So says Ari Shavit, an Israeli columnist for Haaretz, writing in the New York Times. It’s all because Bush invaded Iraq and Afghanistan instead of mounting a “diplomatic campaign against Iran” (elsewhere described as a “political-economic campaign” of the sort directed against Libya’s nuclear project) after the attacks of 9/11. So far as I can tell, he’s talking about a campaign to force Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons program (there’s no mention of regime change). An ambitious international campaign, in which Bush should have enlisted the European Union, Russia, Sunni Arabs and Israel.
If we had done that, Mr. Shavit says, Iran would have been forced to abandon their nuclear project, the United States would have been spared the loss of life and wealth in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we wouldn’t be where we are today: exhausted, traumatized, with “a limited attention span for problems in the Middle East.”
This has to go down as one of those ideas that only an intellectual could embrace. The United States has just been attacked. What was the president supposed to do? According to Mr. Shavit, Bush should have said “we’ve got three thousand dead, there are smoldering buildings in New York and Washington, but not to worry, I’m going to talk to the Arabs, the Russians and the Europeans in order to force the Iranians to stop working on nukes. I’ll get back to you with progress reports when and if I have news.”
Don’t attack al Qaeda. Don’t invade Afghanistan or Iraq. Just force Iran to stop developing nukes.
W would have been a laughing stock, an object of derisive contempt, a caricature of Jimmy Carter, who, after the Iranian attack on our Tehran Embassy in 1979, carried out Mr. Shavit’s policy recommendations to near-perfection. Carter slapped sanctions on Iran, organized international support, and started negotiating.
It didn’t work out very well for him or for the United States. In 1979, there was no doubt we’d been attacked by Iranians. In 2001, nobody thought the Iranians were involved in the assaults in New York and Washington. So why in the world would anyone think that a political/diplomatic/economic campaign against Iran was a proper response?
Mr. Shavit doesn’t just blame Bush. He goes after “the Republicans” for failing to act against Iran.
The Republican Party could have done that in 2003 or 2005 or 2007. But Republican leaders squandered the opportunity. Worse still, the United States got bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan and that sucked all the oxygen out of America’s lungs. Mr. Bush passed on to Mr. Obama a nation that had lost much of the resolve it had possessed. When faced with a real threat to world peace, America’s will was spent. It had evaporated in the violent streets of Basra and Baghdad.
There is no mention of the left’s anti-war campaign–it was just Bush’s mess–nor of the fact that we won the war in Iraq, decimated al Qaeda, and so frightened Iran that Tehran may have voluntarily suspended its nuclear program following our invasion in 2003, the very year, as luck would have it, that Qadaffi terminated his nuclear efforts.
Mr. Shavit grants that Obama has made a few errors himself, but argues that it’s not his fault:
He ignored the British, French, Israelis, Egyptians and Saudis who warned him that he was being naïve and turned his back on the freedom-seeking Iranian masses in June 2009. When Mr. Obama finally endorsed assertive diplomacy and punitive sanctions in 2011 and 2012, it was too little, too late.
But Mr. Obama was operating within the smoky ruins of the strategic disaster he had inherited.
One doesn’t have to admire Bush’s strategy–like Obama, he negotiated with Iran and was ready to sign a deal in 2006–to excuse Obama, who came to office believing that Iran’s hostility to us was our own fault, and that once the ayatollahs saw they had a friend in the White House, all would be well. That hasn’t worked out well for him, or for the United States, or for the millions of Iranians he abandoned in 2009, or for the thousands of American soldiers killed or maimed by Iranian killers and their proxies in the region.
Bush’s Iran policy was a feckless disaster, to be sure. He thought he would deal with Iran after Iraq and Afghanistan had been brought under control. He failed to realize that the Iranians (and Syrians) could not tolerate American victories on their borders, and that it was folly to postpone a serious strategy against the tyrants in Tehran. Just look at Iraq today, where the slaughter exceeds that in Syria. Is that the result of “too little, too late?” Hardly. It’s the result of Obama’s “turn tail and run” in Iraq and Afghanistan, elements in a broader retreat from the region.
Hard to blame that policy on Bush.
Mr. Shavit is right to say that Iran, not Iraq, should have been Bush’s primary target after 9/11. But the central mission should have been the Iranian regime, not its centrifuges. He’s also right that we didn’t have to send armies into Iran, but he never once talks of supporting the vast Iranian opposition. That strategy worked against the Soviet Union, and might well have worked–indeed it might still work, even at this late hour–against the Iranian theocracy.
I don’t know Mr. Shavit, so I can’t decide if he’s just silly, or if he’s part of a desperate effort to save President Obama from the political consequences of his failed policies. Maybe it’s both. At the end of his oped, Mr. Shavit dissolves into near-total incoherence.
Rather than pursuing a dangerous interim agreement, the West must insist that all the centrifuges in Iran stop spinning while a final agreement is negotiated. President Obama was right to demand a settlement freeze in the West Bank in 2009. Now he must demand a total centrifuge freeze in Iran.
Mr. Shavit thinks that negotiating with an ally–Israel–is like negotiating with an enemy pledged to destroy us. No wonder he likes Obama and blames the whole thing on Bush.
See also from Bridget Johnson: Group of 14 Senators Join Hands to Forge New Iran Sanctions