Thursday, June 07, 2012

Jeffrey Goldberg Interview Advising Against Israel's Iran Strike Leaves Out A Detail

Jeffrey Goldberg came out with an interview yesterday, New Report Finds an Israeli Attack on Iran to be a Comprehensively Bad Idea:
Colin Kahl, who until recently served as the Pentagon's top Middle East policy official, is just out with an exhaustive and authoritative report on the Iranian nuclear challenge. The report, written with Melissa G. Dalton and Matthew Irvine and published by the Center for a New American Security (where Kahl is a senior fellow), argues fairly persuasively that an Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear facilities -- an attack they seem to believe is highly plausible, if I'm reading them correctly -- would have a great many negative ramifications. 
Here is how Goldberg lays out the main points of Kahl's argument, with Goldberg's comments:

  1. The Iranian threat is serious but not imminent;
  2. Iran's leaders are rational enough to believe that they would neither use a nuclear weapon or give one to terrorists (I'm not so sure they're right on the first point, but pretty sure they're right on the second -- makes no sense to give your most prized weapon to unstable, and possibly semi-independent actors);
  3. An Israeli-Iranian nuclear rivalry creates the risk of an inadvertent nuclear exchange (they downplay this risk somewhat, but not too much; I tend to think that inadvertent escalation to nuclear exchange is the prime reason to keep the bomb out of Iran's hands);
  4. Containment of a nuclear Iran is not a great option for the U.S. (I'm with them on that).
Goldberg found Colin Kahl's argument so compelling, that he decided to talk to him to get more details--and the result is an interview that Jeffrey Goldberg is very enthusiastic you should read:
I thought it would be interesting to have a conversation about the report with Kahl, who is now at Georgetown University. What follows is our exchange, which is long, but seriously, read the whole damn thing -- it's important. I should also note that Kahl is the same guy who spent the past two years working assiduously from inside the Pentagon to strengthen and deepen America's security relationship with Israel. Or, to put it another way, his opposition to an Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear program is not motivated by animus toward Israel, but by a concern that Israel stands to do something precipitous that could bring harm to itself, and accelerate Iran's drive toward a bomb.
But here is the problem, as Goldberg himself briefly makes reference to: what, if anything, is Kahl's agenda. According to Goldberg above
his opposition to an Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear program is not motivated by animus toward Israel, but by a concern that Israel stands to do something precipitous that could bring harm to itself, and accelerate Iran's drive toward a bomb.

But Goldberg leaves out a detail about what may have motivated Kahl's analysis. It appears Colin Kahl has a natural bias to view an Israeli strike on Iran so negatively:
The Obama campaign has begun in recent weeks to probe Mitt Romney’s foreign policy credentials for political weakness, raising a series of questions.

What, exactly, is his foreign policy? His position on Afghanistan? War with Iran? Does he truly believe Russia is the biggest threat to national security?

But the most important question is, according to Obama officials, who's in his brain trust?

The logic: if Romney is an “empty vessel,” as Colin Kahl, a former senior Defense Department official and Obama advisor described him in an interview, then the foreign policy ideas of those filling up that vessel are critical to know. [emphasis added]
That would explain Kahl's over-the-top support for Obama on foreign affairs during his interview with Goldberg: Obama's view, it is a vital U.S. interest to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, one does not have to trust that he will take all necessary actions for Israel's sake -- one only has to trust that he will act in the U.S. national interest. He would clearly prefer not to use force -- and has cautioned against cavalier and "loose" talk of war given the costs and uncertainties.

But Obama has shown, repeatedly, that he is willing to use force in the U.S. national interest -- whether unilaterally or as part of a multilateral coalition. Don't take my word on that front -- just ask Osama Bin Laden or Muammar Gaddafi. Again, Obama clearly prefers a diplomatic solution, but no one should question the man's mettle on issues like this.
While it is to Obama's credit that the threat of Osama bin Laden has been removed, Obama approved the strike just as most any other president would have.

As far as Libya goes, I would think that Kahl would want to avoid reminding us of Obama's 'lead from behind' policy that left much of the heavy lifting to our allies.

More to the point, at a time that Colin Kahl praises Obama's protection of the national interest, Hezbollah has been associating with drug cartels in Mexico and Iran is making friends in South America.

Goldberg is obviously not trying to put anything over on his readers, and he can argue that the arguments Kahl gives stand on their own, regardless of what bias Kahl has an Obama adviser.

But the fact remains that Kahl's bias exists, and should be taken into account when reading his analysis.

Hat tip: DG

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