Juan Cole shares a guest post from Thomas J. Buonomo that I want to recommend as smart, wise and good.
Buonomo suggests a promising alternative approach to the current situation between the United States and Iran. And, more broadly, Buonomo demonstrates the kind of creativity and wisdom that ought to inform our thinking in general about foreign policy and defense.
“To avoid War, Obama Should Offer Iran Renewable Energy Aid” Buonomo writes. First he outlines the situation that has led to escalating tension, bringing us closer to the possibility of war:
As Iran proceeds ahead with its nuclear program, its tensions with the United States continue to heighten over concerns that it is secretly pursuing a nuclear weapons capability.
Israelis view a nuclear‐armed Iran as an existential threat and U.S. officials are rightly concerned that nuclear weapons would give Iran coercive power over Iraq and its Arab Gulf neighbors, which are critical energy suppliers to the U.S. and its allies.
One of Iran’s ostensible reasons for wanting to develop a nuclear program is to transition to an alternative source of electricity for domestic consumption. This would purportedly free up oil and natural gas reserves for export at a higher price on the global market rather than remaining allocated to Iran’s highly subsidized domestic market. …
Buonomo then offers a way forward that offers hope for resolution without conflict:
Considering the doubtful prospect of an effective sanctions regime and the unpredictable consequences of a military strike or covert action, the Obama administration should consider offering the Iranian government an opportunity for rapprochement in the form of renewable energy technology and financial incentives to help it achieve its ostensible goals.
Iran has abundant geothermal, solar, hydroelectric and wind energy resources that could help it meet its domestic electricity demand without presenting an inherent threat to the international community. This would require substantial investment but Iranian leaders might be prepared to consider such an alternative if the U.S. and other UN Security Council states were prepared to offer it attractive financing options.
Such an initiative would demonstrate to Iran that the United States acknowledges its legitimate energy and national security interests and is willing to take meaningful steps to support its peaceful aspirations and integration into the international community in return for its abandonment of its nuclear program.
And, finally, Buonomo considers possible objections to this proposal:
… Detractors will claim that this would constitute appeasement of a hostile regime but if a carrot‐based approach fails the United States will have lost nothing. On the contrary, it will have strengthened its diplomatic position against the Iranian government, enabling it to build support for a more coercive approach.
Given the stakes, it is imperative to exhaust all options while there is still time.
That last phrase — “exhaust all options” — echoes an essential component of the just war tradition, that of “last resort.”
The use of force — war — is never justifiable unless it is the last resort. The exhaustion of all other options is a prerequisite for the use of force.
That means, among other things, that everything one can imagine must be attempted before resort to the use of force. And that, in turn, means that the final resort of force is always an indication of the failure to find or to seek other possible approaches. That failure may be a failure of imagination, or a failure of courage, or of analysis, or of intelligence — an inability or an unwillingness to think without being constrained by a limiting militarized perspective that, as the saying goes, has only a hammer and thus can’t see anything but nails.
This prerequisite of “last resort” is often sorely abused by those whose only reference to the just war tradition is as a fig leaf to rationalize whatever course they previously preferred to take. When that approach is taken, the exhaustion of all other options becomes a goal in and of itself, with those options considered only so that they can be dismissed and, therefore, be said to have been exhausted as a rationale for the preferred course of war.
Buonomo’s point is not that lawyerly and disingenuous. When he says “it is imperative to exhaust all options” his goal seems to be to find options, not to meet the technical requirement of exhaustion. He is seeking and hoping to find some other option that works — some other resort by which the failure and disaster of war can be avoided and averted.
In any case, his contribution here is to extend the list of “all options” — to add another resort that can, and therefore must, be attempted before the last resort of force can be regarded as justifiable.
This is something that can be tried. If it is not tried then we have not exhausted all options and have not reached the last resort. And if we have not reached the last resort, then the use of force is not justified.
Beyond that imperative, Buonomo’s suggestion has much to recommend it.
At the most basic level: War is a Bad Thing. Finding a way to avoid war is a Good Thing. War is always unpredictable and costly in terms of blood and treasure. Avoiding war avoids that cost. People die in wars — civilians, children, soldiers. Preventing war prevents their deaths. The particular potential war we’re discussing here — conflict with Iran — would also almost certainly lead to spikes in energy prices that would push the global economy back into deep recession. Avoiding this conflict could avoid that as well.
Less urgently, Buonomo’s suggestion also would help to promote cleaner, renewable energy. Renewable energy tends to be decentralized and subject to a greater level of local control, and that in turn could help to nurture and encourage the democratic aspects of Iranian society.
One objection might be that such a course could be viewed as rewarding bad behavior, creating an incentive for other countries to follow Iran’s example by pursuing nuclear weapons capability to leverage international assistance. (North Korea has been doing the same thing for decades now.)
Well, OK. Let’s say that happens. Imagine that, per Buonomo, the U.S. and the international community offer Iran “attractive financing options” and other technical and financial support to assist Iran to develop sustainable and renewable energy, and that in exchange for that assistance Iran renounces any pursuit of nuclear weapons and welcomes verification from international inspectors.
And then, seeing Iran thus rewarded, let’s say that every hostile, unruly, rogue or bellicose nation decides to do exactly the same thing, thereby forcing us to deal with them in the same way. The cost to the U.S. and to the rest of the international community would still be far less than the cost of invading any single one of those countries. But what would be the outcome? Every hostile, unruly, rogue or bellicose nation would have renounced the pursuit of nuclear weapons, welcoming verification from inspectors, while at the same time the world will be much further along the necessary path toward renewable and sustainable energy.
If that’s what happens when we reward bad behavior in this way, then by all means let’s hurry up and reward some bad behavior.