I am a fan and a friend of David Brooks, a thoughtful and honest man who writes at the New York Times. A week ago (May 30th) he sent a “letter” about Iran policy to McCain and Obama, that seems to me to reflect the consensus of those pundits who think of themselves as more realistic than the ideologues on either side of the spectrum, and since it’s so well written and so clear, it gives us a good opportunity to evaluate what our expert realists are thinking. It can be summarized like this:
–we don’t know much about Iran, even though it’s the major foreign policy issue for the United States (and will remain the #1 issue into the next presidency);
–not only do we not understand Iran, the Iranians themselves don’t understand themselves either. They don’t know if they’re a global jihad, or a regional power trying to gain more sway over the Middle East;
–there isn’t very much we can do about Iran, because we have feckless allies who aren’t willing to do anything really tough (like stronger sanctions);
–Therefore, our best policy is to do basically nothing, and hope that time works in our favor. And maybe it is, since the jihadis seem to be undergoing considerable stress, and after all, “where Islamists rule, they wear out their welcome.”
As for the hot item in the campaign—should we talk to the Iranians?—Brooks just waves it away. He thinks it’s beside the point. The issue is how to exert pressure (which he says we mostly can’t), not whether we should talk to the mullahs. Oddly, David doesn’t explain just why we should want to exert pressure. There isn’t a word about the nukes, nor about the Americans who have been killed and will be killed by Iranian and Iranian-sponsored forces. Nor is there much of anything about the goal of American policy, except this odd paragraph:
Your job is to restrain Iran’s momentum until the fundamental correlation of forces can shift. For amid all the doleful news, there is a hopeful tide. Opinion is turning slowly against extremism. The über-analyst Dennis Ross says that he has noted it among the Palestinians. Michael Young writes that opinion is shifting against Hezbollah in Lebanon. Peter Bergen, Paul Cruickshank and Lawrence Wright have in their different ways written about the intellectual crisis afflicting Al Qaeda.
Suppose opinion really is turning against extremism. So what? East Europeans and the citizens of the slave states along the Baltic were “against extremism” for decades, but it didn’t help them one bit. We know—contrary to David’s insistence that we really don’t know what’s going on inside Iran—that most Iranians are unhappy with their regime. We know it, and the regime knows it, which is why so many political prisoners are killed and tortured in Iran. But without support from the free world, they’re not able to get rid of the mullahs. Michael Young is no doubt right when he says that “opinion is shifting against Hezbollah in Lebanon,” but this has not prevented Hezbollah—which is to say, Iran—from imposing its will on the country and using it as a base for their next assault against Israel (which, I expect, Michael Young would tell us most Lebanese do not want). Here again, not a word.
I find this very disconcerting. If someone as good as David Brooks can write an entire column in Iran without once mentioning that Iran has been at war with us for nearly thirty years, or that Iranian killers and Iranian-armed-and-trained killers are going after American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan (as they have been, ever since we went into Afghanistan in 2001), or that Iran is developing nuclear weapons with which it has promised to attack us and Israel, it’s a bad sign. He deals exclusively with process, not with the facts of the war, not with the serious threat against civilization emanating from Tehran.
It’s unworthy of a person with his talent. I hope he just had a bad day, as we all do. Merely hoping that things will get better isn’t the sort of “policy” that will get us through this very dangerous time.