Next Stop: Iran?

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Aircraft carrier

Changing the calculus in the Gulf [Tolka Rover / Flickr]

When we saw President Bush’s surge speech last week, we heard his acknowledgement that the situation had worsened in 2006. And that he was taking responsibility. And that, as had been leaked for the last week or more, an increase of 21,000 troops, mainly in Baghdad, was the only way to make the bloody situation better.

But when a number of veteran Middle East policy heads saw the same speech, they heard three words: Iran, Iran, and Iran.

Succeeding in Iraq also requires defending its territorial integrity and stabilizing the region in the face of extremist challenge. This begins with addressing Iran and Syria. These two regimes are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq. Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.

President George W. Bush, January 10, 2007

This wasn’t just rhetoric, of course. The next morning, as if on cue, US forces detained five Iranians at their consular office in Northern Iraq.

And as for the larger strategic moves, Bush had this to say:

We are also taking other steps to bolster the security of Iraq and protect American interests in the Middle East. I recently ordered the deployment of an additional carrier strike group to the region. We will expand intelligence sharing and deploy Patriot air defense systems to reassure our friends and allies. We will work with the governments of Turkey and Iraq to help them resolve problems along their border. And we will work with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating the region.

President George W. Bush, January 10, 2007

And now the New York Times is arguing that even the selection of Navy Admiral William J. Fallon as the new commander of CentCom is itself evidence of gunboat diplomacy. Is this more than sabre- (or carrier-) rattling? How did the speech go down in Tehran? What’s their next move? What’s ours?

Flynt Leverett

Senior Fellow and Director of the Geopolitics of Energy Initiative, New America Foundation

Author, “Dealing with Tehran: Assessing U.S. Diplomatic Options Toward Iran” for The Century Foundation

Barry Posen

Professor of Political Science, MIT

Author, “A Nuclear-Armed Iran: A Difficult But Not Impossible Policy Problem” for The Century Foundation

Farideh Farhi

Professor of political science, University of Hawai’i at Manoa

Extra Credit Reading

Katrina Vanden Heuvel, Bush Isn’t Listening, The Nation [Online only], January 11, 2006.

Juan Cole, Did the U.S. Just provoke Iran?, Salon, January 12, 2007: “Thursday’s raid on the Iranian consulate is more evidence that President Bush is ready to escalate the conflict.”

Jay Solomon, Pentagon Intensifies Pressure on Iran, The Wall Street Journal, January 12, 2006: “Under one possible scenario, U.S. forces could cross into Iran or Syria in pursuit of suspected insurgents or their allies, or use alleged Iranian activities inside Iraq as a pretext for a wider assault on Iran.”

Editorial, Squeezing Iran, The Wall Street Journal, January 12, 2006: “It’s about time, and we hope the Administration keeps showing Tehran that it will pay a price for continued subversion in Iraq.”

Seymour Hersh, The Iran Plans, The New Yorker, April 17, 2006: “The Bush Administration, while publicly advocating diplomacy in order to stop Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapon, has increased clandestine activities inside Iran and intensified planning for a possible major air attack.”


24 thoughts on “Next Stop: Iran?

  1. The legacy of the overthrow of Mohammed Mossadegh as told by Steven Kinzer in “All the Shah’s Men” casts a long shadow on America-Iran relations. For the United States it is barely a footnote in the lengthy history of cold war interventions.

    For Iran it is a seminal moment that colors their view of America. A fairly straight like can be draw from the coup to the Shah to the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

  2. How can the U.S. engage in diplomatic tactics with Iran without taking Iran off the Axis-of-Evil list? This is going to look monumentally incoherent. Such a phrase isolates to a point that not even third parties can broker talks, because eventually back-channels must bubble up to the surface. So, it would seem that this is going to have to be addressed first if there is going to be any diplomatic engagement with Tehran. And yes, it’s extremely difficult. Rhetorical phrases like Axis-of-Evil limit available options, not create or expand available options. So silly and amateurish. Military tactics can always be pursued without bluster.

    Pressing on and supposing there’s a way around the Axis-of-Evil Möbius rhetorical knot, what would the form of an American security guarantee with Iran look like and how would it be codified? Would it be a treaty, ratified by Congress? A gentleperson’s handshake? What circumstances would dissolve the agreement?

    What are the Power Point Bullets for a comprehensive approach to this issue in non-wonky terms us in the hinterlands can digest? Is there a way to whittle the comprehensive strategy into smaller, incremental milestones? Or, do domestic pressures over take these incremental strategies and render them moribund. If incremental strategies are overtaken by domestic events, then why wouldn’t that occur with a comprehensive strategy?

  3. On Martin Luther King Day:

    Here are Martin Luther King’s Ten Commandments on Vietnam- notes found in his pocket at the time of his death.

    1. thou shalt not believe in military victory

    2. thou shalt not believe in political victory

    3. thou shalt not believe that they, the Vietnamese, love us

    4. thou shalt not believe that the Saigon government has the support of the people

    5. thou shalt not believe that the majority of the South Vietnamese look upon the Viet Cong as terrorists

    6. thou shalt not believe the figures of killed enemies or killed Americans

    7. Thou shalt not believe that the generals know best.

    8. Thou shalt not believe that the enemies victory means communism

    9. Thou shalt not believe that the world supports the United States

    10. Thou shalt not kill.

    Coretta Scott King read the above at a peace parade in NYC, April 1968, a few weeks after the assassination.

  4. Thanks Potter. I’m going to read those Commandments at our MLK event tonight.

    I think the democrats are still being WAY too timid, too “politic”, we should be impeaching Bush & Cheney immediately (and be keeping them in straight-jackets inside padded cells) before they destroy the entire planet.

  5. As we rock back and forth at this crossroads in dealing w/ Iran, between the Iraq Study group’s pragmatisms and Bush’s “war of ideologies”, I hope we can lean on MLK for directions.

    “Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home, and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as one who loves America, to the leaders of our own nation: The great initiative in this war is ours; the initiative to stop it must be ours.”

    “We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. And history is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate.”

    “We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent coannihilation.”

    “And if we will only make the right choice, we will be able to transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of peace.

    If we will make the right choice, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.

    Martin Luther King: Beyond Vietnam — A Time to Break Silence you can listen and read his speech here

  6. I missed the last sentence of the speech above:

    “If we will but make the right choice, we will be able to speed up the day, all over America and all over the world, when justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

    One more thing though, in the speech Dr. King quotes a Buddist leader in Vietnam and his words speak to the folly of our present actions:

    “Each day the war goes on the hatred increases in the heart of the Vietnamese and in the hearts of those of humanitarian instinct. The Americans are forcing even their friends into becoming their enemies. It is curious that the Americans, who calculate so carefully on the possibilities of military victory, do not realize that in the process they are incurring deep psychological and political defeat. The image of America will never again be the image of revolution, freedom, and democracy, but the image of violence and militarism (unquote).

  7. The idea of leaping (or even just shuffling) from one and 1/2 military disasters (the 1/2 being Afghanistan, and I’m being generous there) into yet another one, and all within a period of less than a decade, is just too depressing, too horrific, to contemplate with a clear head.

    Iran’s president is twisted (that obscene conference of holocaust-deniers made that perfectly evident) and its religious rulers are another throwback to the bad old days. These facts in themselves do not make an invasion (or an airstrike, or any other military misadventure) of Iran either necessary or practical. If they are developing nuclear weapons–which I freely concede is a real possibility–then the chances are they are doing so because they know that possession of nukes is the only real deterrent against aggression from the US and others. I don’t really believe that Iran is pursuing nukes so that the day they have their first missile they can turn Israel into a crater. I just don’t think they’re that stupid. Does anyone? And if not, then WHAT IS THIS REALLY ABOUT?

    Oil. Oil. Oil. Oiloiloiloiloiloiloiloil.

    Peggysue, I agree, the democrats should be impeaching those White House monsters, but they are not going to do so. Why not? Because they are not ruthless … unlike the Republicans.

    Ruthlessness is what separates “us” from “them”.

    And that is why “they” are still winning, in spite of the elections.

  8. Maybe the best thing about Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi and people like them is that they show how victory may be achieved over those enemies who have the advantage of ruthlessness, even at the cost of their own lives.

    Ruthlessness means a total willingness to sacrifice the lives of others in the furtherance of your cause. Righteousness means a total willingness to sacrifice your own life in the furtherance of your cause.

    (Although, does that make the suicide bombers of 9/11 “righteous”, at least, does it make them so outside of their own heads? I could argue that there are no valid judgments of self outside of one’s own head in any case.)

    Either way, the good guys die. And even if the good guys win the “moral battle”, the bad guys are still around, still willing to kill.

    Justice is an illusion.

    It is still the only illusion worth believing in … but only if it is Earthly justice. The illusion of justice after death, of heaven and hell, are illusions we all would do well to banish from the human mind.

  9. We (by which I mean the those in the administration) seem to have such great difficulty conceiving of Iran as a strategic player in its own right, with its own interests and motives and game plan. To the President and his inner circle, all that seems visible is the world through the eyes of America. A few months back ROS did a show on the Iran/oil connection to this war, which started me thinking about the new “Great Game.” We’re being failed here in many ways, not least of which is the failure of those in power to think about the bigger picture and look at the world in all its particulars 10 or 20 years out. In place of such careful analysis, we get bravado and oversimplification…

    No real point here, just ranting. :)

  10. Thanks Sutter…the U.S. may be on its way to becoming the North-Going Zax and the South-Going Zax!

    BP [roughly]: They’ve fetishized America’s power position…that really encapsulates so much about our policy makers.

    Excellent show all…

  11. If Iran is sending in fighters to kill Americans and spread violence,I would only think it logical for US forces to try and stop such actions from continuing.How could any American have a problem with this?

    To Josh Hendrickson, I’m glad you have faith that Iran means no harm to anyone. The last I heard I thought The Iranian leadership was calling for the elimination of Isreal.

    Maybe we should put a call into Tel-Aviv to let them know the Iranian president was just kidding. I’m sure they will feel quite relieved at the news.

    By the way I’m not advocating an invasion of Iran. I’m also not for appeasement . This is a country that needs to be watched very carefully.

  12. rc21 regarding this question: “If Iran is sending in fighters to kill Americans and spread violence,I would only think it logical for US forces to try and stop such actions from continuing.How could any American have a problem with this?”

    Your assignment, it you choose to accept, is entertain six legitimate reasons in the current climate and short-term future why an American may have a problem with this tactic. Best regards…

  13. Is anyone as cynical as I am…I think a 4th reason why Bush/Cheney would start a 3rd front in the region is to shift the blame. As in, “The Evil Iranians are the Reason that our righteous war in Iraq is going so badly.”

    After all, if God is on your side, then if you’re having a big problem, look for the Devil…

  14. Just a few questions I thought of as I listened to the show. Which country is the next middle east power house if Iran were to fall? Would Saudi Arabia or Egypt be the next big player? Could the administration think if we reduce Irans power through war can we still maintain a positive relationship with the power house?

  15. Well Oliver, If one enjoys, or is indifferent to seeing Americans killed then there are plenty of reasons.

    Usually when one is at war it is best to try and kill the people who are trying to kill you.

  16. I don’t recall your guests mentioning that, despite the claims of “defense” that the U.S. will use, it WILL be a violation of international law to attack Iran, not to mention its criminal insanity.

    Bush will not talk to Iran because he wants “regime change” in Iran and wants to control Iranian oil.

  17. Prior to the Iraq, there was a trifecta favoring a war with Iran: radical in charge, a position on our regime change list, and Iran’s refusing to stand down on Uranium enrichment.

    Now the probability of war with Iran is favored by a double trifecta: the preceding plus their interfering with our Iraq project, a US president who needs a wider war to shield his Iraq failure, and Iran being the grande beneficiary to that failure.

    As I look at the carrier USS Stennis, as it steams by my house later this morning on its way out into the Pacific, I will know that I am likely looking at (unfortunate) history in the making.

    I will close with the beautiful and tragic prose of former senior NSC staffer Roger Morris:

    “… I sat across from the angry deflecting bravado of another military unable to admit defeat, impotence and its own ample share in the common disaster, officers who became mentors of our puerile power point generals of Mesopotamia. After I resigned from the White House over the invasion of Cambodia, I saw another universe of careerism, of craven equivocation in a Democratic opposition ever cowed by Republican chauvinism. I sat then across from maimed Vietnam veterans come to Capitol Hill to scream and murmur for peace, their bodies shaking in rage yet legs and arms strangely still, frozen in paralysis. Iraq is not Vietnam. Not just in the far wider geo-political ruin, but in sheer blind repetition of behavior expecting a different result, a mark of madness in nations as in individuals, it is worse….”

  18. RC21 “If Iran is sending in fighters to kill Americans and spread violence,I would only think it logical for US forces to try and stop such actions from continuing.How could any American have a problem with this?”

    Escalation will kill more Americans as well as other human beings. We are talking about escalation of war, not pinpoint action to clean out a few.

    The calculation here is that not talking to Iran will kill more people than talking to Iran. George Bush’s personal pride, stubbornness, fixing the legacy he lies that he is not interested in, is more important than American lives or any lives.

    If you listened to the show the sane suggestion was made that we evolve our reaction to Iran as we did to China. We cannot pull this kind of stuff with China.

  19. Potter, I’m all for talking to Iran. The sooner the better. As I stated earlier I am also not in favor of invading Iran. But as long as we have troops in Iraq, they should be able to protect themselves against those who are trying to kill them.

    What some people seem to be advocating is the death of Americans.

    We can hunt those who seek to kill us,while at the same time negotiating with their leaders.

  20. Iran is a nation state acting in its own best interest. If Iran occupied Mexico and we did not have agent provocateurs or saboteurs working against them we’d be insane.

    rc21: Protecting themselves is one thing but threatening hyperbole is actually contributing to instability. If the US wants to station troops on the Iranian border to stop incursions I am all for it. If the US wants to capture and deport Iranian agents working within Iraq I am all for it.

    These are two smart and limited things the administration could do. But placing a carrier group is just a provocative grandstanding and is more likely to lead to deepening hostility than useful discourse.

  21. Interesting that so much attention is being paid to Iran…. Consider this. There is a nation which already has nuclear weapons. It is riddled with fundamentalist Muslims. It harbors large numbers of terrorists in its villages and cities. It has a history of selling nuclear weapons technology on the black market. It is run by a military dictator. He has come close to assassination several times, and this nation cannot be considered stable in any manner. This nation has threatened one neighbor with nuclear attack at least once in its history, and came very near having a nuclear exchange! No, not a hypothetical nation. It is Pakistan. And yet NO ONE in Washington issues frightening warnings about this threat…. Curious… Very, very curious.

  22. Yes. Our president will work toward attacking Iran next.

    Because President Bush never fails to pursue the next MOST WRONG-HEADED, MOST COCKEYED plans regardless of the situation. Attacking Iran fits this methodology.

    Witness the latest “blame Iraq – blame al-maliki – blame the Iraqis” soon to be followed by “blame the Iranians”

    Our president will never blame himself. My blame goes to John Kerry for losing what should have been the easiest victory in history over an idiot president.

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