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Will Washington try to “go it alone” again?

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How will the confrontation between The United States and Iran end? Will the Islamic Republic give way under pressure of economic sanctions? If not, how will the US react? These have been key questions for years, as those on both sides have debated whether the U.S. should strike Iran’s nuclear facilities or not. Current developments suggest that there is a real possibility that Washington will decide to attack Iran’s nuclear infrastructure in the near future, which raises some other important questions.

Matthew Kroenig’s “Time to Attack Iran” and Colin H. Kahl’s “Not Time to Attack Iran,” both published in a recent edition of Foreign Affairs Magazine, aim to analyze this issue and shed light on this debate. The two authors represent two different approaches. After analyzing their articles, it becomes clear that the question of “Will USA go to war over Iran?” isn’t the important as the following question: Will the US try to go it alone again?

On March 1 at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, Foreign Affairs representative Jonathan Tepperman, moderated a debate on the Iran issue between Matthew Kroenig and Colin H. Kahl.

In “Time to Attack Iran” Matthew Kroenig argues that based on the fact that diplomacy and economic sanctions have proved useless against the Iranian government’s wish to develop nuclear energy, it is time to force the Islamic Republic to cease work on their nuclear program and prevent Iran becoming nuclear power by launching a preventive strike on their nuclear facilities. On the other hand, Colin H. Kahl in his “Not Time to Attack Iran” says that it is too early, arguing that the possibility still exists of deterring Iran from further developing its nuclear program. According to Khal, an attack on Iran represents America’s last bad option.

The articles aren’t just two points of view, but two different policies - on the one hand, the Bush doctrine (a preventive strike) and on the other, the so-called soft policy (containment).

In describing Blair-Bush relations, a research paper entitled “British Foreign Policy since 1997” argues that “The 9/11 attacks swept away any notion that the US could ignore the rest of the world, and the administration responded with the ‘Bush doctrine”... By mid-2002 Tony Blair had concluded that President Bush was determined to invade Iraq and that Britain needed to be a partner in this exercise... Blair adopted some of the language of the War on Terror, differing from Bush in his analysis principally in that he wanted to ensure that the US did not go it alone and would as much as possible, form alliances and mobilize multilateral institutions, above all the UN.” The essence of the Bush doctrine is actually an assumption that the United State still has enough power to deal with the issue alone or to “go it alone” (example, Iraq).

The authors of Bush doctrine view the international system as unipolar, believing that through the projection of American (military) power, issues can be addressed without the support of international bodies or allies. In doing so, they have neglected UN Security Council members like Russia and China. Kroenig’s article advocates such an approach and is based on this neo-conservative ideology.

Conversely, Kahl advocates Barak Obama’s approach, of the so-called ‘reset’ policy with Moscow. This policy embraces the understanding that the international system is multilateral, and that the US needs to work with its allies and engage in international cooperation to deal with the various problems in the world. US Foreign policy issues and its relations with Russia must be settled in the scope of cooperation by utilizing multilateral organizations, alliances and containment.

Based upon the world’s economic crisis, the harsh economic recession in the EU, the positions of Russia and China, and the failure of the NATO missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, is seems that if Washington strikes Iran’s nuclear facilities the US would be forced to “go it alone”. It would be “a unilateral preventive attack” that “would also make postwar containment more difficult and costly,” argues Colin H. Kahl. Additionally, Kahl argues that it is highly unlikely that the US will get a green light from UN Security Council.

Consequently, while Kroenig believes that some Arab states “would privately thank Washington for eliminating the Iranian threat,” Kahl thinks that “many on the Arab street”, and those within international society- particularly some of the US’s powerful Western allies, as well as Russia and China - would consider it “a breach of international law, shattering the consensus required to maintain an effective post-strike containment regime.”

All in all, according to Kahl, if the Bush doctrine prevails over the diplomatic approach and the US launches a preventive strike without evidence that “Iran is dashing for a bomb... Washington would be left to bear the costs of an attack and the resulting containment regime alone.” Kahl believes that Washington “should not choose war when there are still other options, and it should not base its decision to strike on a best-case analysis of how it hopes the conflict will turn out.” He feels that Washington must avoid making the same mistake as it did in Iraq when it followed the Bush doctrine. The voting process at the end of the debate mentioned above reflects a willingness of the public to contain Iran rather than to go with war.

However, very frequently, the willingness of the public doesn’t match the aspirations of decision-makers; therefore, it is time to re-formulate the question and rather then ask “Will the US attack Iran?” you must ask the more intriguing question of “Will the US try and go it alone again?”

Editor’s note: Archil Sikharulidze holds an MA in International Relations from Iv. Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University (TSU). He is also a project coordinator at the Tbilisi-based NGO Association Young Partners.

By Archil Sikharulidze

5.04.2012

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