Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Vali Nasr Interview at CFR

I will make this as brief and to the point as possible.

Talk is increasing of starting another war by attacking Iran.

I hope there is an important agenda, because the reason being presented to the public is a transparently irrational as the original reasons given for the whole Iraqi adventure, namely that Iran is indirectly killing Americans by supplying hardware to Iraqi forces doing the killing.

Simply stated...
Iran is a Shiite country.
Shiites don't like Sunnis.
Sunnis don't like Shiites.
(The last two lines are understatements.)

Iraq is the first Arab-majority country with a democratically-elected Shia majority.
The forces we call "insurgents" are either...

Shiite militias fighting Sunnis (NOT Americans, because the US is on the side of that "democratically-elected Shia majority"---remember the purple fingers!)

...OR
Sunni forces fighting BOTH Shiite AND American forces.


It is ridiculous to argue that Iran is aiding Sunni forces.


§§§
Part of an interview with Vali Nasr, a card-carrying expert whom I have been reading for some time now. If he has any private agenda it is simply that as a Shite whose family has closely associated with the former ruler of Iran, Shah Reza Pahlavi, he now lives and works (as does the Shah's family) in America and wants only the best for the two countries that are closest to his heart.
.
Q. U.S. military officials in Baghdad had a press briefing in which they showed some lethal equipment they said was made in Iran, which is being used by Shiite militias. It wasn’t clear to me what the purpose of all this was.
.
A. I don’t think the purpose has anything to do with Iraq. It is all part of putting pressure on Iran. They’re displaying these things at a time when massive bombs planted by insurgents are killing Shiites and five American helicopters have been shot down byinsurgents. The majority of attacks on Americans and American casualties are inflicted by insurgents.
.
Q. By “insurgents” you mean “Sunni insurgents”?
.
A. Yes, Sunni insurgents. These are the same outfits we’ve been confronting all along. This posture is not driven by logic or the facts on the ground in Iraq. It’s part of the overall policy of the United States to put greater pressure on Iran to make it more amenable on negotiations on the nuclear issue and a host of other issues.
.
Q. Some people suspect this is all a prelude to U.S. military engagement with Iran. What do you think?
.
A. The threat is there, without a doubt, and particularly when you have two countries that have an arena of disagreement and confrontation, don’t have any communications between them, and are running around across each other in a chaotic place like Iraq. Even if there is no preplanned military confrontation, there’s always the chance of it happening. We’re in a situation where tensions between them can very clearly spiral out of control. And obviously the impasse over the nuclear issue represents the biggest challenge.
.
Q. Now just one more question on this briefing the Americans had in Baghdad. Do you have any doubt this is true? Or is this old stuff that just is coming to light now?
.
A. There is no doubt the Iranians have been providing support of various kinds to the Shiite militias. And this is not necessarily to do with the United States. It has to do with the larger fight against Sunni insurgents. Some of this is old news. Some of it still has to be proven. There are still more assertions than hard evidence. What is important is not that these things exist. It’s that the United States has decided at this time to make an issue of them. [ed. I want to know why? The reasons being offered are not persuasive.]
.
Q. Now why do you think the United States has tried to make an issue of this?
.
A. I think it has to do with a whole new policy toward Iran which is more confrontational. Putting Iran in the spotlight in Iraq is a part of a policy of escalating pressure on Tehran, as well as also potentially preparing the American population for more drastic action against Iran by trying to single it out as the problem in Iraq, whether or not that’s actually true.
.
Q. You don’t really think it is true, do you?
.
A. Well, I think there are many countries that are a problem in Iraq. And the main problem in Iraq right now in terms of stability and casualties is the [Sunni] insurgency, not the Shiite militias. Alternatively, the insurgency is the one that’s been at war with the United States and is still killing both Shiites and American soldiers. Ultimately, stability in Iraq has to include dealing with the insurgency. We ought to talk to everybody in Iraq, not just Iranians, but the people who are also supplying and supporting the insurgents.
.
.
If the reader is still with me, here are some links to previous posts regarding this writer and the issue he is discussing.
.
It no longer surprises me that so many of the public can be led mindlessly by the nose to shape the political will necessary for waging war, but I refuse to watch and say nothing about it.
.
I may not have any influence, but I am also not stupid.
Unless and until I see or hear better reasoning, I will remain steadfastly opposed to yet another military adventure, this time in Iran.
.
§***§
§*§
§
.
Addendum:
.
Koby raises valid questions in a comment. I will answer here.
.
1) Would Iran never even consider helping Sunni forces if doing so furthered their larger strategic objectives in the region? How can we know this?
.
Anything is possible, I suppose. All I know is that past enmity between Iran and its Sunni enemies ran deep enough that Iran's children were enlisted to fight them. Read my post about the Basiji Army and try to imagine how they might now have dampened that vengeance enough to furnish those same enemies with weapons. We are dealing here with a universe I cannot grasp, so anything I say is based on logic and an expectation of a reasonable outcome, neither of which appears to apply in this situation.
.
2) If not according to the administration's story, then how DO we explain Iranian-made IEDs killing U.S. forces in Iraq?
.
As I understand it, an Improvised Explosive Device is just that: improvised. Where the components originate is not as important as who improvised it/them, when and under whose direction. Having the instrument is important, but it is not the same as connecting it with a perpetrator. Even then it important to establish whether we are looking at a few random events or an identifiable, deliberate trend. We aren't discussing a minor issue here, we are contemplating an international war. The standard of evidence must be as high as possible before we start sending more of our own children off to fight and die.
.
3) Is work to quell the violence in Iraq--whomever is perpetuating it--not a worthy objective given where we are right now and what is at stake going forward?
.
Of course it is. The question is whether going to war with Iran is the best way to "quell the violence in Iraq".
.
4) Why is a more confrontational stance vs. Iran inappropriate in light of complete diplomatic failure to date (by ALL parties) and by the expressed threats to Israel and known capabilities for deploying nuclear weapons?
.
We will have to disagree on declaring complete diplomatic failure by all parties. As long as we are not at war, diplomacy, by definition, is still working. Threats and known capabilities have always been around and have not heretofore been casus belli. Of course we are now in the era of "preemptive" moves by the world's single remaining Superpower. Nothing is stopping the US from taking any actions it chooses, other than whatever remains of common sense and (dare I say it) some sense of decency. I am simply arguing against going to war with Iran.

5 comments:

Kobayashi Maru said...

Thanks for your comment on my blog. I've responded. :)

A couple of assumptions need to be challenge here. I don't have the answers, I'm just not as certain as you seem to be about them:

1) Would Iran never even consider helping Sunni forces if doing so furthered their larger strategic objectives in the region? How can we know this?

2) If not according to the administration's story, then how DO we explain Iranian-made IEDs killing U.S. forces in Iraq?

3) Is work to quell the violence in Iraq--whomever is perpetuating it--not a worthy objective given where we are right now and what is at stake going forward?

3) Why is a more confrontational stance vs. Iran inappropriate in light of complete diplomatic failure to date (by ALL parties) and by the expressed threats to Israel and known capabilities for deploying nuclear weapons?

Hoots said...

See my reply in an addition to the post.

The 21st Reader said...

Just to add my 2 cents:

1) Iran as a whole would not be apt to align themselves with Sunni insurgents, but there are small dangerous groups within Iran that would not see it as problematic. Just as the same could be said of the US: small dangerous groups have supported, well let's just say: The Taliban, anti-American causes with the faulty reasoning that my enemy's enemy is my friend.

2)Iranian-made IEDs? What about German-made nuclear parts? Does the fact that they are present in Iran mean that we should attack Germany? Or does the fact that Russia is supplying so much of the nuclear know-how to Iran mean we should attack Russia?

3)It's too bad that Iran and the US are not directly negotiating. It would be much more successful than going through so many intermediaries. The US needs to be careful that it does not back itself into a corner (the same is true of Iran, but Iran is likely to, in fact, back itself up into a corner). Attacking Iran would be disastrous.

Kobayashi Maru said...

Hoots - Thanks for taking this seriously. Perhaps I take some things for granted that put us more in agreement than we appear to be. For one thing, I've never thought it a good idea to p**s off everyone in Iran (e.g., by going to war with them) if their radicalized leadership can be brought down (and/or brought into line, e.g., with Iranian voter opinion, U.S. interests and international norms) by other means. FWIW, my college roommate was "Persian" (as he described himself). I.e., Iranian. Given that, I do not take lightly the fact that they are as much human beings as we are.

Point taken about manufactured parts vs. devices. I have not delved into this in detail, however we are talking about more than parts. Iranian operatives in Iraq making terrorist plans belies a benign explanation IMHO. Also, when U.S. military equipment shows up in the hands of bad actors, is it not routine for many on left to decry U.S. 'militarism'? Is there not a double standard here? Yes, I would hold at least Russia at arms length for their support of the mullahs.

Finally, I start from a de facto observation that--but for borders being crossed--Iran is actively at war with us. I'd not want to escalate that if we can avoid doing so, but you skirt two absolutely essential questions:

1) What is the risk of Iran making good on their promises to destroy Israel and hurt us in major ways? (I.e., at what cost would you seek to avoid war?) and

2) re. "As long as we are not at war, diplomacy, by definition, is still working., At what point would you declare diplomacy to have failed? I argue that it has already because Iran has flagrantly and repeatedly failed to comply with the mandates of the UN and other international bodies like the IAEA (sound familiar?). You seem to argue that such talk has no logical end point no matter how many lives are being lost as a result of their actions, how many future lives are being put at risk by the advance of their nuclear program or how cynically Iran is using talk to further their military objectives.

Hoots said...

I want to give good answers to your questions, both here and over at your blog. I have been mulling them over in my mind for nearly a day since you posed them. The questions are valid, the concerns real, the need for answers pressing.

But the answers are not in me. I have to reply "I'm sorry. I just don't know." Anything else is just making up words.

All I know is that as a citizen I am frustrated and embarrassed by what is happening in the Levant as the consquence of US foreign policy and military actions. If the last four years shows nothing, it shows how serious the country takes the threat of terrorism and how misguided the response has been.

The flypaper principle has performed wonderfully well. World-class terrorists have flocked to the killing fields of Iraq like bugs to a night-light to fight the Great Satan. But rather than wiping them out in accordance with the plan, we have only succeded in sharpening their military skills while generating more candidates for their ranks at the same time.

Al Qaeda, initially badly wounded by an effective US response and certainly not prone to see the Shia-majority population as a promising place to peddle their Sunni-based extremism, has rallied instead to that place and used it as a practice field to recover and become stronger and better organized in a multinational form.

Iran is encircled by nuclear-weapons equipped nations: Russia to the North, Pakistan and China to the East, India to the South and Israel to the West. I don't think talk of developing nuclear weapons there is all that remarkable. I know, I know about the UN and all that, but that is nothing more than a smoke screen for what is in reality US hegemony, not only there but all over the world. When the UN serves our purpose, it is a great place to talk aboout, but when it fails in that regard no one wants to mention it.

Prior to the invasion of Iraq it was clear that there was no international political will to support what was about to happen. Afterward, when it was clear the fat was in the fire, that changed and the UN resolutions were cited as the basis of "legitimacy" for what was essentially a US iniative.

If you're looking for me to advance the argument that Iran ought to be next on the list, I'm afraid I can't support that idea.

Here is what I deeply feel.

What we have done in Iraq is done. It was done with the best of good intentions and the results have been both good and bad. In the long run...I'm thinking generations, not years...the events of the last four years will be seen as a great blessing to the Middle East that was planted by the United States of America.

We planted the blessings of political transparency, multi-ethnic, international tolerance and a vision of representative government that was before only a dream. The purple fingers were not imaginary. They were real.

But like a tree, those blessings have yet to be realized. In the same way that the Emancipation Proclamation may have freed the slaves but didn't provide for their full inclusion in greater social and political scenes for a century yet to come, the US sacrifice in Iraq will be seen in history as one of the most meaningful examples known of a nation putting its resources and the lives of its children on the line for a principle.

In my mind we have already won. If we withdraw tomorrow we will leave behind in the experience of many Iraqis countless impressions of goodness and nobility that they have seen with their own eyes. There have been many abuses and lots of innocent lives have been lost, but I believe few Iraqis, those who are our friends, would hold deep grudges or feel betrayed because the US decided no longer to send young people to die in a civil war far away.

The tree has been planted and it will not die. The vision of freedom and representative government has been put in the ground in a meaningful way and nourished with the blood of thousands of American and Iraqi lives. But it will be generations before the people there will sit in the shade of that tree and eat of its fruits.

In the meantime, there are alive on the landscape great populations of evil people who will have to die before that vision will come to pass. I'm afraid they cannot all be killed right away. Many, if not most, will have to grow old and pass away while a new generation, a generation that values peace more than fighting, will take their place.

I don't know how the civil war will end. But I do know that the germs of freedom will ultimately prevail. Maybe not in the next generation, maybe not in our lifetime, but eventually. A vision of freedom, like the birth of a baby, cannot be stopped. It can be retarded, of course, but not stopped.

I have to conclude that more military intervention will be counterproductive. It is time to allow newly-planted roots to grow and become stronger.