...and now for another chapter of Predictions Registry please!
See an excerpt from BLUEPRINT FOR ACTION: A Future Worth Creating, the latest book by US Naval Academy Prof. Thomas P. M. Barnett.
In this portion, he discusses “Securing the Middle East with a Nuclear Iran?” raising a point that I tried to bring up three years ago, during the drumbeat-prelude to our intervention in Iraq.
At that time, like many reasonable people, I was willing to take at face value the statements offered by a man of Colin Powell’s stature, assuring us that his administration colleagues were mature and responsible people, who had properly verified overwhelming intelligence from multiple sources, before committing the greatest nation on Earth to a costly foreign adventure. While pushing and chivvying reluctant allies into action, they told of an urgent need to act now in order to eliminate a clear and present danger from Saddam’s impending use of Weapons of Mass Destruction. A need so imminent and dire that it precluded every alternative solution, other than direct frontal assault upon Iraq’s regime.
In fact, I was more amenable to such action than most people, for reasons of national honor. For twelve years, I had felt a burning sense of shame over what our country did to the people of Iraq, in 1991. Back when the southern Shiite majority rose up in brave rebellion against their oppressors, counting on our solemn assurance -- given in President George H. W. Bush’s name -- that we were “on our way.” Had Gen. Schwarzkopf been given twelve more hours... but those assurances were cruelly betrayed, planting seeds of bitterness that we’re now reaping.
My willingness to see Saddam toppled -- and those people finally rescued -- was not untempered by a wish to see it done right! In ways that befit the skill already shown by our diplomatic and military professionals, in the Balkans and Afghanistan. In both of those crisis zones, the objectives of American intervention were made clear, and measures were taken so that local forces would do heavy lifting on the ground, assisted by hi-tech US air power. Losses, both civilian and among US troops, were minimized (total US losses in the Balkans were zero), while some thinking was also applied to managing the aftermath. Above all, both of those interventions were planned in such a way that America’s alliances and military readiness were left intact, when the dust finally settled.
Let me reiterate that point. An absolute rule that should be followed, whenever the United States engages in discretionary military action overseas should be “can this mission be accomplished in such a way that leaves our world standing, our alliances, our inner social cohesion and our readiness intact?” Clearly, any endeavor that satisfies these criteria will also be both moral and smart. This is evident because, as we have seen, a combination of gross immorality and stupidity destroys alliances, national cohesion, readiness and our standing in the world.
With these desiderata in mind, I tried -- before the Iraq Invasion -- to approach every contact I had in the defense, intelligence and diplomatic communities, asking why we should go after Saddam without trying, at the same time, to increase our engagement with Iran?
Repeatedly, I asked: “Since Iran will benefit most from toppling Saddam, should we not use this as an opportunity to get something from the Iranians, in return? Is it possible that this blatant and obvious overlap in our national interests might be leveraged, somehow, to end the post-1979 enmity and restore some commonality of purpose?
Let there be no mistake about this. It is now clear that Iran benefitted more than any other party, from our efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2003, I called this likely outcome a no-brainer. It seemed obvious. Yet, I was called naive.
Here’s the suggestion I made then:
“With half a million Iranian troops just fifty miles from Basra, ready to liberate their fellow Shiites if only we pave the way, is there any good reason that any American boys and girls should die, in order to take the tyrant’s boot off Shiite necks? Either in a frontal assault or in policing the gritty aftermath?
“In the Balkans and Afghanistan, we combined US air power with local ground forces to achieve victory at low cost. Should we not at least consider doing the same in Southern Iraq?
“In any event, by helping free their fellow Shiites, by giving Iranians their revenge on Saddam, by removing the security threats on their borders -- and possibly by adding our own quick/painless apology for supporting the Shah -- would we not be offering Iran just about everything they asked for, and more? If they are sane enough to see self-interest -- deeming it more important than tantrums -- might they offer us something in return?
“Yes, they may not be sane enough to prefer self-interest. But isn’t it at least worth a try?”
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That point merits repetition. When my defense, intelligence and diplomatic contacts said that “The Mullahs would never accept this.” I responded “What’s the downside of trying?”
So what if they reject the overture! We’d be seen by the world offering to kiss and make up. That’s good press! In contrast, the intransigent mullahs would be seen rejecting a chance to rescue their fellow Shiites and avenge a million dead Iranians. They lose face with their own people while we look like rejected peacemakers. And the downside for us is... what? Even a rebuff would have benefited us.
Alas, according to my contacts, the Iranian Option was never raised in the preliminary scenario planning stage, a time when all possibilities should be on the table. Not even mentioned. Because a brute force American drive from Kuwait to Baghdad -- followed by endless occupation -- had already been decided, at the highest level, even before orders went out for the CIA to find evidence for Iraqi WMD.
Moreover, in the political climate back then, the chief result of my question was that many DC acquaintances broke off further contact with me! One of them warned: “David, right now, this is not a town where ideas are welcome from anywhere but the top.”
Where, oh where, is that Predictions Registry? Now, pundits are talking about how “the biggest winner from our Iraq Incursion has been Iran.”
Um... duh? Can anybody look back and say this outcome shouldn’t have been obvious? Of course the winner would have to be Iran! Only... three years ago we could have made these Iranian benefits a matter of bargaining, and perhaps won concessions in return. Iran will dominate southern Iraq for a while... at least till the Shiite Arabs get sick of Teheran’s meddling -- a historically predictable eventuality. That was always in the cards. But it could have been a different Iran that reaped benefits from our intervention.
One where we used a successful military alliance to gain social and political influence. Perhaps even enough to let a million Iranian expatriates come home, adding their liberalizing influence to the rising Youth Movement... and...
...well, wouldn’t that have been worth aiming for? Especially since this approach would also have kept US forces mostly off the ground, in Iraq?
Instead -- and this diametrically-opposite approach needs noting -- at every opportunity, the Bush Administration has rattled the saber at Iran, choosing to rant about “axes of evil” or to hint that “you guys are next”...always at the very moment when harsh words can do the most harm to our image, our interests, our deteriorating position in that part of the world.
Go look up Thomas Barnett’s cogent analysis, and be glad that he is being read. Someday, we will be led by people capable of looking for win-win situations in the world. Instead of relentlessly seeking ways for us to lose-lose.