Sunday, April 11, 2010

How does a US cold war with Iran end?

Recently looking at the Soviet Union's plans to capture Western Europe if a crisis developed, a question was raised of what exactly marked the end of the Cold War? Which is related to the question, what was the Cold War?

There was a dispute. I'm not sure if I should characterize it as an ideological dispute between Western Liberalism and Communism which is an offshoot of the ideological trend of Western Liberalism. Or if it was a dispute between Western owners of capital, who rationalized their motivations using Liberalism against a different power-group based primarily in Russia who rationalized their motivations using Communism. Or if it was just competing nationalisms, US/American against Russian.

The dispute came to an end, to the degree that it did, when the Soviet Union was clearly no longer in a position to impose or threaten to impose its sensibilities or views outside of territory it already controlled, and in fact when the West became able to impose its views on formerly Soviet controlled territory.

I've long held that the United States leads the West in a war against the Muslim world over the question of whether or not Israel is a legitimate state. The over one hundred million Muslims who live under US-supported dictatorships in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and others, along with the tens of millions of Muslims now under direct US occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan and the over one hundred million Muslims who live under various degrees of US-directed economic sanctions today aimed at punishing populations for anti-Israel policies are victims of this war, as are US travelers who are cavity searched when flying from Denver to Atlanta.

It has been pointed out to me that a person, especially in Israel's region, does not have to be Muslim to oppose the legitimacy of Israel. The US is not at war just with the Muslim world, but because Muslims comprise such a high proportion of the people who bear the brunt of US policies to ensure Israel's security, in a lot of ways it makes sense to focus on the Muslim world. This is not to exclude, for example, Palestinian Christians who are also opposed to Zionism in many cases.

We are now seeing the US shift into a formally declared cold war with Iran. It is a cold war because Iran has successfully deterred any direct military intervention in its territory and likewise the US would be able to deter any direct Iranian intervention in either Israel or in the US-controlled indirect colonies.

The United States could attack Iran, but there are two things to remember: Iran is not like Iraq - Iran has retaliatory options Iraq did not have and Iran would require vastly more resources to subdue than Iraq did; secondly, the US establishment now correctly perceives Iraq itself to have been a mistake. US strategic goals could have been better met leaving Hussein in place or negotiating his exit without actually invading.

The United States is deterred from a military attack because US generals correctly calculate that five years after the attack, the US will have seen strategic losses great enough and strategic gains small enough that it would have been better off not attacking. The US fundamentally differs from Israel on this issue. The US invasion of Iraq actually has helped, for now, Israel's strategic situation and Israel expects that it would benefit overall from an attack on Iran. Unfortunately for Israel, pro-Israel elements of the US political system do not have to power decide to attack Iran against the calculations of the US military.

An Israeli attack would be an American attack. This really deserves its own post and I've been meaning to write it, but if Israel attacks Iran, I expect a nominal response against Israel, a few missiles and most of the retaliation to be against US positions, mostly in Iraq.

I find why that is to be very interesting. Iran has resources in Lebanon, but Lebanon's capabilities are growing relative to Israel. Lebanon will have a bigger and more credible threat against Israel in 2012 than it does today. There will come a time, if the situation develops as it is now, that Lebanon reaches parity with Israel, when Lebanese threats against Tel Aviv and Jewish population centers are about as credible as Israeli threats against Beirut.

A war between Lebanon and Israel sets that process back. If Lebanon is attacked by Israel, it has to respond and there will be an escalation from there, but I take Iran to be comfortable with Lebanon developing as it is developing now. Lebanon will not attack Israel unless Israel attacks Lebanon first. Lebanon has a better option of just waiting.

Iraq is different. In 2012, the US is likely to be less vulnerable to Iranian attack in Iraq than it is today. The around 100,000 US troops in Iraq today are in a use them or lose them situation for Iran. If there is an attack, Iran has to attack them or else it will wait for this means of inflicting pain on the US to disappear.

Israel is not independent. Nobody in the region thinks it is independent, it makes sense for Iran to treat an Israeli attack as a US attack, except that if there was an Israeli attack it would be of far more limited scope than a direct US attack. If Israel attacks Iran, Iran will respond against the US, primarily in Iraq for now, if the attack comes later the response may be oriented more toward US and Western assets in the Persian Gulf or in the US colonies closest.

By the time the US leaves Iraq, that will give Iran additional options, better coordination with Syria since there will be a land connection by then and geographical closeness to, especially, Jordan which seems to me to offer very interesting opportunities to harm US regional interests after the US has left Iraq. There will also be new situations with respect to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia that will deter a US attack on Iran when there are no longer US soldiers effectively hold as hostages in Iraq.

The point of all of this is to say that Iran expects the US, based on US strategic interests, to prevent in Israeli attack. I've not seen anything to indicate that the US is not fully capable of preventing an Israeli attack on Iran. If the US was to fail, the US would pay a steep price and the US military is well aware that when the dust settles the US will believe, even more than was the case with Iraq, that it would have been better to prevent the attack.

Nobody is buying this crazy or uncontrollable Israel act. If the US lets an Israeli attack happen, it was a US attack. But my feeling is that a US attack is, for the foreseeable future deterred which is why we are moving to a cold war.

The US cold war with Iran is part of the larger war the US is waging against the Muslim world - the large majority of whose members do not consider Israel a legitimate state.

The cold war with Iran can end with an Iranian capitulation. There is not much chance of a Green movement success now, and this is widely acknowledged though it was not six months ago. However the US strategy is now to wait for years, decades, even generations if necessary. Perhaps a new pro-Western movement can be developed that builds on the lessons of the Green movement. Essentially somebody has to come to power in Iran who is willing to play the role the Shah played.

Some Western analysts believe that if we just talk to Iran, Iran will be willing for its own reasons to go back to the relations Iran had with the West and Israel under the Shah. That strikes me as really crazy. We have to be clear. The US wants Iran to be ruled by someone whose foreign policy will match that of the Shah, the person Iran overthrew in a popular revolution at least partly because of domestic disgust with his foreign policy. No we will not talk Iran into resuming 1978 Iranian foreign policy. No. Please give that idea up.

The cold war could also end if the US was to no longer be deterred militarily. If something happens that would allow a decisive military intervention in Iran at much lower cost to the US than the invasion of Iraq imposed, the US might be inclined to pursue that. This scenario is not on the horizon, but will clearly take shape for people observing the situation long before it has arrived. Meaning that we can be sure we will not wake up one morning surprised that the US actually attacked. We will see it coming as conditions change probably gradually.

Short of an Iranian capitulation, there is no resolution to the cold war with Iran until the greater US war against the Muslim world over Israel is settled. The US hopes the war can be settled with a two state solution relatively quickly. It turns out that as a referendum would be impossible, the US hopes to maintain the option of Palestine endorsing the Bantustan resolution the Israel would like to impose through an act of the Palestinian parliament.

This is what the US hopes for, and if it works, it will also end the cold war with Iran. The problem is that if there is a significant portion of Palestinians who do not believe the results were fair and non-coerced, then nothing changes, the US still needs its dictatorships, sanctions and occupations to prevent the region from acting on its rejection of Israel despite what would be seen as a flawed and coerced acceptance process. It is very possible for the US to be convinced that the Palestinians have accepted Israel, but the war the US leads against the Muslim world not to change at all.

The larger war can also be solved by a US withdrawal from its role as Israel's protector. Over time protecting Israel is becoming more expensive and the expense has already reached the point that there is officially voiced reservations about the impact of Israel on US strategic interests.

Or the larger war can be solved by a Zionist capitulation, by a one state solution that is not necessarily Jewish majority. The threat of US withdrawal from its role as Israel's guarantor would cause Israel's Jews, as South Africa's Whites did in the 1990s, to negotiate a resolution that while ceding political control maintains rights and security of Jewish individuals and their property. This scenario is actually just the conclusion of the previous scenario in which the US comes to question its ability or the desirability of its role as Israel's guarantor.

There is no military option for the US, so we are waiting. In this cold war, the United States will try to put as much pressure as it can on Iran. Iran will respond to US measures. If Iran was to give up its nuclear program but not its support for groups opposed to Israel, the cold war would not fundamentally change. This is not a cold war over Iran's nuclear program, but Iran's nuclear program does play an important role in diminishing Israel's strategic advantage over its region and as a very last resort is another factor that makes deters US military intervention in Iran, so Iran is very unlikely to restrain its nuclear program to a degree acceptable to the United States.

We will fall into a pattern that is largely stable, but in which Israel's position is likely steadily declining, possibly for a matter of decades. The cold war will end either when the US gets a new Shah to rule Iran or when the dispute over Israel's legitimacy is resolved.


Anonymous said...

The Islamic Republic of Iran is just waiting for the day the US is forced to leave Iraq- due to effective Iran-Iraq integration- and Jordan is "flipped."

That will harken back to the days of the Cuban expeditionary force in Africa, its support of Angola and Namibia, and the subsequent termination of the apartheid regime of South Africa.



Sineva said...

The problem with the idea of talks is that most western analysts view the region as being composed of "moderate" states,ie the us puppet dictatorships altho they tend to preffer to see them as genuinly independant states allied to the us,and "radical" states like iran,syria who are anti western,pro terrorist etc..,and that it would be possible to have a sort of detente with the us recognising irans legitimate interests in the region and vice versa,personally I think the chances of this happening are very remote to put it mildly.As for trying to isolate iran the us tried the same thing with the ussr and failed totally,even the draconian sanctions on iraq did not isolate it completely.Perhaps one day the same thing that happened to the soviet puppet states in eastern europe will happen to the us puppet states in the middle east,the downside for they west is that whatever replaces them I doubt it will be that western friendly.
By the way I thought this was an excellent post arnold ,keep it up

Anonymous said...

Darn, you didn't label the Fulda Gap. I've always wondered exactly where that was. Something about the German central plain.