Thursday, August 31, 2006

# Posted 7:18 PM by Taylor Owen  

CHATHAM HOUSE RULES…IRAN: A report on Iran published last week by the respected think tank discussed the regional consequences of the unstable post invasion governance regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. The result is not surprising but deserves reflection – Iran has superseded the US as the most influential power in the Middle East.

The report argues:
The United States, with coalition support, has eliminated two of Iran's regional rival governments - the Taliban in Afghanistan in November 2001 and Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq in April 2003 - but has failed to replace either with coherent and stable political structures.
The consequences of which are that:
Iran's influence in Iraq has superseded that of the US, and it is increasingly rivalling the US as the main actor at the crossroads between the Middle East and Asia. Its role within other war- torn areas such as Afghanistan and southern Lebanon has now increased hugely. This is compounded by the failure of the US and its allies to appreciate the extent of Iran’s regional relationships and standing - a dynamic which is the key to understanding Iran’s newly found confidence and belligerence towards the West. As a result, the US-driven agenda for confronting Iran is severely compromised by the confident ease with which Iran sits in its region. ...

On hostility with the US, the report argues that while the US may have the upper hand in ‘hard’ power projection, Iran has proved far more effective through its use of ‘soft' power. According to the report, the Bush administration has shown little ability to use politics and culture to pursue its strategic interests while Iran’s knowledge of the region, its fluency in the languages and culture, strong historical ties and administrative skills have given it a strong advantage over the West.
One of the authors of the report, Ali Ansari, whom I saw debate very elegantly last year at St Anthony’s, argues that:
We've seen really since 9/11 that the chief beneficiary of America's global war on terror in the Middle East has been the very country that it considers to be a major part or a founding member of the axis of evil.
It seems to me that regardless of one's past positions on the use of US force in the Middle East, that everyone has to come to grips with the instability currently playing out in the region. Over the past several years we have heard the more audacious commentators imply that sub and inter national instability is a messy but necessary consequence of shaking up a region who’s status quo was getting increasingly problematic. Maybe so. However, instability is just that. And the more powerful regional actors, who also happen to be the most threatened, will of course not fade quietly into our desired restructured governance systems, nationally or internationally.

Sub national groups will either participate democratically if they see this in their interest, and possibly fight back if not. Internationally, nations such as Iran and Syria will use their positions of influence to stave off foreign pressure, mainly from the US. Perhaps fool heartedly, given domestic pressures against both regimes, I would expect them to push the limits of this external show of power.

Those far more knowledgeable on the region will correct and/or add to this. Regardless though, I find it very hard to reason that the current course can have a positive outcome.

As George Will argued two weeks ago:
Foreign policy "realists" considered Middle East stability the goal. The realists' critics, who regard realism as reprehensibly unambitious, considered stability the problem. That problem has been solved.
Ok, but now what?

At the debate where I saw Ansari speak, both him and TGA were asked whether a nuclear Iran was preferable to the consequences of militarily trying to stop it from occurring - both strongly implied the former. Perhaps, though, it doesn’t matter. As the Chatham House report concludes, Iran, due to current regional restructuring, is in a pretty influential position without one. They are filling the vacuum caused by the instability with a use of soft power not countered by the west. Again, whether one was for or against the invasions, this is a reality that needs to be addressed. While I think a pretty whole sale rethinking of the US and European Middle Eastern strategy is needed, the options likely range from bad to worse.
(12) opinions -- Add your opinion

George Will's (lack of) logic, 'That problem has been solved,' echoes the General Turgidson character in Dr. Strangelove:

Yes gentlemen, they are on their way in, and no one can bring them back. For the sake of our country, and our way of life, I suggest you get the rest of SAC in after them. Otherwise, we will be totally destroyed by Red retaliation. Uh, my boys will give you the best kind of start, 1400 megatons worth, and you sure as hell won't stop them now, uhuh. Uh, so let's get going, there's no other choice. God willing, we will prevail, in peace and freedom from fear, and in true health, through the purity and essence of our natural... fluids.
George Will's (lack of) logic, 'That problem has been solved,' echoes the General Turgidson character

Sheesh, it was a play on words, genius, not a celebration of chaos in the Middle East.

In any event, the big problem with Iran, diplomatically speaking, is that they haven't (in the last 20 years, at least) given us a causus belli. Unless they want to give us one (in which case there can be little doubt we'd crush them), there's a limit to what they can do to exert their regional influence. Thus far all they've managed to do has been to slow down the process of stabilizing Afghanistan and Iraq.
If stability is the goal, then the obvious solution is the worldwide Caliphate. For that matter, if we'd just let Hitler digest Europe instead of fighting WWII, the overall loss of life would probably have been less.
Yes, you are correct. My bad.

There is a style of essay, the inductive, where the entirety provides a context for the thesis. This makes quoting out of context a tad dangerous.

So I'd strike the "(lack of)" and let the DS quote stand as a commentary on neoconservative doctrine.
The big problem with Iran, diplomatically speaking, is that they haven't (in the last 20 years, at least) given us a causus belli.

Has it been 20 years already? I thought the Khobar Towers bombing was more recent.

I'm pretty sure their supply of weapons used against us and our Iraqi and Israeli allies has been more recent than that as well.

Taylor, there are arguments over the US Middle East strategy, but I think I at least know what it is. You allude to a European strategy. What is it?
Let's see: destabilized Afghanistan, destabilized Iraq, forgot to destabilize Iran. Thus, imbalance, implicitly to the detriment of all that's wise and good. What to do, to even things out? One could continue futile stabilization attempts. Or...
The Talibs and Saddam ran a tight ship, why did we have to get rid of them? There was no random violence under the Baathists; the only people killed were enemies of the state (and stability) or people suspected of being same.

Saddam had brought stability for decades, and Afghanistan would have been stable far earlier if we hadn't interfered with Soviet attempts to bring stability. They had done so well in their own land and Eastern Europe for so long; pity they got destabilized. And these car fires and artist stabbings in the West! Well, there was a man who made France stable for a short while. And if we hadn't destabilized him? No Israel, for one, and therefore no need for violence in the Middle East at all. Just hundreds of millions living under the Arafats, Assads, and Saddams of the world.

'imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever.' It's the 'forever' that I imagine CS likes best. Such a nice, stable word.
bgates, maybe you should reconsider what I was suggesting by "or..." Taking as given that problems exist because A and B are x' and C is x, one could work (futilely, it seems) to change A and B, or just change C. I've thought since 2002 that Iraq made sense only if it were the first of several regime-change exercises. I frankly assumed that Iraq was a convenient first point d'appui (sorry), having provided a UNSC-certified casus belli, and that the inevitable support by Syria for Sunni insurgents and by Iran for Shia thugs would justify US action against those regimes. I thought the US administration was being clever. Silly me.

Anti-realist enough for you yet?
"They are filling the vacuum caused by the instability with a use of soft power not countered by the west."

Obviously false: Hizballah and parts of Iraqui insurgent using military means.
Stability is good situation. A liberal democracy is better but a failed state is much worse.

I think Gates is lying when he 'pines' for a better tomorrow at the cost of a chaos today. Early on, neocons believed and now with the facts on the ground clear, they are just covering. Their usual hyper-aggressive tactics don't work anymore; one becomes enured to them after a while. But the damage has already been done to American prestige and power and to the body politic.

Like a gambler looking for the next game to recoup his losses, the neocons are fixated on Iran rather than wizened by Iraq.
You are right that a unified EU 'strategy' is pretty hard to decipher. In my mind, their current 'cross our fingers and hope the US and Iran just get along' line is about as bad a strategy as 'bomb the hell out of them and hope what emerges is a pro western democracy'.

Anon 5:56. Obviously misinterpreted: Hezbollah and insurgent hard power is of course being countered by US/Israeli hard power. However, the report stresses that it is un-countered Iranian soft power that has led to their current dominant position in the region.

I don't think I misinterpreted the report. It is rather straightforward and have no bones to pick with it. Consider it a weather report if you will and the weather's bad.

But to repeat your words, "Ok, but now what?" This is where I think that neocons just want one more roll of the dice.
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