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Sunday, February 13, 2005

The War with Iran

Back in August 2004, Rush Limbaugh alleged We're Fighting Iran in Iraq.
Iraq happens to be the surrogate for us and the surrogate for Iran right now. Iraq is the surrogate for both sides, if you look at it this way. Our side reasons -- that we can disarm the (story) weapons of mass destruction in Iran, that we can stop the export of terrorism from Iran, if we can do this, we can end the sanctuary for Al-Qaeda in Iran by succeeding in Iraq. Or at least by getting started with our success in Iraq.

Now, Iran on the other hand knows that it will have a freer hand with weapons, with terrorism, with Al-Qaeda if their surrogates can stop us in Iraq. The Iranian field general, if you will the current field general, this so-called cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr.
Nor was Rush unique in stating this position Hubert London writing for Benadora Associates in June 2004 said much the same:
Iraq is the first step in forestalling Iran. We must realize that and realize as well that this is a regional war in a high stakes effort. To fight half-heartedly won't send the appropriate message. There is much more at stake here than some barren desert land.

The future of mankind is contained in this cradle of civilization. History has anointed the United States as global protector. We cannot shun this responsibility. In fact, as I see it, there isn't any alternative other than defeating Iranian extremists and radical Islamists so that we can win the war on terror.
Others have noticed, too

Newsweek, apparently no grasping that we are already at war with Iran, in January 2005 posed the question Is Iran next?

On The Counterterrorism Blog Larry C. Johnson proclaims"Iran's Great Victory" in that
After twenty years of trying to contain the Government of Iran, the biggest sponsor of terrorism against the United States, we are on the threshhold of creating the second Shia state in the Middle East and opening the door for Iran to consolidate its position as the preeminent military power in the region.
This analysis is based on a Shia victory in the recent elections, which puts the U.S. in the position of fighting against Sunni Muslims while helping to establish a new Shia state:
If, in the coming days, the United States led coalition presses the battle against the Sunni insurgents we will find ourselves acting on behalf of the interests of the Government of Iran at the same time we are threatening Iran for pursuing nuclear technologies that could be developed into weapons. This may be a new definition of Schizophrenia.
Again, the assumption is that an Arab Iraqi Shiite majority state will be an extension of the Persian Iranian Shiite state.

I have found no one else quite as negative as Mr. Johnson (though he may well be correct). Instead, the underlying premise has been that a democratic Muslim state (Shia or otherwise) on the border with Iran may cause the population of Iran to topple the "mad mullahs" without the need of a U.S. led invasion. On the other hand, as I have noted before , having access to Iran from Iraq simplifies matters should a coalition decide to engage Iran. Iran is difficult because it is relatively large, and most of it vital areas are hard to get to because of terrain and distance problems.
But Iran is in some ways a more complicated target than Iraq. It is four times as big and has three times as many people. Most experts consider a full-scale ground invasion impossible. More likely, most regional and proliferation experts believe, would be a bombing campaign to destroy the nuclear materials.

According to Kenneth Pollack, a former National Security Council official in the Clinton administration who supported the attack on Iraq, an air campaign against Iran would have to last 30 days and would be in serious danger of not eliminating Iran's nuclear capability because of its many sites. Such a campaign, he and other experts say, would be likely to unite the Iranian populace, now largely alienated from its government, behind its radical religious leaders and might prove counterproductive.

Other experts, such as John Pike, director of the Web site, say the administration has no choice but to bomb Iran before the end of next year. If they don't, he says, Israel will, and that would further inflame the Middle East conflict.

"Israel finds the idea of atomic ayatollahs unacceptable," said Pike, an expert on defense and intelligence policy. The Israelis "know terrible things can happen. It [an Iranian attack] may be unthinkable to a bunch of tree huggers here in Washington, but Israel views it very differently."
Newsday: Disarming Option in Iran

Meanwhile, Iran has entered into energy deals with China
China's oil giant Sinopec Group has signed a $70 billion oil and natural gas agreement with Iran.

The deal is China's biggest energy agreement with one of the major Opec producers, the Chinese news agency Xinhuanet reported.

Under a memorandum of understanding signed on Thursday, Sinopec Group will buy 250 million tonnes of liquefied natural gas over 30 years from Iran and develop the giant Yadavaran field, said the news agency.

Iran is also committed to export 150,000 barrels per day of crude oil to China for 25 years at market prices after commissioning of the field.

Iran's oil minister, Bijan Zanganeh, who is on a two-day visit to Beijing to pursue closer ties, said Iran is China's biggest oil supplier and wants to be its long-term business partner.

As noted elsewhere, China is already taking steps to protect this oil flow by building up strategic sea lanes. In fact, one can make the argument that China's interest in the Spratleys and the southernmost Japanese islands, in addition to being about any natural resources there present, also completes a sea line of communication. See the following map for areas where China is actively interested:

Why do I raise China? Iran needs a powerful "ally" to help keep the West from taking action. What better alliance than with the massive land power in Asia? Especially one that needs massive amounts of oil and gas to keep it growing economy going?
Just one of those potentially nasty complicating factors.

What next? The U.S. has been relying on the Europeans to convince Iran that it has no need for nuclear weapons, but it appears the Mullahs believe that they need such weapons, either as a deterrant or as an offensive threat with which to "blackmail" the world into submission to its will in the Middle East. As John Pike notes, Israel is another complicating factor.

For now, the best U.S. hope is that the Iranian people will, after observing the freedom of the Iraqis and the Afghans, will throw off the yoke of the Mullahs and develop their own free and democratic state. As Tom Friedman wrote in the Feb 10, 2005 NY Times:
Democrats do not favor using military force against Iran's nuclear program or to compel regime change there. That is probably wise. But they don't really have a diplomatic option. I've got one: Iraq. Iraq is our Iran policy.

If we can help produce a representative government in Iraq - based on free and fair elections and with a Shiite leadership that accepts minority rights and limits on clerical involvement in politics - it will exert great pressure on the ayatollah-dictators running Iran. In Iran's sham "Islamic democracy," only the mullahs decide who can run. Over time, Iranian Shiites will demand to know why they can't have the same freedoms as their Iraqi cousins right next door. That will drive change in Iran. Just be patient.

The war on terrorism is a war of ideas. The greatest restraint on human behavior is not a police officer or a fence - it's a community and a culture. Palestinian suicide bombing has stopped not because of the Israeli fence or because Palestinians are no longer "desperate." It has stopped because the Palestinians had an election, and a majority voted to get behind a diplomatic approach. They told the violent minority that suicide bombing - for now - is shameful.

What Arabs and Muslims say about their terrorists is the only thing that will protect us in the long run. It takes a village, and the Iraqi election was the Iraqi village telling the violent minority that what it is doing is shameful. The fascist minority in Iraq is virulent, and some jihadists will stop at nothing. But the way you begin to drain the swamps of terrorism is when you create a democratic context for those with good ideas to denounce those with bad ones.

Egypt and Syrian-occupied Lebanon both have elections this year. Watch how the progressives and those demanding representative government are empowered in their struggle against the one-man rulers in Egypt and Syria - if the Iraqi experiment succeeds.

We have paid a huge price in Iraq. I want to get out as soon as we can. But trying to finish the job there, as long as we have real partners, is really important - and any party that says otherwise will become unimportant.

Beyond that, the options become unpleasant to contemplate.

One thing must be clear to the Iranians. Any use of a nuclear weapon will bring a swift and terrible answer.

We must win in Iraq to win the war with Iran.

Update: Iraqi electionresults (Powerline) .
Turnout was a terrific 60%. The Shiite-backed slate (which also includes Sunnis and others) led with 48% of the vote; the Kurdish list got 26%, and interim Prime Minister Allawi's party received 14%. Seats in the new Assembly will be more or less proportional to the vote; somewhat remarkably, I think, only twelve coalitions will be represented in the Assembly.

Update2: The Debka File counters The Counterterrorism Blog pessimism with this:
A public debate is bedeviling the Bush administration over whether the current occupant of the White House helped establish another fundamentalist Shiite regime in the Middle East, this time by fostering Iraq’s first free elections.

The United States is still haunted by the memory of how the newly-established Islamic Republic of Iran under its revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini interfered in the 1980 US presidential election - and effectively cost Jimmy Carter a second term - by delaying the release of US hostages seized in the American embassy in Tehran until Ronald Reagan’s inauguration.

America has stumbled before in rushing to promote regime change in a troubled region. The Taliban was fostered to boot the Red Army out of Afghanistan. Later, these fundamentalists became a key factor in al Qaeda’s September 11, 2001 attacks in New York and Washington and were subsequently booted out themselves in a second regime change in Kabul.

Washington will find reassurance in the election results released Sunday. The vote reduced the prospects of Iraq becoming an Iran-style theocracy, for the time being. Sistani will certainly fight for a constitution that places the Sharia above secular legislation – or at the very least one that confirms Iraq’s Islamic identity - but he is not as fanatical as his peers in Tehran about the creation of an Islamic republic.

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