Look Who Wants Some Preconditions Now

From WaPo:

In recent interviews, advisers to Ahmadinejad said the new U.S. administration would have to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq, show respect for Iran’s system of rule by a supreme religious leader, and withdraw its objections to Iran’s nuclear program before it can enter into negotiations with the Iranian government.

“The U.S. must prove that their policies have changed and are now based upon respecting the rights of the Iranian nation and mutual respect,” said Mojtaba Samareh Hashemi, the president’s closest adviser.

This quotation from the article is getting along a buzz:

“People who put on a mask of friendship, but with the objective of betrayal, and who enter from the angle of negotiations without preconditions, are more dangerous,” Hossein Taeb, deputy commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, said Wednesday, according to the semiofficial Mehr News Agency.

It’s important to remember that Ahmadinejad is really just the mouthpiece for the Revolutionary Guards, one of the three factions in Iranian politics (reformers, conservatives, revanchist revolutionaries).  Obviously the reformers are a go on talks.  The Revolutionary Guards want to axe the possibility because it could very likely cause them a mass decrease in power (if a deal is set their future goose is cooked).  The question really is the Conservative Faction and most especially the Supreme Leader.  They hold the balance of power and can tip it in either direction.

The line about recognizing the Ayatollah leadership as a precondition most likely comes from that faction.  They are doing their bargaining in public beforehand.  Recall the line about how dealing with Iranian leaders is like dealing with Iranian carpet sellers.  Their first offer, whatever it is, you reject and threaten to walk out.

I think Obama might have rattled their collective Persian cages a bit with his line about them in his frist press conference.   Watching this one will be VERY interesting.  Mouse meet the new cat.  [Note to Feline-in-Chief: You have to wait until after the Iranian presidential elections next year for major negotiations].

Friedman on Iran

Mother and child Khouzestan Province Southern Iran.  Photo under Creative Commons License from Flick-er Mahi Teshneh (she’s got some beautiful work, check it out).

Really sharp op-ed this morning by Thomas Friedman, hooking up an option to negotiate from strength vis a vis Iran with his theory of petropolitics (that regimes are undermined during lower oil prices).

Here is why Iran was never the existential threat that McCain and Crew keep trying to make it out to be:

Under Ahmadinejad, Iran’s mullahs have gone on a domestic subsidy binge — using oil money to cushion the prices of food, gasoline, mortgages and to create jobs — to buy off the Iranian people. But the one thing Ahmadinejad couldn’t buy was real economic growth. Iran today has 30 percent inflation, 11 percent unemployment and huge underemployment with thousands of young college grads, engineers and architects selling pizzas and driving taxis. And now with oil prices falling, Iran — just like the Soviet Union — is going to have to pull back spending across the board. Fasten your seat belts.

Everything in foreign policy is not economic, but economics is part of everything.  The neocons have no sense of the global economy (see their response to Russia-Georgia).  Economics is part of every FP scenario.  They simply don’t get that fact.  And it leads them to hype powers who may be crumbling from within.

Published in: on October 29, 2008 at 9:04 am  Leave a Comment  
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Sullivan on Bipartisan Policy on Iran

Andrew Sullivan links to the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Recent Report on Iran-US relations.

Sullivan is against bombing and for engagement but his interpretation at the end I find wanting:

My core belief is that the Iranian people are on our side. The key is to somehow leverage them against their repulsive regime. It’s going to be very hard and very treacherous. But it’s the biggest national security challenge facing the next president.

It’s certainly true that the Iranian population (even post-Iraq) is the most pro-American population in the Middle East.  They are not Arabs, have a separate history and culture, have strong ties to the US via ex-pat families in the US (US pop culture is strong in Iran).

But Sulllivan goes astray when he states that the key is to “leverage” the population against the regime.  Granted the regime is repulsive and abhorrent.  But people do not exist for them to be used as leverage for our goals.  Especially in this case.  Nothing would more quickly hurt the chances of indigenous Iranian reformers than being seen as a fifth column for the US.

The issue is to deal with the regime, to see if the 30 years of bad blood (the hostages, the CIA murdering their president/overthrowing their government/backing the brutal Shah) can be buried.  The regime is given a clear choice between change of behavior and good to come from it (i.e. regime change off table, entrance into world banking system, recognition of their role as regional power, esp. in Iraq) OR war.

If you want sanctions, then target them at the big wigs, the elites with the military-industrial-clerical complex that is Iran.  Don’t target the population.  Putting the squeeze on them is not likely to start a revolution against the regime.  The regime is embedded very deeply.  They have to be dealt with and then a policy of containment, connectivity, and watch the system collapse.

And #2 contra Sullivan, the biggest national security threat facing the next president is Pakistan (not Iran) in terms of foreign policy and domestically possible catastrophic cascading failure in the economic sector leading to massive violence in the streets and/or the possibility of security breakdowns around non-linear climate events.

Reading Khamenei

New publication by Carnegie scholar Karim Sadjadpour.  Sadjadpour does what no one has done before–write a book based on Supreme Leader Khamenei’s writings and speeches.

Here is the link to video (and transcript) of a talk he gives on the book at the Carnegie Endowment.

Khamenei is the real power in Iran.  He uses Ahmadinejad to create some controversy/tough talk whenever the West threatens more action against the country.

Sadjadpour’s analysis is both in certain more fear-inducing and yet more hopeful (more realistically hopeful) than the media narrative.

He focuses on three issues with Khamenei:  relationship with US, Israel, and the nuclear issue.

1)US=deep, abiding contempt.  Not surprising:  he is still as Sadjadpour points out caught in the fights of the 60s/70s (sound famiilars in US pol contexts).  Khamenei when he was the understudy of Khomenei was imprisoned and tortured multiple times by the Savak, the CIA-trained security services of the Shah.  So the feeling is personal.

The really important point is that Khamenei sees (correctly in my mind) the policy as regime change and no change of external behavior would matter–unless regime change is taken off the table.

2)Israel=Similar deep contempt which Sadjadpour finds in some ways inexplicable.  [This is not the same as Iran is just waiting to bomb Israel the second it gets its hand, if and when, on a nuclear weapon]. For a great book on the Israeli-Iranian relations, cf Trita Parshi’s Treacherous Alliance.  During the time of the Shah of course, Iran and Israel were deeply allied.  Even after The Islamic Revolution, during the Iran-Iraq War, Iran and Israel had a backrooom anti-Saddam alliance.

vis a vis Israel, Khamenei would like to see a one-state solution (and not via cleansing of the Israelis) but rather a referendum, which given the larger number of Palestinians, he thinks would come out as to undo the (in Khamenei’s eyes) Zionist regime.  Tehran is the only city in the world essentially where the synaoguges are not protected/bunkered in.  Even here in Vancouver, the Synagogues are all highly gated, securitized.

Sadjadpour sees Khamenei’s anti-Israeli state stance as the biggest roadbloack to US-Iranian relations.

3)Nuclear issue.  Sadjadpour here thinks (as opposed to the other two) that either Khamenei is flat out lying or totally misinformed (which seems impossible).  Khamenei focuses on the themes of self-sufficiency, economic and religious justice, and the nuclear issue hits upon all of those–including the famously easily piqued Iranian self-identity.

Lastly on what to do vis a vis Iran.  Sadjadpour is not naive about how hard negotiations will be.  Unless something were to happen Khamenei, he is the leader for the near future.  Sadjadpour argues that after his death, if the Islamic Republic still holds (which I think is well entrenched at this point), there will be No One single Supreme Leader but a Council.

Attacks on Iran would be a disaster.  Iran’s popluation is still the most pro-American population in the Middle East.  And an attack would be only one of two things that would save Ahmadinejad’s presidency according to Sadjadpour.  The other would be talks BEFORE the Presidential Elections in Iran in June 2009.  So for those who support the talks–as in a Presidential level (e.g. Obama)–only after the elections.

Khamenei does not believe Iran can show any weakneess (sound familiar?) by giving into pressure.  So the regime change has to be off the table.  Deal with Khamenei (forget Ahmadinejad).  And offer carrots and not just sticks and go big or go home (or to war?).  Bury the hatchets, everything on the table.

Khamenei made a speech recently in which he stated, “The day Americans relations prove beneficial to Iran, I will be the first to approve it.”

The deal is to be struck, but not until after Ahmadinejad loses the presidential election.  Which minus the bombing scenario (either US or Israel–the all about certain McCain outcome) and dumbly wading into quickly on diplomacy (the Obama trap), he will lose next year.  Then the iron will be hot as Conservatives and Reformers (as opposed to the Radicals in the Ahmadinejad camp) will align to make a deal and Khamenei has signaled publicly he will back it.  Under the right conditions.

Click the link below for the pdf of Sadjadpour’s thesis (really excellent):sadjadpour_iran_final2

Here is a list of his articles/op-eds on Iran.

Today’s Scare the Bleep Out of You Opinion on Bombing Iran

A twofer today one from Marty Peretz in The New Republic who links to this op-ed in the NyTimes by Benny Morris.

Both articles assert that Israel is heading towards an attack with Iran. That the consensus across the Israeli political spectrum is bombs away. [There are other reports which state that the Israelis are hampered by needing US air-space which the US may not grant.]

There a number of assumptions, each and every one of which you must think correct go down the bombs away road of Peterz/Morris.

1)Iran isn’t doing what they say they are doing (which is build peaceful nuclear energy not a bomb).


No one is especially eager for a military assault on Iran’s maturing nuclear capacity. But almost no one doubts that Iran wants that capacity to be military, and so everyone rational is forced into thinking about how to curb–better yet, destroy–that appetite.

Starting off a sentence with “no one is especially eager for a military assault” inevitably leads to “but I will lay out the case for doing so nonetheless.” True to form is Peretez. Now the “almost no one” who doubts Iran’s nuclear ambition would be The UN Atomic Energy Agency and the US National Intelligence Estimate, but never mind that.

2)So assuming one is true (FSOA) the next assumption is economic sanctions won’t work (which I actually think is correct). Because there is no carrot involved. The sticks are either sanctions are we bomb you. Not exactly a great bargaining offer.

3)Taking regime change off the table, i.e. Grand Diplomatic Bargain could never work. They don’t even raise the possibility that this could even be countenanced, much less the need to criticize this approach, assuming as all like-minded “rational” people pushing civilian deaths as a way to stop er civilian deaths

4)A bombing could work:


Bombing the atomic facilities, dispersed and underground, would not be easy. But my information tells me that it is eminently doable.

Ah yes that great font of (secret) knowledge: my information.  But two can play at the this game for “my information” (which I got from The Google) tells me differently.


The consensus of which I write has emerged due to the failure of international diplomacy and coercion to do the job. The Israeli consensus is also exactly what a consensus is supposed to be: more or less, across the board.

In true hawk fashion the “international diplomacy” in question consisted of essentially all sticks (no carrots) and never bargaining in good faith. Never dealing with the issues the countries actually have to deal with–in other words, there was no diplomacy. It was never tried with any effort or intention. Other than do what we say and then we won’t sanction and/or bomb you to smithereens.

Morris has a decidedly even more deranged/pessimistic view of the matter.

The problem is that Israel’s military capacities are far smaller than America’s and, given the distances involved, the fact that the Iranian sites are widely dispersed and underground, and Israel’s inadequate intelligence, it is unlikely that the Israeli conventional forces, even if allowed the use of Jordanian and Iraqi airspace (and perhaps, pending American approval, even Iraqi air strips) can destroy or perhaps significantly delay the Iranian nuclear project.

But he still says they should give it the green light. (No matter!!!). The results of which are (I s–t you not) the double bank shot theory that this failed first bombing run will bring forth a massive Iranian counter attack which will then give Israel the grounds to (wait for it) DROP NUKES ON IRAN. [Remembering this is the “liberal” NyTimes that printed this horror].

The other option after the failed bombing would be like every other country in the post-nuclear age to live with MAD (mutually assured destruction). Nukes=ending great power war.

But that leads to Assumption #5, the Iranian regime consists of crazy irrational Muslims so this won’t work (they are too mad for MAD as it were):

Benny Morris (my italics):

Given the fundamentalist, self-sacrificial mindset of the mullahs who run Iran, Israel knows that deterrence may not work as well as it did with the comparatively rational men who ran the Kremlin and White House during the cold war. They are likely to use any bomb they build, both because of ideology and because of fear of Israeli nuclear pre-emption. Thus an Israeli nuclear strike to prevent the Iranians from taking the final steps toward getting the bomb is probable. The alternative is letting Tehran have its bomb. In either case, a Middle Eastern nuclear holocaust would be in the cards.

Yeah those rational men like Khruschev who smacked a shoe on the desk and yelled “We will bury you.” If only we some rational dudes like that in Iran things would be peachy. WTF? Double and Triple WTF?

I mean, gee whiz if only….

Alternatively, if the views of Benny Morris do in fact in any way shape or form mirror those of the supposed Israeli gov’t/military consensus, then buy your stock in oil now (it’s gonna jump big time) and get Rapture Ready for the apocalypse will be at hand.

Update I: For the reader wanting more, I recommend Joe Klein’s takedown of Morris.

Published in: on July 21, 2008 at 2:21 pm  Comments (5)  
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The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) the Bush administration was pushing hard to get signed by the end of this month to leave in a place a military-diplomatic framework amenable to their view of a longer term US occupation (er “presence”) in Iraq is now officially done. Must read article from Karen DeYoung in WAPO on the subject here.

The same new resolve (so argued) by the US pro-occupation right in the Iraqi Army’s recent operations in Basra, Sadr City, Amara, Mosul is the same resolve that is causing him to call for an end to the US presence and refusing to sign a SOFA without a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops (and no permanent bases) both of which both the President and John McCain oppose.

[Extra Credit: Look for McCain to begin parroting the new right-wing talking point that this turn of event proves that we have won–the government is standing up!!! While likely continuing to send signals that he will take his own counsel on troops numbers–i.e doesn’t matter what the Iraqis think on the subject.]

While the US post-Baathist/Saddam war in Iraq failed on numerous fronts–failing to predict and/or deal with for 3 years the insurgency, jerry-rigged and failed electoral process, failing to prevent ethnic cleansing & civil war, the humanitarian disaster/refugee problem–this is the first major attack at the nerve center of the occupation by a more united Iraqi resistance.

While Bush, almost alone in his cocoon, continued to believe that a long term occupation would lead Iraq to become the beacon of democracy to the Middle East/world thereby securing his future standing in history as a late-redeemed figure (a la his hero Truman), the Iraqi government’s stance puts an end to his vision for Iraq.

It is the opening scene of Act IV of the Iraq Drama. [I=the Invasion II=The Insurgency/Gov’t III=Surge IV=Post-US draw down, i.e. “the training wheels coming off.”]

For the inside story on who was behind this new pressure, look to none other than (one of the best in the business) Gareth Porter.

And if there is any doubt who holds the power in Iraq, read this:

The statement by Rubaie came immediately after he had met with Sistani, thus confirming earlier reports that Sistani was opposed to any continuing US military presence.

The government takes its orders from the moral authority (and political power) of a cleric. I.e. Clearly it is a theocracy definitionallly (predicted by the value memetics of the country prior to invasion)

And this–Silly Bush Tricks are for Kids:

The Bush administration has had doubts in the past about the loyalties of those two Shi’ite groups and of the SIIC’s Badr Corps paramilitary organization, and it maneuvered in 2005 and early 2006 to try to weaken their grip on the Interior Ministry and the police.

By 2007, however, the Bush administration hoped that it had forged a new level of cooperation with Maliki aimed at weakening their common enemy, Muqtada al-Sadr’s anti-occupation Mahdi Army. SIIC leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim was invited to the White House in December 2006 and met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in November 2007.

As has been argued on the pages of this blog (and elsewhere) the US army was always in a militia on militia fight and was being used by the other militias for their own internal fights and never had anything to do with the US objectives for the region or ideas concerning governance/alliances. With the possible October parliamentary elections, Maliki and SIIC needed the US to help them defeat Sadr. The US having learned in the Gaza Elections that the “bad guys” would win (i.e. Sadrists) decided to ditch the pretense to fair elections and use the interim period to undercut the Sadrist movement, politically under the guise of a military-only operation.

Though even in this round of intra-Shia fighting, Maliki went with the Iranian brokered “ceasefires” with Sadr. (Ceasefires in quotes because fighting continued during the peace time). This was, as Porter demonstrates, against Gen. Petraeus’ plan to link publicly the Iranians to funding for Sadr and a larger full scale assault on the Sadrist movement.

Maliki knowing the terrain better knew I bet that such a full out attack on Sadr would only have further undermined his own parties (and his allies) chances. Their plan seems to have been some deals to gain security in some strongholds, open up some markets, and try to pull a “win the hearts and minds” strategy for electoral success. As well as undermine the capacity for Sadr and his movement to run their campaign unencumbered.

Nevertheless though Moqtada’s party may be suffering some setbacks, he is achieving his goal–ending the US occupation. His cagey embrace of the street and politics–weekly rally protests against the US occupation–and playing the role of persecuted minority for religio-political truth (in the tradition of the great Shia martyr Husayn) has put the pressure on both Sistani and Maliki to take this hard line. Even in (partial) defeat, Sadr is winning.

So now the Bush administration has been double-crossed by the other Shia parties and surprise–the two political parties funded by and started in Iran side with Iran over the US. What are the odds? Who would have seen that coming?  This is why Obama shrewdly got both Petraeus and Crocker to admit in their last Senate testimony that Iran would always have influence in Iraq and any attempt to eradicate it as a definitional plank for victory in Iraq is/was self-defeating lunacy.

All of which all of course would make for the thinking person a laughingstock of the new right wing meme that this is a sign of victory–given the cost of US dead and killed, the perfect outcome this entails for Iran and its ascendancy to regional hegemon, the massive debt the US has now bankrolled to install an Iranian-puppet regime, and the loss of international support over the mission, as well as the resurgence of al-Qaeda in Pakistan and the deterioration of Afghanistan as a result of the near absolute focus on Iraq.

But of course admitting such isn’t going to happen of course. Their entire dream (more like hallucination) of imposing some order has been unmasked.

Obama has to come out swinging on this one.  Force McCain into the corner–what does this mean for his policy?  The Iraqis clearly want a timetable–will he give one?  If not, is he simply going to keep US forces in Iraq against the will of the majority of the US populace AND the majority of the Iraqi populace AND the Iraqi government?  Not to mention the Legislative Branch of the US.

This lets Obama shift away from McCain’s stupid question about “is the surge working” to the central issue:  the occupation is unsustainable. It has been rejected by both countries populations and is putting stress on the military it can not afford. And leaves untouched the actual culprits behind the attack on the US who continue to pose a threat to US national security, clearly seeking to attack US soil (unlike any actors in Iraq).

Obama can then say he was both right about the not getting into the war in the first place and has been right in his judgment of where strategically the country has to move (draw down Iraq, focus on the Afghan-Pak border region).

War in Afghanistan

A must read post on the state of Afghanistan in the Australian. Not the kind of media coverage you would see in the US sadly.

Does this sound familiar?:

“Coalition forces are winning every battle but losing the war,” a private security consultant told me. “You can go out and kill Taliban all day long. You kill 20,000 – and there’s another 20,000 that will follow them.”


The senior ISAF commander who briefed me there last week was forthright. The conflict, as it’s being fought, cannot be won. He cites two reasons: the safe haven enjoyed by the militants and their al-Qa’ida sponsors in neighbouring Pakistan; and the rampant corruption in Afghanistan itself. “We can reduce the physical insurgency and hand over to Afghanistan,” the commander says. “It is containable, but while those two things remain, it’s not solvable. The insurgents will never beat us. We can contain it, but we can’t solve it.”

He says the best they can hope for is to “reduce it to a stalemate favourable to our side”.

And the Iraq parallels get even more destructively eerie.

1)There is not one insurgency in Afghanistan:

Another factor in the war’s intransigence is the complex nature of the insurgency. This is neither a foreign-based terrorist movement as the Afghan Government likes to claim – “garbage”, says the commander – nor a simple “Taliban insurgency”. Instead, it is “a number of parallel insurgencies”.

The players include the so-called “southern Taliban” led by Mullah Mohammed Omar, who ruled the country from 1996 to 2001; and the “northern Taliban”, led by Beitullah Mahsud, suspected of masterminding the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Mehsud is reported to have an army of 20,000 men, including countless would-be suicide bombers, at his disposal in South Waziristan, in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (a misnomer, as they are clearly out of Islamabad’s control.)

This group is closely affiliated with the network of warlord Jalalludin Haqqani, based in the eastern city of Khowst. Another player is the wily mujahed, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a 30-year veteran of the jihad, whose shelling of Kabul during the civil war of the early 1990s left the city in ruins. Hekmatyar has aligned himself with the Taliban, in an example of the murky and ever-shifting alliances that dominate the country’s political landscape.

Supporting all of them is al-Qa’ida, which, thanks to the sanctuary provided in Pakistan, has been able to successfully re-locate its headquarters after the destruction of its bases in Afghanistan. As the ISAF commander explains it, al-Qa’ida now operates as a “facilitating network”, providing money, ideology, training, recruits and weaponry to its allies.

2)Suicide bombings and road side IEDs/guerrilla insurgency is the tactic of choice rather than straight up fighting (those techniques actually learned via the guerrilla laboratory of Iraq).

3)The NATO forces are even more bunkered down than the US in Iraq pre the surge. They have therefore relied on aerial bombings, which has killed scores of Afghan innocent civilians, turning the popular street level view of NATO as going from liberator to occupier.

Now the outlines of a President Obama (as looks much more likely each day, my best guess now is 60% odds and rising) are becoming clearer. With even the PM of Iraq (h/t Newshoggers) sounding like Barack, here’s a prediction.

In a strange twist of fate, Obama has his own surge in Afghanistan (which he has long said he wants to do). Guess who is now CENTCOM Commander with emphasis on Afghanistan? You guessed it David Petraeus. Obama has Petraeus unleash his vaunted COIN counter-insurgency strategy, teaching it to NATO, to similar effect to Iraq. Who knows what happens with Pakistan as Obama seems wise enough to realize the Pakistanis are full of s–t and always have been and no “democratic” government or Dictator-lite like Musharraf is going to go after the Taliban, the tribal regions. Do we? I have no clue.

[I assume in this prediction that if the US goes in, NATO is going to follow (or at least not get in the way).]

However, bracketing the Pakistan question for a sec, as in Iraq, the central fundamental issue remains: no government. Hopefully as in Iraq, NATO can break the code on IEDs (now killing 80% of NATO troops in Afghanistan, higher casualty figures total and much higher per soldier than in Iraq) and like in post-surge Iraq reduce the number killed/wounded through these style of attacks.

But as in Iraq this will only further fragment the insurgencies (evidence here) which will work at cross-purposes to the stated goal of a unified central government. The primary difference I see however is that the Pashtun (unlike al-Qaeda in Iraq) have become the standard bearers of Pashtun resistance. The Sunni Flip/Pay off only worked in Iraq because AQI had started slaying tribal leaders and their families. Not sure this will work quite the same with the Taliban–unless they overplay their hand which is always possible I suppose.

The political issue–i.e. the only issue–will remain outstanding and then Obama may be forced with his own John McCain like moment (circa his second run for the president in 2012) of whether he pivots to a withdraw position from Afghanistan or doubles down on his own surge. If he does the latter (doubles down), BO could then have someone run to his left in 2012 (now I’m on a roll) and run the Obama script from ’08 on the Obama cum McCain 2012 version.

Obama, however, has let it be known that his primary purpose in Afghanistan and Iraq has been to eliminate al-Qaeda and leave secondarily about as best a situation as can be expected in the countries. So he’s not locked himself into the “victory” delusion mindset of the current Bushian McCainian Republicans.

Right now Obama has the center and left (and sane right) with the idea that Iraq was a failure strategically (however well fought militarily). As Iraq pull down begins and is mostly finished about halfway or 2/3 into his first term, I wonder if a new chorus will begin applying the same logic to Afghanistan?

The wild card of course in all this is the country nestled between Iraq and Afghanistan, i.e. Iran. Obama realizes that you can’t be fighting 3 wars (or 2 1/2 I guess as Iran wouldn’t be a land invasion) simultaneously. As Thomas Barnett has always said, Iran has always had a veto in Iraq. And they as well as Sistani now appear to be cashing that in.

If things with Iran get “kinetic” then all bets are off as the board is completely re-altered and then we might be headed for a political terrorist singularity beyond anyone’s ken.

Hersh on Iran

Seymour Hersh is out with another eye-scorcher of an article in the New Yorker. In this one he details how the Democratic Leadership (Intelligence Comt. plus Reid and Pelosi) signed off on beefed up secret operations inside Iran. Presumably the rest of the Senate/House (the Democratic caucus) was not aware of this happening.

More distressingly, Hersh details that the firing of Admiral Fallon, former CENTCOM Commander (replaced by Gen. Petraeus) was left largely in the dark about these operations.  Take a guess who was behind that decision?  Rhymes with Rick Heney.

From the article quoting retired Gen. Jack Sheehan (a Fallon supporter):

“The coherence of military strategy is being eroded because of undue civilian influence and direction of nonconventional military operations,” Sheehan said. “If you have small groups planning and conducting military operations outside the knowledge and control of the combatant commander, by default you can’t have a coherent military strategy. You end up with a disaster, like the reconstruction efforts in Iraq.”

Worse still the operations rely (stupidly) on the training/weaponizing of dissident ethnic groups in the country.  One problem with that strategy:

A strategy of using ethnic minorities to undermine Iran is flawed, according to Vali Nasr, who teaches international politics at Tufts University and is also a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Just because Lebanon, Iraq, and Pakistan have ethnic problems, it does not mean that Iran is suffering from the same issue,” Nasr told me. “Iran is an old country—like France and Germany—and its citizens are just as nationalistic. The U.S. is overestimating ethnic tension in Iran.” The minority groups that the U.S. is reaching out to are either well integrated or small and marginal, without much influence on the government or much ability to present a political challenge, Nasr said. “You can always find some activist groups that will go and kill a policeman, but working with the minorities will backfire, and alienate the majority of the population.”


The Administration may have been willing to rely on dissident organizations in Iran even when there was reason to believe that the groups had operated against American interests in the past. The use of Baluchi elements, for example, is problematic, Robert Baer, a former C.I.A. clandestine officer who worked for nearly two decades in South Asia and the Middle East, told me. “The Baluchis are Sunni fundamentalists who hate the regime in Tehran, but you can also describe them as Al Qaeda,” Baer told me. “These are guys who cut off the heads of nonbelievers—in this case, it’s Shiite Iranians. The irony is that we’re once again working with Sunni fundamentalists, just as we did in Afghanistan in the nineteen-eighties.” Ramzi Yousef, who was convicted for his role in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is considered one of the leading planners of the September 11th attacks, are Baluchi Sunni fundamentalists.

What could possibly go wrong with this I ask?  For an answer check out pages 5 and 6 of the article where some special ops guys say that this could immediately erase all the gains they have made in Pakistan-Afghanistan border region.  i.e. funding an al-Qaeda like group in Iran to take away any leverage against the real al-Qaeda who attacked us in Pak/Afgh leading to a possible widening/escalation of the conflict and a third front in the War on Terror.   A conflict which if ignited would lead to US war in three adjacent countries (Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq) creating what others have called a terrorist superhighway from Pakistan essentially to Israel.

I see the potential for this to end very badly.  Both Iran and the US are now working with other militias as well as using their own special forces to fight a proxy war against each other.  Iran’s goal being the expulsion of the US occupation in Iraq and its push for permanent bases in the country as a force projector in the region.  The US’ goal the overthrow of the Iranian regime.

The nuclear question is only the presenting issue at the moment for the war hawks/radicals in both countries to push the envelope and seek war.  Right now in this non-zero sum game each radical side (The Bushies and the pro-war Iranian factions, particularly in the Revolutionary Guard) are in a perverse and deadly game of mutually increasing each other’s influence.

Iran Failing in Iraq?

Image here. Iraqi Army unit with American soldiers.

Vali Nasr pens a very interesting piece today in the Washington Post here.  He argues that Iran has taken a major hit in Iraq with the offensive by Maliki against the Mahdi Army.


Iran wants U.S. forces to leave Iraq and assumes that a friendly Shiite government would then protect Iran’s interests. Tehran has looked to Gen. Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Revolutionary Guards‘ Quds Force, to manage its strategy of supporting Shiite unity and resisting American occupation. But these efforts do not go hand in hand. The first means supporting stability and state-building and working with Iraq’s government; the second involves building violent militias that undermine government authority.

For Nasr these two were in tension with voices like anti-Ahmadinejad/Revolutionary Guards Ali Larijani and Tehran Mayor Mohammed Qalibaf (likely next president of Iran) were calling for full support of the Iraqi government and the end of supporting rogue elements of the Mahdi Army.  Or not so rogue elements of the Mahdi Army according to some reports.

This points out how useless the American policy of ratcheting up pressure with Iran via Iraq has been.  The clear and obvious alliance was always pro-Shia government (not Sadr) between the two countries.

I think Vasr may overestimate the degree to which Sadr has lost out (I’ve learned never to underestimate that guy) and how this might give the US leverage to negotiate with Iran (from a position of strength–which would be fine by me, I’m for negotiations and ending this ludicrously and dangerously ignorant policy of Iranian isolation) but this sounds correct to me:

Iran still has considerable influence in Iraq. It may reconstitute the Mahdi Army and pick up the fight against America, using special groups of the type suspected in the Baghdad car bombing Tuesday. It may also try to use nationalist opposition to the U.S.-Iraq “status of forces” agreement to its advantage. But Tehran will find it difficult to regain lost turf in Baghdad or Basra, or to go back to happily supporting Shiites both at the center and in the militias. It will have to choose whether it is with the state or the sub-state actors.

As much as I have criticized Bush & Co. (rightly) for their wrongheaded position vis a vis Iran, there is also the revolutionary-expansionist wing of Iran that is a serious part of the problem (equally wanting to ratchet up for their own political ideology), the response to which I’ve always thought is that if they think they are so smart and can handle Iraq, give it to them and watch it be their Poland or Vietnam or whatever analogy you prefer.

On the other hand, there is still a fundamental inconsistency not mentioned by Nasr regarding the Maliki government.  How can the central government be strong via parties that seek regional autonomy?  Unless the government is a function of the achievement of power via militias.  The Maliki and SIIC militias may be better in terms of market reforms, women not being forced as much into Islamist garb/oppression, but there still remains the question of why the US should be inserting itself into an intra-Shia theocratic fight.  But if it does for God’s sake, make common cause with the elements of Iran that want to support this militia (over Sadr).  What you can’t have, and which we do, is the Maliki/SIIC position while maintaining the anti-Iran position thereby failing to see the parties within Iran jockeying for power and neutralizing the US ability to empower elements more to its liking.

Though of course I am forgetting, Israel’s truce with Hamas is a victory for Iran and now come to think of it, I’m an appeaser.  So you probably shouldn’t listen to what I have to say on the matter.

Published in: on June 19, 2008 at 6:19 pm  Comments (2)  
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Obama and Iran

Saw Senator Kyl (R-AZ), a big McCain supporter on Late Edition with Wolf Blizer the other morning from Managua. 

Kyl parsed Obama´s recent speech to AIPAC regarding his position on talks vis a vis Iran.  The text of his speech here.

Obama states:

We will also use all elements of American power to pressure Iran. I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. That starts with aggressive, principled diplomacy without self-defeating preconditions, but with a clear-eyed understanding of our interests. We have no time to waste. We cannot unconditionally rule out an approach that could prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. We have tried limited, piecemeal talks while we outsource the sustained work to our European allies. It is time for the United States to lead.

There will be careful preparation. We will open up lines of communication, build an agenda, coordinate closely with our allies, and evaluate the potential for progress. Contrary to the claims of some, I have no interest in sitting down with our adversaries just for the sake of talking. But as President of the United States, I would be willing to lead tough and principled diplomacy with the appropriate Iranian leader at a time and place of my choosing – if, and only if – it can advance the interests of the United States.

Kyl after reiterating some of these points (and I´m paraphrasing here) stated that is essentially what President Bush´s view is and the sane one.  And Obama is right to come to it now but that isn´t what he said before.  Then he went on with the bloody shirt he´ll talk to Ahmadinejad line.

With all due respect to the Seantor, to make clear yet again, preparing for talks is not the smae as a precondition.  Bush and McCain both have preconditions to talks with Iran.  The only talks worth having–as opposed to the limited talks the Bush administration had very briefly with Iran only over Iraq–is a bury the hatchet, all issues on the table kinda thing.  The kind Bush and now McCain say will only happen once Iran certifiably stops all nuclear enrichment (even for possible civilian nuclear power allowed in the Non-Proliferation Treaty).

That is a precondition.  Obama is not talking about preconditions but simply not going in flying blind.  And for the millionth time, he would not talk to Ahmadinejad because that dude has very little if any influence in foreign policy.  And to the degree he does (not much) it is as a mouthpiece for the Revolutionary Guard.  The very group Obama could help decrease in influence by strenghtening the hand of other actors.  e.g. Ali Larijani, former nuclear negotiator now Speaker of Parliament and huge foe of Ahmadinejad, very close to the Supreme Leader.  Or Rafsanjani.  Or Iran´s Foreign Minister or UN Ambassador, all members of the Conservative anti-Ahmadinejad group.

Now I still think along with Thomas Barnett that Iran is getting the bomb.  It would be nice if Obama offered taking regime change off the table in exchange for no nuke but the Iranians already offered that deal in ´03 and were rebuffed and the Iranians do not do no well.  Again following Barnett, given that the Iranian thing looks like a done deal who´s the better choice.  I´ll take Obama because the McCain response would clearly be as he sung, Bomb Bomb Bomb Iran.  Think oil would stay at $140/barrel with a strike on Iran?  Can you say 250-300 dollar oil?

Oh and Iran is putting mad pressure on Maliki not to sign a long term bases security agreement with the US.  Which the Iraqis don´t want, the US Congress isn´t golng to get to vote on, and the regional players are not happy with either.  Sounds like a winner to me; I´m mean what could possibly go wrong with that scenario. 




Published in: on June 10, 2008 at 11:19 am  Leave a Comment  
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