Who Gets It? Who Doesn't?

The real threats to us, and how to deal with them, that is.  Lots of well-known former foreign policy/national security officials don't, or feel obliged to appear "realistic" (diplospeak for "don't do anything, keep talking").  Some former military officers do, although only up to a point.

Three duly respected policy professionals, Denis Ross (Obama's -- and plenty of others' -- Middle East guru for a few years early on), Eric Edelman (Bush's under secretary of defense and earlier ambassador to Turkey), and Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations (who recently published a very important story detailing the background of the Iranian occupation of the US Embassy in Tehran in '79), tell us it's time to get tougher with Iran:

[It's] time to acknowledge that we need a revamped coercive strategy, one that threatens what the Islamic Republic values the most—its influence in the Middle East and its standing at home.

In other words, threaten the regime itself and its foreign legions in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen.  But just when you say to yourself, "Finally!  They're going to call for regime change," they tiptoe delicately into dipspeak:  "Iranian officials must come to understand that there will be no further concessions to reach an accord and that time is running out for negotiations."

Further down, they return to the "we're almost, kinda for regime change" theme:

the United States should consider a political warfare campaign against Tehran to complement its economic sanctions policy. The administration officials and its broadcast services should draw attention to the unsavory nature of the theocratic regime and repressive behavior. Such language will not just showcase our values but potentially inspire political dissent.

As if the Iranian people needed the State Department and the appeasers at the feckless Persian service of the Voice of America to tear the blinders from their eyes and enable seem to see that they are living in misery under a hateful regime!  If you really want to "inspire political dissent," just do it.  Call for the release of the opposition leaders, support the students' and workers' and women's movements, and call for a national referendum on the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic.

But the three gurus aren't calling for that.  They have no apparent interest in real political warfare, except as part of the nuclear negotiations. They're calling for some sort of military action in Syria and Iraq, not as a decisive blow to the expansionist activities of the Islamic Republic, but as an essential ingredient in the parlay with Zarif and Rouhani.  Their main objective is to compel the Tehran regime to come to terms on the nuclear deal.

A regime stressed at home and under pressure abroad may yet consider the price of its nuclear intransigence.

That won't do, I'm afraid, because, as the Washington Post said in 2012, to get an end to the Iranian nuclear project, you have to have regime change in Tehran.  To be sure, the destruction of the Assad regime would be a major step in that direction, but the three gurus don't even mention that;  nor, for that matter, does the exemplary General Robert Scales, although he has a better grasp of the dynamics of the Middle East war.

Scales, albeit using different language, stresses the importance of defeating the jihadis on the ground, in large part because defeat undermines their messianic world-view.  He calls it depriving the enemy of "hope," I call it a blow to their conviction that their bloody enterprise is blessed by Allah.  It comes to the same thing:

Think of hope as a material formed in a crucible over time by a series of successful terrorist strikes against the West and Western-affiliated countries in the Middle East. Since violent actions filled this crucible, only a violent military counterresponse can crack the crucible and empty it of hope. The object of a campaign against hope is not necessarily to kill in large numbers but rather to find the greatest vulnerability and shatter it dramatically and decisively.

The terrorist’s greatest source of hope today comes from Islamic State battlefield successes in Syria and Iraq. A defeat there cracks the crucible. The question is how to do it with enough drama and speed that terrorists the world over lose hope and become passive. From any perspective, the Islamic State enclave in Syria is militarily unassailable. But Iraq is a different story.

I certainly agree with the general's main point -- defeat of the enemy is very important, and when we defeat them it is not just a gain of terrain but also an ideological and political victory for our side -- I think his context is too narrow, and I don't share either his pessimism on Syria or his surprising optimism regarding Iraq.  I remain perplexed at the failure of our policy elite to advocate all-out political and military support for the Kurds.  They are pro-Western, they are tough and brave, and their enemies in the region are ours: above all, Iran, Turkey and Syria.  They are the most effective force against ISIS.  Our failure to do more for them is yet further evidence of Obama's grotesque alliance with the Iranians, from Syria and Iraq all the way down to Yemen.

In like manner, I don't get the optimism about Iraq, which is effectively at the mercy of Iran, and therefore a totally unreliable force.

Why not go to the source, as my late boss General Alexander Haig loved to intone?  Tehran is the source.  Unmentioned by Scales, pigeonholed by the three gurus as a negotiating challenge rather than the terror master of the world, its defeat should be the West's central mission.