The US intensifies the conflict with Iran unnecessarily while the extremists weaken
By Ulrich Ladurner
[This article published in: DIE ZEIT 04/1/18/2007 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://zeus.zeit.de/text/2007/04/Iran
The American soldiers in Iraq may first come home when they fulfill their tasks. “Finish the job” is the command issued again and again by US president Bush. Nothing has changed in his new Iraq strategy proclaimed a week ago: “Finish the job.” That is the message to his subordinates. Nothing is new in this. The considerable doubt about the “job” to be finished by the army is new. Democracy for Iraq? Bush doesn’t speak about that any more. Stabilization of Iraq? That is one of the tasks. But in what way can it be solved?
In a report presented before Christmas, former secretary of state James Baker recommended negotiating with Iran and Syria to bring the situation in Iraq under control. Bush rejected this approach completely and even reversed it. “These two regimes allow terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to go over the border into Iraq. Iran provides material assistance for attacks on US soldiers. We will stop this support from Iran and Syria. We will find out and destroy the networks that train and supply our enemies with weapons.” That sounded like a declaration of war.
The same day US soldiers in the Kurdish city Erbil arrested five Iranians working in a consular office. The US army claimed these men belonged to the Iranian al-Qaida brigade, an elite unit of the Iranian revolutionary guard, the Rasdaran. The brigade allegedly supports the insurgents. The Kurdish authorities vigorously protested the arrests. An armed conflict nearly occurred between the Kurdish Peschmergas and US soldiers. Protests also came from the capital Baghdad. “We don’t want Iraq to become a place where accounts with other countries are settled,” the Iraqi foreign minister Huschjar Siban said. “We respect the US but we have our own interests. We cannot deny that Iran is our neighbor.”
However the protest of confederates did not bring about any softening. The order to make the arrests came directly from president Bush as though his priority was to overthrow the regime in Teheran so hated by him, not to stabilize Teheran. The question these days is: Will the Bush administration escalate the war and extend it beyond Iraq’s borders?
THE WAR IN IRAQ HAS ALWAYS BEEN A REGIONAL CONFLICT
Teheran could interpret the incident in Erbil as a provocation. This is also true for the second aircraft carried dispatched by Bush in the Gulf. In addition, Bush replaced General John Abizaid, the supreme commander of Central Command (Centcom). Centcom is the command central for the Middle East. Abizaid made no secret that he relied on negotiations. “The problem must be internationalized,” the General declared in an interview with the New York Times. “The problem must be tackled with diplomatic means in a geo-strategic sense.” Admiral William Fallon replaced Abizaid. The man from the Marines has little experience in fighting insurrections. Fallon knows much about directing air attacks from ships. Therefore America could resolve to bombard Iranian nuclear installations.
Is this an escalation? Many open questions and speculations remain. Bush has certainly intensified his rhetoric. His view of Iran has not moved a millimeter in all the years he has been in office. In Bush’s eyes, Iran remains part of the “axis of evil,” a headquarters of international terror. From this perspective, the war in Iraq has always been a regional war that was only “hot” in Iraq. Iran was and is an equal target in Washington’s eyes.
Several things are up in the air. Protests occurred when president Mahmud Ahmadineschad visited the Amir-Kabir-university in Teheran in November. “Down with the Dictator!,” the students exclaimed. Some publically burned Ahmadineschad’s picture. On December 15, the Iranians went to the polls three times. There were elections for the so-called council of experts, communal elections and special elections to parliament. In all these cases, Ahmadineschad’s camp had to take serious rebuffs that came as a great surprise since Ahmadineschad’s inflammatory speeches after assuming office in the summer of 2005 made many forget that this president is not a dictator but must face elections – with all the risks that elections in Iran may be manipulated.
IN IRAN THERE ARE NEW CHANCES FOR PRAGMATISM
The Iranians set a clear signal at the ballot box. 64 percent nationwide voted, 47 percent in Teheran. To understand the significance of these figures, one must look back to 2003. At that time, only 12 percent of the people voted in the communal elections in the three million metropolis because many reformers said the election was useless in a completely authoritarian state. Teheran’s mayor in 2003 was Mahmud Ahmadineschad.
The high election participation is a clear sign that the republican element is somewhat stronger in the Islamic republic while the Islamic element has weakened.. This is also clear in the candidates. The spiritual foster father Ajatollah Misbah Jasdi made it into the council of watchmen. Masbah Jasdi is a confessed enemy of democracy. In this election, Haschemi Rafsandschani, the man despised by Mesbah Jasdi’s followers who lost to Ahmadineschad the 2005 presidential election landed in first place.
Rafsandschani is certainly not a flawless democrat. He is a man with a problematic history. However his victory over Mesbah Jasdi amounts to a recalibration of the inner balance of power in Iran. More pragmatism is the direction desired by the upper class. No one less than the supreme spiritual leader Ali Chamenei actively promoted this development. He excluded candidates of Mesbah Jasdi’s camp from candidacy for the council of watchmen. Several days ago, the newspaper Jornhuri-ye Estami close to Chamenei published a direct attack on Ahmadineschad’s foreign policy. This attack has a great symbolic effect.
All this does not make a democracy out of the Islamic republic but shows the Islamic society is not completely paralyzed. It can react. The question about their motives is interesting. Why is Ahmadineschad weakened?
The Iranians did not elect Ahmadineschad in 2005. Later he said, “Israel must be erased from the face of the earth.” The large majority voted for him to solve their social problems. They now withdraw part of their support from his camp because he did not fulfill his promises. The role of Iran’s increasing isolation in the nuclear question remains unclear. The UN has inflicted Iran with sanctions…
Criticism of Ahmadineschad’s foreign policy is intense. Powerful traders fear for their businesses. In December, the UN resolved sanctions that will soon take effect if Iran does not stop uranium enrichment. This resolution completely surprised Teheran. The men around Ahmadineschad had always claimed that China and Russia would not support sanctions in the Security Council. But this has now happened. The government of the president looks foolish. This strengthens the pragmatists.
Is it right to pressure Iran? The combination of outward pressure, inner problems and an elite that wants to survive and live well is effective. A fine harmonization of all participating actors is underway. The escalation obviously envisioned by Washington is the opposite of this. Escalation will not finish the “job” that president George W. Bush charged admiral William Fallon. The language of bombs is too simple for a complex matter like the Middle East.
WAR ON EVIL
After Iraq, Washington has Iran in its sights. A US attack on the regime in Teheran is increasingly likely
By Ulrich Ladurner
[This article published in: DIE ZEIT 06/2007 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://zeus.zeit.de/text/online/2007/06/Iran-USA
Several days ago president George W. Bush gave the order “to capture or kill” Iranian agents in Iraq. Almost daily the Pentagon comes up with “proofs” convicting Iran as a supplier and financier of the Shiite militias in neighboring Iraq. At the same time, a second aircraft carrier is ordered to the Gulf. Taking all this together, the signs point unequivocally to war.
Nevertheless no one believes Bush will really risk a military action against Iran. The reason is Iraq. The US is stuck in the morass so deep that it doesn’t have the strength to attack Iran, many assure. Such an attack would estrange most of the remaining US allies from the superpower. These military and political arguments are advanced. They are only convincing on first view. If George W. Bush has proven one thing again and again, it is the fact that his foreign policy is ideologically motivated. The objections now put forward against an attack on Iran were already formulated similarly right before the war against Iraq.
This did not help. Why should something have changed in the stubbornness of the American president? Because he is weaker today? His weakness is no guarantee he will not plunge in another adventure. On the contrary, his weakness is a danger. The disaster in Iraq can seduce the Bush administration to wage the war beyond the borders of Iraq into Iran.
The US applied this escalation strategy in the seventies in Southeast Asia. When the US could not advance any more in Vietnam, it drew Cambodia and Laos into the war. This weakness can be a warmongering motive.
Democrats are vigorously criticizing Bush on account of his Iraq policy. However this in no way means they would not support an attack on Iran. It depends on the grounds. If the Bush administration convincingly explains that Iran participated directly in killing US soldiers. The democrats – similar to the case of Iraq in 2003 – will hardly resist. These “patriots” are also well represented in the democratic camp.
Finally, Bush still has a powerful argument for an attack. Iran is allegedly building nuclear weapons. The president of Iran threatens Israel with destruction.
Does al this mean an intervention of the US in Iran is likely? It is more probable than ever. One who carefully reads the daily news notices that evidence is lacking. He will see the Bush administration has begun building Iran systematically into an evil empire. Whatever the Iranians do, whatever they think and whomever they elect, they are in the corner of the extremists in Washington’s view – and must be expelled.
Last week the BBC broadcast an interview with Lawrence Wilkinson, a former high-ranking official of the US State Department. In this interview, he said the Iranians made a far-reaching offer to the US four years ago. According to Wilkinson, Iran promised to end its support of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine and make its nuclear program more transparent. “This was very close to what Washington always demanded from Teheran,” Wilkinson said. In a countermove, the Iranians demanded that the US abandon its hostile attitude.
The answer to this offer came from the mouth of the powerful US vice-president Dick Cheney: “We don’t speak with evil!”