Dealing with Iran
By: Greg C. Reeson
Strategic Forecasting (STRATFOR), a private geopolitical intelligence company based in Austin, recently published an analysis stating that the United States was attempting â€œâ€¦to make Iran feel isolated, make Iran fear that its foes are on the verge of using military force, make Iran feel like talks with the United States are the least-bad option.â€ And, STRATFOR notes, dialogue between Washington and Tehran is exactly whatâ€™s needed right now to improve the security situation in Iraq, thereby providing American military forces the opportunity to draw down and refocus their mission to one of training Iraqi security forces instead of actively engaging in combat operations.
The bottom line, and I agree with STRATFOR on this, is that the conflict in Iraq is primarily a struggle for influence between the United States and Iran. We want an Iraq that can serve as a buffer to rising Iranian influence and power in the Middle East and Iran wants a Shiite-friendly government in Baghdad that is unwilling and incapable of threatening its Persian neighbor. That is primarily why Iran is meddling in Iraqi affairs, including training and arming insurgent elements that are attacking, wounding and killing American soldiers. The goal from Tehranâ€™s point of view is that Iran must prevent the United States from achieving its objectives in Iraq because the accomplishment of Washingtonâ€™s goals would directly threaten Iranian interests in the region. And that is why President Bush refuses to give up the fight, a move that would allow Iran to fill the power vacuum that will inevitably result from an abrupt American departure from Iraq.
With the continued lack of political progress by the Iraqi government and the surge of American forces in Iraq necessarily coming to an end in the not-too-distant future, President Bush is ratcheting up the pressure on Tehran by enlisting once-again friendly European nations in the effort to isolate Iran on the international stage. These efforts are having an effect, and tougher sanctions currently being considered by the European Union, coupled with the threat of possible war by France over the nuclear impasse, could cause Tehran to take another look at its strategic position vis-Ã -vis the United States.
But here is where we have to be careful in any dealings with the clerics in Tehran or the lunatic they call a president. Any diplomatic engagement must be from a position of strength, and not from a position of concession. We cannot bow to Iranian demands for the lifting of sanctions, and we cannot allow Iran to seize control in the center or south of Iraq. One of the reasons behind President Bushâ€™s surge of troops into Iraq was to put the Iranians on notice that the United States would be staying for the long haul, and that the presence of American troops on Iranâ€™s border was a reality that Tehran would have to deal with for the foreseeable future. It is true that we cannot sustain the surge indefinitely, but it is also true now that instead of a massive reduction in U.S. forces in Iraq, significant numbers of troops will remain actively engaged for quite some time.
That fact not only makes Iran nervous, it provides some level of reassurance and comfort to Middle East allies like Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt, all of whom are fearful of rising Iranian influence in the region. The French, Dutch and German governments are getting on board with the United States, and we should use that leverage to press Iran even harder, with meaningful sanctions and with the possible use of force, to stop interfering in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, to restrain its operatives in Iraq, and to work with the United Nations to resolve the questions surrounding Iranâ€™s nuclear program.
Any sign of weakness on the part of the United States, or our European allies, will be seized upon by Tehran as an opportunity to continue pushing for Iranian dominance in the Middle East, backed by the eventual possession of a nuclear arsenal.