The International Atomic Energy Agency reported on Friday that Iran has in recent months more than tripled its stockpile of enriched uranium beyond what provides fuel toward that which is only used for weapons, begun enrichment at facilities in Fordow designed to withstand military attack, cannot account for significant amounts of raw uranium, and has refused international inspectors the ability to inspect suspicious facilities or interview scientists working on the nuclear program.
Yet the Director for National Intelligence insisted in Congressional testimony there is no evidence Iran has decided whether to develop a nuclear weapon. Given that U.S. intelligence agencies are a major source of information for the IAEA and other international organizations (U.S. agencies discovered the Fordow facility in 2009), how is it that our intelligence services come to such a seemingly contradictory conclusion from the IAEA?
As Thomas Sowell so nicely summarized the sub-prime mortgage crisis: only politics can create this problem. American intelligence services are still so singed from having been wrong about the Iraqi nuclear weapons program that it appears they are emphasizing their skepticism. The most flagrant example of that phenomenon was the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran from 2007, in which it was concluded that Iran had halted its overtly military programs in 2003, the reason a complete mystery but unrelated to our invasion of Iraq.
Intelligence work is difficult and inherently speculative. Our intelligence professionals have to make judgments based on incomplete information and understanding, and policymakers decide hugely consequential issues on the basis of their information. Accepting that they will be wrong -- perhaps even often wrong -- is surely one of the most difficult responsibilities for both policymakers and intelligence professionals to accept.
American intelligence services were wrong several times over about Iraq, not just in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq invasion. For example, battle damage assessments of the Osirak strike showed Iraq was much further along in its weapons program than we believed they had been, making us less confident we understood the scope of the program. Heightened risk-aversion after the 9/11 attacks shifted somewhat the mindset of policy makers, who wanted less risk of being wrong on a false negative, and in that context skepticism we knew the dimensions of programs from inspections was dispositive.
The pendulum has swung back in the other direction now: eleven years after 9/11 without a successful attack on our homeland, policymakers now want less risk of being wrong on a false positive. What they are pulling out of the intelligence assessments is the reasons to doubt Iran's progress, the reassurance we have time to manage this problem by political and economic and espionage means rather than having to destroy the Fordow enrichment complex before it becomes inviolable.
So it appears the Obama administration is persuaded to be wrong in a different way this time: instead of pressing intelligence agencies to conclude that a country has a nuclear weapons program on the basis of inconclusive data and a pattern of suspicious behavior, they are pressing intelligence agencies to conclude that a country does not have a nuclear weapons program on the basis of inconclusive data and a pattern of suspicious behavior. But cherry-picking intelligence findings is dangerous no matter which side of the line it is on.
The leadership of Iran is going to an awful lot of trouble and expense, and incurring an awful lot of economic pain, in order to perpetuate the belief that they have a nuclear weapons program. They have been lying to the IAEA for decades. Perhaps they are seeking to show that although Saddam Hussein couldn't pull off the ruse, Persian subtlety can achieve the dual aims of regional hegemony without provoking American intervention. Perhaps they are rightly reading our war weariness and pushing ahead before we are willing to act. Perhaps it has nothing to do with us but instead plays into their internal power struggles. Perhaps nuclear weapons have a precious iconic value for a country that ought to be prosperous but is not. Perhaps it helps a government holding power by force to intimidate its citizens. Perhaps they are seeking to provoke a military attack at a politically significant time to unite Iranians when their government otherwise cannot inspire loyalty.
One thing our intelligence agencies should be absolutely clear about is that we don't know why Iran is making the choices they are. Motivations are the most difficult part of intelligence analysis to get right. Rather than provide policy makers a confident but unreliable assertion that Iran isn't building a bomb, intelligence agencies should be analyzing the possible motives for Iran making the choices we are observing and providing policymakers with the means to judge the discriminating data: what will prove the case one way or the other? How would we know if we are wrong? Anything else and they are once again politicizing their intelligence findings.
ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images
According to the New York Times, the administration is reconsidering its commitment to maintain in Iraq the largest civilian mission the U.S. has ever attempted. Drawing down the U.S. mission in Iraq is the right choice. But while the Time's article attempts to cast the policy shift as the result of declining U.S. influence in Iraq, it is really more a story of incapacity by the State Department to scope, plan, and carry out diplomatic missions of the breadth and difficulty posed by circumstances in Iraq. Those circumstances are largely of the Obama administration's making, as they set arbitrary timelines for our military drawdown that exacerbated tensions within Iraq while ignoring Prime Minister's al Maliki's creeping authoritarianism.
The Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review championed the mission in glowing terms: "In Iraq, we are in the midst of the largest military-to-civilian transition since the Marshall Plan. Our civilian presence is prepared to take the lead, secure the military's gains, and build the institutions necessary for long-term stability." None of those objectives has been achieved. It was an odd choice by the State Department to make Iraq the flagship of "smart power," given that the White House has consistently conveyed that President Obama just wants Iraq off the agenda. The president never invested in getting from Congress the resources necessary -- even if the State Department had the capacity to carry out its ambitious plans.
Nevertheless, the State Department's plan for maintaining two thousand diplomats -- protected and supported by 15,000 other civilian personnel -- was a terribly cost-ineffective program fraught with potential for disaster. Outside review of the department's plan by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the Commission on Wartime Contracting, and every other outside source highlighted the crucial dependence on mobility that was both vulnerable and reliant on civilian contractors (the majority of them non-American) with the authority to use deadly force. Why the government of Iraq would grant immunity from prosecution to civilian contractors when it denied immunity to better trained military personnel was only one among many questionable planning assumptions.
The discouraging truth is that despite the State Department's bold assertions in the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review that it will lead through civilian power, its handling of the transition to civilian leadership of our mission in Iraq demonstrates how very far we have yet to go to build a diplomatic corps with the ability to think their way through what is needed in a complex environment like Iraq, design a program of engagement and activity, staff and finance its operations to achieve its objectives. What the State Department fails at is not the high politics of preserving American influence with Iraq's leaders, but the quotidian programmatics that build that influence in the first place.
Our country needs a State Department that is genuinely the peer of our military forces: as intellectually agile, as adaptable, as committed to carrying out the decisions of our elected political leadership. We do not now have such a diplomatic corps, and it badly impedes our ability to shape the international order in ways conducive to American interests. It will take a much greater investiture of political and managerial attention to build that State Department, but it is very much in our interests to continue reforming the State Department so that it could plan and carry out a civilian mission of complexity like that which is now needed in Iraq.
TOBY JORRIN/AFP/Getty Images
The Obama administration is sending contradictory messages on a crucially important national security subject. At the NATO Defense Ministers' meeting in Brussels, Leon Panetta seemed to accelerate the withdrawal timeline for Afghanistan from the end of 2014 -- what NATO nations have been committed to -- to "mid-to late 2013." In Chicago, meanwhile, the President's Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes insisted there will be no change to the 2014 plan, warning that "We will need allies to remain committed to that goal." The president's Special Assistant for European Affairs Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, evidently ignorant of Panetta's statement, assured reporters that the Secretary of Defense "will be very clear about our plans to remain on the Lisbon timeline."
The evident confusion among senior policy makers in the administration prefigures the administration's cratering commitment to win the war in Afghanistan. The White House has narrowed its war aims from defeating all threats to only defeating al Qaeda. The Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, testified to Congress this week that the deaths of senior al Qaeda leadership have brought us to a "critical transitional phase for the terrorist threat," in which the organization has a better than 50 percent probability of fragmenting and becoming incapable of mass-casualty attacks.
The White House appears set to use progress against al Qaeda as justification for accelerating an end to the war in Afghanistan. Since the president has concluded that we aren't fighting the Taliban, just al Qaeda, no need to stick around Afghanistan until the government of that country can provide security and prevent recidivism to Taliban control. The president will declare victory for having taken from al Qaeda the ability to organize large scale attacks, and piously intone that nation building in Afghanistan is Afghanistan's responsibility.
This policy will not win the war in Afghanistan. It will not even end the war in Afghanistan. It will only end our involvement in that ongoing war. Because arbitrary timelines do not translate into having achieved the objectives that cause enemies to throw down their weapons. And it is the enemy ceasing to contest our objectives that constitutes winning. Interrogations with prisoners in Afghanistan have caused the American military to conclude that "Once ISAF is no longer a factor, Taliban consider their victory inevitable."
Secretary Panetta's public affairs folks will likely spend a few days prettying up the mess, emphasizing the secretary was referring to the transition from combat operations to advising and training Afghans. But the damage has been done. As Michael Clarke of Britain's Royal United Services Institute said, "the suspicion that America is going to pull out early will create a self-fulfilling prophecy and there will be a rush to the exit." The Obama administration created this problem by the president's own arbitrary timeline. It is hard to blame Nicolas Sarkozy for playing politics with the issue; politicization is contagious, and allies caught it from President Obama.
Jacquelyn Martin/Pool/Getty Images
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced last week the main outlines of the Pentagon's 2013 budget that will implement the $487 billion reduction in spending eventuated by spending limits in the law passed by Congress last summer. Secretary Panetta's budget represents a sensible set of choices in an environment of budget constraint likely to be of extended duration. Unfortunately, the budget does not constitute a program that carries out the law: DOD has produced a budget that cannot be implemented should any reductions beyond the 2013 topline occur. As Secretary Panetta himself has said, not only the budget choices, but the entire strategy collapses with any further cuts.
Panetta essentially flipped his predecessor's priorities, accepting risk in the near-term to preserve procurement of systems considered central to long-term risk management (i.e., preserving our technological and innovation edge as China rises). The programmatic choices consist of three main elements: decreasing the size of the force, improving long-range strike capabilities and relying on them to carry the burden of combat, and shifting to special operations the mission of training friendly forces.
However, DOD's plans contain several elements unlikely to survive contact with reality. First, as the Pentagon not only admits but trumpets, this strategic guidance is unexecutable if further defense cuts occur. On what possible basis does Secretary Panetta believe the law outlining sequestration cuts of an additional $600-800 billion to national security will not be enacted? Congress passed the Budget Control Act by large margins (269-161 in the House, 74-26 in the Senate). The Select Committee proved incapable of reaching a deal that would prevent sequestration. The president has threatened to veto any changes to the distribution of sequestration cuts in the existing law. Secretary Panetta himself has supported the president's veto threat. Where is the basis for believing the law will not come into effect?
Yet Secretary Panetta produced a budget willfully ignorant of the continuum of reductions, a budget that will be irrelevant before it even becomes law. It is irresponsible for DOD to plan on this basis. At a minimum, during the authorization and appropriations process, Congress should require the Pentagon to incorporate excursions into the Future Years Defense Program that indicate how DOD will adapt this budget to the additional cuts in current law. If this budget cannot accommodate spending levels Congress has established, the Pentagon ought to have to explain how it plans to bring itself into compliance.
Moreover, Congress should seriously question the math of Panetta's budget submission in two areas: the $60 billion it relies on from cutting waste, and the reductions in personnel expenses. Secretary Panetta's budget balances only with $60 billion additionally wrung out of DOD by "cutting waste." In a budget of roughly $535 billion a year, this is little more than 1 percent a year, which doesn't sound like much. But if the Pentagon hasn't already eliminated waste in the $400 billion in cuts undertaken by Secretary Gates, the inclusion of a sloppy category suggests there is a greater margin for reductions that belies the Secretary's hyperbole about any further cuts.
Personnel costs account for 30 percent of the defense budget. That is unexceptional: we have the world's finest military largely because we have the world's most adaptive soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines. They deserve to be well-compensated not only because they put themselves in harm's way for us all, but also because we need to keep innovative people in the force.
But military pay has climbed significantly in the past decade as the wars revealed our Army and Marine Corps were too small for the demands of counter-insurgency. The need to recruit an additional 80,000 combatants in wartime understandably put upward pressure on salaries and benefits. Reducing the force ought to generate possibilities for reductions, and the Panetta budget evidently plans to include modest changes in these areas. Any such cuts will be bruisingly difficult to enact, requiring a major effort by both the White House and the Pentagon to build a political coalition that protects lawmakers from pressure by military retirees' and veterans groups. Yet how will a president who advocates caregiver leave for deploying service members stake out this territory in an election year?
The Obama administration's reluctance to undertake the defense planning and political lifting that will make Secretary Panetta's budget a blueprint for enacting legislation means the Pentagon will be scrambling next summer to produce a wholly new strategy and a wholly new budget that conform to spending limits the Congress has already passed.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
The Obama administration has changed U.S. strategy toward Iran three times. At the administration's inception, President Obama shed the Bush administration's refusal to negotiate with Iran's government, ending support for regime change, sending flowery good wishes at Persian new year and declining to condemn that government for election fraud in 2009. This was a strategy of unconcern for the nature of Iran's government, banking instead on working with it to achieve mutual interests. Let's call that strategy detente.
The administration's second policy shift was to give up hope for progress in government-to-government channels (after remarkably little effort), and instead emphasize multilateral sanctions. In order to gain support of reluctant potential partners, the administration further dialed back U.S. policy in two areas: threat of military strikes on Iran's nuclear facilities, and condemnation of Iranian domestic policies. Even the Pentagon leadership -- civilian and military -- downplayed what could be achieved by destroying elements of Iran's programs.
The main limiting factor on the effectiveness of a sanctions strategy is our ability to cajole or coerce other countries to comply. The United States has had near complete sanctions against Iran since the 1979 seizure of our Embassy; there is little we can do directly. But to their credit, the Obama administration has done much to persuade Europeans and the countries of the Gulf to enforce sanctions. The EU is seriously considering an embargo of Iranian oil purchases; Gulf countries with close banking and commercial ties to Iran have even for the first time curtailed their activity.
And Congress, to their credit, has done even more, passing legislation to sanction companies that do business with Iran's central bank. Congress took the administration at its word and put in place sanctions that Iran could not circumvent. Ken Pollack, one of the best Middle East hands, estimates the new sanctions could impose a 30 percent penalty on the Iranian economy. That will put enormous pressure on the government of Iran, especially in the run up to Parliamentary elections in March.
The White House objected to the legislation so vehemently that Congress suspects the administration will stint on implementation. But Treasury Secretary Geithner was sent to China and Japan, lesser officials to South Korea and other purchasers of Iranian oil to explain the administration will have only narrow avenues to exempt countries temporarily from exclusion from the dollar zone unless they comply with the legislation.
The administration's third policy shift on Iran was necessitated by two things: the Arab spring, and Iran's provocative behavior. An administration that didn't want to champion democracy was pressed into it by the fact that the so-called Arab Street -- so often depicted as virulently opposed to American values -- actually wants the political liberties we have and is taking responsibility for outcomes in their own countries. But the way the Obama administration navigated our response to the Arab spring managed to infuriate both democrats in the region and authoritarian governments we are allied with.
Here the administration's incapacity to develop a strategy has had deeply detrimental effects. They don't seem to realize their writing off Iraq has fanned sectarian tensions throughout the middle east, how their inactivity on Syria is further destabilizing Iraq (and vice versa), or their approach to the peace process undercut Palestinians working to build a state and further isolated Israel, can't tell the difference between success in Libya and success in Egypt, what fleeting opportunities now exist to contain Iranian activity and influence in the region, how far -- and even just how -- to support the transition to democracy, whom to partner with, or coordinate their rhetoric about priorities (a pivot to Asia?) with in this once in a century set of changes occurring in the middle east.
Our saving grace, at the moment, is that governments in the region see the effects of our strategic incoherence and are taking actions that mostly help them and us. The two crucial changes are in Saudi Arabia and Turkey, both precipitated as a reaction to, not an endorsement of, our policies. Many middle easterners see Turkey as a model for their own countries' development as democratic governments in Muslim societies, a position the government of Turkey thirstily wants to retain. Turkey refused to support U.N. sanctions against Iran and gets 30 percent of its oil there, but its policies have evolved and oil refiners are now moving to comply because of Iran's recent bellicosity and continued support of Bashir al Assad's bloody crackdown in Syria.
Saudi Arabia is even turning the screws on Iran, offering to provide additional supplies of oil to countries that refuse contracts with Iran. Iran reacted with predictable threats that Saudi and others will be considered accomplices of the West. That approach used to worry the Saudis, when Iran could plausibly claim the crown of Islamism to delegitimize governments. But Iran's use of religion to justify a fraudulent election, assassination plot involving the Saudi Ambassador, and stoking of sectarian tensions has devalued that currency even more than sanctions have devalued the rial.
This is worse than leading from behind: being handed a propitious set of circumstances, we are failing to set the conditions for a middle east that will be conducive to American security. Syria's chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood actually declined Iranian offers of mediation, saying Iran's support for Assad made them unacceptable as an interlocutor. Allegiances cast in stone for generations are fracturing -- what opportunities the rocking of boats in the Middle East presents! What a pity the Obama administration can't come up with a strategy to capitalize on them.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
The LA Times is carrying an interesting and important story about the new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) of the war in Afghanistan. The NIE is classified, but has been briefed to Congress (Congressional sources seem to have formed the basis for the article). The article states that the intelligence community has concluded that while the military has made significant gains against the Taliban, the war has ground to a stalemate. It cites three causes for the stalemate: (1) pervasive corruption and incompetence by the Afghan government; (2) sanctuary for Taliban in Pakistan; and (3) reductions in U.S. forces.
The commentariat will have a feeding frenzy on the Director of Central Intelligence supporting a set of conclusions he had objected to last year when he was commander of the war effort in Afghanistan. But Dave Petraeus' reaction is the least interesting part of this story.
If the LA Times is accurate (and they have the best reporting on the middle east of any American newspaper), the NIE is going to be very damaging to the war effort. It also sounds about right in its assessment: we are militarily winning the war, but badly hindered by the shoddy Afghan government and the willingness of Pakistan to assist the Taliban. The NIE itself is quoted to question the viability of the Karzai government, even before the U.S. withdraws its troops.
The NIE evidently earned a formal protest from the entire leadership fighting the war, including General Mattis, the CENTCOM commander (responsible for all the Middle East and South Asia); Admiral Stavridis, the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (it is a NATO mission); General Allen, the Afghan war commander; and Ambassador Crocker, the Ambassador in Afghanistan. Among their reported objections are that the NIE bases its analysis on the assumption that all U.S. troops will depart Afghanistan in 2014; the Afghan war team insist that decision has not been made.
I hope they're right. The central problem with President Obama's strategy for the war in Afghanistan has always been his deadline. The Taliban claim that we have the watches, but they have the time. And the President has already compromised our war effort(s) by setting deadlines for troop withdrawals that are unconnected to the end states his strategy seeks to achieve.
Our exit strategy for Afghanistan is to build an Afghan government, including security forces, that can do the work Americans are fighting and dying to succeed at now. That's both sensible and achievable, the only way to make our gains more than transitory. But nothing in the Administration's choices about either Iraq or Afghanistan suggests they will allow facts on the ground to determine the pace of their drawdown.
The Obama Administration scored a lot of cheap points against their predecessor by hailing the arrival of "smart power" -- using political, military, and economic means in seamless orchestration. If reports of the NIE are accurate, it would be a terrible condemnation of the Administration's efforts. For only the American military has proven able to achieve any effect in the complex task of nation building in Afghanistan, and it has done so without either the political or diplomatic support necessary to make their achievements durable.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
The president and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced today the administration's approach to cutting defense spending back to a $583 billion topline, the requirement for next year's budget. The guidance issued today does not set the parameters for all the cuts necessitated by last summer's budget agreement -- a whopping $500 billion across a decade will yet need to be found, and DOD has been loudly saying that cannot be done within this strategy. The Pentagon's approach is sensible, but the real problem is the president avoiding a serious discussion about risk -- and that is dangerous when cuts of this magnitude are underway.
There's not really much news in the strategic guidance released to such fanfare today. The administration hype is that this is a new strategy. That is not true. The "two war strategy" under discussion is not a strategy at all, but a planning construct for sizing the force. Previously, the U.S. has maintained active duty forces ostensibly adequate to fight two wars nearly simultaneously in different regions. But the planning translates only loosely to actual war (because of allied military and political limitations, the Kosovo air campaign required all the assets of one war, even though it was a limited mission). The president -- any president -- is not going to refuse our treaty commitments to the defense of Korea if it is attacked, or precipitously end operations in Afghanistan if that should happen. By cutting the force, you are not saying we will only fight one war, you are saying we will take greater risk and time to fight the wars we need. If the President is really saying we will not fight two wars simultaneously, it would beg challenges between now and 2014, when he's committed to ending the one war we are fighting.
Panetta's plan looks to (the details of programmatic cuts are not yet public) take the bulk of cuts in the size of the force, which is not a bad choice, given the administration has chosen to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Manpower is the quickest return of cash, and our military has demonstrated in the past decade that it can recruit, train, and equip quality soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines to surge our ranks when the demands of two wars require more forces. Whether Panetta's approach remains viable as the sequestration cuts go into effect next year is an open question; even accepting we're unlikely to choose to fight our wars by counterinsurgency means anytime soon, I'm skeptical enough can be cut from manpower to bring the budget into alignment.
There is also a crucial guns versus butter issue Panetta fails to take up, at least so far. As Arnold Punaro from the Defense Business Board puts it, unless major changes are made to DOD medical and retirement programs, "If we allow the current trend to continue, we're going to turn the Department of Defense into a benefits company that occasionally kills a terrorist." The same growth of medical and retirement programs that is the principal driver of our federal debt is also crowding out other spending within the DOD budget. I expect that is where Panetta will focus the second tranche of cuts.
The Panetta approach reverses his predecessor's relentless attention to near term demands of the wars we are fighting and accepting greater risk in the out years. Gates' strategy heavily weighted the need for manning and equipping the current force for winning two simultaneous wars by counter-insurgency, the most personnel-intensive and long-term approach. Gates' strategy was also, it must be acknowledged, the most likely to produce results conducive to America's security and a stable, prosperous international order. Other means (stand-off strikes, greater reliance on allies, adopting a marginal contribution formula, decapitation attacks, etc) are cheaper but bring greater risk of failure to achieve stable political objectives and a wide range of collateral problems. Gates' strategy is a costly way to win the nation's wars, but it is also the best of our current options.
Aaron Tam/AFP/Getty Images)
The Persian new year falls on the vernal equinox, but the government of Iran set off some fireworks to start the Julian year: announcing it had manufactured a nuclear fuel rod, test-firing three new missiles, threatening to close the Straits of Hormuz, and warning the U.S. not to return the Fifth Fleet's aircraft carrier to the Gulf.
The Obama Administration has got the response -- a very difficult balancing act -- almost exactly right: not giving Iran the lift of a high-level political statement, instead quietly proceeding on sanctions, letting the economic arguments speak for themselves, reassuring allies in the region, and having our military refute Iran's claims with our obvious superiority and the unambiguous statement that "interference with the transit or passage of vessels through the Strait of Hormuz will not be tolerated."
Preserving freedom of navigation through the Straits would play to our military's strengths and showcase the increased political resolve and military capabilities of Gulf allies in recent years. The Obama administration has advanced cooperation with friendly governments in the region, Iran's own truculence producing closer involvement with the U.S.
I agree with Michael Singh that assertive military operations are a valuable deterrent and should be pursued, although it looks to me as though we've been doing that pretty well for the past few years: while our military leadership has mostly played down the likelihood of strikes on Iran's nuclear facilities, they have pushed back on Iranian maritime harassment, conducted operations near Iran's shoreline, arming and exercising with regional allies, and (as the recent drone capture by Iran demonstrates), extending surveillance and intelligence operations into Iranian territory.
One of the few missteps so far is the White House attempting to forestall Congressional furthering of the very means the administration has advocated for in limiting Iran's choices. Sanctions have been biting since the United Arab Emirates began compliance last year, and are set to tighten further with Congress' action to extend prohibitions to Iran's central bank. President Obama signing the legislation over the weekend may well have precipitated this round of bellicose posturing: Iran's currency promptly lost 12% of its value (continuing a plunge of 50 percent from a year ago).
Another potential wrinkle in the strategy is Israel's isolation. An Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities is more likely due to the friction between the Obama and Netanyhu governments; in making settlements the centerpiece of its peace proposals, Obama made cooperation between Israel and others more difficult and promises from us less reassuring. Secretary Panetta's comments don't help, either.
But still, President Obama has come a long way since the stolen elections of 2009, when he put potential relations with Ahmadinejad's government ahead of condemning the government's repression. The domestic legitimacy of the Iranian regime faces a new challenge because reformists are refusing to participate in the upcoming Parliamentary elections, stripping away even the pretense of representative government.
Ayatollah Khameni and his wayward protege President Ahmadinejad claim that Iran is the inspiration of the Arab Spring. And they're right -- just not in the way they mean. The uprising of Iranians against their government rigging 2009's election was the first flowering of Spring, the first middle eastern populace brave enough to stand up to tyranny. Their demands for political rights were crushed by a government that has more in common with despots overthrown in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen than with the people overthrowing them.
As the new year dawns, we should continue to tighten the screws on this Iranian government and wish the Iranian people well in ending the tyranny that has repressed and impoverished them. We will have less to fear from a democratic Iran, even if it continues its nuclear programs, than we will Khameni's repressive Iran.
EBRAHIM NOROOZI/AFP/Getty Images
Shadow Government is a blog about U.S. foreign policy under the Obama administration, written by experienced policy makers from the loyal opposition and curated by Peter D. Feaver and William Inboden.