Thursday, April 26, 2007

Interesting Article About Europe and Iran

From the National Interest
(found via Google News)

Some Europeans that I have spoken with privately feel that, for the next two years or so, Europe can afford to continue to support Iran’s economic isolation, but that, starting in the next decade, growing pressures to secure new supplies of energy will lead more European firms to begin investing in Iran to ensure that, by the 2020s, the infrastructure is in place for large-scale Iranian shipments of gas to Europe.

I pressed my interlocutors further—was this is a case of advising, "Whatever you do, do it quickly"—meaning that if the United States were to pursue forcible regime change the preference would be to do it sooner? They demurred. But the underlying impression I received was that, say, by 2011 or 2013, large-scale European investment in Iran will begin no matter whether it is still the Islamic Republic or some other form of government—and that Washington is faced with two clocks counting down with regard to its freedom of action vis-à-vis Tehran.

Iran is in a fairly strong position right now. If sanctions are increased, they will hurt the Iranian people, but they will not hurt the regime in Tehran, they are much more likely to strengthen it. A military attack can accomplish military aims, but they will have the political consequence of strengthening the Iranian regime and weakening the US' regional position.

If this article is correct, and pressure on Europe to deal with Iran will increase dramatically in the medium term, then Iran is likely to wait the US out until that time.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Three Mistakes

Three of my predictions on this site have been proven wrong. I want to look at them more closely.

1 - I predicted that in Lebanon, the government would lurch against the US without any attempt by Hezbollah to overturn it.

2 - I predicted that sanctions against Iran would stay limited to enrichment

3 - I expected Iran to hold the British sailors for a long period of confrontation, maybe turning them over to a post-Blair government after negotiations

As to the first prediction, polls show that the population certainly did lurch against the West after the 2006 summer war. The politicians didn't follow the population. This mistake is the result of a lack of understanding on my part, at the time, that politicians in small countries can be and often really are more beholden to the embassies of rich countries like the US than they are to their own constituents. My political instincts are not set for politics in countries like Lebanon, or at least they were not.

On the second prediction, Condoleeza Rice outperformed my expectations. A lot of pressure has been put onto China and Russia and they have gone along. Colin Powell said last year that the amount of pressure the Security Council would be willing to put on Iran is something Iran is willing to tolerate rather than give up on enrichment. I still think Powell was right but the amount of pressure the Security Council is willing to bring is more than I thought - though it is still far less than what would be required to get a suspension. I actually don't think Hussein/Iraq-level sanctions would get a suspension. But my prediction had been wrong. I think China was told that this vote was necessary for Korea's assets to be unfrozen and Russia is told that this vote is tied to missile defense in Europe. Both of these are higher priorities for their respective countries than the principle that the NPT is to be applied in a non-discriminatory manner.

The third prediction, Iran released the sailors. I think this is a reflection of current Iranian thinking on the first hostage crisis in 1979-80. If that crisis had ended this way, the US would still be hostile to Iran, but the trauma the US faced has been used to rally Americans against Iran where otherwise some of those Americans wouldn't have really cared. The US would still be hostile, because Iran is hostile to Israel, but the US would be less hostile because Israel's proponents would not have the crisis as a talking point.

While the first hostage crisis was an extreme statement against the US, it really didn't help Iran in the long run. I think Iran's leadership changed its view of that crisis before I did. Leading to a wrong prediction on my part.

Maybe I've made other predictions that have turned out wrong. So far the one prediction I am most proud of is that in October 2006, reading a speech by the Saudi Ambassador to the US, I predicted that by October 2007 the Saudis would sound and act a lot more like the Iranians with respect to Israel and the United States.

US-Turkey Alliance on the Way Out

When asked by a local reporter about Mr Barzani and Turkey’s alliance with the US, the general said: "He [Mr Barzani] is at a very low level and I look to the one who enables him to speak so, who enables the division of Iraq, which is the greatest threat to the region."

Do the Americans not understand how serious this is?

For the long term, the key situation in Iraq is the quasi-separatist movements of the Kurds and Badr/Shiites.

The only way the US can keep bases in Iraq is by allying with parties that want to split the country. Even the US expert class does not seem to acknowledge what everyone else in the region sees: The US either actively wants to break up the country or is unwilling to take steps to prevent it.

Turkey does not want this. Iran does not want this. Saudi Arabia does not want this. Iraq's nationalists, who probably are a majority in Iraq - Sadr's Shiites and other nationalist Shiites plus the Sunnis - do not want this.

Nobody in the US, including the experts, is willing to make the following statement:

"We would prefer a unified Iraq that is hostile to the US to a divided Iraq where the US can get temporary advantages by playing behind rivalries".

Everybody in the region except the US is emphatically eager to make that statement.

The US refusal to issue a withdrawal schedule or to commit to a full evacuation of US troops from the country is related to the US not being willing to accept a united Iraq that is hostile to the US.

That makes sense. The United States didn't invade Iraq because of personal animus against Hussein, it invaded because it did not want to tolerate a hostile Iraq.

The problem is that the costs of a non-hostile Iraq are clearer now and the cost is very high. The costs are, at minimum, civil war and increased sectarian violence between Shiites and Sunnis (and not just in Iraq) as well as Kurdish independence and support for Kurdish secessionists in Turkey, Iran and Syria.

The United States, by its actions demonstrates that it is willing to pay those costs. Nobody else in the region except Israel thinks it is worth it.

The US alliance with Saudi Arabia has, as far as I can see, been broken over this issue. Recently there have been none of the anti-Iranian official statements or actions from the Saudis that were routine one or two years ago.

The US alliance with Turkey has reached the point where it has not yet broken but it is not sustainable unless the US changes priorities in Iraq.

By changing priorities I mean the US must admit defeat in its project of attempting to make Iraq non-hostile to US interests by force. The longer the US waits to admit defeat, the more hostile Iraq will be toward US interests when it eventually stabilizes.

As things are going, the alliance with Turkey will not survive until the end of the Bush presidency.