Saturday, October 28, 2006

Draft Resolution: The Play with No Audience

The draft resolution that Europe (and the US) are presenting to the Russians and Chinese as their opening negotating position has been released.

I will not reproduce the entire thing here. And I may regret that when a final resolution is passed and I am not able to find this to compare it to. I'm including enough that I should be able to get the draft in a google search if it is there.

16. Decides to establish, in accordance with rule 28 of its provisional rules of procedure, a Committee of the Security Council consisting of all the members of the Council, to undertake the following tasks:
    a) to seek from all States, in particular those in the region and those producing the items, materials, equipment, goods and technology referred to in paragraph 4 above, information regarding the actions taken by them to implement effectively the measures imposed by paragraphs 4, 5,7, 9 and 15 of this resolution and whatever further information it may consider useful in this regard,
The first thing that strikes me about the draft is that the Security Council has to agree to lift sanctions. This would put the US into the Iraq position of getting sanctions, then announcing they will not be lifted without regime change.

The second thing is that this draft does not seem to lack any of the elements of the Korean sanctions, which is to say that accepting this draft would equate Iran's IAEA supervised enrichment with Korea's test of a weapon.

What makes this a play is that nobody thinks the final document will look anything like this. When Rice said the sanctions we get will not look like what the US would produce unilaterally, she meant the sanctions we get will not look like this draft document.

A story is circulating in the Western press that the exemption for Bushehr makes this document a compromise between the Russians who want something less stringent and the US which wants something tougher. The difference is that Russia would prefer nothing to a resolution that is too stringent - and therefore has a credible veto threat. The US will take whatever it gets. So the final resolution will be the lowest common denominator - a little less stringent than the resolution that would provoke a Russian or Chinese veto.

I'm not sure who is supposed to be impressed by this dance over Bushehr.

I'm curious about whether or not the Europeans would present a resolution if they could not count on a Russian veto. The Iranians would take a resolution like this as a declaration of war, not a hot war, but Iran would do everything it could to increase the price of oil throughout the region and it would do everything it could to provoke the US to fire first starting a hot war.

The Iranians would also cut IAEA cooperation to at least the legal minimum. Removing cameras from safeguarded sites for example, and denying visas to inspectors from the West. I would expect Iran to announce it will withdraw from the NPT if after a set period, the sanctions have not been lifted. Iran has a history of making moves in this nuclear contest that are more subtle and clever than I expect though.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Allies in the War Against Terror: Why the US is breaking up Iraq

The leadership of the United States describes victory as an Iraq that is a "strong ally in the Middle East" defeat is described as a situation where extremists govern "a new terrorist state in the heart of the Middle East with large oil reserves that could be used to fund its radical ambitions". But if Iraq is to be democratic, there is a big problem. No population in the Middle East will, given the choice, elect leaders who are US allies in the war against terror. No Middle East population will keep extremists out of power if they fairly choose their own leaders.

Victory in Iraq, as the US defines it, requires the US to have leverage in Iraq sufficient to overrule its voters to ensure that Iraq is an ally in the war, and to prevent "extremists" from being brought to power there democratically. Leverage in Iraq is nearly impossible to maintain without boots on the ground. So the US needs a military presence in Iraq to prevent defeat.

"Extremism" as used by the US in the context of the Middle East means disbelief in the legitimacy of Israel. No group that does not accept Israel's legitimacy, regardless of distinctions such as secular vs. Islamist vs democratic vs tyrannical fails to be described as extemist. No group that does accept Israel, regardless of any other beliefs or policies, is described as extremist. Following the US lead, I use extremism and non-acceptance of Israel interchangeably.

Enter the Kurds. Most Kurds live in Turkey, where Kurdish separatists have been Turkey's primary security concern for over a generation. A wealthy independent Kurdistan from what is now Iraq is a mortal threat to Turkey because there would be no way to prevent it from supporting Kurdish separatists in Turkey. Kurds are viewed similarly by, but are substantially less threatening to Iran and Syria.

The Kurds of Iraq though, landlocked and surrounded by neighbors of various degrees of hostility, can use a US military presence to ensure that the neighbors do not intervene it its affairs. Without that presence, for example, Turkey and Iran would follow the PKK back into its bases and Iraq and flush them out there. The Kurdish militias, good though they would be if put against other Iraqi militias, are entirely unequipped to fend off national armies of Turkey or Iran. Turkey would also intervene to ensure justice for both the Sunnis and the Turkmen in the area of Kirkuk - denying that city and the oil from that area to any Kurdish confederation or state.

The US needs the Kurds because without the Kurds, the US cannot keep a military presence in Iraq, which means the US is defeated when extremists are voted into power. Specifically, the US needs the Kurds to have enough independence that they can host a US and even an Israeli(!) military presence despite the fact that the Sunnis and Shiites of any central government are sure to vote against that. This requirement means that de-facto partition of the country, at least, is necessary to prevent a US defeat in Iraq.

Further than that, the Kurds know the US both needs their assent and intends to remain indefinitely. That gives the Kurds leverage in their dealings with other Iraqis that allows them to make demands that otherwise would be unreasonable. The Kurds want their mini-state to have the power to make oil exploration deals independent of the central government. They want to limit the amount of revenue that is sent back to Baghdad and they want Kirkuk ceded to their region.

The leverage they bring is that if the Kurds feel forced, they can declare independence, and the US is forced to support them, otherwise the US would be defeated in Iraq. Without the knowledge of US support, the Kurds would not have a credible threat to secede. Secession would bring immediate defeat at the hands of Iraq plus Turkey and Iran.

A relationship has formed between the US and the Kurds where the Kurds are free to ask for and get economic arrangments and political and military autonomy that represent a de-facto partition of Iraq in themselves. The fuel of this relationship is the US imperative to avoid defeat, to prevent the acquisition by extremists of unchecked power in Iraq and control of Iraq's resources.

I have earlier commented that a foreign invader alone can be enough to begin a civil war spiral when formerly illegitimate organizations become legitimate fighters of the occupation. I used the example of Crips and Michigan Militia in an invasion of Michigan. In the case of Iraq, that is a very small part of the story.

The US relationship with the Kurds, and the de-facto secession the US must support for the Kurds puts Iraq's Shiites in the position that they are nearly forced to secede themselves.

In Iraq, Shiite areas produce approximately 60% of the oil, Kurdish areas the other 40%. So the Kurds who are about 20% of the population, and have the most oil per capita are going to get to keep their oil. The Shiites, which much less oil per capita are to share theirs with the Sunnis, who have none.

The Shiites are not going to accept that. As much as Iran would prefer Iraq remain stable, there is no way, if Iraq is going to break up anyway, for them to force the Shiites to stay with the Sunnis.

And if Iraq is going to break up, that means there is a new importance for creating facts on the ground. The question of whether the Shiite parts of Baghdad will connect with the Shiite state to the South and similar strategic questions are the major motivation for the current fighting. This race to create facts on the ground is not due to ethnic hatred, nor it is the inevitable result of the defeat of the Baathists, nor is it proof that only a tyrant can rule Iraq. This race, and the violence it brings with it, are due to the US need to effectively partition the country to maintain a military presence.

If the US was willing to accept defeat in Iraq, willing to accept an extreme government having full control or Iraq's resources including oil, then the civil war could be wound down even now. It certainly was never inevitable.

The constitution was negotiated with the understanding that the US intended to maintain a long-term presence in Iraq. If the US was willing to leave now, it could be amended so that oil revenues are divided equally per-capita among all provinces. Kurdistan could maintain cultural, and linguistic independence but its foreign policy would be set in Baghdad. Under those conditions, the Shiites would also remain in Iraq. The Kurds could not refuse this arrangement if the US was willing to leave because if Turkey and/or Iran intervene, which they would be willing to do, the Kurds would end up with less.

But since the US is not willing to accept defeat, Iraq will be violently broken up. This violent civil war is not the unpredictable outcome of a poorly executed occupation. It is the only possible result of an occupation of Iraq by the US given the way the US defines victory and defeat.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Baker going to Iran?

I'm late to get the pretty huge news that James Baker has been authorized to speak with the Iranians. I was directed to that link by way of the page of Trita Parsi, a real Iran expert at Johns Hopkins.

It is tempting to believe we are now watching an adjustment in US policy. The US cannot be a bumbling power whose worldview is entirely divorced from the real world forever.

Much was made of Ahmadinejad's meeting with the US Council of Foreign relations, and the State Department's decription of the meeting as a bad idea.

At the same time though, Bush authorized James Baker to speak directly with the Iranians. James Baker's continues to have close ties with the Bush administration. A meeting would open a direct channel of communication that while unofficial would be essentially as reliable as official communication.

Could this lead to a resolution of either the enrichment program or the dispute between the US and Iran over the legitimacy of Israel? It is hard to say yes to that because the positions are nearly irreconcilable.

Israel wants, and in fact needs, to be able to impose a unilateral resolution on the Palestinians if it is to continue as a Zionist state. There is no possible arrangement that the Palestinians would accept willingly that would leave the Palestinians either unwilling or unable to press Israel for further concessions, ending with the concession that the refugees return to outvote the Zionists.

Iran cannot, as a self-defined Islamic republic, go along with any arrangement that leaves Israel free to impose a unilateral resolution on the Palestinians. At best, this irreconcilable conflict could be resolved with a truce, putting off the end of Zionism for some amount of years with the understanding that after that period there will be rapid change if the Palestinians still want it. "Some amount of years" definitely would not mean 100 years, but something Iran's leaders can expect to see. Thirty years on the outside.

On enrichment, Iran would probably suspend temporarily for a significant improvement in its access to capital, which access is restricted now only by US unilateral sanctions.

The US cannot relax its restrictions given Iran's opposition to Israel because those restrictions are the only tools the US has to both pressure a change in Iran's anti-Israel policies or prevent Iran from becoming a dominant economic power in the region. Iran as a dominant economic power in the region is an equal or greater threat to Zionism than Iran as a nuclear capable military power. Iran though, seems to want to be both.

But Baker is going to Iran, which means the US is effectively ending its policy of non-negotiation with Iran.

The reality is that Iran cannot at this point be stopped from becoming a regional power. Iran also cannot be stopped from protecting the Palestinians from any resolution Israel tries to impose on the Palestinians unilaterally. This means that the Palestinians, if they want to, can expect to be able to end Zionism as an active political movement before the end of this century,

It is good news for the US that it appears to at least understand that reality even though it is most likely that the US has not decided how to deal with this reality.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Al Faisal Stresses Saudi Independence from the US

Condoleeza Rice was recently in the Middle East, trying to see if she could get any cooperation from the Gulf States, Egypt and Jordan against Iran. At least the public answer was no. I don't see any reason to believe that was not also the private answer.

But while Rice was speaking there, the Saudi Ambassador to the US decided to give a speech of his own. Just to make sure the United States hears what Rice heard from the allies of the US. It was an interesting speech, and breathtaking at one point.

The speech started in a charming way, a Mark Twain story promising not to speak too long.

Then the speech gets rolling, telling the Saudi side of the story about recent increased communications with the US. To hear the Saudis tell it, they need more communication to tell the Americans to solve the Palestinian crisis and to bring an immediate cease fire to the Lebanon war.

I shall tell you now, how the Strategic Dialogue works. In the beginning of May, President Bush invited me to a "getting to know you meeting" at the White House. During a thorough review of issues, I made the point to the President that solving the Palestinian Problem will allow us to go on to solve the other problems in the area. Three weeks later, the meeting of the Strategic Dialogue took place.

Prince Saud delivered to the President a letter from King Abdullah offering to work with the President in solving the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. The President, then, instructed Secretary Rice to follow up with Prince Saud on the details. Alas, the capture of the two Israeli soldiers led to the Israeli invasion, and destruction of Lebanon. The King sent Prince Saud back in July, to stress to the President the need for an immediate cease fire; and, again, to press for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. (link in original)

That is interesting in itself. Given that the US does not have much freedom of movement on the Palestinian problem - it certainly cannot force Israel to accept the Saudi offer of recognition in exchange for a full pullout to 1967 borders - to say that that is a requirement to solve other problems is to say the Saudis cannot help in other areas.

But then the speech turns devastating:

Americans want to see and hear about reform and change in Saudi society and political culture. This is on the agenda. But we’re not going to change just because you tell us to. We are changing and reforming our society because it is the right thing to do for our country. And we will do so in our own way, in accordance with our traditions and culture. Making dictums leads nowhere. Constructive comments, on the other hand, are more helpful.

We also want to see reform in the United States. Your reform of campaign contributions is essential and needed, yesterday, not tomorrow. Your policy towards the Arab World must change and be reformed in order to overcome the slump in America’s standing in my country, and in every other Arab and Muslim country.


This is the Saudi Ambassador to the US. "Reform of campaign contributions" means "reduction of the power of pro-Israel lobbyists". I find that connection completely transparent. It could have been more explicit if he said that reform would allow the US to change its policy toward the Arab world which according the the Ambassador "must happen". I don't think a diplomat would be allowed to be any clearer than that about a country with which it is friendly.

Then we find that America's standing is in a slump in his Saudi Arabia, as well as in every Arab and Muslim country. "Arab and Muslim" means he is also speaking for Iran, as well as Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

Iran's standing in Saudi Arabia was in a slump once. But that's over. This quotation is apparently from the question and answer session.

"We have found in our experience that when we did not talk to Iran -- our relations were broken for a period of a few years in the '90s -- we had more troubles with each other. But since then, our relationship has improved dramatically and beneficially for both our countries"

I predict that by this time in 2007, the Saudis will continue attempting to pressure the United States to pressure Israel to fully withdraw to the pre-1967 borders - which will fail. But under the cover of that failure, the Saudis will continue sounding more and more like the Iranians.