What to do about Iran?
All things considered...I'd rather have "Mossi"
The Eurasia Group warned this week that the nuclear stand-off with Iran was the "greatest source of political risk in 2006" and could lead to military strikes by the U.S. and/or Israel in early 2007. Readers of my column are aware that I put my own credibility as a political analyst on the line and made the same prediction this week,that "the news this year will be dominated by the growing confrontation between Washington and Tehran" (and to think that the guys in this respected international consulting group probably spent several weeks and received a lot of bucks to come up with this forecast; I won't reveal to you how much I get paid for my column...). In fact, there was a very interesting op-ed piece in Thursday's New York Times in which the two authors make very similar arguments to the ones I raised in my column, especially with regard to the perception by the Iranian leaders that the Bush Administration is lacking the political and international support to take military action against Teheran. I must say that when I read the NYT op-ed I was kind of intrigued by the possibility that the two had read my commentary.
Here is what I wrote:
Most observers are speculating that without any breakthrough in the talks with Iran, Washington will demand that the UN Security Council impose sanctions on Iran, and if the Russians and/or the Chinese decide to veto a resolution along those lines, the Bush administration will urge the Europeans and other governments to join in an embargo on technologies that Iran can use in its nuclear program. With the continuing rise in oil prices, the Iranians are now awash with oil and money, while the Russians, the Chinese, and probably the Indians remain important trade partners for the Iranians and can be expected to reject a U.S. call to isolate Iran and to continue to make major economic deals with Tehran on energy and arms.
And here is how they put it:
The new president also surely knows that even if Iran's nuclear dossier is referred to the United Nations Security Council, meaningful multilateral sanctions against the Islamic Republic will most likely be vetoed by Russia or China. Flush with petrodollars, Iran has become a major purchaser of Russian technology, including roughly $1 billion worth of allegedly defensive weapons that Moscow recently agreed to sell to Tehran. Meanwhile, China, seizing on Iran as a key producer of oil and gas not beholden to the United States, has quickly emerged as one of Iran's largest trading partners.
Well, never mind... The point is that Dariush Zahedi and Omid Memarian stress that while Iran has many diplomatic and military cards to play with in a confrontation with the United States (including, as I suggested in my piece, creating even more instability in Iraq through the help of Iran's shiite allies there), the Americans have the potential power to, well, "Iraqize" Iran:
Just as Iran can use the Shiite card to create mischief in the region, the United States could manipulate ethnic and sectarian tensions in Iran, which has significant, largely Sunni, minority populations along its borders.
Many of Iran's ethnic and religious minorities see themselves as victims of discrimination, and they have not been effectively integrated into Iranian economic, political or cultural life. Some two million disgruntled Arabs reside mainly in the oil- and gas- rich province of Khuzestan. The United States could make serious trouble for Tehran by providing financial, logistical and moral support to Arab secessionists in that province. Other aggrieved Iranian minorities would be emboldened by the Arabs' example - for example, the Kurds and the Baluchis, or even the Azeris (though the Azeris, being Shiites, are better integrated into Iranian society). A simple spark could suffice to set off centrifugal explosions.
So let's see... The Bush Administration is going to provide political and military support to the members of the Arab-Sunni minority in Iran and others (Kurds, Baluchis, Azeris) to help ignite a civil war in Iran (does Congress know about this? Or are we going to learn about these great ideas after the next war?), which will lead to the disintegration of the country, spreading instability and chaos in the entire region, which will force the United States to deploy the troops (it doesn't have) to invade Iran, not to mention the destruction of the oil-producing facilities in Iran which will certainly lead to huge rise in oil prices? Are these the cards with which the Americans are playing? I doubt that. But who knows? These are the same guys that expected "liberators" to be greeted with flowers in Iraq.
The NYT op-ed concludes that a military confrontation between the two countries would produce catastrophic outcomes to everyone involved and recommends direct talks between Washington and Teheran instead of continuing to contract the negotiations with the Iranians to the EU3.
Indeed, in an article I published in the American Conservative last year I called on President Bush to do a Nixon-Goes-to-China with regard to Iran. Here are the first few paragraphs:
Once upon a time there was a Third World nation in Asia with an ancient and magnificent civilization in which the centers of power were dominated by ideologues resolutely opposed to the values of democracy and who espoused a vicious anti-American agenda. The heads of that rogue regime stirred up hatred towards the U.S. by fueling revolutionary sentiments at home while providing aid to anti-American guerrillas abroad as part of what was regarded as a global ideological confrontation.
It was not surprising, therefore, that the Republican administration and lawmakers of the two major parties, backed by a key lobby representing foreign interests, were promoting a policy that called for overthrowing that anti-American regime and replacing it with one that was friendly to the United States. Indeed, Washington under Democratic and Republican administrations alike had refrained from maintaining a diplomatic relationship with that Asian government and led an international effort to isolate it.
But resisting political pressure, the tough-minded president and his realpolitik foreign-policy advisors decided that, based on American’s geopolitical interests, the U.S. had to launch a diplomatic initiative aimed at engaging that Asian adversary. The need to contain common strategic threats and to end a bloody regional war gave birth to a major diplomatic coup that helped strengthen America’s international position for years to come ...
This reads very much like the diplomatic opening of China in the early 1970s. But is it possible that in a few years it could also be the way historians will describe changes taking place in the relationship between the U.S. and a Third World country in North Asia, Iran?
Students of International Relations 101 explore that amazing Nixon-goes-to-China chapter in American diplomatic history as a classic example of realpolitik. This school of thought assumes that nations advance their interests vis-à-vis other nations based on a realistic examination of the military, political, and economic balance of power. Governments may disagree over values that drive their respective national politics, but that should not set obstacles on their ability to work together to advance their common interests.
Indeed, according to a historian of the Sino-American relationship, James Mann, Richard Nixon and his National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger, who initiated the opening to Beijing, gave Chinese leaders a clear message that the United States was not going to be involved in China’s domestic politics. When China’s Chou En-lai tried to talk to Kissinger about the wave of violence (also known as the Cultural Revolution) that radical elements in the Chinese Communist Party were leading, Kissinger said that the United States had no interest in China’s affairs at home—and now let’s get to the business of battling the Russian Bear.
This is not the kind of response that a member of the Islamist movement that controls Iran would receive from the Bush administration, which seems more committed to idealistic Wilsonian principles than the traditional realistic policies advanced by Nixon and Kissinger. “Our security is not merely found in spheres of influence or some balance of power,” President Bush declared about the need to use American power to pursue American ideals—as opposed to hard U.S. interests—during his address to the UN.
Read the rest of the article in the above link, and consider the following: I think that it was a good advice on my part but my guess is that it's getting too late for Bush to "Go to Tehran." Contrary to the neconseravtive fantasies, the Iranians, in a mostly open elections (unlike in Saudi Arabia, our ally, women do vote in Iran) had not chosen as their president a "moderate" figure who subscribes to the Weekly Standard but someone who is probably the Iranian equivalent of our own Pat Robertson. I still don't believe that we are going to go to war with the Iranians, but John Bolton is going to get very busy in the next months.