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31 August 2007

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walrus

Sadly once again I have to agree with you Col. Lang.

I am also reminded of the apocryphal epitaph of a Briton buried in India.

"Here lies the man who tried to hurry the East."

The Persians and other inhabitants of Asia have at least a thousand year history of trading, dealing and negotiating with people as well as fighting they have a deep and rich tradition of intrigue that the Bush Administration, like most westerners, cannot even comprehend.

One gets a glimpse of it in books like "The Carpet Wars" - the Iranians have been taking Europeans to the cleaners since about 1500 AD

Mad Dogs

"Compared to these people, we are children."

And they're all just waiting for us to leave the sandbox. Which we certainly will.

I've said it before, but it is worth repeating:

Junya and crew are playing checkers while the rest of these folks are playing chess.

PS - And thanks PL for taking on that "Ten Thousand Points of Light Iran War Plan"

GSD

I think I have mentioned that cartoon I saw before.

It shows President Bush and Iranian President Ahmadinejad sitting at a chessboard.

In front of Ahmadinejad the board is set with chess men.

In front of Bush the board is set with checkers.

-GSD

Cloned Poster

Greeted with flowers in Iraq and naming streets after G Bush comes to mind.

Greg

Colonel,

The exercise of US foreign policy has been diminished to the point that it now is the arena for the acting out of Dubya's immensely troubling psychological issues (take your pick from any of a variety of pathologies), complicated by a boneheaded ideology. More to the point, how would it be possible for Iran and other state's in the region not to gain strategic advantage given the bumbling excuse we have for a foreign policy? What would be shocking would be an inability on their part to gain the upper hand. Don't give the Iranians too much credit--Dubya and his cronies are the ones who gave them the potential oppportunity of having a 150 thousand hostages if, that is, Dubya does something even dumb people would consider dumb.

Arun

Dear Col. Lang, Bush & co are children besides virtually anyone.

Anyway, are we sure that Iran is itself acting as a united entity, or are different factions in Iran having their proxy wars by siding with various factions in Iraq? E.g., many Indian observers believe that one cannot understand Pakistan if one thinks of it as acting as a single entity in its foreign affairs. Instead there are factions within Pakistan powerful enough to go on divergent policies.

J

Colonel,

looks like those tasked with staff positions have forgotten who invented the game of chess. and it's like you said, compared to them we are but mere children. and thus the 'game' goes on right over the heads of far too many.

Peter Principle

"Compared to these people, we are children. pl"

You give us too much credit. How about "mongoloid children with attention deficit disorder."

Montag

"Compared to these people, we are children." pl

Well, after all they are the Home Team and know the players better.

Babak Makkinejad

This view point reminds me of Lebanon's Civil War in the 1970s and 1980s.

Syria had a finger in every militia and many in Lebanon thought that the prolongation of the Civil War had to do with a Syria-Israel proxy war.

That war seemed to have ended when all sides got tired of it and the Arab states intervened to help reach a settlement.

The war against Israel continued, however.

Jon Stopa

Sad to say, their dirty scheming bastards are MUCH better than our dirty schming bastards. But they've been at it for thousands of years.

web

They know we aren't going to stay. We haven't brought the kids.

Any tribe knows that without them your not planning on staying.

w

Cold War Zoomie

"They know we aren't going to stay. We haven't brought the kids. Any tribe knows that without them your not planning on staying."

Interesting.

I think they know we're not staying moreso because they watch CNN, though. But I wouldn't be surprised at all if your point plays a part in their thinking.

jonst

Alternative argument because one should always be considered, even if ultimately rejected. Especially where unanimity prevails:

Unless that is, the 'child' in this case, (more precisely..the forces behind the child)seek to create failed states. If that is case.....this 'child' has been active and sucessful these past 17 years or so. Further...I am not sold on the Iranians as supermen concept. They are playing with fire at home and abroad. In fact...to the extent they are doing what the Col implies here, arming all sides, supporting all sides, to be dominate with whatever side prevails, strikes me as akin to setting those controlled burns the fire depts do out West. Sometimes the fire turns back on you and rages out of control.

dan

Arun

There's a curious tendency on the part of Western observers who seek to explain things Iranian in reference to factional splits and internal power struggles - from a propagandistic point of view it's much more useful to do this than conceive of Iran as a unitary state with clear demarcations of authority and chains of command, beneath which there are the standard political, party, class, ethnic and ideological differences that characterise most complex societies; if we were to do that we'd have to start treating them like proper state actors, and we can't have that now, can we.

I'd note that changes in power - such as the transition from the Khatami presidency to the Ahmadinejad presidency for example - are likely to signal transitions in policy; this is politics as normally understood.

Judging by the unfolding of events over the past 5 years, it's clear that Iran has a complex, well-judged, and well-thought out Iraq policy, which predates the US invasion, and that it is executing it with a great deal of aplomb; the long-term goal of this policy is the cementing of an entente-cordiale with Baghdad, the short-term goal is to block/deter further US military adventurism.

It's pretty obvious that Washington, for example, is deeply factionalised with pro-Iran war, anti-Iran war, and Iran fence-sitting factions who have been squabbling for some time now over what US policy should be. Which Washington are we dealing with at present is a far more germane question.

The Pakistan analogy is startlingly inapt. Iran has several thousand years of state continuity - Pakistan is a mere 60 years old.

searp

Maybe someone can help me understand the nature of our historic/strategic quarrel with Iran.

I get these points:

1) we don't like the government, they don't like us.
2) we don't like... Shia? Because they want to control.. what?

On 1), I am not sure I understand the generations-long antipathy. My sense is that we have acted more hostile to Iran than we ever did to the Soviet Union.

On 2), I personally don't want to fight others' battles. We have aligned with the Arab regimes because ostensibly they are our clients and sell us oil? We are afraid of the threat to Israel?

Just asking. I know about all the Iranian bad guys, I just wonder if our policies towards Iran have strengthened them.

W. Patrick Lang

"I agree that the Iranians are playing both SCIRI and MH against the middle, thus keeping both dependent on Iran's good will. They trust none of the two, hence they keep them on a short leash. And this will go on forever, no need to change. I am not at all convinced about the Sunnis: the Iranian IEDs are most probably sold to them by Badr or MA. The Syrian support for al-Qaida is more than sufficient to frighten and demonstrate to the Shii militias how much they need Iranian support. There is no need for direct support for the Sunnis. Is there evidence to the contrary?"
Amatzia Baram

Homer

searp: I am not sure I understand the generations-long antipathy

The US' antipathy toward Iran was once tangibly manifested vis-a-vis Saddam Hussein who shared an interest in
preventing the rise of the kind of Shia extremism we now see burgeoning in Iraq (as a direct but inadvert response to the horrific attacks of Sunni extremists on 9/11).

The Man Who Would Be Feared. By YOUSSEF IBRAHIM. NYT, Jul 29, 1990. [snip]

A few years ago, Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz was asked why his Government was so ruthless with its adversaries - executing, for example, all the leaders of the Iraqi Islamic fundamentalist movement known as Al Daawa, or the Call. Mr. Aziz paused and then said, ''It is because we don't have the time.'' The Baath party, he said, was modernizing Iraq and unifying a tribal country divided along religious and ethnic lines.

Unlike Europe, he said, Iraq could not afford a
freewheeling democratic exercise; ''reactionary forces,'' he said, might drag the nation back into religious fundamentalism.

It is for that reason, Mr. Hussein and Mr. Aziz have argued, that Iraq went to war
against Iran in 1980.

Now see Galbraith:

Iraq: Bush's Islamic Republic
By Peter W. Galbraith. August 11, 2005.

[snip]
Real power in Shiite Iraq rests, however, with two religious parties: Abdel Aziz al-Hakim's Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and the Dawa ("Call," in English) of Iraq's Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari. Of the two, SCIRI is the more pro-Iranian.

[snip]

SCIRI and Dawa want Iraq to be an Islamic state. They propose to make Islam the principal source of law, which most immediately would affect the status of women. For Muslim women, religious law—rather than Iraq's relatively progressive civil code—would govern personal status, including matters relating to marriage, divorce, property, and child custody. A Dawa draft for the Iraqi constitution would limit religious freedom for non-Muslims, and apparently deny such freedom altogether to peoples not "of the book," such as the Yezidis (a significant minority in Kurdistan), Zoroastrians, and Bahais.

This program is not just theoretical. Since Saddam's fall, Shiite religious parties have had de facto control over Iraq's southern cities. There Iranian-style religious police enforce a conservative Islamic code, including dress codes and bans on alcohol and other non-Islamic behavior. In most cases, the religious authorities govern—and legislate—without authority from Baghdad, and certainly without any reference to the freedoms incorporated in Iraq's American-written interim constitution—the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL).

searp: I just wonder if our policies towards Iran have strengthened them.

The Iranian nightmare. By Michael Schwartz. Aug 11, 2005.

Now, over two years after Baghdad fell and the American occupation of Iraq began, Kagan's prediction appears to have been fulfilled - in reverse.

The chief beneficiary of the occupation and the chaos it produced has not been the Bush administration, but Iran, the most populous and powerful member of the "axis of evil" and the chief American competitor for dominance in the oil-rich region.

As diplomatic historian Gabriel Kolko commented, "By destroying a united Iraq under [Saddam] Hussein ... the US removed the main barrier to Iran's eventual triumph."

Can Democracy Stop Terrorism?. F. Gregory Gause III. Foreign Affairs, September/October 2005

Summary: The Bush administration contends that the push for democracy in the Muslim world will improve U.S. security. But this premise is faulty: there is no evidence that democracy reduces terrorism. Indeed, a democratic Middle East would probably result in Islamist governments unwilling to cooperate with Washington.


The New Middle East. Richard N. Haass. Foreign Affairs. November/December 2006
Summary: The age of U.S. dominance in the Middle East has ended and a new era in the modern history of the region has begun.

Babak Makkinejad

All:

The commentator "Homer" copied the following statement by Peter W. Galbraith: "...would affect the status of women. For Muslim women, religious law—..."

My question to you who read or post here is this:

Why do you care about the status of Muslim women, one way or another? I mean you will not live there, marry them, and really have nothing to do with them - why this concern which keeps on coming up in Western discourse on Muslim polities?

I am simply puzzled; I do not care, on a personal level, about the status of Buddhist women, or Hindu women, Chinese women, European women - it is none of my business and also irrelevant.

I recall a Cary Grant war movie in which he is playing the skipper of a US submarine in WWII where he starts talking about how Japanese "do not have the kind of respect we have for women.." etc.

So, I ask: what is this obsession with the other-side's women - is this some sort of propaganda - just pushing the right buttons in the psyche of Americans - so to speak?

David W

searp-

I think the US relationship with Iran starts with the British inviting the CIA to help overthrow Iran's democratically elected leader, Mohammed Mossadegh, in the 1950s, ostensibly on the basis that Mossadegh's government was propped up by Communist forces, or practically speaking, because he dared to nationalize British Petroleum's Iranian operations.

The US strongman of choice was Reza Pahlavi, the 'Shah of Iran,' who was both pro-western/pro-modernization, and an autocratic despot, whose secret police, SAVAK, organized with help from the CIA and the Mossad, 'operated its own secret prison, used torture extensively, assassinated dissidents, and kept the CIA informed.' source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohammad_Reza_Pahlavi

The Shah's son, also Reza Pahlavi, is another 'Allawi type,' that is, a westernized expatriate hoping to ride the wings of regime change into power, though I have little knowledge of his actual support in Iran.

Personally, I think the US govt antipathy towards Iran has everything to do with business, and nothing to do with democracy. While the current theocracy has clamped down on 'liberal' elements in Iranian society, I don't think the case can be made that they are 'worse' than the the Shah. It's the same old story of the ME; the label of 'dictator' or 'strongman' just depends on the amount of influence that the US has over that particular government. Does anybody care to speak to a comparison between Egypt and Iran on this line of thinking?

Arun

Dan,
Judging by the unfolding of events over the past 5 years, it's clear that Iran has a complex, well-judged, and well-thought out Iraq policy, which predates the US invasion, and that it is executing it with a great deal of aplomb; the long-term goal of this policy is the cementing of an entente-cordiale with Baghdad, the short-term goal is to block/deter further US military adventurism.

I disagree. Iran is not executing anything, it is reacting to a situation given to it. Removing Saddam, enfeebled after 10 years of sanctions or keeping the US out of "the Iranian sphere of influence" was beyond Iran's power. It was beyond Iran's power to get rid of the unfriendly Taliban in Afghanistan, and beyond its power to quieten down a restive Kurdish population.

It is beyond Iran's power to refine enough of its oil to meet its own gasoline requirements; among other places, it **imports** gasoline from India.

If Iran seems ascendant, it is entirely and wholly due to Washington's folly.

FB Ali

I am somewhat surprised at the almost unanimous chorus echoing Col Lang’s, “Compared to these people, we are children”. The Colonel, being a wise adult, is justified in expressing his contempt for the policy makers and planners who have caused the present mess in Iraq by labelling them as children. I suppose he could not resist adding to the insult by comparing them unfavourably to the adults on the other side.

The US debacle in the Middle East and beyond is not because its policy makers and planners are stupid (though there is some of that, too). It has been caused by a woeful lack of knowledge and understanding of the region and its peoples, by ideology overcoming inconvenient facts, by special interests shaping policy to suit their own agendas, by a private link from the decision-maker to God, and by the absence of any balancing pressure from other institutions, such as the legislative branch and the media.

These problems are almost exactly mirrored on the Iranian side, with the lack of knowledge being that of the adversary – the West. It can be argued that their policies have been, as a result, almost equally bad, e.g, the US embassy hostage-taking, the prosecution of the war with Iraq, the current economic mess in the country.

The reason why the US will fail in Iraq and the Iranians will succeed is not because one is playing with checkers counters and the other with chess pieces, but because of the way the board is constructed.

W. Patrick Lang

FB Ali

In spite of the much loved mythology to the contrary the United States government is neither "clever" (sly) nor devious. Only a few of us were that and "there's not many left in the old company." We (en generale) are not capable of thinking through the multi level chess game that the Iranians have been playing, and so, at the moment they are ahead in the score.

Dan

Yes. The opportunity to "play us" was handed to the Iranians, but, they took it. pl

geos

So, I ask: what is this obsession with the other-side's women - is this some sort of propaganda - just pushing the right buttons in the psyche of Americans - so to speak?

Posted by: Babak Makkinejad |

Yes.

I believe a good historian would find that the idea goes back into the Victorian era.

It's modern incarnation at least in part reflects the idea that women in the US are less likely to support military intervention in foreign lands and so it represents an appeal based upon the common concerns (or at least *perceived* common concerns) of women.

I continue to believe that U.S. policy in the Middle East is almost entirely a war going on in Washington D.C.

Do the Europeans or Chinese have "Kremlinologists" whose job it is to understand what is happening behind the curtain in the U.S.?

geos

The US debacle in the Middle East and beyond is not because its policy makers and planners are stupid (though there is some of that, too). It has been caused by a woeful lack of knowledge and understanding of the region and its peoples, by ideology overcoming inconvenient facts, by special interests shaping policy to suit their own agendas, by a private link from the decision-maker to God, and by the absence of any balancing pressure from other institutions, such as the legislative branch and the media.

It's worse than that I think. It's that as you go higher and higher up the *policy* food chain the players don't actually care about the reality of the ME. They are entirely focused on domestic political considerations.

They may or may not be particularly clever, but it is irrelevant.

Why does G.M. make bad cars? Because those at the top have no interest in mechanics or electronics or any of the ideas that make cars a reality. The reality of the automobile is irrelevant to them: they are first and foremost concerned with their political position wrt the board of directors and then about what is happening on Wall Street: GM makes most of it's profits from it's financial services division.

Unfortunately there are no recalls for Middle East policy. The Dem's will discover this in '08.

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