Iraqi Lessons

The Washington elite decision to invade Iraq occurred for reasons that thinking Americans will bitterly debate for much of the rest of this century. Like it or not, the influence of that decision will be heavy on the shoulders of every person alive on earth for the rest of that persons life. The question now centers on the lessons we all learn.
Lesson #1: War does not create democracy. If Washington invaded Iraq to defend freedom, the invasion was a disaster. The behavior of the U.S. toward occupied Iraq, the behavior of U.S.forces in Iraq, and the behavior of Iraqi politicians during the occupation have all tarnished the reputation of that ever out-of-reach ideal known as democracy.
Lessson #2: The American way of war destroys societies rather than saving them. If Washington invaded Iraq to save the Arab people, its destruction of the most advanced middle class society in the Arab world makes the failure of that goal crystal clear.
Lesson #3: A flashy war somewhere else will trick the American people every time. If Washington invaded Iraq to keep Bush-Cheney in office, the plan worked brilliantly, rescuing an apparently doomed administration. Perhaps the worst president in American history was able to preside over what was, in moral terms, perhaps the most immoral decade in American history, step nimbly over the thousands of dead civilians, ignore the tattered remnants of U.S. Constitutional guarantees of civil liberties, and announce with a grin that being president had been fun.
Lesson #4. Empires feast on war. If Washington invaded Iraq to build empire, the lesson to be derived from the perspective of the American people is quite different from the lesson that an empire-builder would derive. Despite being fought to a draw by rag-tag extremists”—many of whom were in fact genuine nationalists and having its uniformed forces essentially kicked out, the empire-builders have much to savor: Iraq remains, sort of, in the U.S. orbit, with huge and dangerous U.S. mercenary forces evidently planning to remain. Then theres that monster fortress embassy in the Green Zone. As for the ring of real fortresses, the U.S. military bases, just exactly what is happening to them? More significantly for empire-builders, the war facilitated the establishment of a larger ring of U.S. bases throughout the region, not just surrounding Iran but making clear that, for the moment, the U.S. is the winner of the Central Asian Great Game that Russia and Great Britain used to fight. Of course, the small matter of how to avoid a second embarrassing victory”—in Afghanistanremains to be worked out; some of our brilliant strategists are now suggesting the (to empire-builders) obvious solution: expand the failed Afghan adventure to Pakistan.
Lesson #5. Even winning a war can harm your security. OK, maybe the U.S. did not exactly win the Iraq war, but it certainly conquered the place and invented its current government. Yet who in the U.S. feels more secure? The war empowered bin Laden for years, multiplied anti-U.S. feeling worldwide, contributed greatly to a continuing U.S. economic mess, left the country profoundly divided, and left the U.S. embarrassingly irrelevant in the Arab world, as became obvious when the White House sat on the sidelines during the heady days of Tahrir Square. Meanwhile, Iran, which empire-builders and Likudniks so love to criticize, is manifestly more significant on the world stage than it was a decade ago. Much more seriously for real strategic thinkers, Russia and China are steadily moving forward with low-cost economic development projects to expand their global influence while being pushed more and more warmly into a strategic embrace by the squeeze the U.S. is putting on them.
Lesson #6. Aggression is complicated. If Washington invaded Iraq to get Iran, well, Washington transformed Iraq from Irans main enemy into, shall we say, a very friendly and submissive neighbor: dare we say Iraq is Persian for Canada? And now Washington is almost throwing Pakistan as well into Irans orbit. In the process, Washington also taught Iranians at least two lessons that will come back to haunt Americans. First, Iranian efforts to work with the Bush Administration were accepted briefly when desperately needed to construct a new Afghan regime, after which Bush immediately insulted Iran (remember Axis of Evil???). Second, tensions with Iran have greatly empowered Irans own militaristic, super-nationalistic neo-cons. Iranians have learned that hostility toward the U.S. pays a lot more than cooperation.
Lesson #7. War enriches the rich. This one is harder to contemplate; it’s a real conspiracy theory and surely must impute more deviousness to certain factions than they deserve, but if some of those who supported the invasion of Iraq did so to blind the 99.9% to the accelerating shift of power and wealth into the hands of the 0.1%, they certainly achieved what they wanted. One one level, the shift of wealth to the uber-rich occurred directly through the enormous benefits handed to CEOs profitting from the war. On a second level, war tensions distracted Americans. Linking the levels together was an insidious dynamic of rising impoverishment of the 99%, facilitating the task of persuading some of them to sacrifice their lives on the battlefields of empire. That this in fact worked and did so on at least two crucial levels is pretty much beyond dispute; that it was planned from Day 1 is less clear. Nonetheless, now they own it all.
The American people (not the Occupiers; that courageous minority understands the need to defend democracy) are right: a self-satisfied if embarrassed grin followed by firm denial and a trip to the mall is the only way to deal with this mess. Face up to reality and we will all need psychiatrists.

The Day After Victory

Almost anything could happen were Israel to take the enormous gamble of launching an unprovoked war against Iran. Even assuming Israel were to win the instant military victory of Likudniks’ dreams, the day after that victory Israel would face a new situation replete with instability. How the new dynamics provoking that instability might interact would spell the difference between survival and destruction.

One fundamental shift that is easily predictable is that the mostly disinterested attitude toward Israel of Iranians would be transformed into long-term hatred and fear. Although Iranian politicians currently find it useful to run a propaganda war against Israel to enable them to prance the regional political stage, Iranians have, even under the Islamic Republic, mostly viewed Israel as rather removed from their core concerns: Saddam’s Iraq, the Sunni fundamentalism of the Taliban, regional Kurdish political activism, Baluchi instability along the Iranian-Pakistani border, and of course the expanding ring of U.S. military bases surrounding them. Beyond attracting desired attention to Iran’s pretensions (logical pretensions over the long run, considering its size) to regional preeminence, tension with Israel is most accurately viewed as a leadership tool for regime consolidation (a temptation hardly unknown to Netanyahu, who has played this card throughout his career). It is the extreme nature of Iranian rhetoric (in other words, the eagerness with which Tehran politicians played the game) plus the equally extreme nature of the super-sensitive Israeli response that has transformed this convenient little self-serving political game into what increasingly appears to be a deadly serious game of chicken: the testosterone is flowing.

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Long War
Israeli Defense Ministry Analyst’s View
He [Dr. Moshe Vered] rules out ideas that a quick missile war would put an end to a conflict because neither side would score a “knock-out,” and Iran does not have the capability of successfully attacking Israel with hundreds of long-range missiles.
He predicts it is more likely that if Israel initiates a pre-emptive strike, Iran will play the role of the victim and let the international community condemn Israel. At the same time, Tehran would secretly ferry troops into Syria and Lebanon, possibly through Shi’ite communities in Iraq and with the silent approval of Turkey.
The next stage in the war would be massive rocket attacks by Hamas from the south and Hizbullah from the north. Israeli military intelligence officials estimate that both terrorist organizations possess advanced missiles far beyond what were used in the 34-day-old Second Lebanon War in 2006.
With long-range weapons that could be fired from deep in Lebanon, Israel would be forced into capturing most of the country, and face a deadly and costly guerilla war. At the same time, a massive military threat from Syrian territory to the Golan Heights would require large numbers of reservists to defend the region. [Israel National News.]
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However, the testosterone is flowing mostly among members of the elite with careers at stake. The most easily predictable transformation that would result from an Israeli attack is that the Iranian people would become committed enemies of Israel for the first time…and surely remain so for at least a generation. This would fundamentally alter Israel’s long-term strategic calculus, to the point that it is hard to see how Israel could avoid permanent weakening of its security without shifts in domestic policy so revolutionary that they would erase the whole Zionist enterprise and turn Israel into a secular, bi-ethnic “Lesser Israel”.

Looking out over a somewhat shorter time frame, the question is how this highly probable transformation of Iranian society into a genuine opponent of Israel and one searching actively for revenge would interact with other dynamics that an Israeli attack would set in motion. One such dynamic would play out inside of Iraq, where, conveniently for Iran, government is already in the hands of the Shi’a. Shi’a, like every other social group, of course entertain a range of political opinions and tend, all else being equal, to prefer independence to subordination. This range of opinion is likely to shift under the impact of a groundswell of pro-Iranian opinion that can be expected to weaken those Shi’i politicians tempted to cooperate with Big Oil and Washington while strengthening those politicians comfortable working with Iran. Given an Israeli attack on Iran, in other words, everything else will not be equal. Who, in Iraq, is more likely to benefit in career terms from such a shift than the already powerful Moqtada al Sadr, perhaps the most articulate voice in opposition to the U.S.?

A year or two after an attack on Iran, Israel should anticipate the strong possibility that al Sadr would be ruling Iraq with an Iraqi-Iranian alliance in place that would dwarf the Iranian relationship with Syria. Saudis would be troubled by the rise of a militantly destabilizing Shi’i entente but at the same time have trouble opposing the unambiguous victims of Israeli aggression, thus weakening their efforts to oppose such a rise in Iranian influence.

A reenforcing loop of mutual encouragement toward increasingly extreme behavior between Iraqis and Iranians should come as no surprise. This development would shove Israel’s security predicament to a new level. Israel began with domestic Palestinians as the enemy, then added Iraq in the middle distance, and after the removal of Iraq as an enemy as the (surely intended) result of the U.S. invasion now considers distant Iran its main enemy. Each selection of a new prime adversary entailed not only greater distance but tackling a vastly stronger opponent, but an Israeli attack would do something unique: it would very possibly unify Iran and Iraq in an anti-Israeli posture.

If that were not enough, this would occur in the context of four other developments that are likely to interact significantly with the rise of a united Shi’i opposition:

  • the domestic preeminence in Lebanon of Hezbollah;
  • Arab Spring;
  • the Islamic bomb sitting in a Pakistan estranged from the U.S. by Washington’s hardline posture;
  • and a good supply of Sunni radicals looking desperately for a way to regain prominence.

While one may smirk that it would be impossible to predict anything, that is really not true. For starters, one can safely predict the occurrence of an unholy mess filled with violence. Many, many chickens would return to Israel to roost. It is not easy to imagine scenarios leading to electoral victory in an Arab country after an Israeli attack by Arab politicians counseling friendship toward Israel. Of course, Iran might make the mistake of striking out against Saudi Arabia, but baring a major Iranian error, Iran seems likely to enjoy sympathy that will lead to the regional rise of politicians who either are genuinely militant or feel they must adopt a militant position to win elections.

Add to this situation the likely situation in Israel, where an aggressive garrison state with a highly influential illegal settler faction eager to retain its ill-gotten gains now genuinely sees that “everyone is against us.” Settler terrorism to further cleanse the native population from desired areas will provoke desperate Palestinian self-defense, open the door to unemployed regional al-Qua’ida types, and push Tel Aviv further down the slippery slope of mindless reliance on force. Post-war hubris can be expected to make Israel a provocative, not conciliatory neighbor, further exacerbating whatever militant tendencies arise in Muslim societies as a direct consequence of an Israeli attack.

Thus, an Israeli attack on Iran that works can be expected to provoke rather than eliminate security concerns, in a political if not military firestorm of mutually reinforcing feedback loops in Iran, in Shi’i areas, and region-wide. Each dynamic would not only individually intensify the strategic threat to Israel but inhibit the resolution of the other threats. In other words, the reality would be far worse for Israel than a laundry list of threats would indicate. Iranian regime militancy will intensify Iranian popular militancy while both intensify Iraqi militancy. All three will intensify Palestinian militancy (compromise now probably utterly discredited). Israeli hubris will further exacerbate all the rest. Even an overwhelming Israeli military success will leave Israel facing a strategic situation both severely impaired and engulfed in a vicious cycle of rising threat.
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Analytic Rigor

Several more analytically rigorous approaches to thinking about the above-addressed question of how the situation after a militarily successful Israeli attack on Iran might play out exist, including conducting a scenario analysis, drawing causal loop diagrams, building a system dynamics model, thinking through the implications from the perspective of complexity theory, and game theory. A game theoretic analysis could start with the simple question, “Was Israel’s attack successful?” Here, we are assuming it was. Then, things get complicated fast, e.g., who makes the next move? Is it realistic to imagine that at the moment of victory Tel Aviv would immediately take the initiative by implementing some new policy? If so, options could be categorized into aggressive or conciliatory policies. If aggressive, a selected array of other actors have a turn, etc. Drawn in a tree structure, this approach organizes thinking about the exponential rise in possible outcomes, with the critical deficiency that it obscures interactions among the various underlying dynamics. Whatever the next step, it should now be clear that the article represents only the tip of the analytical iceberg facing Israeli national security strategists trying to assess the utility of going to war.

Iranian-Israeli Death Dance

In 2007 a scenario analysis of Iranian-Israeli relations suggested that the two sides would harm themselves by continuing on their confrontational course. That finding is coming true, with the harm now visible in both the domestic and foreign situations of each society. Meanwhile, the bilateral death dance continues…
With Israeli militarists firmly in control of both Israeli and U.S. Mideast policy, the Israeli-Iranian confrontation remains in endless crisis. Neither side is making any effort to create new approaches to any possible resolution so it remains impossible to determine what either side wants, intends, or would settle for. Does Tehran want to dominate the region; does it intend, when able, to take an existential risk to achieve that goal; would it settle for security and inclusion? Does Tel Aviv want to retain its military dominance and permanent suppression of the Palestinian people; does it intend to take an existential risk to maintain that dominance; would it settle for a nuclear but transparent Iran and a two-state solution? Washington will neither offer Tehran a sufficiently sincere compromise nor put sufficient pressure on Tel Aviv to determine the bottom line of either side. The only aspect of the mess that is clear is that the constant tension works to the advantage of the extremists on each side, cementing their hold on power and virtually precluding rational discussion.
The above was true in 2007, when the scenario analysis Iranian-Israeli Confrontation was done; it remains true in late 2011. Yet much has changed. Ankara has staked out rhetorical leadership of a neutral position offering Tehran great potential leverage, an opportunity of which clumsy Tehran hardliners have yet to take advantage. The Arab Spring has weakened Cairos adherence to the pro-Israel camp as well. Meanwhile, Obama has allowed Tel Aviv to obstruct his efforts to turn around U.S. ties with the Muslim world even as the U.S. position in Iraq has continued its downward course. By skillfully and remorselessly undermining Washingtons freedom of movement, Netanyahu has also steadily weakened the value of U.S. support even as he has fractured Israeli society into an increasingly violence-prone and overtly racist majority and a minority increasingly concerned about the long-term survival of Israeli democracy. The result has been to strengthen Irans regional position, weaken Israels regional position, and to enhance the risk of Israeli aggression and of Iranian militarization of its nuclear technology.

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Israeli Views of Israel

Ruth Dayan:
We built this country inch by inch, and we lost so many lives. We built public and social institutions, schools, factories. What’s going on today is awful. They’re ruining this country. I am a proud Israeli. I’ve lived through every war, endured every moment of suffering, but I never stopped believing in peace. I lost friends and family members. I’m a peacemaker, but the current Israeli government does not know how to make peace. We move from war to war, and this will never stop. I think Zionism has run its course….

And this continuous expansion of the settlements everywhere—I cannot accept it. I cannot tolerate this deteri oration in the territories and the roadblocks everywhere. And that horrible wall! It’s not right. [Daily Beast 10/30/11.]

Retired Chief of Mossad Meir Dagan:

In his first public appearance since leaving the post in September, Dagan said earlier this month that the possibility a future Israel Air Force attack on Iranian nuclear facilities was “the stupidest thing I have ever heard.”[Haaretz 6/1/11.]

We have to think about what would happen the day after. [Der Spiegel 11/8/11.]

Haaretz Commentator Gideon Levy:

The nuclear powers also ignore the fourth chapter of the treaty for the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons that calls for dismantling them. They are permitted to ignore it. The world lives in peace too with the fact that 189 countries have indeed signed the treaty but that there are four, including Israel, that have not. The world has learned to live with the North Korean and Pakistani bombs even though this is a danger that is no smaller than that which Iran poses….
Israel, which has not signed the treaty, is in the same company as North Korea, Pakistan and India – that is, very dubious company. No one asks why, no one asks for what reason, not in Israel and not in the rest of the world…
There is a great deal of hypocrisy in Israel’s attitude toward the world….
Like Israel, Iran will apparently not heed the words of the world. But does Israel want in any way to resemble Iran?  [Haaretz 11/10/11.]

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It is time for another look at the alternative futures of the Iranian-Israeli confrontation.
The 2007 study offered four predictions:

Prediction #1: Co-Evolution. Iran and Israel will co-evolve: without either necessarily perceiving it, they will influence each other, revolve around each other like binary stars, each in its individual orbit but bound to the other by their mutual insistence on making the other a priority, and traveling an unseen path together. Most likely, all the while each will see only its own uniqueness; neither will perceive the increasingly significant points of similarity as their mutual adaptation subjects them to similar pressures. Judging from current trends, each will feed on the other’s hostility to the detriment of both.

Prediction #2: States of Criticality.
Potential states of criticality threatening disaster will occur. They are fundamental danger zones. A wise society will avoid them. As tensions rise and groups organize to push radical agendas, thereby making tensions rise further, it is easy to slide into the unmarked state of criticality where going one step too far leads to some sort of disaster – perhaps a tremor, perhaps the “big one.”

Prediction #3: Tipping Points. Positive feedback loops will bring to the fore dynamics that were previously insignificant, and tipping points will be reached, to general astonishment.

Prediction #4: Adaptation.
Adaptation will occur in unforeseen ways – sometimes at an unexpected location, sometimes after an unexpected delay. However it happens, Israel and Iran they will change, although our perceptions of them may not. The Israel still perceived in some quarters as a plucky pioneering movement of idealists adopted selective assassination of terrorists and then moved beyond that to assassination of opposing political leaders. Iran’s messianic Shi’ite spirit of the early 1980s has evolved into a willingness to cooperate with the U.S. vs. the Taleban in 2001 and support for the U.S.-sponsored regime in occupied Iraq today. Change is predictable; if unseen, the fault almost certainly lies in the eyes of the beholder.

Prediction #1, Co-Evolution, is supported by circumstantial evidence. The bilateral tension occupies an artificially important place in the politics of each state. Domestically, Tehran appears to have cracked down on dissidents with a degree of viciousness unusual even for Iran because of its defensiveness engendered by threats coming from Israel and its obedient superpower sponsor. Meanwhile, Israeli society is sliding steadily toward racist violence, a trend primarily the result of its colonization of the West Bank but one exacerbated by Netanyahus determination to play domestic policies off against policy toward Iran. The result is that Iranian-Israeli tensions are making both the Tehran and the Tel Aviv regimes more hardline than they would otherwise have been, thus exacerbating domestic political problems.
Concerning foreign policy, each state increasingly is finding its options limited by its addiction to extremist rhetoric and genuine security fears resulting from the Iranian-Israeli confrontation. Israeli freedom of thought and maneuver regarding its central predicament of how to deal with Palestinians is severely constrained by tensions with Iran. Iranian freedom of thought and maneuver regarding how to deal with the ring of U.S. military bases along its borders and the instability inherent in Iraqi, Pakistani, and Afghan insurgencies is similarly constrained by tensions with Israel.
In sum, Iran and Israel are co-evolving both domestically and internationally in ways that harm both of them because they have allowed themselves to become so closely linked by bilateral tensions artificially whipped up by their respective political leaders that they cannot find the freedom to focus on other arguably more fundamental and more serious problems. This evolutionary process is making each country less democratic and less secure.
Prediction #2, States of Criticality, isin early November 2011demonstrably true for a sudden state of criticality is exactly where the two states are at the moment, for no obvious reason other than the publication of yet another ambiguous IAEA report that states it cannot prove the negative (that Iran absolutely does not have any nuclear militarization plan in process). On this slim reed balances an explosion of clamor over the idea of launching the worlds first unprovoked nuclear attack.
Prediction #3, Tipping Points, has yet to be substantiated, but the occurrence of one of the predicted states of criticality suggests that the probability of a tipping point is rising.
Prediction #4, Adaptation, is more obvious on the part of the U.S. than the two primary actors. Both ruling parties in the U.S. are now firmly under Israeli influence so extreme as virtually to constitute control regarding U.S. Mideast policy. In reaction to this, however, open discussion of the long-time taboo question of whether or not the U.S.-Israeli alliance might be harming U.S. national security has now struggled into mainstream thinking, with long-term consequences yet to be discerned. In Israel, while the media discuss Israeli policy toward Iran far more profoundly and honestly than U.S. media do, groupthink has taken firm hold at the political level, leaving those Israelis concerned about Netanyahus warmongering with no political representation. Adaptation this is, albeit not in a direction likely to enhance either Israeli security or Israeli democracy. Groupthink is almost never a wise strategic course. Somewhat less visibly perhaps, from the outside, Iran too is adapting, as its domestic politics become increasingly bitter and divided. Indeed, Prediction #4 is essentially a rewording at a different level of analysis (state rather than two-state system) of Prediction #1, since the very meaning of co-evolution is that each state is not only adapting but adapting in tandem with the other.
In sum, the analysis done in 2007 made predictions that amounted to a warning that the two states would each harm themselves by failing to change course, and that warning has proven on target. The respective regimes have only themselves to blame for not heeding the warning; its accuracy supports the methodological argument that scenario analysis constitutes a useful tool for sharpening thinking about complex foreign policy dilemmas.

Obama Officially Endorses a Zero-Sum Mideast Policy

Obama rushes to maintain the Neo-Con attitude of in-your-face aggressiveness in the Mideast despite domestic unrest, withdrawal from Iraq, and a desperate search for an escape route from Afghanistan.
Washington coupled its announcement of troop withdrawal from Iraq with a surge of forward-leaning military posturing in the region that completely negates the conciliatory impression given by the withdrawal announcement. The troop withdrawal was far less than it appeared in any case, given the thousands of mercenaries and many bases that Washington will leave behind, so why the rush to assure everyone that, regardless of what any other state actually does, Washington fully intends to maintain its aggressive stance toward the region?
The troop withdrawal from Iraq could have been used as evidence that the U.S. wants friendship with all, is an international voice of reason, and is willing to be a force for moderation. Washington could have proclaimed its troop withdrawal as part of the new Arab Spring move by the region toward moderation and democracy. That was, after all, what even the Neo-Con war party claimed they wanted. Washington could have made the withdrawal the basis for a new initiative to resolve differences with Iran, noting that, We have taken the first move; now its your turn. Either way, U.S. troops are leaving, so why not take advantage of this opportunity to test the Iranians? At worst, Tehran refuses to respond, giving Washington evidence of its uncooperative attitude to buttress its hard-line stance when calling for international opposition to Tehran.
But no, Washington rushed to make it clear that it had no intention of compromising, no interest in the opinions of those with whom it disagrees. Washington thus underscored its insistence on continuing the decade-long perspective that international relations in the Mideast is zero-sum: Washington insists that its opponents suffer clear and unambiguous defeat.
That is a curious attitude for a country in retreat.
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Mercenaries:
All contractors are of course not mercenaries, i.e., hired guns, but here are the latest Washington plans for keeping military force in Iraq after military forces are withdrawn:

the State Department plans a persistent presence in Iraq of roughly 17,000 U.S.-paid workers, of which 14,000 may be contractors. On Friday, White House officials, speaking on background at a briefing for reporters, projected that 4,500 to 5,000 of these will be employed in guarding three U.S. diplomatic posts in Irbil, Basra, and Baghdad. [Center for Public Integrity’s iWatchNews 10/22/11.]

Not soldiers under the control of U.S. law and Congress, mind you, but employees of companies in it for the money. And, with an explosion of non-competed military contracts–one of the worst legacies of the Bush-Cheney years, judging from the shocking graph of such irresponsible funding that accompanies the above article–that is only getting worse, the money is surely going to be very good indeed.
But don’t take my word for it:

“After a decade of war, the government remains unable to ensure that taxpayers and warfighters are getting good value for contract dollars spent,” Dov S. Zakheim, a former Pentagon comptroller and a member of the congressionally-created Commission on Wartime Contracting, told the Senate Armed Services committee

Combatting the Imperial Presidency

Tom Hayden has an important piece about Congressional demands for an honest U.S. withdrawal of forces from Iraq. Whatever the U.S. invasion of Iraq may mean, Americans need to remember at least one core lesson: it is a classic example of the failure of the Imperial Presidency. The war was all White House: no public debate, no loyal opposition (which caved), and certainly no honest presentation of justification; in sum, a non-demcratic war. When war, and this was the second most expensive war in U.S. history according to Stiglitz, is planned, declared, and run by imperial rather than democratic means, democracy no longer has much meaning. It is wonderfully reassuring that a decade later, nearly 100 Congressmen finally realize that Congress should have been part of the decision-making process. So, of course, should you, dear citizen.

Question: Is the Imperial Presidency one of the institutions whose orderly failure needs to be designed?

Getting What You Ask For

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Washington’s continuing military presence in Iraq, justified by al Sadr’s and Iran’s opposition to U.S. influence, in fact aggravates both al Sadr’s anti-American tendencies and Iran’s interference in Iraqi affairs.
U.S. Ambassador to Iraq from 2007 to 2009 Ryan Crocker is quoted today in the New York Times as follows:
I think the Iranians understand that they are not going to dominate Iraq, but I think they are going to do their level best to weaken it — to have a weak central government that is constantly off balance, that is going to have to be beseeching Iran to stop doing bad things without having the capability to compel them to stop doing bad things. And that is an Iraq that will never again threaten Iran. [Michael R. Gorcon and Andrew W. Lehren, “Leaker Reports Detail Iran’s Aid for Iraqi Militias,” NYTimes.com 10/23/10.]
This sort of analysis is important not because some former official of the discredited neo-cons believes it but because it is representative of the standard American public line. It assumes and leads gullible Americans to assume that for Iran to defend its own national interest somehow makes Iran different from other more moral(!) countries. In fact, I do not disagree with any part of Crocker’s statement as reported above.
The problem is with what is left out. Whatever Crocker’s own view may be, the standard American government/media line takes the above argument as justification for opposing and threatening Iran as well as justification for remaining in Iraq. (And where, tell me please, is there any evidence that the U.S. government plans to do anything other than remain in Iraq? Is the military pulling out its troops? Only a fraction. Are the city-scale U.S. military bases being closed? Is the world’s largest fortress…ah, embassy…being turned into housing for Baghdad’s poor?)
To the degree that the U.S. remains militarily involved in Iraq, its neighbor Iran will feel compelled for its own security to support its Iraqi assets and do what it can to ensure that Iraq never be used as a base for…well…for exactly what the U.S./Israeli elite repeatedly threaten: a military attack on Iran. Now shift to al Sadr. To the degree that the U.S. remains militarily involved in Iraq, al Sadr will feel compelled to work with Iran and any other force willing to support his effort to free Iraq from U.S. control.
As long as the U.S. tries to prevent Iran’s emergence as a regional power center, Iran cannot but take advantage of its ability to undercut and trap the U.S. in Iraq. As long as the U.S. remains militarily involved in Iraq, al Sadr will build his career on opposition to that presence.
The American military presence that is justified in Washington as a means of resisting Iranian influence instead promotes Iranian influence.

Notes From the Levant: Last of the Combat Troops Leaving Iraq? – Only in your Dreams

Notes From the Levant: Last of the Combat Troops Leaving Iraq? – Only in your Dreams

If you imagine that the U.S. invasion of Iraq is coming to an end, read the above article. By the way, the author calls the number of U.S. mercenary troops (i.e., armed soldiers employed by the U.S. government but not wearing U.S. military uniforms and NOT under the oversight of Congress) in Iraq as “unknowable.” He’s pretty much right, since the Pentagon tries to prevent the number from being known, but the last quoted figure I have seen is “100,000” – one of the world’s more impressive armies.

Two Emerging Powers Spoiling for a Showdown

The following is not a prediction. I would be the last to make linear extrapolations about the Mideast. It’s just a totally unscientific scenario of the near future that may be developing in the Mideast, making the huge assumption that no surprises occur. A ridiculous assumption for sure, but it is still worth thinking about current trends…

At the moment, Netanyahu appears to be tying Obama in knots, Iran appears to be taking over Iraq, and a crusading military dictatorship appears to be winning total control in Iran. One can easily make arguments about how Obama is really very patient and will not allow Israeli extremists to manipulate him; how Iraqi Shi’ites are patriotic opponents of Iranian control; how a broad moderate coalition is gaining power inside Iran (indeed, I just made the latter argument myself).

That said, appearances at the moment suggest that in five years, Israeli hardliners will have crushed the Palestinian people completely and solidified control of what will be a messianic, racist, apartheid, fundamentalist, and aggressively militant Greater Israel. Similarly, an alliance of superpatriotic military and fundamentalist clerics will have solidified control of Iran.

Israel will have intimidated all its neighbors except possibly a very cautious Hezbollah. Iran will have organized Iraq into a combination cordon sanitaire plus roadway for Iran into the Mideast. There will be no more Iranian arms ships to Palestine. If any Palestinians still exist to accept aid, Iran will be able to drive truck convoys through Iraq and Syria right up to the border of Jordan, assuming it still exists as an independent state.

The U.S. will be thoroughly cowed by the Israeli lobby and the unrestrained violence of crusading Israeli settlers completing ethnic cleansing with no apologies. Vis-a-vis Iran, the U.S. will not know which way to turn because it will be so mired down in Central Asia that it will be too dependent on Iran to fight it. And Iran will not be alone. Iran will have a nice little gas cartel sinecure running with Russia and expanding influence in Pakistan, which will be dependent on its new gas pipeline from Iran.

Bottom line: current trends suggest the ominous possibility that in five years both Iran and Israel may be emerging regional powers controlled by highly confident, militant religious movements run by extremist politicians believing that they talk to God and that God is telling them that war is the road to victory.

American Double Standards

Here’s a simple but absolutely fundamental point (written by a courageous mystery blogger who visited Israel) that every American needs to understand:

we’ve got a major double standard when it comes to the moral outrage we express. For example, what about the hundreds of thousands of brutally murdered Iraqis and Afghanis we are responsible for? Where is the moral outrage over that? Where is the moral outrage over the countless Palestinians slaughtered in cold blood for no other reason than the fact that they are Palestinian? People die on a weekly basis at the hands of Israeli soldiers in the village of Nilin, people who are peacefully and NON-VIOLENTLY protesting against the military dictatorship and occupation they are living under. Why aren’t we demanding accountability from the Israeli Government and insisting that Palestinians should have the right to protest without fearing for their lives? Did we see the pictures of the dead children in Gaza as a result of Operation Cast Lead? Where is our support for the Palestinian people in their struggle for justice against a truly brutal and inhumane regime? And just yesterday a U.S. drone is reported to have killed 60 people at a funeral in Pakistan. My point is, we are selectively and blindly supportive when it suits our interests or aligns with our world views, meanwhile our own government is making bloody messes the world over.

I just wonder how many Americans do understand this…

The ease with which we murder innocent farmers indicates what happens when double-standards are allowed. It is, by the way, ironic that this American murder of Afghan cucumber farmers occurred; as the Israeli war against Palestinians heated up a decade ago and collective punishment became an ever-more-obvious part of Israeli policy, the export of Palestinian cucumbers was one of the targets of Israel. Stop and ask yourself: When a cucumber farmer in a war zone is prevented from raising his crops, where is he likely to turn for support?

But back to the double standard. Everyone was outraged at the murder of one young lady on the streets of Tehran a few weeks ago. Where is the outrage, where are the demands for an investigation to punish the U.S. military murderers of these cucumber farmers (if that is indeed what they were)?

Iraqi Carnage

The horrifying Iraqi carnage over the weekend brings to mind the ragged old bumper sticker that still scowls from the back of my car: “Iraq Is Arabic for Vietnam.” Those responsible for the U.S. invasion of Iraq–and they are not limited to one faction or one party–still try to assuage their guilt by portraying the endless domestic strife being suffered by that defeated and destroyed society as somehow demonstrating that the U.S. should prolong its colonial adventure. From a moral perspective (not that morality enters into their thoughts), one could perhaps argue that, “we broke it, so we must fix it.” But the Iraqi china being smashed by the American bull could be excused for having a different perspective.

Unfortunately, those who start wars are seldom held responsible for their sins…especially when they win. That failure of victorious societies to look in the mirror not only leaves the defeated in chaos but inevitably comes back to haunt the victors.

The slaughter generated by the U.S. invasion of Iraq continues, even as American politicians, desperate to avoid admitting their sins, race forward as fast as they can toward the next war. Why attack Iran? Well, for one thing, it will take the minds of memory-challenged Americans off the past sins of their leaders.