February 13, 2005 | New Republic

Contra Iran

In quoting my bewilderment as to what policy Washington should adopt to prevent Iran's theocrats from obtaining nuclear weapons, Franklin Foer neglects to mention that I was endeavoring to avoid a discussion of the merits of various policy options because I was waiting for the Committee on the Present Danger (CPD), with which I am associated, to complete a white paper on the issue (“Identity Crisis,” December 20, 2004-January 10, 2005). The paper is now available at www.fightingterror.org. Foer also says that members of the CPD” heatedly debated” that paper. To the best of my knowledge, the debate was lively and collegial–not heated.
As Foer appreciates, “neocon” is a very loose label. These days, it is generally applied to those who believe that, first, American power can be a force for good, and, second, that encouraging democracy and freedom in the Middle East is both possible and necessary to safeguard the nation's long-term interests. Within that broad strategic framework, there are bound to be disagreements over tactics. Even so, I think Foer is correct to argue that neoconservatives have “divided minds” where Iran is concerned. But I suspect that, were there full agreement among those at such institutes as the CPD, the Project for the New American Century, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, we would have been portrayed as rigid ideologues marching in lockstep. (Or am I paranoid–as well as schizophrenic?) Finally, Iran presents a serious problem to which there may be no good solutions, only solutions that are less bad. It is not merely in recent years that the question of what to do about Iran has been deferred. Iranian Islamism first challenged the United States and the West in 1979, but for a quarter-century, one administration after another kicked that can down the road.

Couldn't that be the reason that neither neocons nor others have easy answers now?

Clifford D. May
President, Foundation for the Defense of Democracies