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The Elephant in the Room, Part 2

| 23 Comments

Continuing on with my post from yesterday, I'm going to continue dissecting the US News and World Report article on the subject of Iran's meddling inside Iraq among other things.

Also, in the comments yesterday a number of readers noted that I didn't mention the comparable threat posed by Saudi Arabia in yesterday's piece. That's true, though I did mention Syria's harboring of the surviving Iraqi Baathist leadership and financiers (now subordinated to their Syrian counterparts, in contrast to the al-Douri Baathists who have folded into Zarqawi's organization). If you want to know about Saudi Arabia, I have plenty of back posts on the subject - Riyadh Bombings Retrospective is an old favorite of mine and I will no doubt write more and more on the subject of the Magic Kingdom in the future.

Right now, however, I'm talking about Iran.

Continuing from where we left off

Whatever its objectives in Iraq, Iran has a well-documented history of supporting terrorist groups. For years, the State Department has identified Iran as the world's pre-eminent state sponsor of terrorism. American officials say the regime has provided funding, safe havens, training, and weapons to several terrorist groups, including Lebanon-based Hezbollah. The commission investigating the 9/11 attacks said in its final report that al Qaeda has long-standing ties to Iran and Hezbollah. Iran favors spectacular attacks, officials say, citing its alleged role in the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, that claimed the lives of 19 U.S. servicemen. Six of the Hezbollah terrorists indicted in the attack "directly implicated" senior Iranian government officials "in the planning and execution of this attack," former FBI Director Louis Freeh wrote last year.

As the 9/11 commission and others (myself included) have noted, there is a great deal of evidence that the Khobar Towers bombings were a joint operation carried out by both Iran and al-Qaeda, which would seem to more than satisfy the demands of a "collaborative operational relationship." More to the point, as I and others have repeatedly noted, Iran is now harboring the surviving al-Qaeda leadership, including possibly even bin Laden himself. The network's shura majlis has been reformed from the safety of IRGC bases and villas in eastern and north-central Iran and if one accepts the belief, echoed by many a government official, that al-Qaeda is the greatest threat to US national security at the moment, what does that say about the government that willingly harbors its leaders?

Alliances of convenience

Nor does it seem that the Khomeinists are going to allow such trivial matters as past animosities to get in the way of fighting the Great Satan:

Freeh named two Iranian government agencies, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, or MOIS, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, an elite fighting unit and enforcer for the clerical regime. As the insurgency developed in Iraq, both played central roles in planning and funding some of the attacks on coalition forces, according to the intelligence reports reviewed by U.S. News. Early on, MOIS and the revolutionary guard corps were tasked with the job of creating instability in Iraq, the reports say. In some cases, Iran's agents allegedly worked with former Saddam loyalists, an odd marriage but one that shared a common goal: to drive U.S. forces out of Iraq. The reports detail how Iranian agents sought to recruit former regime loyalists and how one former Iraqi Intelligence Service officer, who had close ties to Saddam's late son, Uday, reportedly set up a front company for Iranian intelligence operations in Baghdad.

The Mukhabarat working with VEVAK post-invasion (and VEVAK's willingness to work with the former) should drive the final nail in the coffin of the belief that ideology determines alliances. Just to put all of this in perspective, Iraq and Iran fought a long and very bloody war during the 1980s, a war that killed many of the best and brightest of Khomeini's Islamic Revolution. During that time and well afterwards, the Mukhabarat assassinated or attempted to assassinate any number of Iranian officials and directed the communist Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK) against Iranian targets. If you want a perfect example of long-standing and bitter rivals, it's tough to find a better fit than the Mukhabarat and VEVAK - I doubt the ISI and RAW could even top them much in the mutual animosity department.

Yet here they are, working together to undermine coalition control of Iraq.

Now one can argue that the Mukhabarat thugs couldn't quibble much about who they work with these days, but VEVAK certainly could. I mean, it's not like they planned on keeping someone with close ties to Uday Hussein alive very long after they ran the US out of the Iraq. Here again, this is the kind of pragmatic approach that is the hallmark of VEVAK - and the reason why no one should make any, and I mean any assumptions on the issue of who VEVAK will or will not work for. After all, they had a perfect incentive to work with the Baathists - no one would suspect it because "everyone knows" that Baathists and Khomeinists hate one another.

There are other reasons besides simply plausible deniability for the Iranians to enlist Baathists to do their dirty work, however. The al-Qaeda and allied forces that were active in Iraq before the war aside, they weren't anywhere near as numerous or as well-versed in the country as their Baathist counterparts were. The latter knew Iraq like the back of their hand and had already been making plans for a post-regime insurgency for many months prior to the war at the behest of Tahir Jalil Habbush, who is still at large and belongs to al-Ahmed's wing of the Baathists (or perhaps the other way around) these days. VEVAK was probably aware of Habbush's preparations months before the war ever started (I know that MEK had spies inside the Badr Brigades and vice versa) and it would be quite interesting to learn whether or not he was directly involved in setting up an alliance between the Baathists and VEVAK and if so when.

Setting the stage for Sadr

Only weeks after Saddam was ousted, in April 2003, Iran publicly signaled support for violence against the coalition. In a sermon on May 2, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, secretary general of Iran's powerful Council of Guardians, called on Iraqis to stage suicide attacks to drive U.S.-led forces from Iran. The Iraqi people, he said, "have no other choice but to rise up and stage martyrdom operations. . . . The Iraqi people were released from the claws of one wolf and have been caught by another wolf."

Ayatollah Jannati, I should probably mention, is also among the most vocal voices for ditching the Non-Proliferation Treaty altogether and going forward with their nuclear program. Whether or not somebody as pragmatic and scheming as Rafsanjani clearly is would launch a nuclear attack on Israel given the capability to do so is an open question (I personally think he would), but I can tell you right now that Jannati almost unquestionably would.

Two months later, U.S. News has learned, coalition forces uncovered a document describing a fatwa , or religious edict, that had reportedly been issued in Iran for its Shiite supporters in Iraq. The fatwa urged "holy fighters" in Iraq to get close to the enemy--the U.S.-led troops. These fighters, the fatwa said, should "maintain good relations with the coalition forces" but at the same time create "a secret group that would conduct attacks against American troops." U.S. analysts could not confirm that the ruling was issued by Iranian clerics, but they believe it was credible. Wrote one analyst: "It seems that they [the Iranians] want them [Iraqi Shiite supporters] to be close to the coalition forces and outwardly respect them so that they can gather intelligence that will assist them in their mission."

For those interested in understanding SCIRI's behavior to date, there you have it. This fatwa, I should mention, was not based on the consensus of the entire Iranian leadership, which is why the familiar litany of senior IRGC commanders had to keep themselves amused supporting al-Qaeda until Sadr and his Mahdi Army were ready. It was, however, the accepted wisdom among the senior clerics and the Supreme National Security Council, which is why it was the party line for Iranian officials post-OIF. The "holy fighters" being referenced here, I should add, are the members of Badr Brigades and a number of smaller organizations, while the "secret group" has come up in conversation a number of times under a variety of names, the Iraqi Hezbollah being the most common of them with none other than Muqtada al-Sadr as its declared head. Whether or not that's what Sadr himself refers to his street toughs as is another point, but that's what the Iranians see him as: an analogue to the role that Hezbollah played in Lebanon during the 1980s and 1990s against the Israelis.

Before long, Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security stepped up its intelligence operations in Iraq, many of the intelligence reports suggest. Agents set up "significant" intelligence cells in key Iraqi cities, several reports said, including Baghdad, Najaf, Karbala, Kut, Basra, and Kirkuk.

They've been involved in stirring up ethnic tensions between the Arab, Kurdish, and Turkmen inhabitants of Kirkuk.

Kut is a little bit of a more interesting beast, since the Iranians were fairly overt in their efforts to establish themselves in the city through proxies like Said Abbas and weren't entirely run out of town until April 2004 in the Sadr Revolt.

And of course, we know what the Iranian pawn Sadr did to Abdul Majid al-Khoei in An Najaf no sooner than had Saddam's statue fallen in Firdus Square.

MOIS agents also set up a "listening post" in a city in southeastern Iraq to monitor the activities of U.S. forces. In southern Iraq, 10 Iranian agents reportedly began operating out of two rooms at a Shiite mosque. Iran, according to the reports, also sought to place spies within Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority, then running Iraq's affairs, and they followed and photographed coalition forces.

Did they succeed? That would be interesting to know ...

The listening post in southeastern Iraq, incidentally, was also intended as an early warning system for the Iranian military in the event that the US was planning to move in force against Iran. This also raises a new problem for the idea of using Iraq as a base from which to attack Iran - as long as those spies are intact, the mullahs will be able to get at least some advance warning of any potential strike.

Four Iranians, believed to be MOIS agents, were detained in late July 2003 for photographing a hydropower plant near the central city of Samarra. Power plants became a frequent target of insurgents. In one case, U.S. intelligence officials learned that a MOIS agent, a man named Muhammad Farhaadi, videotaped coalition operations in Karbala, a city south of Baghdad, then took the tape back to Iran.

This is only the tip of the iceberg, however. The Iranians have also been involved in sabotaging oil pipelines throughout southern Iraq (not sure about what role, if any, they had in the northern attacks) as part of a bid to keep Iraq's economy in as much uncertainty as possible.

During the summer and fall of 2003, U.S. analysts' reports describe how MOIS and its operatives sought to develop information from Shiites in the south and from Sunnis in the north on the activities of U.S.-led forces. In the fall of 2003, an analyst for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations wrote: "Iranian intelligence has infiltrated all areas of Iraq, posing both a tactical and strategic threat to U.S. interests."

Quite true, and any belief that our crushing the Mahdi Army has put an end to all of this is a fool's delusion - Sadr was always just the opening act, the fact that the Badr Brigades didn't break with the Iraqi government to fight at his side is proof enough of that in my mind. If and when Iran decides to make a full play in southern Iraq, they'll throw everything they've got (Mahdi Army, Badr Brigades, Hezbollah, et al.) against us to such an extent that even their apologists in Western Europe will be hard-pressed to deny the aggressive and, dare I say it, imperialist character of the regime.

The intelligence reports detail precisely what Iran was after. Its "collection priorities" included finding out what weapons U.S. troops were carrying and what kind of body armor they were wearing. Iranian agents also sought information on the location of U.S. Army and intelligence bases; on the routes traveled by U.S. convoys; on the operations of the Special Forces' elite Delta Force; and on the plans of the U.S. military and intelligence inside Iraq. A military report said a source had reported that the Iranians were pressing to find out whether the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad, was active in Iraq. According to the report, MOIS directed its agents "to collect information on the Israeli intelligence presence in northern Iraq." Iran's "primary objective in Iraq," wrote another analyst, citing a good source, "is to create instability so coalition forces will focus on controlling the unstable situation rather than concentrating on reconstruction efforts."

The Israeli presence in northern Iraq is, as his supporters will no doubt remind us, something that Seymour Hersh has written a great deal on (at least some of his sources also appear to share my views with respect to the Mahdi Army and Ansar al-Islam, but that's neither here nor there). To a certain extent, at least some of this is stuff that any number of states do when they engage in espionage activities, but the primary difference here is that the information being gathered by VEVAK and its assets aren't being used for information or even national security purposes - they're being used to assist the very people who are killing US troops. And that, I think, makes all the difference in the world.

MOIS agents carried cash, reports said, to bribe Iraqi border police in order to obtain safe passage into Iraq. In reality, however, all the Iranians had to do was walk across the border at any number of crossing points, where they could blend in amid Iranians coming to Iraq to visit relatives, do business, and worship at Shiite shrines, according to the intelligence reports and several senior Army officers interviewed by U.S. News. "The borders were wide open," says one senior officer. "It suggests that terrorists could come over pretty easily. My God, there were busloads of Iranians crossing the border without interference." Another U.S. Army officer was so concerned that Iranian spies and Islamic jihadists were crossing into Iraq that he visited a border site in a mountainous region northeast of Baghdad last January. "I saw over 1,200 people come over [to Iraq] in an hour, and there were no [coalition] troops there," the officer recalls. "I did not see them armed, but then a lot of them came across in carts and some in vehicles and donkeys, and you wouldn't know. If only 1 percent of them were combatants," he adds, "you can see the problem."

The failure to seal the Iraqi borders following the invasion will be remembered, at least in my mind, as chief strategic mistake of the war. We can debate how or why things reached that point and what the consequences for those responsible should be, perhaps more honestly now that there's no presidential election to cloud our judgement, but the simple fact is that it happened and we have to deal with it.

While we're processing all of that, here's a little challenge I'm honestly curious about in the meantime: how many troops (American or Iraqi) would we need to secure the whole of the Iranian border to prevent what they can?

The Badr Brigades

Iranian agents had plenty of help waiting inside Iraq. Numerous intelligence reports say that members of a Shiite militia group in Iraq known as the Badr Corps aided Iran in moving agents, weapons, and other materiel into southern Iraq--sometimes under the cover of humanitarian organizations.

The Saudis, as you can see, are not the only ones well versed in the art of "dual use" charities. The Badr Brigades were basically the Iranian answer to the MEK, made up of Iraqi Shi'ites supported by Tehran. In another era, the two nations might have sponsored pretenders to one another's thrones.

The Badr Corps has served as the armed wing of one of the most popular Shiite political parties in southern Iraq, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI. The leaders of both SCIRI and the Badr Corps, which now calls itself the Badr Organization, have maintained close ties to Iran for about two decades. Iraqis associated with SCIRI and Badr opposed Saddam's regime and fled to Iran in the early 1980s, where their organizations were established. They began returning to Iraq in droves after U.S.-led troops invaded Iraq in March 2003, prompting Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to warn the Badr Corps not to interfere in Iraq. Badr leaders say they have no hostile intentions toward U.S. forces, but their loyalties remain much in doubt. Just last month, Iraq's national intelligence chief, Mohammed al Shahwani, accused the Badr Organization of killing 10 of his agents on orders from Iranian leaders. Badr, which denied the charges, was said to have disarmed this past summer, as part of an agreement with the new Iraqi government that would allow its members to serve in the new Iraqi Civil Defense Force.

Badr Brigades fighters, it should probably be noted, have taken part in both the fighting in Fallujah and sided with the US during the Sadr Revolt along with the Ansar al-Sistani and the Thulfiqar Army, the last two of which seem to have disbanded following defeat of the Mahdi Army in An Najaf. They're likely still playing a double game, as I noted earlier in the post, but to be as cynical as possible, their fighters bleed just as easily as anybody else's. Using them to fight the Sunni insurgency enables to the US to accomplish a number of objectives: it weakens the Badr Brigades, weakens the Sunni insurgents, helps to force a divide between Iran and the Sunni Islamists it backs by using the most pro-Iranian group against them, and places the Badr leadership in the most uncomfortable position of explaining to the faithful why they have to help the US.

Yet Badr's historical ties to Iran, as described in U.S. and British intelligence reports, offer little in the way of reassurance. While saying that SCIRI and Badr have "made some attempts to emphasize independence from Iran," a British Defence Intelligence Staff report on "Armed Groups in Iraq," dated Nov. 21, 2003, says that the Badr Organization retains "strong links" to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps." The IRGC, the report says, "has funded, trained, and armed" the militia group, whose membership it estimated at between 18,000 and 20,000. The report says that some Badr members were unhappy with their leader, Abul Aziz al-Hakim, who commands both SCIRI and Badr, and had returned to Iran. At the time, the report says, Badr was "well equipped" with "small arms, mortars and RPG s [rocket-propelled grenades]," T-55 series tanks and a "variety of artillery and antiair pieces." Other intelligence reports say that an Iranian government agency--probably the IRGC--had provided Badr with global positioning systems to better target U.S.-led forces.

Except that Badr isn't involved, at least on the operations side, in the anti-US insurgency - the Mahdi Army and the Lebanese Hezbollah are. As long as they continue to assist the central government against the Sunni insurgents, Iran can probably get away with financing SCIRI and arming Badr. I would still be extremely wary about trusting SCIRI or Badr any further than either organization can be thrown, no matter how non-threatening they appear for the time being. I would also be very interested in making sure that all of the weapons that Badr's turned in to date accounts for everything that we know they've received from the IRGC.

Something else to consider ...

I'll deal with this in greater detail tomorrow, but for the meantime I would suggest reading this article by the late Constantine Menges from earlier this year on Iran's strategy inside Iraq. The information is to a certain extent dated, but I still think that the arguments and conclusions raised in the article are well worth considering with respect to what the Iranians want inside Iraq.

23 Comments

If one objectively considers the historical US heavyhanded involvement in Iranian affairs (installing the Shah, encouraging SAVAK, helpinh Saddam wage war against Iran, sinking Iranian tankers, etc.)that has results in the death of thousand of Iranians; doesn't Iranian have a "duty" to get even with America?

Depends, DS.

How far do you really want to turn back the clock?

Heck, if that's the case then we can justify the entire invasion of Iraq as a reaction to the Iraqi nationalists supporting the Nazis over the British.

You have a long enough memory and you can justify any atrocity you want. In bin Laden's first post-9/11 video, for example, he pretty much says he's at war with us as payback for doing in the sick man of Europe ...

Yes, I was one of those readers who brought up the subject of Saudi Arabia, but that was after reading this paragraph in your first essay:

"I noted nearly a year ago and continue to stand by my belief that if the United States suffers a major terrorist attack, nuclear or otherwise, Iran is almost certain to be singled out for US retaliation by virtue of the regime's decisions."

As you acknowledge, Saudi/al Qaeda, the Syrians and the Iranians are capable of transcending the divisions between Shi’ites and Sunnis to work together. 'Singling Iran out', attacking one without attacking the others would be a fatally bad idea. As we’ve already seen in Iraq (and Israel) their strategy is to mire a superior military down in a long, unwinnable 'occupation', fighting state-funded ‘insurgents’.

If we retaliated against Iran we should know by now that we would easily defeat their official military, but Saudi, Syrian, Palestinain and various other Islamist insurgents would be waiting in the wings.

It seemed that your essay was leading towards the conclusion that we should take military action against Iran without taking Iran’s friends into account. I was reading it with the same sick feeling you get in a horror movie when a teenager is walking down a flight of creaky stairs towards darkness and certain doom. Bringing up the Saudis was just my way of saying 'stop. We already know where this scene is going, and we know it won't end well'.

But you might have planned a different ending..

DS ... this comment is exactly why the Left has lost credibility ... it's the kind of excuse Chomsky would make ... third world dictators can do no wrong, while the US can do no right. Seen particularly in the "excuse making" for Saddam, Iran's Mullahs, etc.

The Iranian government has a "duty" to pursue policies that benefit their people/nation. Trying to pull another Hezbollah/Lebanon benefits no one. Not the Iranian People, not the Iraqis, and certainly not us. It's as wrong as the US backing Pinochet throwing HS and College kids out of helicopters into the ocean, or Reagan's "secret wars" in Central America that got a lot of people killed ... for nothing, basically. Wrong is wrong no matter who does it.

Whatever else you can say about Iran's regime ... it's odious in the extreme ... they hang 16 year old girls for having sex (with the morality police they can hardly refuse) and are busy planning to stone to death a 13 year old girl for being raped by her half brother.

http://www.amnesty.org.uk/deliver/document/15557.html

http://www.iran-press-service.com/ips/articles-2004/october/izadi_161004.shtml

If the Mullahs can do that to their own people, how can they be trusted, and how can you as a man fail to condemn them?

Sorry DS, evil is still evil, in anybody's name. (Sorry Don Henley) Even third world "resisters to American hegemony." The world, Iran, Iraq, and the US would be a better place with the Iranian regime gone.

I'm surprised an internationalist like yourself has not suggested the Iranian recourse for wrongs done to the people of Iran ... pursuing US officials in the Hague. Of course it'd be a lot more realistic if the Iranian regime didn't have it's own endless list of crimes against humanity.

Right now Iranian complaints are like the Germans being upset about Dresden.

>The failure to seal the Iraqi borders following the invasion will be remembered, at least in my mind, as chief strategic mistake of the war.

This approach would have been in direct opposition to Andrew Sullivan's famous "flypaper strategy"--convince as many jihadis and wannabes as possible to come fight us in Iraq, so we've got 'em just where we want 'em.

Secure borders helping to stabilize Iraq or attracting and killing them on the battlefield. Not both.

Easy to say which I'd prefer, if I was an Iraqi.

While 'flypaper' has been bandied about by pundits and around the web, I haven't heard any authoritative Coalition stance. Dan Darling, are you aware of what it is? For that matter, is there a unified postion, or are some groups pursuing the one policy while others chase its opposite?

The flypaper theory is idiotic spin. Nobody actually believes it or we wouldn't have sold out Lebanon for some trenches along the Lebanese border.

In other news, I'm reading Pollack's book right now, and based on what he says about Iran, it's mystifying why he ever thought invading Iraq was a good idea.

> The flypaper theory is idiotic spin.

I'm not asking about the idiotic part, but about the spin part. If 'flypaper' was a CENTCOM or CPA policy, then poorly-guarded borders was a corrolary feature, not an oversight. And how difficult is it for a poorly-documented and visa-less person to enter Iraq today?

Sorry, I meant trenches along the Syrian border.

As for flypaper, the one thing you can say for it is that the Iraq War has lowered the marginal cost of killing Americans.

Praktike (5:43am) wrote:

> ...based on what [Pollack now] says about Iran, it's mystifying why he ever thought invading Iraq was a good idea.

Check out this Nov. 1 article by Tim Cavanaugh, Desertion in the Field: Twilight of the Liberal Hawks:
One of the most dramatic and least surprising developments of Election 2004's final period has been President Bush's abandonment by the "liberal hawks," the collection of left-leaning thinkers, commentators, and pundits who approved of the invasion of Iraq as a progressive operation, offered well reasoned and often enthusiastic support for Bush in the prelude to the war, were granted their wish by the White House, and have now paid the president back with withering criticism and endorsements for John Kerry.

Cavanaugh, an antiwar libertarian (I think), makes some very good points about how idealistic assumptions were reflected in war-planning. For some of us, getting our wishes was not nearly as gratifying as we naively thought it might be. Perhaps in a candid moment, Pollack would agree with that assessment.

I saw recent film footage of an Iranian military parade and painted on the side of a balistic missle transport was written in english "We will crush America under our feet". Has anyone else seen this? Is it time for pre-emptive action? I don't believe we are obligated to send ground troops in like in Iraq. Strategic airstrikes alone might bring about regime change.

AMac, Pollack wrote a mea cupla piece here in which he says:
Bill Galston is one helluva debater. In the fall of 2002, well before the invasion of Iraq, I faced Bill--a University of Maryland professor and a former colleague of mine in the Clinton administration--in a public debate, and he kicked my rhetorical ass. He did it by holding up a copy of my book, The Threatening Storm, and saying to the audience, "If we were going to get Ken Pollack's war, I could be persuaded to support it. But we are not going to get Ken Pollack's war; we are going to get George Bush's war, and that is a war I will not support." Bill's words haunted me throughout the run-up to the invasion. Several months ago, I sent him a note conceding that he had been right. The primary cause of our current problems in Iraq is the reckless, and often foolish, manner in which this administration has waged the war and the reconstruction. For that reason, when I think back to the prewar debate, the thought that nags at me most is that I, too, should have foreseen what Bill Galston did--that the Bush administration would not fight the war properly. It looms in my thinking as something that probably could have been known before the war and that, had I recognized it, might have led me down a different intellectual path.
I should clarify what I meant above, however. In the new Iran book, Pollack documents the various ways in which Iran has tried to hurt American interests in the region, and he spends some time on Lebanon. He says we never should have gone into Iran in the first place, since we didn't understand what we were getting into, had no real plan, and Iran was likely to try to hurt us. So what I find odd is how he didn't see fit to think about those kinds of things before GWII, and even in the piece I linked to above, Iran doesn't make an appearance. Very strange.

Roger, perhaps you haven't been paying attention for the past twenty five years: the Iranian regime doesn't like the United States very much.

Thanks, praktike (6:39pm). I recalled reading that TNR piece but couldn't place it. It boils downt to "if only you'd done what I wanted--more exactly--and the way I wanted it done--more exactly." A catch-all, unfalsifiable line of reasoning that I hear fairly often in my line of work, perhaps you do too. But sometimes uttered with good reason.

I expect the truth contains elements of Pollack's mea culpa and also elements of Cavanaugh's j'accuse.

er, we never should have gone into Lebanon in the first place. Typos abound. Thanks for the Cavanaugh piece, and you're right about Pollack's lack of self-examination.

AMac:

I believe the "flypaper" argument was first promulgated within blogosphere (by Sullivan?) and can assure you that it is most assuredly not an element of US strategy. That being said, there are elements of truth to it, such as that were we not in Iraq that many of these jihadis would be up to no good elsewhere in the world, including possibly here. Similarly, the whole "better we fight them there rather than here" does strike a chord among many a US military planner.

The borders being poorly guarded was a product of the poor post-war planning and bureaucratic in-fighting among the people making policy in government. Had either side come out on top, I think things would have been better, but as it was neither did and the result is where we ended up with the worst of both sides and none of the benefits. To give you an example, both sides recommended that there be a large Iraqi force that would assist the US in the occupation process. One side preferred to use the old Iraqi army while another wanted to use a huge force of exiles and their local supporters (the INC militia that did finally end up inside Iraq, for example, was actually intended at some point to be the vanguard of a much larger force) - either one would have gotten us at least short-term border security regardless of the other problems they might have caused further down the line.

And how difficult is it for a poorly-documented and visa-less person to enter Iraq today?

Depends on where you're talking about. Even with the borders being secured, there are still smuggling routes from Iraq to Iran that date back hundreds if not thousands of years and one of the nastier post-Saddam developments has been the emergence of an Iraqi organized crime network, which has taken over the range of illegal activities that were until recently the perview of the state. Zarqawi has even outsourced his kidnapping operation to some of these groups, and I suspect he uses them to smuggle people back and forth across the border as well.

praktike:

I think you and AMac hit some pretty good points with respect to Pollack, but I'll be quite honest and say that while I'm sure his latest book is quite good, I also think that it's kind of his penance for his last one. My impression of the man is that he believes that The Threatening Storm shored up support among Democrats and independents for OIF and he feels terrible about it, so he's writing The Persian Puzzle to try and atone for that by making sure that nobody who reads his book will believe that the US should invade Iran (I'm not advocating that, as I think you know). I'm not saying he doesn't make good points or that it isn't well-researched, I'm sure that it is, but I just think that this needs to be kept in mind when reading it. I myself would prefer to wait long and hard when it comes to taking any of the pundits (yours truly here included) at face value on Iran until things become clearer about how Iraq is going to turn out, since just about everybody now advocating things one way or another on Iran is still re-fighting the battle of Iraq. Unfortunately, we just don't appear to have that kind of time right now and the mullahs don't seem to be willing to wait for us to sort through the ins and outs of which foreign policy is the best one to pursue.

My own preference on Iran is that we shore up the moderate Iraqi Shi'ites, engage Iran diplomatically and flood them with trade and the "Westoxification" that comes with it. Over time, the rise of Najaf will turn Qom into a ghost town, and the Islamic Republic's lack of legitimacy and capacity to provide for its own people will crash of its own accord. The Iranian Kurds will demand their freedoms, and leave or fight if they don't get them. There's no need to sully ourselves by supporting terrorism on the part of the MEK, or to launch some kind of foolish invasion or airstrike that is just as likely to fail as not. History itself is working against the regime.

As is usual, I second (or third? fourth?) Praktike.

I tell ya, it's getting annoying being a yes-man for this guy...one of these days I hope to have something more useful to say than "yeah, what HE said".

praktike (10:35pm):

I can't find the link to a well-known American policy wonk who's been writing his own series of "I wuz wrong" essays on why the imminent collapse of the North Korean regime he predicted in 2000 hasn't happened (Eberstadt?).

Maybe the mullahcracy will implode as you imagine, but maybe its continued durability will force you to publish your own retraction in your web-diary for 2008. Plenty of examples both ways.

praktike:

If we were going with status quo, I'd agree with you, the current Iranian regime is doomed, though I still think that it's worth pointing out that they can still do a lot of damage on their way down. Moreover, I strongly suspect that people like Rafsanjani, Rohani, et al. haven't made plans to prevent the type of situation you describe from coming to pass.

For example:

Shoring up moderate Iraqi Shi'ites - Doesn't work if Iran succeeds in engineering the assassination or marginalization of the An Najaf school. As recent history has shown, the mullahs and their proxies have already made attempts to achieve this.

Diplomatic/trade engagement (ditching sanctions?) - Basically ends up getting us into the same kind of economic mess that the EU has with Iran, where it's such an economic gold mine that everybody wants to look over the shoulder of the seedier aspects of the regime in order to do business with it. An improved Iranian economy, incidentally, also helps to shore up the regime, a thing that you and I both seem to agree would be a bad thing. Also, if all of this takes place while Iran is supporting the killing of American citizens, the obvious message it sends is that terrorism = results. Not the right message to send to people like Rafsanjani, IMO.

Iranian Kurds - Won't be so eager to clamor for freedom/more representation if Iraq collapses or remains unstable, which appears to be a major Iranian foreign policy goal at this point.

These are the main reasons why I think the whole "time is running against them" argument can be seen as a fatally flawed one. People have been saying the same about Cuba and North Korea for over 10 years now.

>>An improved Iranian economy, incidentally, also helps to shore up the regime, a thing that you and I both seem to agree would be a bad thing.

I would argue otherwise. It seems to me that the richer the country the more powerful the general population will be vis-a-vis the leaders. With this model, sanctions against Iraq and Cuba yielded the expected result: an extension of the lifespan of the dictatorship, since the general population was too weak to deal with them.

A rich, well-informed citizenry should be harder for the Mullahs to push around. If the citizenry trades with the US enough to affect their standard of living sufficiently, they will resent any Mullahcracy interference with said trade.

At this late stage of the game, active smuggling, not just free trade, might be necessary. Find out whatever the Mullahs don't want their population to have and concentrate on getting it to them.

Praktique, I also would agree with you whole-heartedly (how strange it is that JC and I are becoming congruent!) if not for the time constraints imposed by uncorking the nuclear genie-in-the-bottle.
Are the Iranian Shi'ia also "twelvers" like Sistani?

Ah, the thing y'all are missing, even though you're sort of agreeing with me, is the elephant in the room: the WTO. And, no, I don't mean the World Toilet Organization, although I'm sure that would be helpful as well.

See, the United States has blocked Iran's joining for some time now. Why? Joining the WTO means adopting the rulesets of the modern world. Iran would have to reform itself.

I look at the US policy of isolating Iran as giving the hardliners like Khamene'i and Janatti exactly what they want. They are the ones who fear the influx of new ideas; they are the ones who benefit from Iran's lack of transparency and accountability that goes along with economic and political isolation. So in a sense we're appeasing the hardliners and helping keep them in power artificially by shutting them off from globalization.

Don't you people believe in capitalism?

Re: Rafsanjani. He's a tough nut to crack, but my thoughts are these: ultimately, he's a politician who sticks his finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing. He's a terrible economic manager, so I hope he doesn't win the upcoming election. But he's less crazy than others.

Jinderella, most Iranian Shi'a are twelvers. The seveners (Ismaili) and fivers (Zaidis) are more obscure. My undestanding is that one of the reasons for traditional Shi'ite quietism is that only the Mahdi--the hidden twelveth imam--is supposed to rule upon his return, so it's wrong for the clergy to get involved in politics. Hence, Khomeneism is rather heretical.

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