1911Forum banner

1 - 6 of 6 Posts

211 Posts
Discussion Starter #1
This seems to be the week for some interesting anlysis regarding the rapidly changing environment in Iraq. This piece come from Stratfor, a strategic intelligence service on global business, economic, security and geopolitical affairs (http://www.stratfor.com).


19 November 2003

by Dr. George Friedman

The Unnoticed Alignment: Iran and the United States in Iraq


Iranian President Mohammad Khatami has quietly announced his
recognition of the Iraqi Governing Council and acceptance of the
U.S. timeline on the transfer of power in Iraq. The announcement
speaks to a partnership that will direct the future course of
Iraq. The alliance is of direct short-term benefit to both
countries: The United States gains a partner to help combat Sunni
insurgents, and Iran will be able to mitigate the long-standing
threat on its western border. What is most notable is that,
though there has been no secrecy involved, the partnership has
emerged completely below the global media's radar.


Iranian President Mohammad Khatami did something very interesting
Nov. 17: He announced that Iran recognized the Iraqi Governing
Council in Baghdad. He said specifically, "We recognize the Iraqi
Governing Council and we believe it is capable, with the Iraqi
people, of managing the affairs of the country and taking
measures leading toward independence." Khatami also commented on
the agreement made by U.S. Administrator Paul Bremer and the IGC
to transfer power to an Iraqi government by June: "The
consecration of this accord will help with the reconstruction and
security in Iraq,"

This is pretty extraordinary stuff. The IGC is an invention of
the United States. The president of Iran has now recognized the
IGC as the legitimate government of Iraq, and he has also
declared Iran's support for the timetable for transferring power
to the IGC. In effect, the U.S. and Iranian positions on Iraq
have now converged. The alignment is reminiscent of the Sino-U.S.
relationship in the early 1970s: Despite absolute ideological
differences on which neither side is prepared to compromise,
common geopolitical interests have forced both sides to
collaborate with one another. As with Sino-U.S. relations,
alignment is a better word than alliance. These two countries are
not friends, but history and geography have made them partners.

We would say that this is unexpected, save that Stratfor expected
it. On Sept. 2, 2003, we published a weekly analysis titled An
Unlikely Alliance, in which we argued that a U.S.-Iranian
alignment was the only real solution for the United States in
Iraq -- and would represent the fulfillment of an historical
dream for Iran. What is interesting from our point of view
(having suitably congratulated ourselves) is the exceptionally
quiet response of the global media to what is, after all, a
fairly extraordinary evolution of events.

The media focus on -- well, media events. When Nixon went to
China, the visit was deliberately framed as a massive media
event. Both China and the United States wanted to emphasize the
shift in alignment, to both the Soviet Union and their own
publics. In this case, neither the United States nor Iran wants
attention focused on this event. For Washington, aligning with a
charter member of the "axis of evil" poses significant political
problems; for Tehran, aligning with the "Great Satan" poses
similar problems. Both want alignment, but neither wants to make
it formal at this time, and neither wants to draw significant
attention to it. For the media, the lack of a photo op means that
nothing has happened. Therefore, except for low-key reporting by
some wire services, Khatami's statement has been generally
ignored, which is fine by Washington and Tehran. In fact, on the
same day that Khatami made the statement, the news about Iran
focused on the country's nuclear weapons program. We christen
thee, stealth geopolitics.

Let's review the bidding here. When the United States invaded
Iraq, the expectation was that the destruction of Iraq's
conventional forces and the fall of Baghdad would end resistance.
It was expected that there would be random violence, some
resistance and so forth, but there was no expectation that there
would be an organized, sustained guerrilla war, pre-planned by
the regime and launched almost immediately after the fall of

The United States felt that it had a free hand to shape and
govern Iraq as it saw fit. The great debate was over whether the
Department of State or Defense would be in charge of Baghdad's
water works. Washington was filled with all sorts of plans and
planners who were going to redesign Iraq. The dream did not die
easily or quickly: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was denying
the existence of a guerrilla war in Iraq as late as early July,
more than two months after it had begun. Essentially, Washington
and reality diverged in May and June.

Fantasy was followed by a summer of paralysis. The United States
had not prepared for a guerrilla war in Iraq, and it had no plan
for fighting such a war. Search-and-destroy operations were
attempted, but these never had a chance of working, since
tactical intelligence against the guerrillas was virtually non-
existent. All it did was stir up even more anti-American feeling
than was already there. The fact was that the United States was
not going to be in a position to put down a guerrilla war without
allies: It had neither the manpower nor the intimate knowledge of
the country and society needed to defeat even a small guerrilla
movement that was operating in its own, well-known terrain.

At the same time, for all its problems, the situation in Iraq was
not nearly as desperate as it would appear. Most of the country
was not involved in the guerrilla war. It was essentially
confined to the Sunni Triangle -- a fraction of Iraq's territory
-- and to the minority Sunni group. The majority of Iraqis,
Shiites and Kurds, not only were not involved in the guerrilla
movement but inherently opposed to it. Both communities had
suffered greatly under the Baathist government, which was heavily
Sunni. The last thing they wanted to see was a return of Saddam
Hussein's rule.

However, being opposed to the guerrillas did not make the
Shiites, in particular, pro-American. They had their own
interests: The Shiites in Iraq wanted to control the post-Hussein
government. Another era of Sunni control would have been
disastrous for them. For the Shiites -- virtually regardless of
faction -- taking control of Iraq was a priority.

It is not fair to say that Iran simply controlled the Iraqi
Shiites; there are historical tensions between the two groups. It
is fair to say, however, that Iranian intelligence systematically
penetrated and organized the Shiites during Hussein's rule and
that Iran provided safe haven for many of Iraq's Shiite leaders.
That means, obviously, that Tehran has tremendous and decisive
influence in Iraq at this point - which means that the goals of
Iraqi Shiites must coincide with Iranian national interests.

In this case, they do. Iran has a fundamental interest in a pro-
Iranian, or at least genuinely neutral, Iraq. The only way to
begin creating that is with a Shiite-controlled government. With
a Shiite-controlled government, the traditional Iraqi threat
disappears and Iran's national security is tremendously enhanced.
But the logic goes further: Iraq is the natural balance to Iran -
- and if Iraq is neutralized, Iran becomes the pre-eminent power
in the Persian Gulf. Once the United States leaves the region --
and in due course, the United States will leave -- Iran will be
in a position to dominate the region. No other power or
combination of powers could block it without Iraqi support. Iran,
therefore, has every reason to want to see an evolution that
leads to a Shiite government in Iraq.

Washington now has an identical interest. The United States does
not have the ability or appetite to suppress the Sunni rising in
perpetuity, nor does it have an interest in doing so. The U.S.
interest is in destroying al Qaeda. Washington therefore needs an
ally that has an intrinsic interest in fighting the guerrilla war
and the manpower to do it. That means the Iraqi Shiites -- and
that means alignment with Iran.

Bremer's assignment is to speed the transfer of power to the IGC.
In a formal sense, this is a genuine task, but in a practical
sense, transferring power to the IGC means transferring it to the
Shiites. Not only do they represent a majority within the IGC,
but when it comes time to raise an Iraqi army to fight the
guerrillas, that army is going to be predominantly Shiite. That
is not only a demographic reality but a political one as well --
the Shiites will insist on dominating the new army. They are not
going to permit a repeat of the Sunni domination. Therefore,
Bremer's mission is to transfer sovereignty to the IGC, which
means the transfer of sovereignty to the Shiites.

From this, the United States ultimately gets a force in Iraq to
fight the insurrection, the Iraqi Shiites get to run Iraq and the
Iranians secure their Western frontier. On a broader, strategic
scale, the United States splits the Islamic world -- not down the
middle, since Shiites are a minority -- but still splits it.
Moreover, under these circumstances, the Iranians are motivated
to fight al Qaeda (a movement they have never really liked
anyway) and can lend their not-insignificant intelligence
capabilities to the mix.

211 Posts
Discussion Starter #2
Part 2 - Iran and the United States in Iraq

The last real outstanding issue is Iran's nuclear capability.
Iran obviously would love to be a nuclear power in addition to
being a regional hegemon. That would be sweet. However, it isn't
going to happen, and the Iranians know that. It won't happen
because Israel cannot permit it to happen. Any country's politics
are volatile, and Iran in ten years could wind up with a new
government and with values that, from Israel's point of view, are
dangerous. Combine that with nuclear weapons, and it could mean
the annihilation of Israel. Therefore, Israel would destroy
Iran's nuclear capabilities -- with nuclear strikes if necessary
-- before they become operational.

To be more precise, Israel would threaten to destroy Iran's
capabilities, which would put the United States in a tough
position. An Israeli nuclear strike on Iran would be the last
thing Washington needs. Therefore, the United States would be
forced to take out Iran's facilities with American assets in the
region -- better a non-nuclear U.S. attack than an Israeli
nuclear attack. Thus, the United States is telling Iran that it
does not actually have the nuclear option it thinks it has. The
Iranians, for their part, are telling the United States that they
know Washington doesn't want a strike by either Israel or the
U.S. forces.

That means that the Iranians are using their nuclear option to
extract maximum political concessions from the United States. It
is in Tehran's interest to maximize the credibility of the
country's nuclear program without crossing a line that would
force an Israeli response and a pre-emptive move by the United
States. The Iranians are doing that extremely skillfully. The
United States, for its part, is managing the situation
effectively as well. The nuclear issue is not the pivot.

The alignment represents a solution to both U.S. and Iranian
needs. However, in the long run, the Iranians are the major
winners. When it is all over, they get to dominate the Persian
Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula. That upsets the regional balance
of power completely and is sending Saudi leaders into a panic.
The worst-case scenario for Saudi Arabia is, of course, an
Iranian-dominated region. It is also not a great outcome for the
United States, since it has no interest in any one power
dominating the region either.

But the future is the future, and now is now. "Now" means the
existence of a guerrilla war that the United States cannot fight
on its own. This alignment solves that dilemma. We should
remember that the United States has a history of improbable
alliances that caused problems later. Consider the alliance with
the Soviet Union in World War II that laid the groundwork for the
Cold War: It solved one problem, then created another. The United
States historically has worked that way.

Thus, Washington is not going to worry about the long run until
later. But in the short run, the U.S.-Iranian alignment is the
most important news since the Sept. 11 attacks. It represents a
triumph of geopolitics over principle on both sides, which is
what makes it work: Since both sides are betraying fundamental
principles, neither side is about to call the other on it. They
are partners in this from beginning to end.

What is fascinating is that this is unfolding without any secrecy
whatsoever, yet is not being noticed by anyone. Since neither
country is particularly proud of the deal, neither country is
advertising it. And since it is not being advertised, the media
are taking no notice. Quite impressive.

11,105 Posts
I think its a mistake to believe that the sole reason for Iran developing nuclear weapons is to get maximum political concessions from the US. North Korea already proved that if you do it during the right administration you can do both.

The fact that its based on a supposed belief on the part of Israelis that Israel can get away with a nuclear first strike on Iran, or even make a credible threat to do so, makes it more than a little ridiculous.

Acrobat said:
It represents a
triumph of geopolitics over principle on both sides, which is
what makes it work: Since both sides are betraying fundamental
principles, neither side is about to call the other on it. They
are partners in this from beginning to end.
If theres one constant in modern politics its the triumph of "geopolitics" over principle.


3,163 Posts
I Noticed It

It shows that our leaders don't get any smarter and repeat past mistakes. Exactly 20 years ago we aligned with (and armed) Iraq for the express purpose of pounding on Iran and containing the threat of Islamic Fundamentalism. Now we are enlisting Iran as an ally because we desparately need them to help us keep the lid from blowing off Iraq. I guess we will never learn. These governments are not our allies and sooner or later get off their leash... and then we have an even bigger problem.

3,458 Posts
"If theres one constant in modern politics its the triumph of "geopolitics" over principle. "

Hehehe MUS ;)

403 Posts
It shows that our leaders don't get any smarter and repeat past mistakes. Exactly 20 years ago we aligned with (and armed) Iraq for the express purpose of pounding on Iran and containing the threat of Islamic Fundamentalism. Now we are enlisting Iran as an ally because we desparately need them to help us keep the lid from blowing off Iraq. I guess we will never learn. These governments are not our allies and sooner or later get off their leash... and then we have an even bigger problem.
The problem is, you liberals have no alternative plan or solution. Had the US not supported Iraq "20 years ago", Iran would have won the war and would no doubt have siezed control of Iraq. All of this with the Ayatollah Khomeini at the helm of a fundamentalist Iran. As it was, the US assisted Iraq in fighting Iran to a standstill and was quite successful, I might add. Iran, boasting a far numerically superior population, and thus military, was no doubt going to win the war of attrition. Chemical weapons became the necessary equalizer. By evoking your "20 years ago" mantra, you hope to indict the Reagan and Bush administrations with regard to Iraq, but lets not forget all of those Democrats that supported the Shah of Iran prior to Iraq ever emitting a signature on the radar screen.

The bigger question is, where were your indignant cries when the Shah was running Iran and the US was doing precisely the same thing there? At 50+ years old, you were no doubt old enough to recognize the Shah for what he was. Hmm. Seems you only grew a distaste for puppet regimes from 1980 on. To bad that you forget all of the support that the Shah of Iran received from the US during ALL of those Democratic administrations... :D Why don't you refresh all of our memories about just how long the Shah of Iran was in power and the administrations that assisted him? And let's not forget that Bush, Sr. wanted to take out Saddam in 1991, but was cautioned against it by the UN (your favorite talisman in these situations). Yes, he had his own reservations about a possible "quagmire", but he also knew that if Saddam was to be "had", that was the time. Well, good old UN dawdling brought us right up to where we are today. Did you ever stop to think that, had the US not stepped up to the plate to depose Saddam Hussein, that he would STILL be in power in Iraq? My, oh my, what WOULD you liberals be doing about that under Gore? Oh, that's right. More UN inspections.

The US is not "enlisting" Iran to do anything. The US is advising Iran that it had better take measures to prevent or deter people from moving from within Iran and into Iraq to conduct operations against US and international forces and had better get on the up and up with regard to their nuclear program with the IAEA.

But then again, what do I know about Iran? We would probably be a lot better off asking someone like Oliver North. ;)
1 - 6 of 6 Posts