[Mb-civic] America's Iran Policy: Iraq By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
michael at michaelbutler.com
Fri Mar 17 10:56:13 PST 2006
The New York Times
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March 17, 2006
America's Iran Policy: Iraq
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
The Bush White House issued its latest national security strategy doctrine
yesterday, and it identifies Iran as the "single country" that poses the
greatest danger to the U.S. today. The report, however, doesn't say what
exactly we should do about Iran. But here's what I think: The most
frightening, scary, terrifying thing we could do to Iran today short of an
outright attack is to get out of Iraq.
The second most frightening, scary, terrifying thing we could do to Iran is
to succeed in Iraq. The worst thing we could do, though, the thing that
would make Iranians the happiest, is to continue bleeding in Iraq and
baby-sitting a stalemate there. In sum, since we are not going to invade
Iran, the best way we can influence it is by what we do in Iraq.
Let me explain: I am not in favor of withdrawing from Iraq now not while
there is still a chance for a decent outcome. But if we did pull out of
Iraq, it would make life incredibly complicated for Tehran. There's a lot of
cheap talk that Iran was the big winner from the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Don't be so sure. Hundreds of years of Mesopotamian history teach us that
Arabs and Persians do not play well together.
Right now, the natural antipathy and competition between Iraqi Arabs and
Iranian Persians even though large numbers of both are Shiite Muslims
have been muted because of the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Both sides can focus
their anger on us.
But as soon as we leave and you can bet the house and kids on this the
natural rivalry between Iraqi Arabs and Iranian Persians will surface.
Culture, history and nationalism matter. Iran and Iraq did not fight a war
for eight years by mistake, or just because Saddam was in power. Once
America is out of Iraq, it will not be a winning political strategy for any
Iraqi politician to be known as "pro-Iranian" or, even worse, as an
instrument of Tehran's.
If we were out of Iraq today and Iran had to manage the chaos there, on its
border, it would be a huge, energy-draining problem for Tehran. Iraqis, in
case you haven't noticed, have a rather violent, independent streak. Anyone
who thinks Iraq is some overripe fruit that will fall into Iran's lap as
soon as we leave, and obediently stay there, doesn't know Iraq or Iran.
Iraqi Arab Shiites did not wait for centuries to rule Iraq in order to turn
it over to Iranian Persian Shiites. Not a chance.
In their superb, must-read, military history of the U.S. invasion of Iraq,
"Cobra II," Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor explain why Saddam always
wanted to keep the world in doubt about his W.M.D., even when his cupboard
was bare: it was to deter Iran. Remember, Iraq and Iran each used poison gas
against the other in their war. The last thing Saddam wanted was to let Iran
know he was out of gas. Gordon and Trainor quote the Iraqi military
intelligence director as telling U.S. interrogators after the war: "What did
we think was going to happen with the coalition invasion? We were more
interested in Turkey and Iran." All geopolitics is local.
Also, if the U.S. were out of Iraq and the U.S. attacked Iran's nuclear
facilities with airstrikes, Iran would not be able to retaliate with its
missiles against any large concentrations of U.S. military forces nearby.
That, too, would give the U.S. a freer hand to deal with Iran's nuclear
The only thing more frightening to the Iranians than the U.S. leaving Iraq,
would be and this is my preference the U.S. succeeding in Iraq. Iraq has
already held two elections in which anyone could run and vote. This stands
in sharp contrast with the elections in Iran, where only conservatives
approved by the ayatollahs can run. Iraq has a flourishing free press.
Iran's insecure ayatollahs have shut down their critics.
The more Iraqi Shiites are empowered in a democratic Iraq, the more Iranian
Shiites will ask why they don't have the same rights as the folks next door.
Also, the major spiritual centers of Shiite Islam aren't in Iran, but in
Iraq. The more the Iraqi Shiite religious centers are revived with their
particular Iraqi Shiite strain, represented by Grand Ayatollah Ali
al-Sistani, which says clerics should stay out of politics the more the
Iranian mullahs will see their influence diminished.
So getting out of Iraq would be a good anti-Iran strategy. Succeeding in
Iraq would be even better. The one strategy that won't work for us, but
would be ideal for Iran, would be for U.S. troops to remain in Iraq as
bleeding sitting ducks, baby-sitting a stalemate and absorbing everyone's
wrath including the wrath that would naturally be directed at Tehran.
Paul Krugman is on vacation.
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