Thursday, June 19, 2008

Influence

Noted journalist Barbara Slavin took a break from her day gig at USA Today to honor a commission on behalf of thug hugging dialogue.

United States Institute of Peace 's Special Report (#206)

"Iran has been a significant player in the Middle East, influencing and being
influenced by its neighbors since long before the advent of the petrodollar or
the Islamic revolution of 1979. But in the past five years, Iran’s regional
power has expanded considerably.

Iran has deepened its relationships with militant factions in Iraq,
Lebanon, and Palestine and accelerated a nuclear program that could give it the
ability to make atomic weapons within the next few years.

Iran is a major, if not the major, threat to U.S. interests and U.S. allies
in the Middle East. Yet Iran’s reach remains constrained by an open-ended U.S.
military presence in the region, domestic weakness, and historic divisions
between Arabs and Persians, Sunnis and Shiites, and among Shiites.

Iran’s goals appear to be largely defensive: to achieve strategic depth and
safeguard its system against foreign intervention, to have a major say in
regional decisions, and to prevent or minimize actions that might run counter to
Iranian interests. In the service of those interests, Iran has been willing to
sacrifice many non-Iranian lives.

To achieve its goals, Iran exerts influence in three major ways: through
ties with Shiite clerics, or mullahs, financial aid for humanitarian and
political causes, and weapons and training supplied to militant groups. Much of
this support pales in comparison with U.S. contributions to American allies and
with other resources available to Iran’s partners, although Iran appears to get
(literally) more bang for its bucks.

Recipients of Iranian largesse, especially the Lebanese group Hezbollah,
are not mere proxies and appear to have considerable tactical autonomy and
influence on Iranian policies.
Many Iraqis, including Shiite groups close to Iran, are trying to hedge their
ties with Tehran by maintaining links to the United States.

So far so good. And this starts to open up some interesting possibilities.

"To contain harmful Iranian influence, the United States may have to act on
a number of fronts, working to stabilize Iraq and Lebanon and to resolve the
Arab-Israeli conflict without magnifying its own confrontation with Iran."

Interjecting Great Satan overtly into the Palestinian cause celeb for turf lost fair and square on the battlefield in desperate counter attacks would certainly make a case for pre election chicanery in the Strip. Flooding Iranian fed and funded rocket rich rejects like the HAMAS with
political choices, 'movements' and parties undreamed of in the ME could be fun and easy.

Marginalizing, disarming and electorially usurping HAMAS could then be applied to Hiz'B'Allah:

The U.S. government should consider direct talks with Iran to try to constrain
Iran’s motivation to further destabilize the region and should establish
contacts, if possible, with some of Iran’s partners to increase U.S. options, knowledge, and flexibility.


Direct talks could include several confidence building measures. Like giving up Hiz'B'Allah to Great Satan's tender clutches.

That would constrain Iran's motivations for hegemony - plus - really build up some confidence too.

Seems risque to think about direct contact as Iranian fanboys in Mahdi Army detonate explosives in innocent civilian rich environs in a democratically sovereign neighbors capitol.

Actually - a case for constant confrontation and annihiliation marginalizing Mahdi Army, Special Groups - instability, insecurity and illegitimacy - is far easier made.

Essentially - Great Satan shouldn't really care about direct contact with nuke craving, missile sprouting illegit regimes that torment their own people and their neighbors.

Illegit regimes should really care about direct contact with Great Satan.


"Crystal Ball of Vision" - Persian miniature pixed by aLi ReZa

9 comments:

Jeff said...

I actually don't have a problem with some direct talks with Iran. Maybe with a deputy secretary or appointed State Dept. rep., but not with the President.

These talks, however, should be to make it clear, eye to eye, that the U.S. will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon. And that if we suspect their about to develop one, we will bomb them into the stone age.

Ben Sutherland said...

"Marginalizing, disarming and electorially usurping HAMAS could then be applied to Hiz'B'Allah:


The U.S. government should consider direct talks with Iran to try to constrain
Iran’s motivation to further destabilize the region and should establish
contacts, if possible, with some of Iran’s partners to increase U.S. options, knowledge, and flexibility.


Direct talks could include several confidence building measures. Like giving up Hiz'B'Allah to Great Satan's tender clutches.

That would constrain Iran's motivations for hegemony - plus - really build up some confidence too.

Seems risque to think about direct contact as Iranian fanboys in Mahdi Army detonate explosives in innocent civilian rich environs in a democratically sovereign neighbors capitol.

Actually - a case for constant confrontation and annihiliation marginalizing Mahdi Army, Special Groups - instability, insecurity and illegitimacy - is far easier made.

Essentially - Great Satan shouldn't really care about direct contact with nuke craving, missile sprouting illegit regimes that torment their own people and their neighbors.

Illegit regimes should really care about direct contact with Great Satan."

You know what my bottom-line on these matters is, now, Courtney?

Are we getting anywhere or not?

I'm not interested anymore in the least in peoples' excuses for why their policies are failing. I'm not looking to get anyone. But nor am I interested in massaging peoples' egos when their policies are bottoming out. If we can't be grown up enough to admit failure, I think, we shouldn't be involved in geopolitics, or any politics for that matter.

So here's my bottom-line on Iran.

I have now watched 5 years of failure with an approach of sanctions and marginalization of the regime. Their nuclear ambitions, by my lights, were not as strong before that effort than after. The NIE estimate, notwithstanding, their resolve to get nukes, I suspect, is stronger today than when we started.

That should give us pause.

Also, we have contained nothing, at this point. Iran doesn't recognize the U.S. as a legitimate arbiter or authority on the matter, nor do they recognize the U.N.'s or NATO-member countries' authority to determine their defense policy for them. Neither do or would we, is the truth. We are more trustworthy than the Iranians, obviously. But I do think giving serious attention to the democratic principles fundamental to these matters is worthy of our consideration.

Iranians view this, as we would, as a matter of self-determined defense policy. If the U.N. Security council passed resolutions that stated that, whether we had signed onto or were maintaining commitments to non-proliferation treaties or not, that we had to reduce our nuclear arsenal, Americans, from both liberal and conservative camps, would be telling the Security Council to fuck off. They would be right to. It is our decision to make and not theirs'. It is essentially what the Bush Administration did on Kyoto, rightly, I think, since I think that treaty is a bad treaty and, like our efforts with Iran, has clearly failed by any objective measures (I think the last time I checked, maybe 3 countries in that protocol had actually reduced carbon emissions; everyone is missing the targets and even the chief American sponsor, Bill Clinton, has acknowledged as much, at this point).

Now I trust Bush more than I do Ahmadinejad or the Ayatollah Khamenei, obviously. But the fact is that there are principles on which these folks act, whether or not I trust them or not. And determining your own defense policy is actually a pretty basic principle of self-determined governance.

So these guys are not only not going to back down on this one after 5 years. They are not ever going to back down on the bigger principle here. Ever. Meaning never. And neither would we. If the U.N. General Assembly came in and said, "We don't trust the U.S. aggressors with their nuclear arsenal. You have to disarm or face U.N. sanctions," we would say, "Fuck you very much. We will be doing as we please. Thanks bunches."

And that is the position Iran finds themselves in today, as much as I take the threat that Ahmadinejad poses much more seriously than the threat that President Bush or an American President poses in the same situation. It is also the reason why many liberal, moderate conservative and other reform-minded Iranians oppose U.N. sanctions and meddling in their affairs as much as hardliners.

What diplomacy offers is the opportunity to settle tempers, openly and honestly discuss the dilemmas involved, share concerns, persuade heads of state of our concerns about, in this case, not using a nuclear weapon as some form of leverage or blackmail over Israel or anywhere else, for that matter, and still reserving the right to engage in strikes or to engage military as that becomes necessary.

But to rationalize military efforts when they have not proven themselves necessary to deal with imminent threats or to leverage counterproductively, with either military, political, or economic threats or sanctions, as I think we have at this point, only undermines trust of not on the Iranian regime in our intentions but among others, as well, with does what we have seen today: reduces American influence while increasing Iranian influence.

The empirics, as much as the principles involved, should be very persuasive, at this point, when we're not trying to defend our failures. Our results with Iran are dismal, at this point. Their ambitions have increased, I think. They are definitely closer to a bomb, today, than they were 5 years ago, I think, NIE protestations to the contrary. Their influence has increased and ours' has decreased in the region and globally.

If this is the case for more of the same, it doesn't seem like a terribly strong one at all to me.

Letting the Iranians come to us isn't a bad idea. But as long as we are leveraging them on a more fundamental governing concern, like self-defense, like this one, they are never going to come to us until they become convinced that they don't need nukes. But as long as we threaten them or they feel threatened by their neighbors, they are going to pursue them. So doing so has been seriously counterproductive, I think. Law of unintended consequencs and all that.

We can keep trying. But I definitely predict more failure until Iran decides that they don't need a nuclear weapon. And everything we've done, up to this point, has, unintentionally, made them more paranoid and likely to pursue such weapons and not less likely, and the empirical reality on the ground bears that out.

Leverage, at best, impacts short term behavior. If South Africa was really resistant to ending apartheid even while the West used economic and political sanctions to get them to end them, they would have found ways around the sanctions or to halt them while they found ways to continue to pursue apartheid. Until they are ready to give it up, our leverage has short-term impact, at best.

Long term impact, as Reagan learned with Gorbachev, is convincing them that the way they are doing things is wrong or bad news. Absent that, it's all bait and switch. We are welcome to continue trying the path we're on. But it is likely to continue to bring failure. And, at some point, we will need to be big people and acknowledge that fact.

And the only way we get that done is to do as Reagan did, to get on the phone, and coordinate talks.

We can talk about Hezbollah. But the truth is that Hezbollah is primarily a Lebanese problem. Either Lebanon is going to get the violence under control on their own, to trust others to bring them in on efforts to do so in collaboration with their government, to moderate their militancy with political engagement, and to undermine popular support for them in Lebanon and in their dealings with Israel, or we're going to be stuck in the same situation. Israel should have plenty demonstrated the limits of military engagement with Hezbollah. The problem is not that the U.S. and Israel would not have overwhelming military power if they decided to forgo political efforts and engage, in tandem, militarily. The problem is that the political oxygen for such groups is substantial. And as long as there is political support for their efforts, there will always be people to replace their ranks. They still need to be brought to justice, when possible, and killed, when necessary. But Israel and the U.S. have really expended their serious military options for routing them by military force, alone. People support them because they oppose that Israeli occupation of Palestine - the resolution of which would seriously undermine popular support in the Arab and Muslim world for all sorts of terrorist activities, which is why our efforts need to be focussed on a peace agreement with Israel and Palestine and why the current cease fire and talks between Israel and Syria and ceasefire talks between Israel and Hamas are encouraging - and because of all sorts of hatred for Israel, America, Jews, the West, etc. that can only be resolved, over time, with the moderating influence of supporting genuinely democratic efforts and engagement within those countries to debate such issues openly and, over time, without fear of reprisal from terrorist and radical Islamic groups, and the democratic discussion and debate and the free marketplace of ideas, particularly the internet, but really all free media and free markets.

We not only do not quash Israeli and American hatred that fuels this shit militarily, we very much inflame it, though obviously, our primary priority should not be not pissing off Arabs and Muslims. They can fuck off for their hostility to our freedoms, just as fundamentalists of all stripes can fuck off similarly in America and all over the world. But we should be wise about underlying liberal democratic principles, I think, and about the results from our efforts.

And if and when we don't achieve results or we deal with counterproductive consequences, we need to be grown up enough to say we screwed up and not keep protesting our successes in the face of failure like those whiny little babies in Hezbollah. Those guys never fail, if you listen to them, even when they get their asses handed to them. We are better than that and should act it.

We should show the confidence and strength to engage Iran and other regimes that repulse us (Cuba comes to mind in a very serious way, here; I fuckin' hate the assholes who run that godforesaken dictatorship, but 40 years of failure with political and economic sanctions should be a sign to any objective observer that our efforts have failed), to promote free and genuinely democratic efforts to persuade their populations and governments to change their illiberal ways, as Reagan did sucessfully with Gorbachev (overturning or trying to determine democratic elections, for instance, would not qualify, for obvious reasons, and are exactly why we are so mistrusted around the world), to moderate terrorist activity with opportunities for political engagement, to bring them to justice, when possible, to kill them when necessary, to always be ready and willing to fight, when other options are completely expended or as a matter of self-defense, when necessary, and to be open to whatever possibilities might reduce their threats and increase commitment to liberal democratic values as those possibilities arise.

I want less people dead, more people living, free, and democratic. And I'm open to any realistic policy that seems to have a handle on fundamental liberal democratic principles that might likely or possibly get us there.

But my botton-line remains.

Are we getting anywhere or not?

The easiest temptation of power, I see now, and the reason that Lord Acton famously quipped that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely is the belief that power can accomplish more than it can, that it should be pursued for its own purposes or that we, uniquely, can wield it wisely or well, that when it fails to deliver that we should just use more of it rather than understand it and the principles that underly its wise use better, and that to admit failure or mistakes or limits on our understanding or power is weakness rather than the clear and undeniable strength that it has proven itself to be within liberal democracies and in their dealings with more illiberal governments and countries.

We just have yet to get over that insecurity that it is our freedom and our respect for liberal democratic principles that is our weakness rather than our strength and embrace it. And to yield the fruits that such more honest and genuine strength yields.

We will. Because noone wants to fail forever, no matter how stubbornly we cling to our fears and our failures.

Iran offers us the opportunity to begin to turn the corner on this one. We'll see how soon we summon the courage to do so.

Findalis said...

I think our direct talks with Iran should start with our nice B-2 bombers and work up from there.

Iran has been itching to attack the US again since the 1970's. They never wanted to release the hostages and were told in 1979 after Reagan's win, that Reagan would go to war with them over the hostages.

They have been wanting payback ever since.

Ben Sutherland said...

Good luck with that, Findalis. I think you found a policy winner:). I don't even know why people doubt that approach, really.

Except that it keeps falling through.

Choices. Consequences.

GrEaT sAtAn'S gIrLfRiEnD said...

Hi Jeff. I think that's where I'm headed. 'Direct contact' should have a tinge of anxiety about it - not for Great Satan though!

Instead the mullahs should be very wary and anxious about 'direct contact'. A lot of stuff should be up talks. Like HBA.

We just took down Mahdi Army right in their face. Maybe Badr Corpos is next...

Something to talk about for them for sure.

GrEaT sAtAn'S gIrLfRiEnD said...

Hi Ben. As a Straussian purist with massive pentagon vulcan leanings, personally feel that ANY unelected - or an elected gov that lost legitness on the way to regime status (like HAMAS)should be given the talk to the hand treatment. Totally ignored.

THEY should be pursuing negotiations with Great Satan.

About Iran though. Wheeee! That is an entire post or two. Yet I feel compelled to share a few things.

1st - what I think that Findalis prefers is a lot like me (feel free to jump in Findalis!). Essentially Great Satan has tried multiple times to reach out to IRan and got burned every time. Precious little interest in a do over like that.

Actually, a case could be that giving Iran the talk to the hand biz has actually worked.

Iran's economy is shattered and has surged about as far as she can right now.

Nukes of course would change overnight Iran's status from a terrorist, killing, kidnapping, tormenting insurgency loving, missile sharing regime into one that has WMD.

Seems doubtful that Iran would give up WMD deliverable on any one of like a billion missiles. Seems more likely they would use 'direct contact' as a propaganda ploy and a time buying device.

Hiz'B'Allah owes a blood debt that has no stats of limitations on it. Great Satan should demand total vengence on Hiz'B'Allah in spite of Lebanon, Iran or anyone else. HBA must be on any agenda that features 'direct contact' or even casually small talk.

Like I said - that's a post or two.

BTW thanks for the visits, the links and the cool commentary!

GrEaT sAtAn'S gIrLfRiEnD said...

Hi Findalsi, there is a group of rulers in Iran that want a lo down ho down no doubt. Asymmetrical warfare on THEIR turf could pry them off the top row if the regime starts losing precious assets, personnel and give the regime a wonderful incentive to engage in open dialogue and keeping deals cut in good faith.

Findalis said...

The trouble with Iran is that really believe the 12th Iman has be reborn (In Gaza to be exact. A good reason for Israel to destroy Gaza.) and they believe the destruction of Israel and the West will bring about a new dawning of Islamic dominance.

What attacks on the US and Israel will bring to Iran is the total destruction of Iran.

Karen said...

The U.S. - Condi's State Dept - have been talking to Iran. Not with publicity and apparently not with success either. The problem is that they are not afraid of consequences. And, they are lovin' the prospects of Obama as President and his no preconditions stance to 'talk'. Bringing back the old has-beens like Maddie Albright and Zbreggy from the Carter days will be a cause for them to rejoice.