Mazzuca: The Iran-Iraq connection
The biggest problem in gaining a true measure of the situation in Iraq ” and by extension the war on terror ” is the inability of Americans to separate legitimate national security concerns from the “mis” and sometimes disinformation we receive from politicians and a partisan media during the run-up to the ’08 election.
Regardless of one’s position regarding Iraq, most critics of the war now admit that the situation in Iraq has improved dramatically. The number of U.S. and Iraqi casualties is declining, Sunni insurgents have turned against al-Qaida and the political situation on local and regional levels shows signs of increased cooperation.
There are a myriad of reasons for these successes including the Stygian fact that much of the ethnic cleansing has already taken place, making it unduly optimistic to assume we’ve turned the corner on the war ” because we haven’t.
Most intelligent observers understand that a retreat from Iraq would likely cause the Taliban to gain new energy in Afghanistan, embolden Hezbollah to further its attacks on Israel and could cause the Pakistani government (a fractious regime with a nuclear arsenal) to face even greater pressures from radical Islamists. This is not to mention how such a retreat would increase the likelihood of having to return someday to confront an even more dangerous and entrenched enemy.
They also are clear that a pullback or precipitous drawdown would likely lead to a violent chain reaction that could cause significant upheaval throughout the region and potentially devastate the world economy. If all U.S. forces were withdrawn from Iraq tomorrow roughly one-fourth of the world’s daily output of oil would be subject to undue Iranian influence ” a situation the administration could not countenance.
Rhetoric about Iran’s nuclear program aside, those with an understanding of the region realize that Iranian control of the Gulf’s oil, or threat thereof, would be the event most likely to draw this or any future administration into a broad regional war. In other words, leaving Iraq prior to negotiating an encompassing agreement with Iran would not be in our national interests.
There’s no question the Bush administration opened Pandora’s box by its mishandling of the war, which is in many ways what brought us into direct conflict with Iran ” there was no Saddam to act as a counterbalance to Tehran’s influence in the region.
However, the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate released this past Monday revealing that Iran’s nuclear weapons program has been on hold for four years changed that dynamic, and is a strong indication that “a deal” either has or is being made with Iran. If a deal hadn’t been made, or at the very least, isn’t in the works, why would the administration release this information?
What’s now transpiring between Washington and Tehran might be called the “Goldilocks Effect,” i.e. “Not too hot, not too cold, but just right.” To paraphrase geopolitical analyst, Dr. George Friedman of Strategic Forecasting, Iran has had a vested interest in convincing the world ” unofficially of course ” that it possessed a nuclear weapons program. With the intelligence disclosure, it appears that the Iranian nuclear weapons program was in reality a trump card to be traded away, not a goal in and of itself.
With the nuclear weapons issue hopefully behind us, an arrangement between the U.S. and Iran can be integrated into both states’ national security postures; one that will allow for permanent deployment of U.S. forces in Iraq to provide minimal national security for Iraq, but not in large enough numbers to launch a meaningful ground attack against Iran. It will allow the U.S to train and equip the Iraqi military so that Iraq can defend itself, but not to the extent that it could wield a sufficient offensive force to threaten Iran or its other neighbors.
The details of the U.S./Iranian accommodation are presumably being worked out and will have a far-reaching affect on the Iraqi parliament, which still hasn’t taken the painful steps toward true political accommodation. Meanwhile, as a consequence of this accommodation, the Iraqi Parliament has lost some geopolitical leverage, which means the United States can begin making arrangements to remove its troops. This would place the Iraqi lawmakers in a situation where making long-overdue compromises may become a necessity.
Debating the past has become laborious and serves no useful purpose other than grandstanding because it fails to articulate a clear strategy of how to deal with the intricacies of the broader Middle East. Unfortunately too, discussing the matter candidly is easier said than done because this issue is so deeply intertwined with the administration’s back-channel negotiations with Iran and domestic politics in a presidential election year.
Quote of the day: “We lose the peace of years when we hunt after the rapture of moments.”
Butch Mazzuca is a business consultant and writes a biweekly column for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at email@example.com.