Pakistan would be left with no option but to support Iran if Israel attacks it. We would not like Israel to attack any country, irrespective of whether it’s Iran or any nuclear country. We wouldn’t like to be seen as part of Israel‘s campaign against any country. If Israel attacks Iran, it will have an impact on Pakistan as well. We will have to safeguard our own interests. We also have a Shia population in Pakistan who will not take it lying down.
I have argued frequently that attacking Iran is a bad deal for U.S. national security, being advocated by U.S. politicians who either are not thinking very deeply or who are working in support of certain obvious foreign factions. But saying that a war on Iran is dangerous does not suffice to make the national security case, and that case in fact is impossible to make conclusively. The argument, from a purely strategic perspective (e.g., ignoring morality, international law), rests on an evaluation of possible unforeseen outcomes. Just for one deadly serious “for instance,” consider the following:
- Step 1. Make the following logical assumption: a U.S. or Israeli (there is no longer any perceived distinction between the two in the Muslim world) attack on Iran will anger Muslims worldwide and all politically active Muslim groups will feel pressure to act accordingly. Therefore, anti-U.S. Muslim steps will be taken independently throughout the world.
- Step 2. Iranians will quite likely unite to defend their country. Subtract one critical source of oil.
- Step 3. Iraqis will sympathize. Consider the possibility of Iraqi oil disruptions.
- Step 4. Venezuela will sympathize. Consider the possibility of Venezuelan oil disruptions.
- Step 5. Sure, Steps 3 and 4 may well last only a short time, but here’s a longer-term disruption: Nigeria is in the midst of an anti-government radical Muslim revolt already. Consider the possibility of that revolt gaining massive public support overnight, to the point of ending Nigerian oil exports.
Note that these individual potential oil disruptions are not independent: all instantly become much more likely the instant the U.S. commits open aggression against Iran. At this moment, the U.S.-Iranian dispute may be about Iran, but what Washington politicians do not seem to understand is that the instant the attack occurs, a U.S.-Iran problem will be transformed into a U.S.-global Islam problem, with all the little individual issues becoming entangled, generating a reinforcing feedback loop of anti-American activity.
Determining who wins and who loses may be more a matter of how a policy is implemented than what the policy is or, certainly, who is advocating that policy. The international contest over Palestine is a case in point, made only more complicated by the context of Iran’s challenge to the U.S.-centric global political order. The failure of policymakers to understand these subtleties costs much wasted blood and treasure.
In Foreign Policy Winners and Losers, I described a simple way to evaluate any specific foreign policy action by discriminating between who wins and who loses as a result of that action. In moral terms, the best policy is one in which we all win; the worst in which just one state (or, worse, one group or individual) wins. This would seem to be a straightforward way to clarify the highly distorted and confused debate that currently undermines national security by virtually precluding the development of a consistent and beneficial foreign policy. It would seem to facilitate distinguishing, for example, between policies that help the elite rather than the society and would seem to expose such fallacies as claiming violence by a friend is OK while violence by an enemy is bad.
But all is of course not so simple. Here’s a challenge for this method that cuts to the core of contemporary foreign policy debate:
How are we to rank on the Continuum of International Behavior the behavior of a system challenger?
Tehran presents itself today as the champion challenger to the U.S.-centric global political system, and Washington seems to concur. The degree to which either side may be pretending is hard to determine, since Washington refuses to offer Tehran the option of being accepted as an equal and respected but independent player, while Tehran’s “challenge” is so encompassed in rhetorical smoke that it can be difficult to discern much policy fire. Does Tehran want nuclear arms or does it just want the U.S. to offer it a respectful hearing and a guarantee of security and, of course, recognition that it has the same right to nuclear arms that is exercised by Israel? Does Washington provoke Iran out of incompetence, slavish obedience to the Israeli right, or because Washington sees the uses of having an enemy and just can’t find a more imposing one, at the moment, than the military and ideological midget Iran?
Whatever the degree of sincerity on either side, both feed the image of Iran as the giant-killer, regardless of how unrealistic that image may be. Beyond that, however, disagreement is rife: whatever one side terms “required,” the other terms “unacceptable.” The endless talking of each side past the other merely serves to raise tensions and blind both observers and participants. If the policies of each side could be evaluated fairly, a needless war even more mutually disastrous than that imposed on Iraq by the U.S. might be avoided. The Continuum of International Behavior would seem to constitute a reasonable candidate tool for this purpose, except that evaluating winners and losers resulting from a policy with the ultimate goal of overthrowing the international political system is a bit harder than with a typical policy aiming at some narrow, short-term goal.
So, limiting the discussion for the moment to Iran’s policies, two problems immediately present themselves:
- Determining winners and losers of the specific policy;
- Deciding whether or not the real goal of the policy is to further Iran’s presumed goal of founding a new global political order.
Consider Tehran’s campaign in support of justice for Palestine. If Iran achieved its stated goal of justice for Palestinians, regional anti-Israeli sentiment would decline, benefiting Israeli society, but the decline in tension would cause the Israeli right to lose votes and perhaps result in a fundamental shift back toward a polity ruled by those favoring democracy, a good-neighbor policy, racial and religious equality. The losers would be the ruling rightwingers and in particular Jewish fundamentalists and Israeli expansionists. Israelis favoring democracy would win; those favoring a garrison state would lose.
And what about Iran? If Tehran received the credit for resolving the Palestinian-Israeli dispute, Tehran would surely gain regional status, so over the short term, Tehran would win and more specifically Ahmadinejad would win. But if a U.S., European, or Turkish-led movement (much less concessions voluntarily offered by Israel itself) were credited with providing justice to Palestinians, Iran not gain, while those credited with bringing justice would. Moreover, as regional tensions declined, Tehran would lose its bully pulpit, and Iran’s influence in the Levant would decline. For Iranian society, as opposed to the current Tehran regime, the issue is different; resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute in a way that minimized Iranian influence and activity in the Levant would go far toward ending the U.S./Israeli security threat to Iran.
In sum, the current Tehran regime benefits from espousing Palestinian independence but would be a big loser if Palestinians actually gained independence, as long as Iran did not receive the credit in regional eyes. Rather than opposing everything Tehran wants, Washington would serve its interests better by judging issues on their merits and supporting issues of common interest to all in the hopes of getting some of the credit.
At least two lessons follow. First, crudely, it is not about who advocates a policy but who gets credit for implementing it. Opposing a good policy because your antagonist thought of it first only ends up making you look churlish and giving your opponent a free ride.
Second, our allies are no more unitary actors than our enemies. Even in Washington, most policy-makers seem now to understand that enemy states may be ruling populations of perfectly normal and harmless people with whom the U.S. could potentially cooperate, but these same policy-makers remain almost totally incapable of seeing that the same principle applies to allies. An Israeli politician widely recognized in Israel as having racist or fascist tendencies does not automatically become America’s friend just by winning office. An Israeli politician widely recognized in Israel as pursuing expansionist policies that endanger Israeli national security will also endanger U.S. national security. Such Israeli politicians will be winners with policies that leave the U.S. the loser. Just as everyone in an adversarial state is not an enemy, everyone in an allied state is not a friend.
All the involved societies benefit from providing justice to Palestinians: a cancer infecting every society is removed. In each involved country special interests exploiting the tensions flowing from the dispute will be the losers if Palestinian justice is achieved. But it is not that simple. This discussion began with the premise that Tehran wants to overthrow the U.S.-centric global political order. Without judging who might be the winners and losers, if Washington wants to avoid that outcome, it should seek lower tensions in the Levant by addressing Palestinian concerns. Rather than allowing Tehran to parade as the champion of Arab justice, Washington should lead the way, leave Tehran to choose whether to follow or not, and gain the credit for accomplishing something in the interest of all who desire a secure and cooperative international environment. Achieving justice for Palestinians per se does not tell you who the winners and losers are; the determination of who wins and who loses depends on how justice for Palestinians is achieved.
Erdogan’s hopes for a new Mideast have been given a boost by…Israel! But as the dispute deepens, its long-term impact becomes more difficult to calculate.
Respect is something altogether different: harder to earn than obedience but much more lasting because it generates voluntary cooperation and, more, persuades people to think of one as a model to be followed.
- Do not follow international law;
- Do not demand the right to talk;
- Do not assume that the democratic process is a public right (it is, rather, by invitation only).
Nigeria – rising Muslim terrorist campaign
if you thought Iraq was bad, imagine the U.S. intervening in Nigeria – on the equator, oil exporter, 155,000,000 people with a median age of 19; 389 ethnic groups; twice the size of Iraq
Could the international community act with vision and pull off a Mideast Transformation Scenario that would end the Israeli-Palestinian Dispute, redirect Iran toward economic cooperation, and redirect Israel away from expansion and militarism?
June 22 – Syrian troops mass on border with Turkey
After provoking a refugee flow into Turkey and evidently doing nothing to make amends to its erstwhile ally, Syria has now thrown sand in Erdogan’s eye by threatening refugees, provoking more, and implicitly warning Turkey that Syria is ready to fight a war. Since Syria was Turkey’s main practical example of its new moderate foreign policy, that policy now seems to be in tatters. Ankara will not be pleased.
The evidence only weakly supports the contention that Iran has aggressive intent, while strongly supporting the contention that Iran wants to be, and be treated as, a regional power. Posing an existential threat to Iran could make it learn some very unfortunate and unnecesary lessons about the type of foreign policy behavior that will pay off.
How many Iranian policies?
Does Tehran (i.e., the regime) have a consensus main foreign policy goal? To what degree to Khamenei, the IRGC, Ahmadinejad, the national security elite have contradictory goals or differing priorities? What evidence would, if it were found, distinguish the goal of destroying Israel from the goal of inclusion as a member of the Mideast Club?
Who benefits? To what degree might integration into the global hydrocarbon trade stimulate an economic bureaucracy in Iran sufficiently powerful to make Iranian foreign policy less risk-taking? To what extent might a U.S. offer of security for Iran undermine its desire to challenge U.S. leadership?
Is Israel the object at all or just a proxy for becoming the leader of a new world order not centered on the U.S.?
What impact would a post-Imperial U.S. foreign policy in general and/or a new U.S. policy, for the first time since the fall of the Shah, of genuine, balanced accommodation with Iran have on Iran’s long-term goals? What evidence would distinguish between a rise in Iranian hubris and determination to overthrow the U.S. on the one hand and an Iranian turn toward cooperation?
Would an Israeli-Palestinian settlement end the Iranian-Israeli hostility?
One can easily hypothesize that an Israeli return to its 1967 borders and the emergence of a secure and independent Palestinian state would pull the Levantine rug out from under Iran and end Iran’s apparent obsession with Israel. But what would it take to end Israel’s obsession with Iran? Would a post-settlement Iran turn to economic cooperation with Turkey? Will Iran continue to tout its nuclear prowess as part of its competition with Saudi Arabia? Would a post-settlement Israel give up regional hegemonic aspirations and focus on restoring the health of its democracy or would an influx of bitter settlers from the West Bank radicalize Israel even more?
- whether Egypt slips deeper into military dictatorship or manages to build a popular government;
- the relative influence of Turkey and Israel in post-revolt Syria;
- whether the Israeli government whips up settler resentment or promotes their smooth reintegration into Israel;
- whether or not Arab Spring revolts bring Iran head-to-head with Saudi Arabia
Would the U.S., after an Israeli-Palestinian settlement, become freed from its obsession with Israel?
An Israeli-Palestinian settlement would facilitate a U.S.-Iranian detente, which would have multiple benefits for both sides. Would the U.S. seize this opportunity? Would Iran? Would the U.S. then restructure its overall posture toward the Mideast away from the Israeli/Saudi pillars toward a more balanced and flexible interaction with Turkey, Egypt…and Iran?
- Whether or not Syria collapses and becomes the battleground for outside forces;
- Ability of Israel to adapt to Smaller Israel status;
- Ability of Palestinians to develop effective governance, in turn greatly dependent on willingness of world to support and protect them
- Israel will become increasingly isolated and its policy of reliance on superior force increasingly irrelevant.
- Hamas has the opportunity to become the unquestioned leader of Palestine but will have to reinvent itself to do so.
- Saudi Arabia and Egypt will begin a tug-of-war to see which can influence the other the most. Riyadh just cut a deal with Cairo to give it $4 billion in aid. Whatever the terms of that deal, it did not prevent Egypt from announcing the opening of Rafah, suggesting that Saudi wealth will have a tough time trumping Egypt’s spirit of reform, size, and new-found confidence.
- The U.S. alliance with Israel will become steadily more counter-productive and harmful to U.S. national security, though Israeli firsters in Congress will remain in denial.
Unfair and unIslamic (sic) moves will hurt the honor of Muslims in Saudi Arabia, and it will threaten the security of Saudi Arabia.
The Arab dictatorial regimes in the Persian Gulf are unable to contain the popular uprisings. The dictators should relinquish power, end their savage crimes and let the people determine their own future instead of … opening an unworkable front against Iran.