Friday, November 12, 2004

War Gaming Iran

At a small dinner in Washington DC on 4 Nov, a group of thinkers and actors from left and right (but all sharing antipathy to the policies of the Bush administration) met with to discuss where to go next.

At least one of those present had recently come from a meeting with people at the top of the re-elected administration, even though he didn’t agree with them nor they with him. He reckoned the administration was now looking seriously at an attack on Iran.

I’ve long been skeptical of this. It looks so likely fail, bot militarily and politically, as attested by another outstanding article by James Fallows in the Dec 04 edition of The Atlantic (this available on subscription only: beg, borrow or steal to read it).

But another of those present at the DC dinner – Charles [Chuck] Pena of the Cato Institute – agreed. He said it had been war gamed for the administration.

Chuck has since written a clear piece for openDemocracy outlining the situation. Before seeing Chuck’s piece, I ran the question of an attack on Iran by Gilles Kepel who joined Sami Zubaida for a discussion at the Maison Francaise in Oxford on 11 November.

Kepel is not convinced. He said he met a number of people in the US administration in September, confident Bush would win, from whom he had concluded that go ahead with Iran unlikely. And a new factor, Kepel said, was the death of Arafat. This could provide an opportunity for US administration to refocus on Israel-Palestine, putting Iran to one side for now (He did not cite the Tony Blair line, but I wouldn’t be surprised if - pin stripe and poppy in button-hole, he had come to Oxford straight from a meeting at 10 Downing St or with senior advisors – the following day Blair was flying to Washington).

Kepel held to the view that, to some extent, the second W administration might see the neocon agenda as something of a liability, although the war on terror was very useful in being re-elected right up to the perfect appearance of Bin Laden at the end to wave hello. Kepel noted that a successful outcome for the US in Iraq was of course deeply worrying to the Iranian regime. And he told some amusing anecdotes about one of his recent trips to Iran

Elsewhere, Kepel has noted:

The Iraqi option which is a secular, Shia-dominated Iraq would be a forceful magnet boosting the moral of those in Iran who are against the Iranian regime. This is something which the Iranian regime – very wise when it comes to perpetuating itself – grasped very well. This is why they back Moqtadr al Sadr so that he might help them destroy the trump card of Shia mobilization. But they failed in this. The insurgency of the Sadrists collapsed after Ali Sistani’s remarkable political move when he went back to Najaf and Kerbala and mobilized all the clerical resources of Shiism in order to compel those young drop-outs who supported al Sadr to kiss his ring and pay their respects to him.

I begin to wonder if the pieces are falling into place – at least in the mid term, and in a great cost in blood – for the neo con strategy. Assuming (!) a successful liquidation in Falluja, Ramadi, Mosul etc, the US administration calculates it can beat obstreperous Sunni elements into submission in Iraq. If so, it can deliver some sort of election in which majority votes, while Sunni parties remain sullen. OK, so the votes were overwhelmingly Kurd and Shi’ia, but hey man it’s 70% of the population! You can see the lines in George W Bush’s speech now.

So then comes Iran, whoops and bumpety bump, and then a larger agenda – perhaps as identified by Frank Gaffney in his 5 Nov article Worldwide Value (thanks to another of those present at the 4 Nov dinner for pointing out this piece) .

As another person present at the dinner described this view "Iran is for pansies! Real men are already talking about China and France!"

If this is correct then we in Europe will need at the very least the skills of "Jeeves diplomacy", to use the felicitous coinage of Timothy Garton-Ash in What to do about Bush.

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