Commentary Magazine


Topic: Atlantic Council

“Mutually Assured Stupidity”

The Atlantic Council is known for narrowly-crafted study groups in which conclusions follow consistent themes: greater U.S. concessions and trust in rogues and adversaries. In 1998, for example, the Atlantic Council sought a partial lifting of the U.S. trade embargo on Iran as “a key gesture of good faith.” Subsequent intelligence shows that as the Atlantic Council’s hand-picked study group counseled increased trade with Iran, the Iranian leadership was on an international buying spree in support of its nuclear and ballistic weapons programs.

In a 2001 study group, Lee Hamilton, James Schlesinger, and Brent Scowcroft—the latter now interim head of the Council following Chuck Hagel’s move to the Pentagon—lamented the congressional tendency to wield sticks rather than carrots against rogues, and criticized legislation requiring the State Department to produce its annual Patterns of Global Terrorism report, since such reporting placed Iranian terror sponsorship front and center in the public debate and became an impediment to public willingness to make a deal with Tehran.

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The Atlantic Council is known for narrowly-crafted study groups in which conclusions follow consistent themes: greater U.S. concessions and trust in rogues and adversaries. In 1998, for example, the Atlantic Council sought a partial lifting of the U.S. trade embargo on Iran as “a key gesture of good faith.” Subsequent intelligence shows that as the Atlantic Council’s hand-picked study group counseled increased trade with Iran, the Iranian leadership was on an international buying spree in support of its nuclear and ballistic weapons programs.

In a 2001 study group, Lee Hamilton, James Schlesinger, and Brent Scowcroft—the latter now interim head of the Council following Chuck Hagel’s move to the Pentagon—lamented the congressional tendency to wield sticks rather than carrots against rogues, and criticized legislation requiring the State Department to produce its annual Patterns of Global Terrorism report, since such reporting placed Iranian terror sponsorship front and center in the public debate and became an impediment to public willingness to make a deal with Tehran.

Two years later, the Atlantic Council issued a study group on Libya suggesting political reform should not be the focus of diplomatic engagement, because it would naturally follow when Libya’s isolation ended. Gaddafi’s “arbitrary, authoritarian style is increasingly out of step with the rest of the world,” retired diplomat Chester Crocker and Atlantic Council international security director C. Richard Nelson observed. Gaddafi, of course, felt differently up to his dying day.

With Scowcroft in the chairman’s seat, the Council is doubling down on the trend. Ellen Tauscher, a former congresswoman, arms control negotiator, Atlantic Council “Scowcroft Center” vice chair and advisor to a presumptive Hillary Clinton 2016 run, has unveiled a new initiative which she has named “Mutually Assured Stability.” The project, explained Tauscher and her Russian partner, former Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, in a press release last week seeks to “help reframe US-Russia relations and get past the Cold War-era nuclear legacy in our relationship, particularly the dominant paradigm of ‘mutual assured destruction.’ The goal is to reconfigure the bilateral relationship towards ‘mutual assured stability’ and refocus arms control and disarmament toward the development of reassuring measures, and thus help promote closer cooperation between Russia and the West.” Their founding statement makes clear their goal is to achieve a missile defense pact before the upcoming Obama-Putin summit.

What neither Tauscher nor the Atlantic Council appear to blink at is the fact that their institutional partner—the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC)—was created by the Kremlin to act as its representative in the NGO world. Perhaps with Chuck Hagel at the Pentagon, Scowcroft’s goal is to transform the Council into something akin to RIAC’s political equivalent. At the very least, the Kremlin is using Tauscher as its useful idiot to suggest wider policy support for Obama’s earlier hot-mic blunder.

Tauscher may believe her turn of phrase is catchy or creative. But, even if it was, no policy should be crafted around a slogan. The basic premise behind “Mutually Assured Stability” is deeply flawed. The idea that “Mutually Assured Destruction” still guides U.S.-Russian interaction or represents the problem in bilateral relations is shallow, and confuses symptoms for the disease. Russia is a declining power, facing a demographic cliff. Even the Kremlin realizes that the real threat to Russia comes not from the United States and its strategic missiles, but rather the threat posed by a booming and populous China abutting a demographically-drained and resource-rich Russian far east, a region long ignored by the Kremlin.

Nor is the distrust between Moscow and Washington rooted in disarmament or lack thereof. It should be no surprise that the Kremlin encourages Tauscher’s one-issue crusade, because to make an augmented arms control agreement the sole agenda item in bilateral talks would remove from the table Russia’s dismal human rights record, the Kremlin’s assistance to the murderous regime of Bashar al-Assad, Russian support for the Islamic Republic of Iran’s nuclear program, Moscow’s opposition to NATO expansion, its willingness to blackmail Europe with oil, and Russia’s continued occupation of Georgian territory. Perhaps if certain Russian politicians did not pine for the supposed glory of the Stalin-era Soviet Union, then the Russian brand name might be somewhat better.

Tauscher has always been a bit of a self-promoter. When she joined the State Department, she hired a press team to blast out speeches and remarks irrespective of whether the policy community wanted her emails or not—unsubscribing was not an option. She may miss being in the spotlight and may believe that she can still negotiate a deal, and that the Logan Act need not apply. Perhaps she feels that her personal friendship with Ivanov and other Russian leaders will suffice. Like President George W. Bush, perhaps she feels that she can stare in Putin’s eyes and see his soul. On this fact alone, however, Tauscher and the good folks at the Atlantic Council should reconsider their headlong embrace into Kremlin useful idiocy.

Many Russia hands increasing question Putin’s staying power. His stage-managed photo opportunities increasingly look silly not only to the Western audience but to the Russian one as well. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin—a Kremlin hardliner—increasingly looks willing to make a push to leadership. The consistently left-of-center Open Democracy describes Rogozin as a man “who has built his career on nationalism and the exploitation of voters’ quasi Soviet imperial sentiments” based upon “anti-Western, anti-American” sentiments. And the Foreign Military Studies Office at Fort Leavenworth described Rogozin as “disdainful of liberal democracy” and promoting a “belief in a foreign threat and a robust and combat-ready military to counter this danger.”

Four years on, it is safe to say the United States and Europe received little benefit from President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s “reset policy” with Russia. Many Obama administration officials privately acknowledge the frustration that their policy did not achieve the desired results. Most honest analysts regardless of where they stood in 2009 recognize that the problem with bilateral U.S.-Russian relations lays in a retrograde, zero-sum mindset that afflicts Putin and his inner-circle. Tauscher seems not to be among them. If “Mutually Assured Stability” is Tauscher’s idea to keep in the limelight, perhaps it will be laughed off as such. Let us hope that the White House can see through the fact that the initiative is based neither on scholarship nor in realist political analysis, but rather on the desire essentially to launder talking points from a Kremlin think tank. If the United States seeks stability, its path will not be through the Kremlin.

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Europeans Miss Cowboy Diplomacy

Fred Hiatt writes that Obama isn’t making friends in Europe. In fact, the Europeans are on to what many on the right in the U.S. have already figured out: Obama spends more time tending to our foes than cementing relationships with our friends. He notes that Alexandr Vondra (a former dissident and later the Czech Republic’s ambassador to Washington and then foreign minister and deputy prime minister) spoke to the Atlantic Council and declared that “President Obama’s ‘cool realism’ is putting long-standing ties at risk.” Hiatt explains:

Vondra said that the Obama administration rewards rivals — notably Russia and China — with “carrots” while handing out only “tasks” to its allies. He said the U.S. agenda with its allies seems to be driven by U.S. domestic needs and U.S. priorities, especially nuclear disarmament, Iran and Afghanistan, while neglecting the priorities of its allies.

Vondra said that the United States is actively approaching Russia with its offer to “reset” relations. Meanwhile Russia is assertively approaching the Czech Republic and other nations, driven by its enmity to NATO and its belief that it is entitled to hold sway in its own sphere of influence. But the third side of that triangle — between the United States and allies — is inactive, Vondra said, creating a danger that nations and policies less amenable to U.S. values will fill the vacuum.

Ah, one longs for the days when the much vilified George W. Bush was cheered in the Knesset, welcomed warmly in Britain, and enjoyed a productive relationship with India. The about-face in the Obama administration is not going unnoticed among our allies and our enemies. The latter are learning to play us — as Russia did in extracting a free pass on UN sanctions. Our friends (Israel, Eastern Europe) are learning not to trust us. And those despotic states like Syria, China, and Iran realize that it’s not such a bad thing to be a foe of the U.S. — you get lots of inducements, endless offers to negotiate, and a hear-no-evil/see-no-evil stance toward, well, evil. Obama thinks everything is going swimmingly, so there is little chance he will change. But that, as he says, is what elections are for.

Fred Hiatt writes that Obama isn’t making friends in Europe. In fact, the Europeans are on to what many on the right in the U.S. have already figured out: Obama spends more time tending to our foes than cementing relationships with our friends. He notes that Alexandr Vondra (a former dissident and later the Czech Republic’s ambassador to Washington and then foreign minister and deputy prime minister) spoke to the Atlantic Council and declared that “President Obama’s ‘cool realism’ is putting long-standing ties at risk.” Hiatt explains:

Vondra said that the Obama administration rewards rivals — notably Russia and China — with “carrots” while handing out only “tasks” to its allies. He said the U.S. agenda with its allies seems to be driven by U.S. domestic needs and U.S. priorities, especially nuclear disarmament, Iran and Afghanistan, while neglecting the priorities of its allies.

Vondra said that the United States is actively approaching Russia with its offer to “reset” relations. Meanwhile Russia is assertively approaching the Czech Republic and other nations, driven by its enmity to NATO and its belief that it is entitled to hold sway in its own sphere of influence. But the third side of that triangle — between the United States and allies — is inactive, Vondra said, creating a danger that nations and policies less amenable to U.S. values will fill the vacuum.

Ah, one longs for the days when the much vilified George W. Bush was cheered in the Knesset, welcomed warmly in Britain, and enjoyed a productive relationship with India. The about-face in the Obama administration is not going unnoticed among our allies and our enemies. The latter are learning to play us — as Russia did in extracting a free pass on UN sanctions. Our friends (Israel, Eastern Europe) are learning not to trust us. And those despotic states like Syria, China, and Iran realize that it’s not such a bad thing to be a foe of the U.S. — you get lots of inducements, endless offers to negotiate, and a hear-no-evil/see-no-evil stance toward, well, evil. Obama thinks everything is going swimmingly, so there is little chance he will change. But that, as he says, is what elections are for.

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Spokesman For Evil

Busy, busy, busy — a trip to Iran, a series of cringe-inducing (for non-Kool-aid-drinking readers) blogs, and then a debate. Flynt Leverett is working overtime for the mullahs. In his face-off with Michael Ledeen at the Atlantic Council, he chides Obama, who just isn’t living up to expectations — the mullahs’ expectations, that is:

Hillary [Mann Leverett] and I have just come back from a trip to the region and we were able to spend the better part of a week in Tehran.  And I can tell you from discussions with Iranian officials that the Iranian leadership had a certain amount of hope about President Obama.  And when he changed the rhetorical tone about Iran early in his administration, in his inaugural address, in some interviews, in the Nowruz message last year, this had an effect.

Two days after the Nowruz message, the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, came out publicly and said, okay, if you change – you, the United States change – your policies towards us, we will change, too.

From an Iranian perspective, there has been no change.  There’s no change in the red lines on the nuclear issue, there’s no change in U.S. support for both overt and covert activities which the Iranians see as threatening to their internal stability.  And in that kind of climate, the Iranians will not respond favorably to American overtures.

But, if the United States put on the table a real author of a grand bargain, a real author aimed at a fundamental realignment of U.S.-Iranian relations, I believe that the Iranian leadership, under successive presidents and throughout Ayatollah Khamenei’s tenure as leader, has wanted that kind of fundamental realignment and that they would respond positively to it.

The key is to realize America is washed up and to give the Iranian regime what it wants. The Iranian people? Leverett says those darn neocons have been expecting a revolution, and they’re not going to get it. And besides, what’s the protestors’ beef? Ahmadinejad won fair and square:

Many advocates of regime-change in Iran – those who have been uniformly wrong about the Islamic Republic’s internal politics for 30 years – say, okay, maybe we were somewhat ahead of our time, premature in our judgment, but look at the situation today.  There’s never been anything like the Green movement; we have to be right now.

Well, sorry, no, you’re not.  Hillary and I have been arguing since June of last year that there is no hard evidence that the Islamic Republic’s presidential election of June 12, 2009, was stolen.  I say no “hard evidence,” not “must have been,” “had to have been,” “no way Ahmadinejad could have won” stuff, but “hard evidence.”  Even the suggested evidence that some people claim to find in the election results, supposedly more votes cast in some districts than there were registered voters in those districts, how could Ahmadinejad have won in Azeri-majority areas when Mousavi was ethnically Azeri, et cetera?

And in case that wasn’t clear, he explains that the protestors dying on the streets are on a fool’s errand: “This is not a place that is on the verge of revolution.  They had a revolution 31 years ago.  They don’t want another one.” They? Who is they? (Maybe the gang that orchestrated his tour and provides that precious access so Leverett can regurgitate the regime’s talking points.) What would help matters? Why, if America renounced any intention to “interfere in the internal affairs of the Islamic Republic.” The regime really wants to engage America — they told Leverett, so it must be true. (“I heard from Iranian officials that they want to engage with the Obama administration.  But they want to see signs, indications that the United States really does want a fundamentally different kind of relationship with the Islamic Republic.”)

And on it went. One questioner, an Iranian woman, could barely contain herself. She told Leverett:

But Mr. Leverett, you are – for the last 30 years, you’ve had negotiations with the regime of Iran from Mr. Reagan with – (inaudible) – and on through Mr. Clinton, eight years, through Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright and through Ms. Rice and during Bush administration, and now 14 months with Obama administration.

Iranian regime is not going to make any deals because they cannot.  They took over Iran by anti-Western civilization – America being the symbol of it.  And they are not going to give it up.

Indeed. Back to the talking points (the regime’s, that is). Leverett — and his regime pals — have a larger goal in mind: the U.S. must simply retreat. “What does Iran need to do to signal – look, I think that, in itself, reflects a certain mindset that the United States is still the hegemonic power that it was in the 1990s and can basically dictate the terms by which problem states realign with the United States. You know, that model might have worked with Libya – I was involved to some degree in that process, think that it was a very successful outcome for the United States.  It’s not going to work with Iran.”

You get the picture. Makes one’s blood run a bit cold, doesn’t it — to hear the rhetoric of the butchers of Tehran articulated through an American mouthpiece with such stunning sincerity? Really, who are we to say Iran can’t have its nuclear program?

The polls, which show that the public is perfectly supportive of trading off aspects of the nuclear program that might be purely weapons-related in return for better relations with the United States, but they do not see uranium enrichment fuel cycle activities in that light.  That is seen as something that Iran has a right to do.  It is part of Iran becoming a technically modern and advanced society.  And I don’t think there is any political appetite or support in Iran, at this point, for giving up uranium enrichment.

The regime continues to say, the government continues to say to its own people that this is a peaceful nuclear program.  Iran does not have nuclear weapons, does not want nuclear weapons, and that Shia Islam forbids the acquisition of nuclear weapons.  But I think that there is very, very broad popular support for the nuclear program, including fuel cycle activities.

The mullahas must be delighted. All their points covered, all their arguments made. Look how their visit with Leverett and his wife has paid off!

Busy, busy, busy — a trip to Iran, a series of cringe-inducing (for non-Kool-aid-drinking readers) blogs, and then a debate. Flynt Leverett is working overtime for the mullahs. In his face-off with Michael Ledeen at the Atlantic Council, he chides Obama, who just isn’t living up to expectations — the mullahs’ expectations, that is:

Hillary [Mann Leverett] and I have just come back from a trip to the region and we were able to spend the better part of a week in Tehran.  And I can tell you from discussions with Iranian officials that the Iranian leadership had a certain amount of hope about President Obama.  And when he changed the rhetorical tone about Iran early in his administration, in his inaugural address, in some interviews, in the Nowruz message last year, this had an effect.

Two days after the Nowruz message, the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, came out publicly and said, okay, if you change – you, the United States change – your policies towards us, we will change, too.

From an Iranian perspective, there has been no change.  There’s no change in the red lines on the nuclear issue, there’s no change in U.S. support for both overt and covert activities which the Iranians see as threatening to their internal stability.  And in that kind of climate, the Iranians will not respond favorably to American overtures.

But, if the United States put on the table a real author of a grand bargain, a real author aimed at a fundamental realignment of U.S.-Iranian relations, I believe that the Iranian leadership, under successive presidents and throughout Ayatollah Khamenei’s tenure as leader, has wanted that kind of fundamental realignment and that they would respond positively to it.

The key is to realize America is washed up and to give the Iranian regime what it wants. The Iranian people? Leverett says those darn neocons have been expecting a revolution, and they’re not going to get it. And besides, what’s the protestors’ beef? Ahmadinejad won fair and square:

Many advocates of regime-change in Iran – those who have been uniformly wrong about the Islamic Republic’s internal politics for 30 years – say, okay, maybe we were somewhat ahead of our time, premature in our judgment, but look at the situation today.  There’s never been anything like the Green movement; we have to be right now.

Well, sorry, no, you’re not.  Hillary and I have been arguing since June of last year that there is no hard evidence that the Islamic Republic’s presidential election of June 12, 2009, was stolen.  I say no “hard evidence,” not “must have been,” “had to have been,” “no way Ahmadinejad could have won” stuff, but “hard evidence.”  Even the suggested evidence that some people claim to find in the election results, supposedly more votes cast in some districts than there were registered voters in those districts, how could Ahmadinejad have won in Azeri-majority areas when Mousavi was ethnically Azeri, et cetera?

And in case that wasn’t clear, he explains that the protestors dying on the streets are on a fool’s errand: “This is not a place that is on the verge of revolution.  They had a revolution 31 years ago.  They don’t want another one.” They? Who is they? (Maybe the gang that orchestrated his tour and provides that precious access so Leverett can regurgitate the regime’s talking points.) What would help matters? Why, if America renounced any intention to “interfere in the internal affairs of the Islamic Republic.” The regime really wants to engage America — they told Leverett, so it must be true. (“I heard from Iranian officials that they want to engage with the Obama administration.  But they want to see signs, indications that the United States really does want a fundamentally different kind of relationship with the Islamic Republic.”)

And on it went. One questioner, an Iranian woman, could barely contain herself. She told Leverett:

But Mr. Leverett, you are – for the last 30 years, you’ve had negotiations with the regime of Iran from Mr. Reagan with – (inaudible) – and on through Mr. Clinton, eight years, through Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright and through Ms. Rice and during Bush administration, and now 14 months with Obama administration.

Iranian regime is not going to make any deals because they cannot.  They took over Iran by anti-Western civilization – America being the symbol of it.  And they are not going to give it up.

Indeed. Back to the talking points (the regime’s, that is). Leverett — and his regime pals — have a larger goal in mind: the U.S. must simply retreat. “What does Iran need to do to signal – look, I think that, in itself, reflects a certain mindset that the United States is still the hegemonic power that it was in the 1990s and can basically dictate the terms by which problem states realign with the United States. You know, that model might have worked with Libya – I was involved to some degree in that process, think that it was a very successful outcome for the United States.  It’s not going to work with Iran.”

You get the picture. Makes one’s blood run a bit cold, doesn’t it — to hear the rhetoric of the butchers of Tehran articulated through an American mouthpiece with such stunning sincerity? Really, who are we to say Iran can’t have its nuclear program?

The polls, which show that the public is perfectly supportive of trading off aspects of the nuclear program that might be purely weapons-related in return for better relations with the United States, but they do not see uranium enrichment fuel cycle activities in that light.  That is seen as something that Iran has a right to do.  It is part of Iran becoming a technically modern and advanced society.  And I don’t think there is any political appetite or support in Iran, at this point, for giving up uranium enrichment.

The regime continues to say, the government continues to say to its own people that this is a peaceful nuclear program.  Iran does not have nuclear weapons, does not want nuclear weapons, and that Shia Islam forbids the acquisition of nuclear weapons.  But I think that there is very, very broad popular support for the nuclear program, including fuel cycle activities.

The mullahas must be delighted. All their points covered, all their arguments made. Look how their visit with Leverett and his wife has paid off!

Read Less




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