not so much peaceful as he was powerless. It was only through criminal activity that he gained power and a large gang of followers. But he wanted his moral pretense, too, so he changed Islam to reflect the fact that the only way it could survive was through force. And so, acting on Allah's conveniently timed "revelation" that Islam can and should be spread by the sword, Mohammad led an army of Muslims across Arabia in the first jihad. From then on, violence became Islam's way in the world. And today, acting on Mohammad's words, "War is deceit", Muslims use earlier "peaceful" verses from the Koran as a weapon against the ignorance and good will of their victims. Those "peaceful" passages in the Koran were abrogated by later passages calling for eternal war against those who do not submit to Islam. How Mohammad spread Islam influenced the content of its doctrine and therefore tells us exactly what Islam means.
Note also that the only reason we're talking about Islam is because we've been forced to by its jihad. And where are Islam's "conscientious objectors"? Nowhere to be found, for even lax Muslims have been silent against jihad. But that doesn't stop desperate Westerners from pointing to them as representives of "Moderate Islam". Far from being a personal faith, Islam is a collectivist ideology that rejects a live-and-let-live attitude towards non-Muslims. And while the jihadists may not represent all Muslims, they do represent Islam. In the end, most Muslims have proven themselves to be mere sheep to their jihadist wolves, irrelevant as allies in this war. Recovering Muslims call the enemy's ideology "Islam", and they dismiss the idea of "Moderate Islam" as they would the idea of "Moderate Evil". When, based on his actions, Mohammad would be described today as a "Muslim Extremist", then non-violent Muslims should condemn their prophet and their religion, not those who point it out.
Islam is the enemy's ideology and evading that fact only helps its agents get away with more murder than they would otherwise. Western politicians have sold us out, so it's up to the rest of us to defend our way of life by understanding Islam and telling the truth about it in whatever way we can. If we can't even call Islam by its name, how the hell are we going to defend ourselves against its true believers? One could argue that we'd be better off if the West would just chooseone of the many terms currently used for the enemy's ideology. For my part, I call the enemy what they are, "Jihadists", and our response, "The War on Jihad." But behind it all, it's Islam that makes the enemy tick.
Despite my frustrations with the refusal of many to call Islam "Islam", I know that those who speak out against Jihad put themselves in danger, and I respect their courage. But it's important that we acknowledge Islam's place in the threat we face and say so without equivocation. Not saying "Islam" helps Islam and hurts us. So let's begin calling the enemy's ideology by its name. Let's start calling Islam "Islam."
Asian Stocks Gain on Australian Takeovers, Yen; Centennial Coal, CSR Climb-
If War Is Not the Answer…
An explicit U.S. security guarantee protecting the Persian Gulf allies from Iran may look appealing, but it will be difficult to define, tough to credibly implement, and contain its own sizable risks and costs.
On June 9, the United Nations Security Council approved Resolution 1929,1 which imposes further sanctions on Iran for its lack of cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Obama administration officials hope that the resolution, combined with follow-on sanctions imposed by the European Union and others, will encourage Iran to return to negotiations. Few observers expect that to occur any time soon, and even President Obama agrees with this conclusion. In his remarks on the Security Council’s action, he predicted “the Iranian government will not change its behavior overnight.”2 Similarly, few hold out hope that Iran will agree to the IAEA’s demand to fully implement the agency’s Safeguard Agreement and Additional Protocol inspection criteria, which would provide the world with some visibility on what Iran is up to. Indeed, Iran is now threatening to reduce its cooperation with the IAEA.3 Nor do many analysts expect the sanctions to materially slow down Iran’s nuclear program.
President Obama will soon have to face the realization that the sanctions strategy against Iran has fared no better than his bid to engage Iran’s leaders in direct negotiations. Iran’s strategy of patiently playing for time, generating diplomatic support from the developing world, and convincing China and Russia to dilute sanctions at the Security Council is working. The United States and its allies have not been able to develop sufficient leverage to disrupt Iran’s strategy.
Iran in turn has divided the Security Council, successfully lobbying China and Russia to either delay or dilute sanctions. It has further bolstered its political defenses by successfully soliciting diplomatic support from increasingly influential developing countries such as Brazil.
Short of war, the only course remaining for the United States and its allies is containment and deterrence. A key component of such a strategy would be a security guarantee, explicitly extending the U.S. nuclear umbrella over its Arab allies around the Persian Gulf. Compared to the prospect of war, and with the other strategies having failed, an explicit U.S. security guarantee may look appealing. In July 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton mentioned the possibility of extending a “security umbrella” over the Middle East4 and repeated the idea in February 2010.5 Michael O’Hanlon and Bruce Riedel, both senior fellows at the Brookings Institution, recently made the argument for sanctions, deterrence, containment, and a security guarantee against military action.6
But a security guarantee protecting the Persian Gulf allies from Iran will not be easy. It will be difficult to define, tough to credibly implement, and contain its own risks and costs. Before agreeing to a security guarantee, U.S. policy makers need to consider these costs and risks. They should prepare programs that will increase the chance of such a strategy’s success. Perhaps most important, U.S. policy makers need to be open with the American public about what a commitment to a security guarantee will mean. As was the case during the Cold War, broad public acceptance is necessary if a security guarantee is to be credible and sustainable.
Iran’s winning strategy
Iran’s diplomatic strategy has been successful. While Iran has steadily persisted with its nuclear program, it has minimally cooperated with the IAEA’s inspectors regarding some elements of its effort and rejected cooperation with respect to others. In response, the IAEA Board of Directors has protested to the Security Council, repeatedly listing in its periodic reports Iran’s lack of cooperation and its suspicions about Iran’s military intentions.7 Iran in turn has divided the Security Council, successfully lobbying China and Russia (both with expanding economic interests in Iran) to either delay or dilute sanctions. Iran has further bolstered its political defenses by successfully soliciting diplomatic support from increasingly influential developing countries such as Brazil and Turkey, both of which voted against Resolution 1929.
Eventually Iran will achieve the intimidating effect of a nuclear arsenal while simultaneously avoiding the consequences for doing so.
Iran’s strategy exploits the consequences of the 2003 intelligence failures concerning Iraq’s weapons programs. The IAEA and Western intelligence agencies, chastened by the 2003 intelligence debacle in Iraq, will very likely refrain from making any clear declarations about Iran’s nuclear weapons capabilities. This hesitancy, combined with Iran’s denials and its carefully limited cooperation with the IAEA, will leave Iran’s accusers unable to assemble an ironclad case. The murky outcome will please countries like Russia and China, who wish to expand their commercial interests in Iran, and those in the developing world, like Brazil, who may have their own reasons to resist a more intrusive IAEA.
As its nuclear and ballistic missile programs advance, Iran’s nuclear status will march further into foggy ambiguity. It will not declare itself to be a nuclear weapons state. But over time Iran’s neighbors will have to assume the worst. Eventually, Iran will achieve the intimidating effect of a nuclear arsenal while simultaneously avoiding the consequences for doing so.
This course should already be clear to policy makers in the region. Left alone, the likely response would be a nuclear and missile arms race between Iran and the Persian Gulf’s Arab states. During the Cold War, U.S. security guarantees, backed up by U.S. military forces and theater nuclear weapons, allowed U.S. allies in Western Europe and East Asia to avoid having to develop their own nuclear weapon programs. Now, once more, Cold War-style deterrence over the Persian Gulf, bolstered by a United States security guarantee and military deployments, may seem an appealing option. But a security guarantee has its costs and risks, for which U.S. policy makers and the American public must prepare.
A Persian Gulf security guarantee won’t be easy
U.S. officials have already made pledges to defend America’s allies around the Persian Gulf. What matters is whether these broad but vague promises are convincing enough to dissuade these countries from beginning their own nuclear programs. In order to dissuade these countries from their own programs, the U.S. government may have to make such guarantees much more clear and specific. For example, formal security treaties and forward positioning of U.S. nuclear deterrent forces in the region would increase the credibility of a security guarantee. But such actions would be tricky to implement. It may be difficult to get Congress and the American public to accept NATO-like treaty commitments with the Persian Gulf countries. Forward positioning of U.S. deterrent forces would be politically corrosive in the region, would run counter to the Obama administration’s pledge to work for a nuclear-free Middle East, and would provide propaganda ammunition to Iran.
With an undeclared but assumed nuclear weapons capability to bolster its security, Iran will feel emboldened to step up its irregular warfare activities in the region.
A second challenge for a U.S. security guarantee would be to define what Iranian behavior they hope to deter. Deterring a hypothetical Iranian missile attack is merely a starting point. During the Cold War, the nuclear balance between the United States and the Soviet Union cleared the field for internal subversion, insurgencies, proxy wars, and terrorism. Iran possesses a competitive advantage with irregular warfare techniques and has already established proxy allies in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, Iraq, Yemen, and elsewhere. With an undeclared but assumed nuclear weapons capability to bolster its security, Iran will feel emboldened to step up its irregular warfare activities in the region. A U.S. security guarantee could commit the United States to a deep and open-ended engagement defending against Iran’s irregular warfare campaigns. In the wake of the painful irregular warfare campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, and knowing Iran’s competitive advantages in irregular warfare, U.S. policy makers might wonder whether they want to sign up to such a commitment.
Finally, a nuclear standoff in the Middle East will be even more fragile and dangerous than the Cold War. Missile flight times will be extremely short and command-and-control systems will be fragile. This will leave retaliatory forces in the region (conventional and nuclear) vulnerable to a disarming first strike. The result will be a highly unstable hair-trigger situation. One goal of a U.S. security guarantee would be to reduce these risks. But reducing those risks to the region would require increasing the risks to U.S. military forces and prestige.
The costs of a credible security guarantee
A security guarantee policy has its risks and costs. If, after contemplating these, U.S. policy makers decide to proceed, there are several actions they should take to increase the probability of success.
Collectively, the Gulf Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman have enough conventional military power to deter Iran.8 These states and the others in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) should be the main bulwark deterring Iran. However, they come up short due to inadequate defense cooperation, a lack of trust with each other, and lingering doubts about U.S. commitment. The U.S. government will need to improve its efforts regarding Gulf defense cooperation and security assistance to take advantage of the potential for local deterrence in the region.
The United States can assist, armed with the lessons it has learned from its irregular warfare campaigns over the past decade. But the most effective response to irregular Iranian pressure will come from the governments in the region.
U.S. Central Command’s deployments to the region will be a critical element of success. U.S. policy makers will have to find a balance between deploying sufficient forces to provide credibility and reassurance, while avoiding deployments that are politically corrosive or provide a disincentive for GCC members to fulfill their responsibilities. Improvements in U.S. long-range strike capabilities—forces that would provide deterrence but would not be physically present in the region—could be part of the solution.
As mentioned above, we should expect a nuclear-armed Iran to become more aggressive in the irregular warfare dimension. Stepped-up Iranian irregular warfare activity could appear in the form of increased Shiite militia activity in Iraq, greater unrest among Shiite populations in the Arab Persian Gulf states, a more aggressive Hezbollah organization in Lebanon, and more terrorist intimidation in the region and beyond.
The frontline defense against Iranian irregular warfare must come from the states in the region, with the U.S. government supporting from the background. The frontline states will have to respond to Iranian irregular warfare efforts with improved internal security measures, but also with improved social, political, economic, and information warfare efforts. The United States can assist, armed with the lessons it has learned from its irregular warfare campaigns over the past decade. But the most effective response to irregular Iranian pressure will come from the governments in the region.
Finally, the United States and its allies need to develop leverage against Iran. The absence of leverage is the principal reason the engagement and sanctions strategies have failed. But should the United States and its allies shift to a containment and deterrence approach, it will be no less important to develop means to hold at risk those things the Iranian regime values most. Last September, during an interview with Al Jazeera, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates discussed his hopes in this regard:
And so the more that our Arab friends and allies can strengthen their security capabilities, the more they can strengthen their cooperation both with each other and with us, I think, sends the signal to the Iranians that this path that they're on is not going to advance Iranian security but in fact could weaken it.9
And so that's one of the reasons why I think our relationship with these countries and our security cooperation with them is so important.
Part of what Gates implied is an Arab and U.S. offensive capability against Iran that would hold at risk Iranian assets. Offensive action should not be limited to just conventional military actions. It should also include public diplomacy, cyber warfare, unconventional warfare, and covert actions aimed at undermining the authority of the regime. The goal would be to create credible capabilities in these areas in order to persuade the Iranian leadership to adopt different policies.
Prepare for a long struggle
More broadly, if U.S. policy makers opt for a security guarantee, they need to prepare the American public for what to expect. Just as with the Cold War, a security guarantee will commit the U.S. to a long struggle against an intelligent and experienced adversary who possesses important competitive advantages. A security guarantee will risk U.S. prestige and military forces. It will also create second- and third-order risks, such as increased friction with China, which will increasingly become Iran’s patron.
The purpose of a security guarantee is to avoid Iranian regional hegemony, an unstable nuclear and missile arms race, or a near-term preventive war against Iran, the long-term costs of which would very likely exceed the short-lived benefits. This essay has attempted to demonstrate that a security guarantee is no panacea, and will have its own significant costs and risks.
U.S. policy makers must explain to the American public these costs and risks. Public understanding and acceptance of these costs is necessary if a U.S. security guarantee is to be credible and sustained over the long challenge ahead.
Robert Haddick is managing editor of Small Wars Journal. He writes the “This Week at War” column at Foreign Policy.com.