I want to raise a heretical notion: I actually think that Bush is playing a bad tactical hand well in Iran.
Look, there is no way in hell that he’s going to undertake meaningful military action against the Iranians. A few shells may get lobbed at boats that approach the fleet too closely, and I have no doubt that our Special Ops community is doing whatever it is they do in situations where they don’t get to “blow shit up and kill people.” But the political cards within the US are dealt, and Bush’s hand does not include an “Invade Iran” card.
That doesn’t mean things aren’t happening, or that we should be paying close attention. many sources have commented on the increasingly fragile grip on power of the populist nutjob Ahmadinejad. Having three carrier groups offshore has to be a source of internal pressure, as does unanimous UN resolutions cracking down on international finance, a declining oil sector, etc. etc.
From Global Voices, some Iranian opinions:
[Fa] says US Foreign Secretary Condoleeza Rice’s trip to Middle East was successful enough to unite small and large Arab countries against Iran. The blogger says when the US was in Middle East, Iranian President took a useless trip to Latin America. The blogger adds Iranian people are confused about the current situation.
According to Pouya
on one side their instinct tell them that all these warship and military prepration in the Persian Gulf cannot only be a game and other side the Iranian regime makes propaganda that it is all a gameâ€¦Maybe the regime welcomes a limited war to fortify ther position inside and outside countryâ€¦.a few billions of damage due to bombings would be covered by selling oil.
Haji Washington [Fa] says Iran should not be afraid of the US as Arab countries in the Persian Gulf are the bigger threat.The blogger adds there is an international coalition against Iran and western banks are pressing sanctions while Japan is reducing its economic activities.
Ali Mazroi [Fa], a reformist politician, talks about Iran’s miscalculation in handling its nuclear crisis. He says the US was not in a rush to send the Iranian nuclear case to the Security Council. According to the blogger, the US convinced all countries that the only solution for the Iranian nuclear crisis was the Security Council.
Ali Mazroi says,as a citizen:
I am worried to see that the governing institutions in Iran are pushing the country and Islamic Republic into an endless hole.
View from Iran writes with sarcasm about a conversation between friends about the coming war; I sure hope Iran doesnâ€™t use any Shahab missiles. If they do, it will be the start of WW 3, a friend says. Why do you think that? Theyâ€™ll hit everything but their intended target. A missile aimed at Israel will hit Saudi Arabia or Russia or some other country. Everyone laughs. Everyone goes about their daily business: hoarding saffron and tuna fish.
Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a reformist politician and blogger, says former presidents Khatami and Rafsanjani as well as Karoubi, the former Iranian Parliament Speaker, have organised several meetings with former heads of states and foreign affairs officials to discuss these very dangerous circumstances.
Abthai reports that according to Mr Sadr, a former vice foreign affairs minister, Iran cannot count on Syria because when they feel they are in danger they will make a deal with US. He adds that it is the first time there are international sanctions imposed against Iran.
From the Financial Times:
The sanctions contained in the Resolution have limited direct effect but they come at a moment when the economy is performing poorly, partly because of Iranian mismanagement. Ahmadinejad is under criticism because of rising inflation â€“ officially at 12 per cent, in reality closer to 20 per cent; economic growth around 5 per cent per annum is not keeping up with the need for job creation. Foreign investment has all but dried up, partly because of the nuclear issue and associated action (e.g. restriction on Iranian banks, greater caution of export credit agencies). Without new investment, Iran risks being unable to maintain medium-term oil production, currently 50 per cent of government income [emphasis added].
From the Guardian:
Iran’s beleaguered president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is facing a powerful challenge from his fiercest political rival for control of the country’s nuclear and economic policies.
Hashemi Rafsanjani, a pragmatic conservative defeated by Mr Ahmadinejad in the 2005 presidential election, believes Iran may have to yield to western demands to suspend uranium enrichment to save the country’s Islamic system from collapse.
He is trying to persuade the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say in state matters, that further negotiations are essential to avoid a potentially disastrous conflict with the US or Israel.
“Before the sanctions, Rafsanjani hoped Iran could obtain its enrichment objectives through mutual understanding with the west. But now he thinks we have reached a dangerous point and that a step should be taken backwards in the hope that two forward can be taken later,” said Mohammad Atrianfar, a respected political commentator and associate of Mr Rafsanjani.
“He doesn’t see negotiation as a sign of weakness. He wants to limit the impact of the sanctions and get Mr Khamenei and the government to accept that if Iran faces mounting sanctions or a military attack or any crisis which damages the economic life of the people, then there is a possibility of the whole system collapsing.”
The Guardian reported last week that Mr Ahmadinejad’s authority was under pressure from critical MPs and an increasingly concerned Mr Khamenei. The re-emergence of Mr Rafsanjani contradicts widely held assumptions that his presidential defeat had diminished his influence. His increasing prominence comes after he won the most votes in elections to the experts’ assembly, an important clerical body.
So Bush is – against the odds – raising pressure on Iran, and as a result may wind up getting what he wants, which is the fangs temporarily pulled on the worst actors in the Iranian government.
That won’t solve our problems with Iran – not by any means. But it’s an impressive play of a weak hand, and I don’t think anyone is giving Bush the credit he deserves for it. Anyone can take the pot with aces over kings. But to stand your ground playing ace-high is an achievement and we’d all be better off – including those who oppose Bush – for recognizing that.
Having said that, I think we’re still misplaying strategically.
I’ve said in the past that we ought to be talking to the Iranians. Not necessarily in a craven “what have we done wrong, how can we make you like us” mode that many take entering talks to mean. But in the Clint Smith sense of
“You better learn to communicate real well, because when you’re out there on the street, you’ll have to talk to a lot more people than you’ll have to shoot, or at least that’s the way I think it’s supposed to work.”
I fail to see how sitting down with the Iranian leadership and laying out what they’re doing that we want them to stop, and asking them what it would take to get them to do so, and telling them what’s in the realm of possibility (no, Israel will not dissolve itself) and what isn’t, is not in the best interests of the US. Simply being able to clearly state such a set of US interests vis-a-vis Iran might itself be a good thing – a clarifying exercise as it were.
I think that we’ve buried negotiations in the Middle East in complexity and nuance and the speech of diplomacy, and that it’s time for some frank – and clear – thinking and speaking on our part and on the part of our allies.