Only Iran Can End U.S. Iraq Nightmare

Absent a grand bargain with Iran, talks between U.S. and Iranian ambassadors in Baghdad are just going through the motion

As I wrote on last week, Bush is in no position to bring the Iraq war to a satisfactory conclusion; the U.S. is treading water in Iraq lacking both any reason to believe the current balance of forces there will allow the attainment of U.S. goals, and any leverage capable of altering that balance of power. The Democrats, for their part, are posturing, demanding an immediate withdrawal as only a party of opposition on the campaign trail could do:

By invading Iraq, the U.S. irreversibly altered the balance of power throughout the Middle East; now, Iraq cannot be treated as a policy decision in isolation from the full spectrum of U.S. interests throughout the region — all of which will be calamitously weakened if the U.S. were to precipitously retreat. While the congressional discussion focused on the failure to achieve consensus among Iraq politicians, it may be that the absence of a consensus on Iraq between the U.S. and Iraq’s neighbors is even more dangerous. Given the weakness of the central government in Iraq, stability there is unlikely without an agreement among Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey and Iran over managing the political contest there. The most powerful stakeholder among them is Iran, which has close ties to the dominant political parties returned by the Iraqi electorate. And as long as Iran believes the U.S. is pursuing a policy of regime-change in Tehran, it has little incentive to help out Washington.

The latter point, really is the key to understanding the current quagmire. The idea of reaching out to Iran has become conventional wisdom in Washington diplomatic circles since the Iraq Study Group report, but it has only been grasped in a facile bound-to-fail sense. So Ambassador Crocker testified that he had talked to Iran on a number of occasions about ending their subversive activities, but to no avail. And this is largely accepted by the liberal hawk camp, while the neocons say told you so.

But if the U.S. is serious about resolving differences with Iran, the agenda of talks would have to be infinitely wider than “subversion” in Iran. Only talks that address and find a mechanism for settling or managing the fundamental strategic conflicts between Washington and Tehran — from U.S. regime-change policies to Iran’s nuclear program and regional activities — can change the course of the relationship. Iran has previously sought such talks with the Bush Administration, but has been rebuffed. As former Israeli foreign minister Shlomo Ben Ami argues, Iran’s regime has proven itself to be pragmatic, and “the grand bargain remains the only way out of the impasse.”

Ben Ami also notes that “Iran’s growing regional influence does not stem from its military expenditures, which are far lwoer than most of its enemies, but from its challenge to Israel and America and its astute use of soft power.” He urges the U.S. and Israel to consider a diplomatic approach based on mutual recognition with Tehran.

The Iranians believe the good faith they showed in Afghanistan has been met with an escalating of hostility from the U.S. side. The idea that they’ll help out the U.S. in Iraq with no quid-pro-quo is hopelessly naive, or worse, cynical (i.e. going through the motions to placate the Iraqi government).

Indeed, last week’s testimony by Petraeus and Crocker on Iraq coincided with a “rollout” of a Cheney-neocon campaign to stampede Americans to war with Iran. The idea that Iran would cooperate with the U.S. — as it did in Afghanistan — while knowing full well that the Administration is considering attacking Iran, is absurd. The Iranians certainly have a long-term interest in a stable, democratic Iraq, even one in which their Shiite allies do more to accomodate Sunni interests. But as long as they’re facing the threat of being bombed, or even a general U.S. policy of seeking the overthrow of their regime, they have no incentive to cooperate, and plenty of incentive to do whatever they can to keep the U.S. off balance and vulnerable in Iraq.

Moreover, the Iranians see the recent U.S. shift away from the Iraqi government and towards Sunni insurgent groups in Anbar as evidence of a U.S. agenda which now explicitly cites “containing Iran” as the strategic purpose of staying in Iraq. Still, if the U.S. is planning an attack, the Iranians need the U.S. to remain in Iraq.

After all, when Iran retaliates for whatever Bush throws at them, the Iranians are likely to target U.S. forces in Iraq, cutting off their supply lines in Baghdad and targeting them via guerrilla forces in Iraq and medium range rocket attacks. Iran, for purposes of its asymmetrical response to any attack by the U.S. needs plenty of Americans within reach of its capabilities.

And its own survival is a far greater concern for the Iranian regime than the future of Iraq.

There lies the rub: The U.S. cannot stabilize Iraq without cooperation from Iran; the price of such cooperation is normalizing relations with the Tehran regime; the Bush Administration has no intention of doing that, clinging instead to fantasies of regime-change; Iraq remains a nightmare.

Actually, it gets a lot worse. If the U.S. is stupid enough to imagine that a military attack will diminish the threat from Iran, the situation in Iraq will likely get a whole lot worse than it is right now. President Bush made no bones about the fact that Iraq is a mess he plans to hand off to his successor. But if he opts to go out in a blaze of, uh, “glory” by bombing Iran, the mess he leaves in the lap of the next president will have metastasized considerably.

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19 Responses to Only Iran Can End U.S. Iraq Nightmare

  1. Ziad says:

    Great thoughts but I’m afraid the White House will have a winner take all attitude about the Persian Gulf. Its theirs and they don’t plan to share…certainly not with the likes of Iran.

    I worry a bit about all the talk of Iran’s retaliatory options. If they all fizzle, then we’ll never hear the end of winger “I told you so’s” It would be like the first gulf war with Iraq’s “battle hardened” million man army, crack republican guard etc, When they proved no match against the U.S. it was like there was no legitimate argument against war.

    Anyhoo, I’m curious what others think of Bernard Kouchner’s recent remark, about the world needing to be prepared for war with Iran. Especially coming so soon after Sarkozy’s speech a couple of weeks back.

  2. Ziad says:

    I should add that I don’t think the White House has the slightest intention of leaving Iraq. Ever. It means loss of oil, loss of control over the gulf, loss of prestige and, of course, a substantial loss for Israeli security. I don’t believe this will change with a new administration in 2009

    And so Iran’s help in organizing an honorable exit isn’t needed. Iran’s destruction, however, will be very useful.

    Sorry to be so pessimistic.

  3. Murphy says:

    It’s funny. A few short years ago Bush told us Iran was, quite literally, evil. And yet, they seem to think that the Iranians should act like angels when it comes to US interests, that they should ‘co-operate’ – ie, help the US clear up the mess they themselves made, while still being threatened with war and regime change. No nation on earth – certainly not a fully paid up member of the Axis of Evil – would go out of their way to help an enemy for nothing in return. This is Bush logic.

  4. Poppy says:

    In a few more years, lets say 10. Iran will already have had its nuke for some time, since the US doesn´t have the balls to face hard losses in a never ending guerrilla warfare in a country which allready has very little to loose,loot or destroy Mercenary troops shall prove to expensive for an ailing US economy
    Pakistan will be in the hands of a strongly islamized military regime. Drug trade will be thriving from Peshawar to Basora,to pay the never ending war with western aid. Oil will be dripping by the drop. The reconstructed Russian army will have Brits and US tied in running after goshts from the Caspian to the Turkish frontier, if they’ve learned something .Les Francais , I’ls sont des blageurs, and will never risk a terrorist attack in Paris just to please the US.
    So when this time comes,and it will .
    Bush will be a bad word, and whoever happens to govern the country will be thinking if it is not about time to let Israel fight it by itself.
    And let´s leave India and China in the sidewings just for the time being.

  5. Allen Scher says:

    What will deter Bush from Nuking Iran now ?

  6. Allen Scher says:

    What will deter Bush from Nuking Iran now ?

  7. sarah macmillen says:

    I was in Israel in November of last year and everyone there is certain the US will nuke Iran. The debate was only a matter of when. Israeli politics & our administration have no problem with end time scenarios. the messianic jews are calling for it. There is great despair and madness there now, but it is accepted as “normal.” Christian zionists are running the show at weapons sites in New mexico. The only hopeful action would be to ask for aid from the great “evil.” I think Tony is right, I have been saying the same thing for about a year now. As a sociologist who studies ME, particularly Palestine, the answer for the ME is so simple but impossible for this administration. I fear even bigger problems given Iran’s talks with China and Russia this August. Insha’allah things will shift but a great inertia must change.

  8. The heart of the problem is the Bush regimes’ stubborn refusal to countenance real diplomacy rather that the bullying sabre rattling gunboat diplomacy.

    The US war vets association have opined that this regrattably has to with Bush’s personal inadequacies and avoidance of war duty as in Vietnam . A need to compensate with such inane muscle flexing, but on a dangerous world stage with real evil hawks like Cheney egging him on, if not pulling his strings.

    There are significant people of goodwill with spheres of leadership in the USA, who have been engaged in dialogue with the former Iranian US ambassador, with some suprising names amongst them, who have been thwarted and ignored.

    The Iraq Study Group were it able might tell a thing ot two on this. It is no coincidence that Lee hamilton one of the two co authors of the Iraq Study report secured the release through the Iranian Supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei of an Iranian US duel citizen.

    This avenue still exists for the mature, experienced and wise ,who do not h ave a personal need to play out John Wayne on their own delusionary world stage.

  9. Don Bacon says:

    Why the assumption that the US wants to stabilize Iraq?

    “As I have been saying for months – or is that years? – our real war aims have nothing to do with stability, democracy, or finding “weapons of mass destruction” that never existed in any case. Our goal has always been to plunge the Arab and Muslim nations of the Middle East into chaos, the better to move in, take control, and ensure the two main objectives of our foreign policy: access to oil, and security for a Greater Israel. A stable Iraq makes achieving these two goals more unlikely, while the U.S. occupation of Iraq – extended into the indefinite future – gives us many more options, including the option to extend the war beyond Iraq’s borders – which has been our real goal all along.”–Justin Raimondo

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  11. Pat says:

    Don Bacon, even assuming the cynical reasons behind the chaos in Iraq are true, it makes no sense that the U.S. and its energy-dealing interests would prefer a chaotic reality on the ground to a strongman who holds the population in check. Look at all the oil pumped out of Saudi Arabia or any of the Gulf states, then look at how frustrated the oil companies have become with Nigeria. I don’t know that Israel benefits from this either: things have certainly become a lot more complicated for them as they face a splintered Palestinian leadership instead of dealing with Arafat.

    T, I think you discount President Bush’s notorious sense of “historical destiny” on this one. Starting a disastrous war in the final months of his presidency, and then handing it to another guy with nothing more than a “not my problem”, would easily be the most cowardly thing a President has ever done or could possibly do. Granted I believe that he’s historically already the worst, but that would be something else altogether: if Bush sees himself as so Churchillian in his resolve, and that he alone is willing to do what’s right, then why would he so blatantly pass the buck?

  12. Pat says:

    And I will acknowledge that Bush could start the war in late summer 2008 and then use the argument of “We need another trusted Republican in this time of peril” to get, say, Rudy Giuliani elected, but I still believe that the reason I cited is one among many that are too numerous for the worst to push this war through to reality. Not to mention Bush’s support for anyone after starting War of Choice II would probably be more toxic than beneficial.

  13. Peter Principle says:

    Karon: “the Iranians see the recent U.S. shift away from the Iraqi government and towards Sunni insurgent groups in Anbar as evidence of a U.S. agenda which now explicitly cites “containing Iran” as the strategic purpose of staying in Iraq”

    The surprising thing — now that the mere mention of the word “Iran” is sufficient to induce mass hysteria at all points of the political compass AND in the corporate media — is that the Cheney Administration hasn’t used this rationale more aggressively to shore up support for the war at home and keep the nominal opposition party on the defensive.

    After all, if the real reason we’re in Iraq is to fight the Iranian menace — the new and improved “threatening storm” — then what Israel-loving Democrat can object to that?

    Of course, that still leaves our awkward co-habitation with a pro-Iran Shi’a sectarian government in Baghdad. But I suspect that problem isn’t going to be around much longer.

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  16. Bean Macathy says:

    The surprising thing — now that the mere mention of the word “Iran” is sufficient to induce mass hysteria at all points of the political compass AND in the corporate media — is that the Cheney Administration hasn’t used this rationale more aggressively to shore up support for the war at home and keep the nominal opposition party on the defensive.

  17. izmir seren says:

    Karon: “the Iranians see the recent U.S. shift away from the Iraqi government and towards Sunni insurgent groups in Anbar as evidence of a U.S. agenda which now explicitly cites “containing Iran” as the strategic purpose of staying in Iraq”

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