Saturday, May 19, 2007

Stratfor Says a US/Iran Deal Over Iraq in Works

Stratfor, a company whose Middle East analysis I often find mistaken but sometimes find insightful, believes the SCIRI-SIIC realignment is part of a deal between the US and Iran shepherding an orderly US retreat leaving an Iraq that is dominated by the Shiites and friendly with Iran. (And which benefits the Sunnis mostly at the expense of the Kurds.)

One data point in Stratfor's analysis is Abbas Araghchi's statement earlier this month that Iran was willing to help the US produce an honorable and face-saving retreat.

It is an interesting theory that may have some basis.

Stratfor is better at reporting US views and motives than those of non- or anti-Western actors. So this article is interesting in that it claims the US accepts that Iraq will not be a pro-US bastion in the Middle East, and is willing to negotiate with Iran exactly how antagonistic Iraq will end up being towards US policies.

The US position is that hopefully a formula will be found that Iraq will not pose a threat to Iran (a major concession) but it will also not pose a threat to Jordan or Israel. The US also seems to be willing to side against the Kurds to prevent Iraq from breaking up. These changes in US policy are very significant if they are real.

If these changes are implemented in time, they just may be enough to prevent the tremendous disaster for the US that is otherwise inevitable in this region.

Stratfor is connected enough into the US foreign policy community that this may well reflect US thinking, then this is a major step in the direction of US policy becoming cognizant of and responsive to the actual conditions in the region.

Stratfor's analysis that Iran will accept a long-term US presence in Iraq as long as it is not in the cities I find much less reliable. I think that is closer to what the US hopes Iran will accept.

For the time being, it is possible to read the subscription-only article though an agreement stratfor apparently has with google news.

Here is a google link.
Here is a link direct to stratfor.

Iran's main Iraqi Shiite proxy announced May 11 it is about to undergo a process of "Iraqization." The move is part of Tehran's detailed offer to assist the United States in stabilizing Iraq. A fresh power-sharing agreement likely will emerge out of this process -- one that will lead to an increase in the Sunni share of the Iraqi political pie, but could upset the Kurds.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Not on Fallon's Watch

How did this get into the press?
Fallon's refusal to support a further naval buildup in the Gulf reflected his firm opposition to an attack on Iran and an apparent readiness to put his career on the line to prevent it. A source who met privately with Fallon around the time of his confirmation hearing and who insists on anonymity quoted Fallon as saying that an attack on Iran "will not happen on my watch".

Asked how he could be sure, the source says, Fallon replied, "You know what choices I have. I'm a professional." Fallon said that he was not alone, according to the source, adding, "There are several of us trying to put the crazies back in the box."

I have assumed for over a year now that it is well understood in the United States, by actual decision makers, that an attack on Iran will not overthrow the current regime, will not weaken Iran's long-term strategic position and will hurt the US position in the Middle East much more than it hurts Iran's regime.

I have really assumed that everyone knows this:
A grandson of one of the late Shah's ministers, Soroush said, "Mr. President, I simply want to say one U.S. bomb on Iran and the regime will remain in power for another 20 or 30 years and 70 million Iranians will become radicalized."

"I know," President Bush answered.

If everyone serious knows this then Fallon does not have threaten to put his career on the line to prevent it. If everyone knows this then the US can comfortably play the game Nixon spoke of, which was to convince his adversaries that he might be crazy. That has the added benefit of scaring real investment away from Iran, which is certainly in line with US interests.

I've assumed that's what we've been seeing all along. If logic works, then that has to be what we've been seeing in US threats against Iran at least since the insurgency in Iraq began picking up steam, the Shiites empowered themselves in a way that gave the US limited influence over them and it became clear that the US will not be able to establish a stable client there.

Maybe Fallon is going public, which means that logic does not work and there are serious parties in the US government intending on attacking Iran regardless of the damage they know it will do to the US in the region over the medium and long term. Either that or Fallon is being smeared.

Maybe somebody in Cheney's office is angry that Fallon broke up plans on putting a showy third carrier into the region - more than were there before the Iraq invasion.

Thirty carriers in the gulf would not be enough to get a regime change, especially to a regime tolerable to the US. It would have been a stupid plan. The Iranians would not have taken it seriously though they may have used it as propaganda to strengthen the hard liners.

If the Bush administration is really self-destructive, not just pretending to be for strategic advantage then logic does not hold. Maybe Bush believes he is being guided by God and is inherently unpredictable.

At the time of the invasion, the attack on Iraq did not seem to me to be a disastrous move from the US point of view. I was pretty sure an unpopular dictator like Chalabi would take over and join the ranks of Mubarak, Jordanian Abdullah and (at the time) Saudi Abdullah (Saudi Abdullah does not seem to be in those ranks any more).

Since that time the US has done what it could. The US lost because it is fighting an unwinnable war that it did not know was unwinnable when it started. I have not seen the adminstration acting self-destructively at any point.

My best guess is that this is a smear, a blow to Fallon's career leaked not by Fallon but by an administration hawk. The battle over the third carrier was lost, but they are making sure it does not happen again.

Monday, May 14, 2007

One Person, One Vote, One Time

An interesting thing I've noticed is that with Erdogan and Turkey's AK party, with Maliki's electoral list in Iraq and with Hamas and Hezbollah is that Islamists actually make pretty effective participants in democratic electoral systems when they are allowed to compete on more or less fair terms.

I repeatedly read and hear that Islamists want one person, one vote, one time. That supposedly means Islamists will overturn democratic institutions if they ever come to power. But now an actual track record is being established. Islamists have a far better record than pro-Western anti-Islamist political groups.

I can think of several elections cancelled by Western or pro-Western groups to prevent Islamists from coming to power but I cannot think of an election that has been cancelled by Islamists anywhere to prevent pro-Western groups from coming to power.

One recent example is that Juan Cole reported last summer that the US postponed provincial elections in Iraq for fear that Sadr would do too well there.
I was told by an American official who had been in Baghdad that Iraqi provincial elections had been postponed because there are indications that Muqtada al-Sadr's movement is growing in popularity in the Shiite south and his lists might sweep to power.

I guess "one person, one vote, one time" has been the West projecting its own disdain for democracy onto the Islamists all along.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Veneer of Constitutionality

Do I get angry, do I just shake my head at this from the Financial Times?

Gen Musharraf insisted on Saturday that he would not impose a state of emergency, a move that would further undermine the veneer of constitutionality that Washington and London require from him.

The anger eventually subsides at the matter-of-factness with with the Financial Times describes the colonial relationship Musharaff has with Washington and London. Then I'm left with the question of whether or not Washington has calculated that Musharraf ruling under a state of emergency is tangibly worse for US interests than his removal from power.

My best guess is that this is a dance. Of course the US would rather see Musharraf impose a state of emergency than lose power. We are not yet at the point where those are the exclusive alternatives and it is not clear that imposing a state of emergency would effectively prevent Musharraf's removal from power, but if it was a choice either/or, the US would certainly pressure Musharraf to impose the state of emergency.

So who is the dance for?

Who is impressed by this claim that Washington and London "require" a "veneer of constitutionality" from Pakistan's dictator?

My guess for that is this is part of the willful self-delusion of a lot of Westerners in dealings with the post-colonized world. It is particularly striking in issues involving the Middle East but it is present elsewhere as well.

Edit: I hope I was clear that reading that Washington and London require "a veneer of constitutionality" but not fair elections from a pro-Western (I won't say puppet because the term is overused, but ... ) dictator - especially when this tidbit was presented in such an off-hand way, was shocking to me and made me wonder for a second if the year was 1807 or 2007. I'm angry that Washington and London are in a position to require anything from Pakistan's dictator. Fortunately, as is pointed out in a comment, the imperial prerogative of Washington and London has been substantially weakened, while not ended by the last five years or so of really counter-productive policies (from Washington and London's point of view).

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Arguments against Western Hostility Towards Iran

Article in Znet
PDF at
Here, we examine and debunk the common myths and charges against Iran and provide a list of twenty reasons to oppose sanctions and military intervention in Iran. The Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran (CASMII) calls for immediate and direct negotiations between the US and Iran without any pre-conditions in order to avert a new even more horrifying catastrophe in the Middle East.

This is an excellent article. When I find an article that looks like I could have written it, if I had the time or inclination, I have to link to it so that I can find it later.

I'll add a tiny bit about what is on offer with regard to negotiations. The US position is that it cannot begin negotiations until Iran commits to suspend enrichment. From the US point of view, this precondition could serve only one purpose: It has to be the case that the US does not believe Iran would willingly trade enrichment for what the US is willing to offer in terms of trade incentives or security guarantees.

If the US believed it had an offer that either Iranians could accept or that any constituency of Iranians would consider good, the US would release details of that offer and either the Iranians would accept the offer and stop enrichment or those in Iran's government that reject the offer would face pressure from the Iranian people, for example in the next elections.

It has been a year since the US has offered to come to the table to negotiate after Iran suspends enrichment. If there was an offer to be made, it would have been made a year or maybe six months ago, and Iran would have suspended then.

An illustration might be if I was to walk into a clothing store and ask for a suit, but I won't tell exactly what I am willing to pay for it now, but if I wear it out, I'll call from home to negotiate a price. Of course, once the store has made a commitment to sell me the suit without knowing what I'm willing to offer, when I do make an offer it will be minimal.

Recently US diplomats have said the US is willing to suspend sanctions while Iran suspends enrichment and after six months, Iran would be able to resume enrichment and sanctions would resume. Iran already knows what is on offer is minimal, the only impact of a six month suspension would be six months of delayed progress on its program plus the costs of stopping and restarting.

The US is only willing to make limited concessions over the enrichment issue because the US concessions are the only leverage the US has to pressure Iran to be more accepting of Israel. If the US was to normalize trade with Iran in exchange for a suspension of enrichment, Iran would have more resources to use to support Hamas and Hezbollah. Iran's support for Hamas, Hezbollah, and anti-Israel Palestinians and Muslims generally, is the core of the US dispute with Iran.

Where we are left is that the US has been much more successful than I expected in expanding its sanctions against Iran slightly beyond Iran's nuclear program but no where near successful enough to persuade any segment of Iran's political leadership or society to abandon enrichment.

This equilibrium will continue until Iraq becomes unbearably expensive for the US and Iran offers to turn down the temperature in Iraq in exchange for relaxing US pressure on European and Asian countries' trade with Iran.

I still consider military strikes on Iran - outside of support for terrorist operations on Iran's periphery which are happening now - to be vanishingly unlikely.