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What We Know About Iran

April 25, 2006

David Isenberg debunks the myths surrounding the Iranian threat. The supposed remedies are equally flawed.

The article was published at TomPaine.com and is available in its entirety here:


David Isenberg is a senior research analyst at the British American Security Information Council, a member of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, and an adviser to the Straus Military Reform Project of the Center for Defense Information. The views expressed are his own.

Posted by coalition at 02:57 PM | Comments (0)

At the Very Least, Let's Not Repeat Iraq

Paul Gessing, a member of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy and a senior editor of The Free Liberal, offers some tips on avoiding some common mistakes in the event of war with Iran.

This article is available in its entirety at AntiWar.com:


Paul Gessing is a senior editor of The Free Liberal and a member of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy.

Posted by coalition at 01:40 PM | Comments (0)

Fukuyama at the Crossroads

April 24, 2006

Christopher Preble reviews Francis Fukuyama's latest book for The American Conservative magazine.

[America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power and the Neoconservative Legacy, Francis Fukuyama, Yale University Press, 240 pages]

In January 1998, the Project for a New American Century issued the first of several statements calling for the removal of "Saddam Hussein and his regime from power." Just over five years later, the signers of PNAC's statements got their wish when the United States launched a war to liberate Iraq. It would seem to be a time for celebration, yet one of them is having second thoughts. In America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power and the Neoconservative Legacy, Francis Fukuyama, a signatory not only to three PNAC statements on Iraq but also to the organization's statement of principles, explains his intellectual journey from neoconservative true believer to skeptic. The Iraq war is at the center of this conversion. "It seems very doubtful," writes Fukuyama, "that history will judge the Iraq war kindly."

As a respected scholar of international relations, and the author of the influential book The End of History and the Last Man, Fukuyama was capable of articulating either a defense or a critique of the impending war with Iraq. "Unlike many other neoconservatives," he now explains in the book, "I was never persuaded of the rationale for the Iraq war." In the year prior to the invasion, Fukuyama studied the problem and concluded that "the war did not make sense."

To the extent that Fukuyama feels at all guilty for not going public with his private misgivings, this book is an effort to set things right. His "attempt to elucidate the neoconservative legacy," and to explore the evolution of the philosophy into something that he can no longer support is a worthwhile and enjoyable read. But while the press is sure to focus on the fact that a member of the neoconservative inner-circle has now turned on his former ideological allies, this important and insightful book is much more than a tell-all memoir of self-discovery. Fukuyama demolishes some of the central tenets of neoconservativism that led to the debacle in Iraq, but he also sets forth an alternative vision, one that he sees as both more consistent with American values and more likely to succeed in an international environment deeply skeptical of American power.

A number of his specific recommendations are commendable, including his call for "a dramatic demilitarization of American foreign policy and reemphasis on other types of policy instruments"; the establishment of "clear criteria for when we believe preventive war is legitimate"; and an end to the "rhetoric about World War IV and the global war on terrorism."

Beyond these specifics, the book is useful in its exploration of the elements of neoconservative thought that led to the Iraq fiasco. Unlike those who see democracy-promotion and regime change as core elements of neoconservativism, Fukuyama sees Iraq as inconsistent with the philosophy espoused by the likes of Leo Strauss and Irving Kristol and therefore emblematic of the "wrong turn" taken by some neoconservatives during the 1990s.

Fukuyama traces this wrong turn to the unexpected collapse of communism, which some took as a validation of the concept of regime change. Drawing on his nuanced understanding of the unique circumstances surrounding the democratization that took place in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union in the early 1990s, Fukuyama dismantles the facile notion "that democracy was a default condition to which societies would revert once liberated from dictators."

Liberal democracy, Fukuyama explains, is a byproduct of the process of modernization documented in his earlier book The End of History. To the extent that liberalism "becomes a universal aspiration," the process takes time. Crucial institutions "must be in place before a society can move from an amorphous longing for freedom to a well-functioning, consolidated political system with a modern economy." He warns, the "democratic contagion can take a society only so far; if certain structural conditions are not met, instability and setbacks are in store."

Some neoconservatives routinely dismiss the notion that democracy can give rise to an illiberal political order, or, worse, that the spread of democracy could pose a threat to the United States. The suggestion seemed to be a practical impossibility, akin to the sun rising in the west. But in a classified report from February 2003, the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research expressed doubts that the installation of a new regime in Iraq would foster the spread of democracy in the Middle East and warned that "even if some version of democracy took root ... anti-American sentiment is so pervasive that Iraqi elections in the short term could lead to the rise of Islamic-controlled governments hostile to the United States."

Fukuyama taps this vein. "While there is nothing wrong," he explains, "with being hopeful and open to the possibility of miracles" such as occurred in 1989 with the collapse of the Soviet empire, "it is another thing altogether to predicate a foreign policy on the likelihood of multiple near-term democratic transitions." And yet that is precisely what his former fellow travelers have done.

Fukuyama is also effective in revealing the illogic of preventive war more broadly. He correctly notes that preventive war has always been seen as "problematic" because "it depends on being able to accurately predict the future," especially its assumption that an extant threat will become imminent. "Preventive war cannot be ruled out as a component of an American grand strategy. But making it a central feature entails large risks and costs that are all too evident in retrospect."

Fukuyama continues to cling to a few core neocon principles, especially the belief that "American power is often necessary to bring about moral purposes." For that power to be effective, he explains, it must be seen as legitimate. Concern for legitimacy is practically an obsession for Fukuyama, and it distinguishes him dramatically from many of his former ideological allies.

Charles Krauthammer's vision of an enduring "unipolar moment" was based on his belief that the United States would act, and be seen as acting, as the "custodian of the international system." Along these same lines, Fukuyama explains, William Kristol and Robert Kagan in their book Present Dangers "argued explicitly in favor of a policy of benevolent hegemony in which the United States would use its power to create a benign, peaceful, and democratic world order."

These and other advocates of war with Iraq were convinced that American power would be seen as legitimate by anyone who mattered, and they dismissed critics as anti-American and/or pro-terrorist. Fukuyama understands international opposition to the United States as rooted in more than mere mendacity or jealousy. The concept of benevolent hegemony, Fukuyama explains, was based on "a belief in American exceptionalism that most non-Americans simply find not credible."

But while the neoconservatives erred in presuming that American power would always be seen as legitimate, Fukuyama errs in arguing that this power can be made legitimate through various international institutions. Take, for example, his discussion of nation-building. He notes that it is exceptionally difficult to establish the domestic institutions necessary to prevent a nascent democracy from descending into chaos. The process often requires a political solution within the target country, and "in the absence of internal political demand for reform, it may never be possible to get the institutions rights."

What does this say? That we should expect nation-building to fail. Fukuyama practically admits as much: "The record in nation-building is mixed: there are a few successes and a large number of failures; and where the successes occurred, they required an extraordinary level of effort and attention."

And yet Fukuyama clings to the belief that success is possible, perhaps even likely, but for the fact that "the world today does not have enough international institutions that can confer legitimacy on collective action." Accordingly, he explains, "a realistic solution to the problem of international action that is both effective and legitimate will lie in the creation of new institutions and the adaptations of existing ones." Specifically, the United States should seek to "promote a world populated by a large number of overlapping and sometimes competitive international institutions," a system that he calls multi-multilateralism.

The Clinton administration's interventions in Bosnia and later Kosovo provide the model for Fukuyama's strategic vision of realistic Wilsonianism exercised in a multi-multilateral order. This is an exceedingly weak reed on which to base a new theory of international relations. For one, neither intervention was an unmitigated success. Undeterred by this niggling detail, Fukuyama focuses on the extent to which "[t]he NATO alliance . . . provided legitimacy for military intervention in a way that the United Nations could not."

But legitimacy is not a stamp of approval. Besides, there already is a system for affording legitimacy to military intervention: it's known as the national interest. When institutions reflect or convey common interests among nations, the institutions can attain a superficial durability. But this illusion that multilateral institutions can supercede the national interests of sovereign states is shattered the moment that those interests come into conflict. In short, even if the next intervention is sanctioned by some international institution, this does not imply that it will be universally welcomed.

Consider the Kosovo case. NATO's endorsement provided cover for politicians on both sides of the Atlantic, but it did not confer international legitimacy on the intervention. The Indians and Chinese took umbrage at what Fukuyama calls "forum shopping," whereby the United States and other powers sought out the international institution that was most likely to endorse the military campaign, but that opposition was limited to strongly worded letters of protest and editorials calling for a restoration in the balance of power to reign in American might. The Russians, on the other hand, reacted in a more "traditional" manner, sending troops to seize the airfield in Pristina, Kosovo. A wider war may have been averted only by a British commander's willingness to openly defy a superior officer. When U.S. General and NATO Commander, Wesley Clark ordered Sir Michael Jackson, commander of the NATO peacekeeping force in Kosovo, to forcibly block the Russian entry into Kosovo, Jackson refused, reportedly telling Clark: "I'm not going to start the Third World War for you."

This case of insubordination revealed the cold, calculating logic that does, and should, govern any military intervention: do the rewards justify the risks? The answer has little to do with what institutions have conferred their stamp of legitimacy upon it.

Fukuyama curiously scorns "respect for traditional sovereignty" as "a realist position" because it is not "compatible with what is in the end a revolutionary American foreign policy agenda." But this is hardly a knock on realism. As the top dog in the international system, the United States should not wish to adopt a revolutionary foreign policy agenda that would overturn the current order.

Meanwhile, when Fukuyama contends that "the most important way that American power can be exercised [is] through the ability of the United States to shape international institutions" it is not at all clear how this can be done in practice, particularly in those institutions from which the United States has been systematically excluded. Lacking the means to barge into such groups, how will those nations who engaged in forum shopping in the late 1990s react when the Shanghai Cooperation Organization's confers "legitimacy" upon a Russian-led intervention in Belarus or Ukraine? The limits of Fukuyama's multi-multilateral order are even more starkly revealed by a hypothetical case of ASEAN sanctioning Beijing's re-annexation of Taiwan.

Fukuyama cannot reconcile himself to a form of realism grounded in state sovereignty and national interest, and in this respect he is not that different from traditional Wilsonians. In the end, Fukuyama's realistic Wilsonianism is neither realistic (from the standpoint of efficacy), nor realist (from the standpoint of Hans Morgenthau, George Kennan and Kenneth Waltz).

The chief disappointment with the book is found elsewhere, however. While it is encouraging to see a well-respected scholar assail some of the neoconservatives' most sacred of sacred cows, it is disheartening to learn that Fukuyama had doubts about the Iraq war well before the war was launched, and that he kept these feelings to himself. Having been so strong an advocate of regime change in Iraq in the late 1990s, Fukuyama's relative silence in the fall and winter of 2002 and 2003 implied support for the whole misguided venture. We can only speculate as to what might have happened had he lent his voice to the anti-war effort, and we can only hope that he will not choose to stay on the sidelines the next time around.

Christopher Preble is the director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute and a founding member of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy.

This article originally appeared in the April 24, 2006, issue of The American Conservative, and it is reprinted here by permission of the author.

Posted by coalition at 04:29 PM | Comments (0)

U.S. Must Offer Iran Diplomatic Deal

Ted Carpenter and Justin Logan of the Cato Institute explain why negotiations with Iran must be given a chance to succeed.

The article was published on FoxNews.com and is available online at:


Ted Galen Carpenter is vice president for defense and foreign policy studies and Justin Logan is a foreign policy analyst, both at the Cato Institute. Both authors are members of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy.

Posted by coalition at 10:24 AM | Comments (0)

Insecurity With Insolvency

April 18, 2006

The president's National Security Strategy is vague on fiscal details and ignores geopolitical realities explains Andrew J. Bacevich, a professor of international relations at Boston University, and a member of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy.

The article was published in April 24, 2006 issue of The American Conservative, and is available in its entirety online:


Posted by coalition at 01:33 PM | Comments (0)

How to Get Out of the Iran Trap

New America Foundation Senior Research Fellow Anatol Lieven writes about Iran for the WashingtonPost.com.

The Bush administration's strategy regarding Iran's nuclear program is going nowhere. The U.S. demand that Iran permanently terminate even a limited capacity to enrich uranium has been categorically rejected by every Iranian political figure and group, including all the leading reformists. Given the views on the subject held by both the establishment and the mass of the population, it would be political suicide for them to do otherwise.

Because of the radical difference between the way in which the U.S. and the West treat Iran on the one hand and India, Pakistan and Israel on the other, Western demands have been successfully portrayed in Iran as pressure for yet another "treaty of surrender" of the kind which Western powers forced on Iran in the past. Modern Iranian nationalism originated in fury at such treaties.

It is pointless to dream of a rapid transformation of Iran into a Western-style democracy and a willing supporter of U.S. strategy in the Middle East. By identifying Iranian democrats with submission to America, the present U.S. approach is only damaging them still further
in the eyes of most Iranians. The key to changing Iran internally and to producing Iranian co-operation and responsibility in its foreign and security policies therefore must be a slow and incremental approach -- one which will not produce a rapid settlement of the nuclear issue. It also looks virtually impossible for the U.S. to bring sufficient economic pressure to bear on Iran to force an acceptance of U.S. demands, given Iran's revenue from high oil prices and the deeply unwilling stance of Russia and China.

That leaves the military option. But recent weeks have seen repeated warnings by U.S. and British officials and intelligence analysts that such an operation would probably only delay Iran's nuclear program, and might not have any serious effect at all. It would be certain to provoke Iranian retaliation that would drastically worsen the situation in Iraq and possibly destabilize the entire region. In addition, such an attack would most likely greatly intensify Iran's attempts to create nuclear weapons.

As the Truman administration statesman Robert Lovett used to say when faced with this kind of impasse, "Forget the cheese -- let's get out of the trap." The way out of this particular trap is to accept limited Iranian uranium enrichment under strict supervision and focus instead on creating really tough and effective barriers to armament. We need to verifiably freeze Iranian enrichment and other nuclear capabilities at least 18 months short of weapons capacity. This time lag should be sufficient for the U.S. and the international community to receive sufficient warning of Iran's moves and to respond accordingly.

This approach would have a number of great advantages. It would return the U.S. and Europe to the terms of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) signed by Iran, and prevent the Iranians from claiming that they are being subjected to unfair and illegal discrimination. It would hold the Iranian government to its own repeated public statements that it is not seeking nuclear weapons. And in return for bowing to Russian and Chinese concerns about the present U.S. course, it would allow us to bind these states and the rest of the international community to impose extremely tough sanctions on Iran if that country did in fact violate this agreement and move towards armament.

This international response should be agreed in advance by a public treaty signed by the members of the U.N. Security Council, the G8, and other appropriate international organizations. All the existing nuclear powers say that they are strongly opposed to Iran gaining nuclear weapons, and we can believe them. The last thing they want is to expand their exclusive club and thereby diminish their own prestige. What's more, they all know that if Pakistan is followed into the nuclear club by Iran, then Saudi Arabia, Turkey and so on, then the chances that sooner or later terrorists will get their hands on such weapons or materials will be vastly increased.

So we have every basis on which to go to Russia and China and say: We will go back to the letter of the NPT if you will sign a binding international agreement setting out in public, in detail, and in advance what you and the other signatory nations will do if Iran breaks its word and does indeed attempt nuclear armament. These threats should include breaking off diplomatic relations, removing Iran from all international organizations, ending outside investment, imposing a full trade embargo, ending -- as far as possible - all international flights to Iran, and inspecting transport headed to that country.

As far as Russia is concerned, the U.S. should offer an additional incentive to sign, and add a very serious threat. The incentive should be that Russia could be allowed to boost its international prestige (and of course the domestic image of the Putin administration) by taking the public lead in this matter. The resulting international agreement could be signed in Russia and entitled something like "The Moscow Declaration."

The threat would be that the U.S. would make Russia's adherence to its word on this question the top determinant of future U.S.-Russian relations. If Iran built nuclear arms and Russia failed to respond as promised, the U.S. would retaliate across the whole range of relations, from trade links to NATO expansion.

All of this doubtless sounds horribly radical to much of the Washington establishment of today. But I don't think Robert Lovett and his colleagues of 60 years ago would have seen it that way. They would have called this kind of approach simply intelligent and effective diplomacy -- something that American administrations were once very good at, and which the Bush administration should start practicing again.

Anatol Lieven is a senior research fellow at the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C. and co-author, with John Hulsman (Heritage Foundation), of Ethical Realism and U.S. Foreign Policy, which is to be published by Random House in Fall 2006.

Posted by coalition at 01:32 PM | Comments (0)

Don't Let Iraq's Sunni-Shia Conflict Spread Through the Mideast

Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president of defense and foreign policy studies, and a founding member of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, explains what can be done to prevent a civil war in Iraq from engulfing the entire region.

This article was originally published at the Globe and Mail, and is available in its entirety here:


Ted Galen Carpenter is vice president for defense and foreign policy studies and co-author of Exiting Iraq: Why the U.S. Must End the Military Occupation and Renew the War against Al Qaeda.

Posted by coalition at 01:29 PM | Comments (0)

Sanctions Against Iran

Rep. Ron Paul explains why sanctions against Iran are likely to make a bad situation even worse -- for Iranians and Americans alike.

The article was published at LewRockwell.com on April 18, 2006.


Posted by coalition at 01:18 PM | Comments (0)

What Victory Lost

April 11, 2006

Wayne Merry ponders the might-have-beens of U.S. foreign policy, were it not for the disastrous war in Iraq.

The article appears in the April 10, 2006 issue of The American Conservative, and is available online here:


Wayne Merry is a former State Department and Pentagon official and a director of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy in Washington.

Posted by coalition at 09:04 AM | Comments (0)

How to Lose the Brain Race

Coalition co-founder Steven Clemons, the director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation, and Michael Lind, a senior fellow at New America, call for a skills-based points system for admitting new immigrants to the United States, similar to that used in Australia, Britain and Canada.

The article was published in the New York Times on Monday, April 10th, 2006, and is available online here (registration may be required).

Steven Clemons is a co-founder of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, and the director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation. Michael Lind is a senior fellow at New America.

Posted by coalition at 08:46 AM | Comments (0)

Iran: The Logic of Deterrence

Tehran's quest for nuclear weapons is a rational response to a real threat, explains Christopher Layne, which is why diplomacy is a more prudent option than regime change.

The article was published in the April 10th, 2006 issue of the American Conservative, and is available online here:


Christopher Layne is Associate Professor of International Affairs at the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University and a member of the Board of Directors of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy. His book, The Peace of Illusions: American Grand Strategy from 1940 to the Present, will be published in May by Cornell University Press.

Posted by coalition at 07:57 AM | Comments (0)

Winning the Un-War 04.18.06

April 04, 2006

Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy senior fellow Charles Pena will discuss his new book, Winning the Un-War: A New Strategy for the War on Terrorism at George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, on Tuesday, April 18th, from 5 to 7 pm.

In Winning the Un-War: A New Strategy for the War on Terrorism, Charles Pena explores the many missteps in the Bush administration's "global war on terror." Trying to eradicate terrorism is a quixotic quest that does not focus on those responsible for 9/11. Instead, the national security strategy should consist of three central elements: establishing homeland security against further attacks; dismantling the al Qaeda terrorist network; and enacting a foreign policy that does not attract new al Qaeda terrorists.

This approach requires restructuring U.S. forces and ending Cold War–era commitments that distract from the current, pressing threat. It also requires ameliorating the negative consequences of an interventionist U.S. foreign policy, which creates incentives and opportunities for terrorists to target the United States.

If we misdiagnose al Qaeda's motivations or focus military efforts on the wrong targets, then we run the risk that the war against the al Qaeda terrorist threat (and the radical Islamic ideology it represents) will become a broader war against the Islamic world that could last generations and cost countless lives.

This event will be held in The Lindner Family Commons, Room 602, on Tuesday, April 18th, from 5-7pm at George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, 1957 E Street NW, Washington, DC.

Charles Pena is a senior fellow with the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, an adviser on the Straus Military Reform Project, and the former director of defense policy studies at the Cato Institute. In addition to regular appearances as a terrorism analyst on MSNBC, he has appeared on Hardball with Chris Matthews, NPR's Morning Edition, CNN's Newsnight with Aaron Brown, NBC Nightly News, and The McLaughlin Group. Pena is the coauthor of Exiting Iraq: Why the U.S. Must End the Military Occupation and Renew the War Against Al Qaeda. He lives in Arlington, Virginia.

Posted by coalition at 07:34 AM | Comments (0)