Wednesday, December 18, 2013

An Open Letter To U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, My Former Student, On Iran

Dear Rep. Rogers:

Since you are were one of my students at Adrian College,  I have naturally followed your career with great interest.  Of all my students, you have been the most successful in elective politics,  and I can see real possibility of higher office for you. 

As chairman of the House Intelligence Committee you have been very prominent, and only yesterday  on C-SPAN I saw you discussing current negotiations with Iran

As you know,  bills being considered  in Congress would increase economic sanctions while the negotiations are still going on—hardly a way to enable even well-intentioned  Iranian leaders to get to yes.    And they would require any final agreement to be so harsh that it would be impossible for any Iranian leader to agree to it.  Unfortunately, it appears that you currently support these bills, which would destroy President Obama’s ability to negotiate a reasonable deal with Iran

In your interview last night you said that the preliminary confidence-building agreement with Iran could make it impossible to impose more sanctions if the negotiations fail or if agreement is reached but the Iranians build atomic weapons anyway.   But if Congress makes it impossible to negotiate a reasonable deal,  this too may burn some bridges that we cannot get back across later. 

You cited evidence of bad Iranian behavior in the past,  but did not address the serious possibility that the election of President Rouhani signals a serious effort to restore good relations with the United States and Europe in the future.

Congressman Rogers,  what if you are wrong?  What if Iranian leaders have decided that Iran would be better off as a “little China”—a country with rapidly increasing prosperity and welfare for its talented people---than as a “Big North Korea”---a destitute outlaw regime brandishing atomic bombs against its neighbors?  What if, like Mikhail Gorbachev,  Mr. Rouhani is a real reformer committed to developing good relations with the rest of the world?       

Of course all possible policies have potential downsides.  Even a reasonable deal with teeth in it may leave Iran with ultimate ability to make atomic bombs.  On the other hand sabotaging  negotiations would undermine Iranian reformers.  It would increase the danger that we will have to choose between accepting Iranian atomic weapons or attacking that country militarily. 

You are well aware that a “limited” or “surgical” air strike could not do the job.  To guarantee that Iran can't produce atomic weapons would require a massive, bloody and expensive military occupation of the entire country, the overthrow of the regime and the forcible repression of prolonged insurgent-style nationalist resistance to the occupation. To incur these costs because Iran might develop and use atomic weapons makes no sense and would never get the necessary sustained support from Americans or our allies.

The only alternative to such an invasion and occupation would be to use atomic weapons on Iran,  which would kill millions and is unthinkable if done pre-emptively.

In the end we would have to rely on deterrence, employing atomic weapons as a regrettable necessity only in response to actual Iranian use of such weapons.  If a negotiated deal went bad we would be in no worse a position, whereas successful negotiations could get us to a much better relationship with Iran

I hope very much that you will reconsider your support of Congressional efforts to derail these negotiations, negotiations which at worst can do little harm and at best could produce a much better world for all of us. 


Paul F. deLespinasse


This piece has appeared in the Adrian, Michigan Daily Telegram.

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