Friday, January 19, 2007

Middle East Goings On, and the Honesty of Robert Gates

There is not much new happening in the Middle East right now.

Lebanon is at a stalemate until the next elections, whenever those are. There will be no governmental moves until then against either Syria through the Hariri tribunal or against Hezbollah through a disarmament policy. Hezbollah apparently feels comfortable waiting for elections if it has to. If Israel is smart it will not launch a new war this summer that would certainly immediately topple Saniora. There also will not be sonic booms over Lebanese territories. The cluster bombs were a mistake that are going to give Hezbollah a constant stream of martyrs from now until the elections, whenever they are.

Palestine is at a stalemate. I am very pleased that Abbas has not escalated a civil war. Dahlan talks as if he would have done so by now. I never thought much of Abbas but as obsequious as he is, there are limits. The presidential elections are scheduled for before the next parliamentary elections. Israel needs for the elections to be at least at the same time. We'll see how he handles that later, but for now things are essentially quiet.

Syria is also at a stalemate. All the pressure the US can bring to bear on the country has already been brought. The recent release of terms for peace with Israel was designed to embarrass both sides and did so.

Pro-US Arabs are trying desperately for at least the appearance of movement on the Palestinian issue. They are not getting it. Abbas isn't playing along as well as they wanted him to.

Internally Iran has moved against Ahmadinejad - and may actually be preparing to sacrifice him to tone down tensions with Europe. Iran has so far acted very cleverly, and while it will not give up enrichment or Iraq (more later) if Ahmadinejad the personality is important to Europe, Iran will sack him in exchange for concessions on trade relations.

Iraq - right now is quiet, but the US looks like its planning fireworks there. Here is where Robert Gates comes closer to brutal honesty than any American leader speaking on Iraq has done publicly so far.

In meetings late Wednesday with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Mr. Gates said the United States viewed Iraq, despite the close ties between some in its Shiite-dominated government and Shiite Iran, as a bulwark against Tehran, said a senior Defense Department official.

“Our Arab friends tend to see Iraq in the context of the new challenge from Iran,” the official said. “That’s clearly the Saudi perspective. So the secretary was able to reassure them that we want an Iraq that is a barrier against Iranian expansionism.”

Another quote.

So the opportunity is there for engagement, but I would say that the initiative needs to rest with the Iranians and we are simply trying to communicate to the region that we're going to be there for a long time.

Of course the problem is that Iraq's citizens voted directly, all of its leaders speak. It is crystal clear that Iraq does not want to be either a barrier against Iran or for US to have a strong military position there for a long time.

The Saudis do want the US there for a long time. The reason is that the Saudis nearly completely deny political power to the millions of Shiites who live in Saudi Arabia in its oil producing region. A direct link of Saudi Shiites to Iraq's pro-Iranian Shiites is the biggest possible risk that country can face. It is a risk comparable to the risk of an independent Kurdistan to Turkey.

Jordan is in a similar situation that its powerless and oppressed citizens would be aided by Iraq if the US was not there and would constitute a grave, eventually fatal threat to the authoritarian monarchy.

So the people of Iraq, who are far less anti-Iranian than anti-US have to be overruled, permanently - which means that any pretense of democracy is now of the past.

Of course the US never invaded Iraq to bring democracy but when speaking publicly, the story has always been that the sovereign Iraq would hopefully choose good relations with the US and may need a US military presence at its own discretion for some indefinite period.

The official story has now changed to the US will maintain a military presence for its own reasons for the foreseeable future, regardless of the wishes of any Iraqis.

Can the US pull this off? I doubt it. We can be sure that by summer 2008, Iran will ensure that US deaths in Iraq increase to an intolerable level for US voters even if otherwise that level would have stablized. Then the majority of Americans who want the US out will both increase in size and punish the Republicans in the election. It may reach the point that even Barack Obama could win.

What happens when the US leaves?

President Bush gravely warned House Democrats yesterday that America's credibility would be shattered if the United States pulled its troops from Iraq, forcing close ally Saudi Arabia to look elsewhere for protection and potentially destabilizing Egypt, the region's most populous country, according to participants in the meeting.
Bush did not say during the half-hour meeting with Democrats where else he thought Saudi Arabia would seek "protection," but he made it clear that he was simply informing Democrats of his decisions on Iraq, not consulting with them.

Where would the Saudis find protection? Iran. Iran's proposal to the Saudis is that if the Saudis go along with getting rid of the Americans we'll negotiate directly with you about your Shiites and come up with a compromise that leaves you in power, at least for a substantial amount of time. A long-term hudna similar to what Hamas offers Israel with the understanding that it can be done peacefully but eventually the situation has to change. Iran will also ensure that the Saudis become nuclear capable. There is no question that Saudi Arabia can sell its oil without the Americans.

The Saudis will not accept Iran's offer until there is no chance that America will remain in Iraq to help the Saudis stay in power with no concessions to the Shiites. Why is America on the Saudi side against the Shiites? Because a legitimate Saudi government would be much more hostile to Israel. It would sell the same oil for the same price, but it would fund Hamas and take other actions of that nature.

So now we are set for the fireworks. The Americans have to make sure Iran is not capable of pushing up US casualties by summer 2008. That has to fail because there are many, many parties in Iraq that would like nothing more than a spike in casualties that gets the US to leave. But in the process, the US has to declare all-out war with Iran over Iraq or the Saudis will leave the US camp immediately.


Ziad said...

Excellent analysis. I first read your site when you linked to it on

But knowing the stakes are this high, it seems almost certain that the U.S. (or Israel) will strike at Iran. And not simply to destroy nuclear facilities but probably a sustained air campaign ala Kosovo 1999. Possibly there will be a ground element near the straights of Hormuz to keep it open. If that fails, America's choice will be 1)"goodbye to all that" or 2) escalate to nukes.

Empires don't give up power gladly.

Thanx again. I don't blog but when I post elswhere I'll try to link to this site.

Arnold Evans said...

I don't think Kosovo would work in Iran. Iran would first kill every pro-American leader. Then start attacking the US in Iraq. Then start attacking the governments of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

The regime would change, but would become more hostile to the US, not less. And Jordan would have a regime change long before Iran does.

Would the US announce that it will continue bombing until Iran gives up its NPT right to enrich uranium? Iran's people would support their government in saying keep bombing. Russia and China, and pretty much everyone in the world would agree with Iran.

It just would not work all around.

What the US is hoping will work is that by threatening to bomb, Iran can be denied investment and the Security Council may agree to more stringent sanctions if its members believe the alternative is bombing.

The US has reasons to pretend it is going to bomb even if it will not. I have thought that is what's happening since last year this time.

These threats to bomb are part of a campaign to strangle Iran economically in the hopes that moderates in Iran become willing to adopt the Shah's foreign policy in exchange for the Shah's economic relations with the West. I can't see it happening, but that is the US plan.

Israel also cannot bomb Iran without the US, so even if it was Israeli planes it would be a US action, and the US won't do it for the reasons above.