Off The Table

Ken Baer, author of Reinventing Democrats: The Politics of Liberalism from Reagan to Clinton, an excellent sympathetic history of the DLC, on Iran policy: "The reason why Obama, Clinton, and Edwards are all refusing to take the military option off the table is because there is no credible expert on Iran, nonproliferation, or any combination of the two who would advise them to do so."

Really? None? Ray Takeyh, Council on Foreign Relations Fellow and author of two books on Iran along with Vali Nasr, another CFR fellow and author of three books on Iran or Shia politics, think we should eschew military threats in favor of engagement. Joseph Cirincione, formerly senior associate and director for nonproliferation at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and currently something or other at the Center for American Progress, thinks there's no military option whatsoever here. Baer vents some more:

And as for those who doubt the strategy of no nukes, no options off the table, my only question is: what is that based on? Again, is there any person with real experience with the Iranians, diplomacy, or nonproliferation who has argued that? If so, let’s hear it. But – to my mind – rightly, the major candidates are listening to seasoned experts on this issue, and are thus sticking with the above formulation of no nuclear Iran, no options off the table.

With all due respect, it seems to me that Democratic candidates are saying what Baer thinks they should say because this is what people like Baer -- consultants and speechwriters -- are saying they should say. Takeyh, Nasr, and Cirincione aren't obscure figures; the only way you could reach the conclusion that all credible experts think military options should be on the table would be if you hadn't made any effort to canvass the experts. Contrary to Baer's assertions, one can think the military option should be off the table without either being a pacifist or having one's head in the sand about the potentially problematic consequences of a nuclear Iran. The problem with the military option is that it's more likely to speed up Iranian acquisition of a nuclear bomb than it is to halt it. Thus, if you're concerned about an Iranian nuclear weapon -- as opposed to, say, "looking tough on defense" -- you'll favor policies likely to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear bomb, rather than policy likely to "look tough" while failing.