Sunday, January 28, 2007

Clemons on Iran

Steven Clemons writes that Iran made a mistake in threatening to bar nuclear inspectors from the country since this provides an opening for the US to engage diplomatically with Russia and China to bring pressure to bear to end the nuclear program.

While I agree with his analysis I disagree with his description of this as a mistake. On the contrary, this is exactly the type of diplomatic engagement that Iran has been seeking for five years.

Whether you classify this as a mistake depends on what you consider the objectives of the Iranians to be. So far they have emerged stronger and more secure from each engagement they have initiated with the Bush administration. Since the Axis of Evil speech the constant aim of Iranian foreign policy has been to avoid a US attack on Iran. Obtaining nuclear weapons should be seen as a means to this end rather than an end in itself.

Speculation that the invasion of Iraq was directed by an AIPAC cabal misses the fact that the CIA identified the Iraqi National Congress and Chalabai himself as Iranian proxies in the 1990s. AIPAC was not the only agent of a foreign power with an interest in starting that particular war. Iran gained from the attack in three ways, first by eliminating Saddam as a threat, second by preventing the US attacking Iran for the duration, third because it was always likely to emerge from the conflict as the regional superpower.

For the past six months the story I have been hearing from everyone who might know is that the Bush Administration has already decided to invade Iran, the only question is how to justify the decision already taken.

Undoubtedly the Iranians believe something similar. In this context it makes perfect sense for them to deliberately re-enact the run up to the invasion of Iraq as closely as possible, including turning the international inspectors away before allowing them to enter the country under UN pressure.

The Bush administration would clearly prefer that Iran attack. If Iran does not respond to clear and deliberate provocation such as the abduction of it's consular staff a Gulf of Tonkin stratagem will be attempted. As the credibility of the Bush administration crumbles the window of opportunity for such an attack narrows. The weakness of the administration increases rather than decreases the probability of another war.

The game the Iranians should be playing at this point is to make it appear that they are just crazy enough for the Bush administration to expect them to respond so as to make a Tonkin gambit unnecessary. Their current actions are entirely compatible with such a strategy, including reports of division within the leadership.

US political reaction to any attack will almost certainly be identical to the reaction to the invasion of Iraq which is to say that Congress will back whatever position turned out to be correct the last time. Democrats supported the 2002 Iraq resolution because hindsight considered that to be the right reaction to the 1991 Gulf War. This time round any Democratic candidate who does not oppose the attack should forget about their Presidential ambitions and worry about winning their next primary instead.

AIPAC is certainly beating the drums for a war with Iran, they need not bother. Neither the Bush Administration nor the Democrats are going to listen. The Administration needs no encouragement. The Democrats know that another Bush war will inevitably be yet another fiasco that further weakens US power in the region and cripples the career of any politician who supported it. Attempting to make Democrats choose between AIPAC and the netroots is a foolish political choice. If they don't learn some sense quickly AIPAC will quickly be reduced to the level that the Christian Right is in the GOP with successive Presidents arranging their schedule so that they can phone in their address rather than risk an embarrasing personal appearance.

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