Friday, January 12, 2007

Are we really preparing to attack Iran?

The big news in the aftermath of the President's speech is the direct threats he made toward Syria and Iraq. It's no shocker that the President is considering military action against either country. In his world view, those two countries are dangerous states that can only be met with military force. Diplomacy and negotiation is out of the question. Some have even suggested that the US "invasion" of the Iranian consulate in Iraq the other day was a provocative act aimed at forcing Iran to respond. Others are troubled by Condi Rice's refusal to directly answer questions about the President's authority to launch military action in Iran without Congressional approval. And other people are suggesting that this "expanding chaos" strategy is the core of neoconservatism.

Yet, no one seems to be asking the big questions, which, to me, is: How? Why? Or, with what military?

We're already stretched thin between Iraq and Afghanistan and I just don't see how we can fight yet another war (or two). In fact, the thought occurs to me that King George's "Iran Gambit" might just be the "out" he's looking for in Iraq. Think about this for a second.

Iraq is basically a hopeless situation. For a variety of reasons, the US botched the initial invasion by not securing the borders which allowed anti-US factions to infiltrate Iraq and jump start an insurgency. Since then, the US has been hamstrung by essentially three factors, none of which have been fixed:

1. The Iraqi government/military - The government is divided and basically a complete failure. We allowed this to happen when we permitted religious language to be built in the Iraqi Constitution, among other problems. The whole idea that there is a fledgling Iraqi "democracy" in fact, is a complete farce. This post explains why the central crux of the Bush proposal is a fantasy. Read the post. Things are much, much worse than I previously understood.

2. We're fighting an insurgent war with WW2 tactics. Not a lot has been made of this, but I take back everything positive I said about the Bush plan. The post I cited above explains the problem in succinct detail, but I'll summarize briefly. The "clear and hold" strategy is great if you're fighting Nazis in a conventional state-state war. But insurgents/guerillas, by nature, don't have "territory" and, moreover, don't need it. All it takes is a symbolic act to spark a new wave of insurgent violence. This is one of the reasons why the generals on the ground don't support new troops. What's the point if we just continue with the same strategy. Absent a political solution, Iraq will be more/same.

3. Our Middle Eastern "allies", namely Saudi Arabia and Jordan are the biggest funders of the insurgency. One way to attack an insurgency is to cut their feet out from under them, i.e. if they can't get funding, they can't get arms. This doesn't work well in Colombia, for example, because the FARC is heavily involved in narcotics trade which the government can't control anyway. Nor does it world in the West Bank primarily because Iran is a big funder of Hezbollah and other Palestinian "terrorist" groups.

But in Iraq, cracking down on funding and arms could make a difference. But, we basically can't do anything about it because, just like 9/11, most of the support for the insurgency is funnelled through Saudi Arabia and we made our bed with them in the 70's.

All of this, and other factors too complicated for me to fully understand at this point, not to mention explain (the religious side is just nuts), basically ensures that Iraq is going to be a huge foreign policy failure and embarrassment for the US. This is bigger than Vietnam. Losing in Vietnam didn't, no matter how much the fear mongers believed, lead to a "Red Spread" across all of Southeast Asia. But losing in Iraq could lead to a "Radical Islamic Spread" across the Middle East.

The people running things behind the scenes in the White House know this. As much as their sound bytes sound moronic, they're not stupid. They have a philosophy that is fundamentally bankrupt and warrentless, but they're not dumb.

And thats why I think that an invasion of Iran is their "exit" strategy from Iraq. The thing I have to constantly remind myself is that Iraq was never about helping the people. Powerful states don't go to war and spend billions out of altruism. They go to war when it serves their interests and our interest was secure oil. Anyone who says otherwise has a gross misunderstanding of international politics. (Seriously, would the Middle East even be on the map without the oil reserves?)

Therefore, there's no reason why this administration would give a damn about the firestorm that would engulf Iraq if the US left. Sure, they'd lament the loss of human life and it would make them look bad, but at a core, it's not about the people. It's about oil and security. A hostile and strong Iraq and Iran, hell bent on WMD proliferation were grave threats to US national interests either directly (terror, attack) or indirectly (holding oil hostage, risking US economic power in the long run). A weak and incoherent Iraq (and Iran) effectively alleviate those risks (except terror).

Now, politically, Bush can't just pull out of Iraq. He's said too many times that victory is a must and that we have to see this through. Plus, the fallout from "losing" a war of his own making would be too huge. But, if he was "provoked" by another regional and hostile power, then he would have no choice but to respond with the strongest force possible.

And that's my theory. Bush is looking for an out. The war on terror is failing, mostly due to his own failings as Commander in Chief. A hostile and "dangerous" Iran is his only chance to resurrect his legacy. It wouldn't surprise me if they intentionally try to provoke Iran just to generate sufficient reason to go in with the planes and tanks.

Let's hope that Iran doesn't respond.

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