Thursday, November 20, 2003

In the mail:Class of 2030
I used to subscribe to Stratfor, the private sector intelligence service. I've stopped now but they still send me occasional distillations of wit and wisdom. From today's dispatch, news of supping with satan.

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami has quietly announced his
recognition of the Iraqi Governing Council and acceptance of the
U.S. timeline on the transfer of power in Iraq. The announcement
speaks to a partnership that will direct the future course of
Iraq. The alliance is of direct short-term benefit to both
countries: The United States gains a partner to help combat Sunni
insurgents, and Iran will be able to mitigate the long-standing
threat on its western border. What is most notable is that,
though there has been no secrecy involved, the partnership has
emerged completely below the global media's radar

While media coverage of US/Iran relations has focused on the nuclear issue, says Stratfor, the Iranian nuclear programme is really a diplomatic counter, intended to force US acceptance of Iranian influence amongst the Iraqi Shia population. In turn, America's price for that is Iranian acceptance of the IGC. The outcome, when the US stages it's pre-election bailout, will be a Shia dominated government whose stability is guaranteed by the Iranians.

It is not fair to say that Iran simply controlled the Iraqi
Shiites; there are historical tensions between the two groups. It
is fair to say, however, that Iranian intelligence systematically
penetrated and organized the Shiites during Hussein's rule and
that Iran provided safe haven for many of Iraq's Shiite leaders.
That means, obviously, that Tehran has tremendous and decisive
influence in Iraq at this point - which means that the goals of
Iraqi Shiites must coincide with Iranian national interests.

In this case, they do. Iran has a fundamental interest in a pro- Iranian, or at least genuinely neutral, Iraq. The only way to
begin creating that is with a Shiite-controlled government. With
a Shiite-controlled government, the traditional Iraqi threat
disappears and Iran's national security is tremendously enhanced.
But the logic goes further: Iraq is the natural balance to Iran -
- and if Iraq is neutralized, Iran becomes the pre-eminent power
in the Persian Gulf. Once the United States leaves the region --
and in due course, the United States will leave -- Iran will be
in a position to dominate the region. No other power or
combination of powers could block it without Iraqi support. Iran,
therefore, has every reason to want to see an evolution that
leads to a Shiite government in Iraq.

Washington now has an identical interest. The United States does
not have the ability or appetite to suppress the Sunni rising in
perpetuity, nor does it have an interest in doing so. The U.S.
interest is in destroying al Qaeda. Washington therefore needs an
ally that has an intrinsic interest in fighting the guerrilla war
and the manpower to do it. That means the Iraqi Shiites -- and
that means alignment with Iran.

It all sounds very nifty, and definitely the kind of thing that we should be looking for while the air is filled with uplifting flatulence about bringing democracy to the middle east. If this works out, we can expect Iran to morph into an officially consecrated "democracy" and the axis of evil to lose an axe. However, there are consequences:

The alignment represents a solution to both U.S. and Iranian
needs. However, in the long run, the Iranians are the major
winners. When it is all over, they get to dominate the Persian
Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula. That upsets the regional balance
of power completely and is sending Saudi leaders into a panic.
The worst-case scenario for Saudi Arabia is, of course, an
Iranian-dominated region. It is also not a great outcome for the
United States, since it has no interest in any one power
dominating the region either.

But the future is the future, and now is now. "Now" means the
existence of a guerrilla war that the United States cannot fight
on its own. This alignment solves that dilemma. We should
remember that the United States has a history of improbable
alliances that caused problems later. Consider the alliance with
the Soviet Union in World War II that laid the groundwork for the
Cold War: It solved one problem, then created another. The United
States historically has worked that way

Not to mention of course, the genesis of al-Qaeda amongst the Afghan Mujahideen, the overthrow of Mossadegh, Western and Soviet bloc support for Saddam before he developed a mind of his own, and so on.

So who are going to be the siuicide bombers of 2030? Iraqi Sunnis? Embittered Kurds? Or losers yet unchosen? This is where a market in terrorist futures really would come in handy.

Meanwhile, it is a solution of good sense, as a certain Frenchman once put it. And from the report, I particularly liked this:

It represents a triumph of geopolitics over principle on both sides, which is
what makes it work: Since both sides are betraying fundamental
principles, neither side is about to call the other on it