President of the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Haass, has a long history both inside and outside of government as a respected realist. But comments made by him on Fareed Zakaria GPS on Monday highlight the shift to the ideological right that this self-proclaimed “card carrying realist” has undergone when it comes to shaping US policy towards Iran.
Haass most publicly announced his shift in a Newsweek article on February 1st where he argued that, “regime change is the only way to stop Iran,’’ in effect saying that negotiations, while a useful exercise to have undergone, are not where the Obama administration should be focusing their efforts now.
In his interview with Fareed Zakaria on February 14th, Haass repeats what could only be seen as neoconservative fear-mongering by suggesting that a nuclear Iran, and the regional proliferation of nuclear weapons which would accompany that, would lead to the use of a nuclear weapon.
(The section with Haass starts at 12:25)
(A transcript can be found here.)
Haass goes so far as to assert the oft repeated neocon claim that if we don’t attack Iran then we are simply letting Israel do the US’ dirty work and that an Israeli strike is inevitable if Iran continues with their nuclear program.
‘’ We have to be serious. And I don’t think we should necessarily just hide behind Israel’s skirts. If this strategically makes sense — let’s just say, if it does — then it’s something the United States should consider doing, rather than simply hiding behind Israel. We have greater capacities than the Israelis…’’
(Bret Stephens, who was on the show with Haass, floated this idea back in September.)
But Haass makes some questionable claims about proliferation which casts serious doubt on what remain of his realist credentials.
ZAKARIA: What is the Iranian threat to the United States that would justify an American military attack?
HAASS: What is an Iranian threat? Well, the idea of a Middle East in which not simply Iran, but other countries would then likely follow suit and have nuclear weapons. The idea that that would dramatically increase the likelihood that nuclear weapons would not only be introduced in the physical sense, but used, goes up tremendously with all that means for that part of the world, access to oil and the rest.
Two commonly held assumptions of political realism are that: A.) States are rational unitary actors working towards their national interest and that, B.) The dominant national interests of all states are national security and survival.
Working under these assumptions it’s far from clear that a nuclear weapon possessing Iran, and the proliferation of nuclear weapons by countries in the region, would necessarily lead to an increased likelihood of the use of a nuclear weapon. Stephen Walt–a well established realist academic–elaborated on this last October.
While nuclear disarmament has many attractive qualities and proliferation can bring increased tensions, which can at times be violent, there is no historical basis to suggest that nuclear weapons are more likely to be used if proliferation occurs.
Historically, the only time nuclear weapons were actually used was when only one state possessed them.
Haass’ argument requires either a belief that Iran and its leadership do not value survival or security (a belief that the repression of the Green Movement and the state of unrest since the June elections would contradict) or a fundamental misreading of history since 1945.