The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The “I” Words

Iran and Iraq. Many politicians and the MSM give us the impression that each can be considered separately. From the left we hear calls to withdraw from Iraq as quickly as possible, and at the same time, calls for negotiation directly with the Mullahs to convince them to give up their nuclear ambitions. From the right, we hear arguments against precipitous withdrawal from Iraq and warnings that a nuclear Iran threatens worldwide security.

In an extremely well thought-out treatment of Iran and Iraq, STRATFOR suggests the following in its weekly newsletter:
A military solution to the U.S. dilemma [in Iraq] has not been in the cards for several years. The purpose of military operations was to set the stage for political negotiations. But the Americans had entered Iraq with certain expectations. For one thing, they had believed they would simply be embraced by Iraq's Shiite population. They also had expected the Sunnis to submit to what appeared to be overwhelming political force. What happened was very different. First, the Shia welcomed the fall of Saddam Hussein, but they hardly embraced the Americans -- they sought instead to translate the U.S. victory over Hussein into a Shiite government. Second, the Sunnis, in view of the U.S.-Shiite coalition and the dismemberment of the Sunni-dominated Iraqi Army, saw that they were about to be squeezed out of the political system and potentially crushed by the Shia. They saw an insurgency -- which had been planned by Hussein -- as their only hope of forcing a redefinition of Iraqi politics. The Americans realized that their expectations had not been realistic

If one agrees with STRATFOR’s assessment (and I do), then it might follow that since our “expectations had not been realistic,” the best approach would be to follow the advice of those who suggest withdrawal and leave. But the problem is far more complex. STRATFOR continues:
The first sign of the collapse was a sudden outbreak of fighting among Shia in the Basra region. We assumed that this was political positioning among Shiite factions as they prepared for a political settlement. Then Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, the head of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), traveled to Tehran, and Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army commenced an offensive. Shiite death squads struck out at Sunni populations, and Sunni insurgents struck back. From nearly having a political accommodation, the situation in Iraq fell completely apart.

The key was Iran. The Iranians had always wanted an Iraqi satellite state, as protection against another Iraq-Iran war. That was a basic national security concept for them. In order to have this, the Iranians needed an overwhelmingly Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad, and to have overwhelming control of the Shia. It seemed to us that there could be a Shiite-dominated government but not an overwhelmingly Shiite government. In other words, Iraq could be neutral toward, but not a satellite of, Iran. In our view, Iraq's leading Shia -- fearing a civil war and also being wary of domination by Iran -- would accept this settlement.

It nows appear that the reason that our failed policy in Iraq is Iran. STRATFOR identifies a two-pronged Iranian strategy:
First, in Iraq, the Iranians encouraged a variety of factions to both resist the newly formed government and to strike out against the Sunnis. This created an uncontainable cycle of violence that rendered the Iraqi government impotent and the Americans irrelevant. The tempo of operations was now in the hands of those Shiite groups among which the Iranians had extensive influence -- and this included some of the leading Shiite parties, such as SCIRI.

Second, in Lebanon, Iran encouraged Hezbollah to launch an offensive. There is debate over whether the Israelis or Hezbollah ignited the conflict in Lebanon. Part of this is ideological gibberish, but part of it concerns intention. It is clear that Hezbollah was fully deployed for combat. Its positions were manned in the south, and its rockets were ready. The capture of two Israeli soldiers was intended to trigger Israeli airstrikes, which were as predictable as sunrise, and Hezbollah was ready to fire on Haifa. Once Haifa was hit, Israel floundered in trying to deploy troops (the Golani and Givati brigades were in the south, near Gaza). This would not have been the case if the Israelis had planned for war with Hezbollah. Now, this discussion has nothing to do with who to blame for what. It has everything to do with the fact that Hezbollah was ready to fight, triggered the fight, and came out ahead because it wasn't defeated.

The end result is that, suddenly, the Iranians held the whip hand in Iraq, had dealt Israel a psychological blow, had repositioned themselves in the Muslim world and had generally redefined the dynamics of the region. Moreover, they had moved to the threshold of redefining the geopolitics to the Persian Gulf.

Stated bluntly, the Iranians aren’t as crazy as they sometimes act. They clearly outsmarted us throughout the region and now hold almost all the cards as we move further into the game.

Given this, you might argue that we should change a losing game. Get out now and let the Iraq “civil war” lead to a breakup of the country. STRATFOR comments:
If Iraq were to break into three regions, the southern region would be Shiite -- and the Iranians clearly believe that they could dominate southern Iraq. This not only would give them control of the Basra oil fields, but also would theoretically open the road to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. From a strictly military point of view, and not including the Shiite insurgencies at all, Iran could move far down the western littoral of the Persian Gulf if American forces were absent. Put another way, there would be a possibility that the Iranians could seize control of the bulk of the region's oil reserves. They could do the same thing if Iraq were to be united as an Iranian satellite, but that would be far more difficult to achieve and would require active U.S. cooperation in withdrawing.

So the Left was right – it is, in the final analysis, all about oil (but then again, we would never have had any interest in the ME if it wasn’t for oil). If we exit Iraq and allow events to unfold as they probably will, Iran may very well control (either directly or indirectly) all middle eastern oil by the end of the decade. An Islamofascist government with affinity to known terrorists and a hatred for all things Western would now have access to mega-wealth and the ability to effect outright economic blackmail. If this were to happen, war (for oil) would be guaranteed.

So what now? It appears that exiting expeditiously is a loser, but so is continuing the fight. STRATFOR lays out the options:

The United States has four choices, apart from the status quo:

1. Reach a political accommodation that cedes the status of regional hegemon to Iran, and withdraw from Iraq.

2. Withdraw forces from Iraq and maintain a presence in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia -- something the Saudis would hate but would have little choice about -- while remembering that an American military presence is highly offensive to many Muslims and was a significant factor in the rise of al Qaeda.

3. Halt counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and redeploy its forces in the south (west of Kuwait), to block any Iranian moves in the region.

4. Assume that Iran relies solely on its psychological pre-eminence to force a regional realignment and, thus, use Sunni proxies such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in attempts to outmaneuver Tehran.

None of these are attractive choices. Each cedes much of Iraq to Shiite and Iranian power and represents some degree of a psychological defeat for the United States, or else rests on a risky assumption. While No. 3 might be the most attractive, it would leave U.S. forces in highly exposed, dangerous and difficult-to-sustain postures.

Iran has set a clever trap, and the United States has walked into it. Rather than a functioning government in Iraq, it has chaos and a triumphant Shiite community. The Americans cannot contain the chaos, and they cannot simply withdraw. Therefore, we can understand why Bush insists on holding his position indefinitely. He has been maneuvered in such a manner that he -- or a successor -- has no real alternatives.

Spend a moment and re-read the last paragraph. If you want to be angry at the administration of George W. Bush, the STRATFOR analysis provides you with a well-reasoned argument for your feelings. Now re-read it again, and you'll understand why we can't simply leave.

Personally, I suspect that not a single one of the administration’s opponents (both democrat and republican) have any clue about how to proceed from here, given the situation as it has been delineated by STRATFOR. And that’s scary.