Good news on Iran and Iraq?

The Bush Administration’s decision to send a top state department official to meet with a high level Iranian official is seen by many as signaling a change in American policy towards Iran. The fears of war, or at least America (or perhaps Israel) bombing Iranian suspected nuclear sites helped spike oil prices at near $150. Now, with both renewed fears of a US recession and a possible thaw in Iranian-American relations, oil is back down to “only” $130 a barrel. So what’s happening?

If you take Condoleezza Rice at her word, not much. If you read between the lines, however, a lot! Moreover, with people like former UN Ambassador and hawk John Bolton lamenting the “U-turn” in US policy, this could be a coup for Rice against the last vestiges of neo-conservative thought in the Bush Administration. Rice claims this isn’t a change but a “reaffirmation” of US policy. The US will not “negotiate,” but will respond to any changes in policy Iran takes. She notes the US has no permanent enemies, moving away from the talk about Iran as if it were the equivalent to Nazi Germany, with Ahmadinejad a modern Hitler.

The US probably will continue to insist Iran cease uranium enrichment before negotiating. But it’s clear this high level of a meeting isn’t simply to tell the Iranians “we’re sticking to our guns.” Rather, the US will likely lay out a scenario whereby Iran can gain real, tangible benefits from cooperating with the US on this, and what harm might befall the Iranian regime (probably financial rather than military) should they continue to pursue a path of isolation. This would be, in a sense, a promise to the Iranians that if they play ball, they will be rewarded. That sounds an awful lot like a negotiation, but the US will say “this has always been the policy.”

Secretary Rice deserves praise, especially if she managed to once again stymie neo-conservative plans to continue a militarist approach to the problems of the region. She no doubt had help. Secretary Gates is almost certainly a Rice ally, and the Pentagon, as noted yesterday, has no desire to see yet another war put on its plate. Moreover, Rice has been extremely effective at lining up pretty intense international pressure against Iran. I suspect there was a hidden message here: “if you pressure Iran with us now, it’ll make it more likely we can avoid war.” Perhaps unstated but understood “help me win this battle to get the President to choose diplomacy.”

This doesn’t mean this crisis still can’t explode. We don’t know what Israel’s plans are, or whether Israeli war games were part and parcel of this pressure. Israel recently released some top Hezbollah terrorists in exchange for the bodies of dead Israeli soldiers (why five live terrorists equals two corpses is beyond me), so they don’t seem to be looking for a fight either. Given how bellicose the US was on North Korea before finally giving in to the reality of the situation and making a deal, it would not be shocking to find a US deal on Iran before the election. That would also be a way to help John McCain by making it not seem that the Republicans are the party of ‘all war, all the time.’

If so, this continues the march of realism in American policy since 2006. The US moved from trying to defeat Sunni insurgents, to working with them. The US shed its ‘cowboy diplomacy’ in favor of trying to patch up relations with “old Europe.” The US made a deal on North Korea, and has reduced its efforts to control regional policies in the Mideast.

If the good news about Iran wasn’t enough, another milestone took place in Iraq today, as President Bush agreed with Prime Minister Maliki of Iraq on a ‘general time horizon’ for US troop withdrawal from Iraq.

The President has avoided a ‘timetable’ for one reason: the US has always thought that some presence in Iraq would persist for a long time. The idea was that once there was stability in Iraq, the Iraqis would agree to let the US stay — they’d need our help keeping the peace. However, the “Iraq SOFA fight” made it clear that Iraqi law makers were dubious of anything that would look like past colonialism. That and an unexpected intransigence on oil deals has signaled that the US thought of Iraq as a loyal ally needing US protection is not to be. Iraq wants us to leave, and one reason is that Iran and even radicals like al-Sadr still have a lot of influence on Iraqi policy. The US can hardly reject al-Maliki’s suggestion, nor can the US try to demonize hi the way they did is predecessor. Our influence on Iraqi politics is limited.

Again, calling it a ‘time horizon’ rather than a ‘time table,’ and insisting that there will be conditions rather than arbitrary dates is a way to save face — act as if this isn’t a major change. But the reality is that Iraqi wants the US to start planning our departure, and the US realizes that it doesn’t have the power over Iraq to say no, nor will the public at home permit it. Finally, it’s also clear that the only way to lower oil prices and limit the damage to the US economy before the election is to create the perception that the Mideast is not about to be engulfed by war, and there is no danger of Iran closing the straight of Hormuz or some other consequence of hostilities. If people think politics in that region is becoming more predictable and stable, oil prices will drop.

It’s dangerous to read too much into these positive developments. There is more uncertainty than clarity, and we don’t know how the Iranians, Israelis and others will react. But today there are least hints that perhaps the US is getting closer to extricating itself from Iraq, and moving away from crisis with Iran. If President Bush can actually make those things happen before he leaves office, then he will be doing a great favor for whoever becomes the next President.

  1. #1 by P. hemmatian on July 19, 2008 - 06:59

    it sems that US and Iranian polticians finally undrestood that noting is better than direct talks to difuse an artifical tensions created by the enimeis of the 2 important countries i.e. Israeles & Arabs. lets support the peace .


  2. #2 by Jeff Lees on July 19, 2008 - 17:07

    In my opinion, this is the government’s last desperate attempt to defuse to situation with Iran before the otherwise inevitable happens. Here is America’s current position in the situation: Israel is actively preparing to strike Iran and is ready and willing to do it, and we know this. We also know that Israel will not wait until after the US election to attack Iran, because in Israel’s eyes; if they wait until the election, and Obama is elected, then they may lose their support in a strike against Iran. Also from our prospective, a war with Iran would send gas prices souring to another solar system, damaging even further the US and world economy. So the administration has one final, desperate trick up their sleeve to try and prevent what would otherwise be inevitable, appeasement. We are going to offer them as many incentives as possible in an attempt to get them to stop enriching Uranium before the situation gets violent, because we know this is our last chance. We also know that if Israel does attack Iran, then the “you know what” will really hit the fan. We know that we will get all the blame for the attack, even if we don’t lift a finger. The worst case scenario is that Iran (and possibly Syria) go on the military offensive, attacking Israel and US troops in the Middle East. This would be disastrous. We would see thousands dead, probably hundreds of thousands. If Iran did attack the US, we would probably see the fracturing of NATO, because I could see many of our “allies” in NATO refusing to fight (as they have already practically done in Afghanistan). We could also see a draft in the US. I have no doubt in my mind that if Iran did attack the US, they wouldn’t stand a chance, but we would need more troops to occupy the newly conquered Iran, so a draft is a possibility.

    All in all if we do convince Iran to stop, and we defuse the situation, I think we are just postponing the inevitable. War on a world scale will come to the Middle East eventually, whether it be in one year or one hundred years. With Israel in its never ending fight, and America’s new found permanency in the Middle East, it is only a matter of time before terrorist do get nuke, or the Pakistani government crumbles, or Iraq is engulfed in full civil war, or Syria attacks Israel, or the US confronts Saudi Arabia on it massive effort to spread Wahabiism throughout the Middle East and Eastern Europe, or Turkey attacks Kurdistan, or god know what else could happen, but we are treading a lot of thin wires in the Middle East, and eventually, one wire will snap, god forbid.

  3. #3 by Jeff Lees on July 19, 2008 - 17:07

    By the way, I like the new face lift!

  4. #4 by Jeff Lees on July 19, 2008 - 22:23

    As expected, as soon as we heard this news story about the US changing its policy and meeting with Iran, it takes less than a day before Iran flat out gives us the finger. So now the US and six other world powers are giving Iran two weeks before they consider a new round of UN sanctions. It seems like during these “negotiations” Iran was more worried about insulting and defying the US and UN then is was about actually negotiating. Sometimes I think Iran wants to start a war, whatever, no surprises from Iran today.

  5. #5 by Scott Erb on July 19, 2008 - 23:20

    It’s probably too early to really judge Iran’s response, any change from past policy requires high level discussions. The WP didn’t seem so pessimisitic:

    Also, I’m not really sure why people are so worried about Iran. The Iranian leadership has had a very Machiavellian but pragmatic approach to foreign policy. They aren’t going to attack Israel, who has hundreds of nukes, knowing it would lead to their total destruction as a state. They want to be a regional power. I think they are succeeding, and we’ll have to deal with that. But, as with the USSR and Maoist China, diplomacy can exist without appeasement, and ultimately Iran will reform. But that doesn’t mean the path is going to be easy; with Israel, we probably have to mix a firm commitment to support their defense with a strong demand they not attack Iran. Any war in that region catches us military overstretched and full of dangerous consequences.

  6. #6 by Thinking Dove on July 20, 2008 - 20:29

    Of Course, Iran working towards Nuclear weapons.

    Can you blame them for it? Two national governments on their borders have been overthrown. Israel has threatened them with air strikes…

    A Nuclear Weapon is a defensive weapon.

    Ever notice that North Korea and Pakistan can resist the United States,,, What do they have in common?
    They are both Nuclear Powers.

    It is simple bigotry that Iran is not being allowed to develop atomic weapons. Why shouldn’t an Islamic hereditary theocracy be allowed to build I.C.B.M.s?

    A nuclear middle-east will be a peaceful middle-east because of Mutually assured destruction. Mutually assured destruction kept the peace between the United States and the Soviet Union for decades.

    Atomic bombs are defensive weapons because they make victory impossible for anyone.

    Nuclear proliferation is going to happen sooner or later any way.
    Technology always spreads. Gunpowder was invented by the Chinese, but now everyone has it. Even the most isolated illiterate tribesman carrys an assualt rifle when he goes to war.

    In the future, every Mullah, Latin American Generalismo, and African Warlord will have the ability to hurl nuclear weapons at one another. But, they will also be threatened with the same thing coming back at them. War shall become obsolete and peace shall prevail.

    Support Iran, Support Nuclear Proliferation, Support World Peace.

  7. #7 by Jeff Lees on July 20, 2008 - 21:40

    A) Iran is not working on a Nuclear weapon for defense, they want to become the new Middle Eastern super power, and the best way to due that is to develop nuclear weapons.

    B) I don’t see how North Korea and Pakistan are “resisting’ the US. North Korea is dismantling their nuclear program and Pakistan has been our strong ally in the middle east.

    C) You are forgetting some crucial parts to the instance of “mutual assured destruction” between the US and USSR. Both the US and USSR had hundred of nuclear weapons each, and the ICBMs to propel them globally. Even if the middle east did get nuclear technology, they have neither of those. Iran does not have ICBM technology, and there is no mutually assured destruction against someone who you can’t hit.

    D) I think your example of gunpowder exemplifies what I am trying to say: You said

    “gunpowder was invented by the Chinese, but now everyone has it. Even the most isolated illiterate tribesman carrys an assualt rifle when he goes to war.”

    now did the “illiterate tribesmen” learn the technology of gunpowder from someone, or was he sold the gun (probably from the Chinese, ironically).

    That’s exactly what we are afraid of, NO NATION is stupid enough to use a nuclear weapon they have in this day an age. if Iran did get a nuke and fired it at the US, we would wipe them off the map, but what it Iran sold its nukes to Hezbollah, and they used it on Israel, then what do we do? Do we blow up Hezbollah? How would we do that?

    The only reason the US and USSR didn’t blow up the world was because they both had the capability too, and both were civilized, level headed government who had a lot to lose. Totally different scenario in the Middle east. There is no mass nuclear stockpiles to assure mutual destruction, and there are plenty of nut jobs out there who would love nothing more then to set off a nuclear bomb, they don’t have anything to lose, but we do.

  8. #8 by Scott Erb on July 20, 2008 - 23:06

    I’ve heard the ‘proliferation = peace’ argument many times. It does seem that states that really want nuclear weapons can get them (the technology is old, the material available), but often they don’t want them (Argentina and Brazil backed away, as did South Africa).

    It is rational for Iran to want nuclear weapons, both because Israel and Pakistan have them, and because they are in geopolitical position to be a regional power. I don’t think they can be a ‘superpower’ though. They are starting to run short of oil, have an economy that needs modernization, and are in the same neighborhood as Russia, China, and to the south a bit India. Those states are more powerful, and Iran at best can be a ‘player.’ In the Mideast the fact that they are Shi’ite and non-Arab hinders their capacity.

    As for Iran giving nuclear weapons to Hezbollah, that is very unlikely to be state policies, Iran and Hezbollah have had numerous power struggles, and I don’t think they’d trust them with a nuke, nor do I think Iran would want Israel hit with a terrorist nuke that could be used as an excuse to hit Iran. The $64,000 question is whether or not Iran’s program is secure enough to prevent a lower level actor with his a fanatic to steel a weapon. It probably is, but… Slightly more likely: what if al qaeda (which is anti-Iran) could get a nuclear weapon from old Soviet sources or perhaps with technology used in Pakistan. They could try to ‘frame’ Iran for a non-Iranian terrorist strike.

    Final thought: which Presidential candidate is more likely to open relations with Iran and alter the current approach? Most would say Obama, but then if the question had been asked about the USSR and China in 1968 everyone would have said Humphrey, and definitely not the anti-Communist Nixon. If McCain wins, it may be that the new catch phrase updating “only Nixon could go to China,” is “only McCain could go to Tehran.”

  9. #9 by 9/11 Commission on July 27, 2008 - 17:24

    Most girls-slash-women, when they hear “play” or “museum,” get quite excited and figure this is it, things are finally turning around for good. Now he’s getting serious.NeilLaButeNeil LaBute, from “Soft Target” in Seconds of Pleasure

  10. #10 by m0k3d on June 21, 2009 - 17:01

    I am running a poll to see how Obama might handle a similar protest here in America?

    Vote here,

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