Honesty Is Job One

Dan Drezner takes issue with Richard Clarke’s NYTimes piece on Iran. Says the Drez:

would think that this would be the right moment for Clarke, a genuine
expert on this question, to introduce his own thoughts on the matter.
Instead, we get a “national dialogue” cop-out. That’s a close second
behind “mobilize political willpower” on the list of Grand and
Meaningless Policy Proposals.

Before March 2003, I would
have been with Drezner on this one. But whatever you think of Iraq, it
has shown the Bush White House to be more hostile towards honest
national dialogue than any modern wartime leader. Facts were fudged, the most reasonable critics were called unpatriotic, reality was ignored, and accountability was dispensed with completely.
This was all allowed to happen, of course, because the American people
were persuaded that Iraq/Al-Qaeda/terrorism/totalitarianism presented a
life-ending, all-consuming, gut-busting, screaming threat to every
American and their 2.3 cute, blue-eyed children. I don’t know if we’re
going to try to engage Iran militarily, but if we are, Clarke has
absolutely the right idea: Job number one has to be setting the stage
for an honest debate.

Clarke doesn’t just want “an honest national dialogue.” He says:

we need an honest national dialogue now on how much we feel threatened
by Iran and what the least-bad approaches to mitigating that threat are.

what Clarke calls for: An honest assessment of how big a threat Iran
represents, and a realization that some strategies to disarm them could
wind up doing us more harm than good in the process. These are two
components that were absolutely absent from our dialogue on Iraq, and I
think you’d be hard-pressed to argue that we haven’t suffered for it.
So I guess Drezner can call Clarke’s op-ed a cop-out if he wants to.
Personally, I’m embarassed that Clarke even had to point out that an
honest national dialogue might be a good thing. But the fact is, he
did. If you don’t think so, just look behind you.

- Daniel A. Munz