An Appropriate American Response?
Iran has been rather belligerent of late, to say the least. America's response has been likewise stingy, again to say the least. I believe America is on the right course and, if it remains on that straight and narrow, Iran will find itself a victim of its own devices, not dissimilar to Saddam's miscalculations that led to his downfall.
Iran's belligerence began with the surprise election of President Ahmadinejad, a surprise to all except the Iranian clerics that, in all practicality, control the political landscape of Iran. Why? Why did they so badly need a reactionary fundamentalist warming the Presidential chair? The answers to such questions are often found in subsequent and consequential behavior. The short answer is the Iranian clerics needed someone like Ahmadinejad to be belligerent for them.
In the aftermath of the miscalculation of al Qaeda, the Iranian clerics have found themselves surrounded. True, the clerics never really got along with Saddam to the west and the Taliban to the east, but that was manageable. But now on both fronts they have about a couple hundred thousand combat-hardened awesomely equipped troops from an avowed foe within striking distance. And their northern and southern borders were never too friendly. Although there have been some setbacks recently, those borders have seen a strengthening of political, military and diplomatic ties to those same opposing forces of Iran.
The clerics must be feeling a little queasy.
Against the US, proxy terrorism and covert ops have been the Iranians' only military options, and economic "incentives" towards Russia, China and Europe have been traded with the skill of a haggling bazaar merchant for favors in the international diplomatic market.
What does belligerence buy for the Iranian clerics? Nationalistic "wag the dog" support has been one benefit widely touted in the press, and particularly amongst the anti-war faction in America as a rationale for not doing anything about it. Providing aid and comfort to that same anti-war faction in an effort to win the war on Main Street USA is certainly another.
Iran has also specifically threatened to use its powerful connections with terrorist organizations (that it supposedly has no ties with) against American targets should America launch any kind of attack on Iran.
And finally, Iran has raised the nuclear bogey man.
To what end?
It has oft been argued that America would utterly fail should it invade Iran, that it would not be the same as Iraq, that Iran would be America's Vietnam. Again.
Ignoring the likelihood of success or failure, I know of one group of people who are not betting the farm that an invasion of American troops would be doomed.
Yeah, those same Iranian clerics.
All this belligerence is focused on one goal, to make it as difficult as possible, if not impossible, for America to launch the same sort of diplomatic pushes for military action as Bush Sr. and Jr. did with Iraq. And I do believe they are succeeding.
But whilst the Iranians strategize and calculate down to the last decimal point, Bush isn't playing the same game. The Iranians' greatest miscalculation is assuming that if they play a really spectacular game of chess, they'll force a capitulation of American strategic interests by default. Logic, and brute geopolitical realities, will force America to concede the game.
I once got roped into a game of Risk. Now, among gamers, Risk is like Grandmasters of Chess sitting down to a game of checkers. It is a gawdawful waste of time. But we had a newbie and he got first choice. One of the cardinal rules of Risk is you do not attack too many countries at once. It just spreads yourself out too thin for the inevitable counterattack.
That is, if you are playing to win. I didn't want to win. I just wanted the game over with.
I first placed my forces all over the world, with no attempt to concentrate. Who needs continental bonuses when you don’t expect to last one round? I also made sure my placement was such that it frustrated the efforts of the newbie to concentrate anywhere too. We were quite the dance couple. On my turn, I placed all my reinforcements in one country and drove my panzers and stukas straight through the heart of his territories. Needless to say, the next guy took me out. And the newbie.
I was mirthfully informed later by one of the other guys that the newbie thought I didn’t know how to play Risk. Everyone got it, except for him.
The point is that the first rule of any strategic endeavor is to know your objectives, and those of your opponent’s. If America’s objective is a balance-of-power equation in the Middle East, merely maintaining a status quo, then we need to listen to the likes of former national security advisor for President Carter, Zbigniew Brzezinski. Iran is small fry. We can manage them with sticks and carrots.
Bush's objective, rightly so in my opinion, is to win. Or, more appropriately, to clear the decks and deal a new game. We are a country of democratic principles and values. It is incumbent upon us to encourage, even fight for, democracy. Especially in an area of such vital national security interest to America as the Middle East. Democracies are much easier to deal with, without having to resort to force of arms all the time. During the Cold War, we made do with devilish pacts with the likes of the Saudi ruling family, the Shah of Iran and Saddam, "The Butcher of Baghdad". We don't need to anymore. We can fight for democracy without looking over our shoulder for the shadow of Soviet escalation. Allowing Iran to get nukes just sets us back to those dangerous, dead-end zero-sum days.
"Cowboy" Bush is a lame duck president. He has no re-election to lose and has until 2009 to git-r-done. He has made it abundantly clear that he will not turn over the problem to the next administration.
The assumption being made in Iran is that Bush won't risk sacrificing his queen to win. The Iranians know the only thing holding us back is a lack of public stamina and will. They can count troops; they can count intercontinental bombers and carrier task groups. They have the political connections and spies in place to sense SpecOps forces infiltrating across their border with Azerbaijani.
Bush's determination to not leave this as a "legacy" to another administration and his "Axis of Evil" declaration make it clear he will do something. Bush has been signaling for some time that American troops may not, in fact, be pulled out this year, much to the consternation of Republicans who will be around (or would like to be around) in 2007, and 2009.
The only explanation I can think of is Bush fully intends to use freed-up troops in Iraq to resist any Iranian counter-offensive to American missile strikes, commando squads, etc with the intent of diminishing Iran's nuclear capability. Over the past year or two, Seymour Hersh has documented the American domestic political and bureaucratic consolidation to support this effort quite well. Given the choice between having American troops still in Iraq on November 7, 2006 supporting Iraqi security forces, or launching punitive strikes on western Iranian assets before the election, I think Bush believes the Republicans would prefer the former.
Withdrawal is not an option. If it were, then any military option to Iran’s belligerence would be, by default, taken off the table.
If Iran allows this to go that far, and I don't think Bush is partial to giving them the choice to back out, if the Iranians' counteroffensive to an American assault on their nuclear assets includes an attempt to further destabilize Iraq, I believe the Iranian clerics will be in for a rude awakening. Just how quick do you think the Sunni insurgency will last once their Iranian Shiite foes threaten Iraq? As the Sunnis find political participation increasingly possible, and much more palatable, the number of deadly feuds between the insurgents and the foreign jihadists rise dramatically. The Sunni insurgents don't want a destabilized Iraq, particularly if it comes from Shiite Iran.
And that would free up a lot of troops for a hop, skip and jump to the east. Ironically, an attack on Iran may be the best bet to neutralizing the Sunni insurgency.
I believe the Iranians' biggest miscalculation is in believing the international community, and the Middle East in particular, would not allow America to go that far and that the Russians or Chinese or Europeans could actually stop it.
Bush isn’t listening; just ask Hersh. While the Iranians try to force a game of chess and has the pearl and ebony checkered board covered, the game is poker and they can’t scare up a pair of deuces.
Watch for repositioning troops to the east. Look for the first strike post-election.