Thursday, February 23, 2006

# Posted 11:49 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IRAN: A STRATEGIC PERSPECTIVE. I just came across this statement by Ken Pollack before the House Armed Services Committee from last September. Precisely because it is six months out of date, it gets past the headlines to explain what Iran wants and why that matters.

First, Pollack sums up the evidence that Iran has a nuclear program because it wants nuclear weapons. Although Pollack writes that "Iranian involvement in international terrorism...appears to be a manageable threat to the United States", (p.4) the threat of military retaliation is essential to keeping Iranian terrorism in check.

If the hardliners got a hold of nuclear weapons, there is good reason to believe that they would feel invulnerable and return to the methods of the mid-90s, such as the attack on Khobar Towers.

One of the most interesting points Pollack makes, and one that wouldn't expect to hear from a supposed hawk, is that Iran's implicit cooperation has been an essential reason why the situation in Iraq hasn't gotten much worse. Put differently,
If the Iranians had wanted to cause chaos in Iraq, they could have easily done so in the darkest days after the war, and the United States was fortunate that they did not. (p.6)
While building up a very strong intelligence operation in Iraq, Iran has not sought to undermine the new government because it sees a Shi'a-led Iraq as one of the best of outcomes it could hope for. Perhaps because his focus in on Iran and not Iraq, Pollack doesn't comment on whether a Shi'a-led Iraq is therefore inimical to US interests.

Another critical (and related) point made by Pollack is that the Iranian regime is in a very precarious situation at home because of its failures on the economic front:
Given that Iran’s economy continues to flounder even with $60+ per barrel oil prices and its populace has been growing ever more unhappy with its economic plight, Tehran does not need any more instability imported from a chaotic Iraq. (p.7)
Thus, the bottom line for Western policymakers is that they can punish Iran economically and that it will hurt.
Currently, the Iranian economy is generating roughly 400,000 new jobs a year, but more than 1 million new workers are entering the workforce every year. The ensuing rapid rise in unemployment has fed unrest with the regime, and the technocrats who manage Iran’s economy have warned that only massive, foreign investment (to the tune of $20 billion a year for the
next five-year plan) will be needed just to keep the status quo from deteriorating any further.

Moreover, the Iranian national oil company estimates that it will need $70 billion over the next five to ten years to refurbish Iran’s decrepit oil infrastructure if the country is to continue to produce at current levels. Unfortunately for the mullahs, the only places that Iran can find these levels of investment are in Europe, Japan, and the United States. (Although some claim that rising oil prices, coupled with investment from Russia and
China will suffice, none of Iran’s own economists believe it.)

Thus the greatest fear of Iran’s more realistic leaders—including Supreme Leader ‘Ali Khamene’i—is that it will face international sanctions that will limit or preclude the trade, aid, and investment it so desperately requires to keep its foundering economy afloat. Many within the ruling hierarchy fear that without it, Iran’s economic woes will deepen, public unhappiness with the regime will spiral, and they will lose their cherished grip on power.
Thus Pollack recommends a carefully calibrated carrot-and-stick approach that will force the Iranian theocracy to make a clear choice between having nuclear weapons and having a functional economy. Easier said than done, but the core point stands: An robust Western commitment to sanctions can make a difference in Iran.
(4) opinions -- Add your opinion

"...While building up a very strong intelligence operation in Iraq, Iran has not sought to undermine the new government because it sees a Shi'a-led Iraq as one of the best of outcomes it could hope for."

The recent government negotiations in Iraq were starting to take a turn away from a monopoly of Shiite power. Maybe this is why someone just now decided to throw a spanner in the works by blowing up the shrine.
Mr. Pollack has lost some credibility in my eyes since his book on why Iraq should be invaded proved to be spectacularly incorrect:

The Threatening Storm
Kenneth M. Pollack

ISBN: 1588363112
Publisher: Random House
Pub. Date: Oct 2002
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