Iran and US Jiu-Jitsu in the Middle East
Juan Cole points to an interesting article by former National Security Adviser Gary Sick regarding the various, recent machinations of the Bush administration in the Middle East, things they decided need doing because of the other things they screwed up earlier.
I was finally moved to respond by the news this weekend that the US intends to sell $20 billion in new arms to the Arab states of the Gulf over the next decade, while increasing military aid to Israel by 25% (a total of $3 billion per year) and also raising aid to Egypt by a smaller but significant amount. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates are getting ready for a major Middle East trip to present this package and to attempt to forge a working consensus focused squarely on Iran as the major threat in the region. The level of the bribes may change in the course of discussions, but this is obviously intended as an offer that they cannot refuse.
This strikes me as a marvelous example of political jiu jitsu. The United States made possible an emergent Iran by eliminating its Taliban rivals to the east and its Baathist rivals to the west and then installing a Shia government in Baghdad for the first time in history. Having inadvertently created a set of circumstances that insured an increase in Iranian strength and bargaining power, that seriously frightened US erstwhile Sunni allies in the region, and that undermined US strength and credibility, the US now proposes a new and improved regional political relationship to deal with the problem, and, incidentally, to distract attention from America's plight in Iraq while reviving America's position as the ultimate power in the region.
But there is a potentially huge flaw in this brilliant policy legerdemain. Iraq will just not go away, and the government of Nuri al-Maliki, a Shia partisan, is proving to be an intractable obstacle to sweeping the Iraqi debacle under the rug. The "surge" in US military forces may be intended to create at least the illusion of greater stability in Baghdad and thereby facilitate the start of a US withdrawal. It may also provide the basis for greater pressure on the Iraqi government to solve some of its most pressing political and economic disputes. But it seems to be a tactical maneuver that is unlikely to produce any long-term solutions.