Geopolitical Diary: Questions Raised by the NIE
December 04, 2007 03 00 GMT
The U.S. National Intelligence Estimate released on Monday — the little bombshell that says Iran has had its nuclear weapons program on hold since 2003 — raises two fundamental questions. First, if Iran really does not have a military weapons program, why has it resisted international inspections? Second, why is the United States allowing this news to break?
The Iranian motive for resisting inspections should first be considered.
For the past five years, Washington and Tehran have been engaged in on-again, off-again negotiations over Iraq’s future. In these talks the Iranians have been at a sizable disadvantage. The United States has more than 100,000 troops in the country, while Iran’s leverage is largely limited to its influence with many of the country’s Shiite militias. This influence is a useful tool for denying the United States the ability to impose its desires, though it is not a powerful enough one to allow the Iranians to turn their own preferences into reality.
Moreover, given that the majority of Iran’s population is either in or behind the Zagros Mountains, Iran might be difficult to invade, but it lacks military expeditionary capability. Its infantry-heavy army is designed for population control, not power projection. Therefore, for Iran to have a lever in manipulating events in its region, it must develop other playing cards.
Its nuclear program is one of those cards. Iran has had a vested interest in convincing the world — unofficially, of course — that it possesses a nuclear program. For Iran, the nuclear program is a trump card to be traded away, not a goal in and of itself.
As to the U.S. motive, it also wanted to play up the nuclear threat. Part of Washington’s negotiation strategy has been to isolate Iran from the rest of the international community. Charges that Iran desired nukes were an excellent way to marshal international action. Both sides had a vested interest in making Iran look the part of the wolf.
That no longer is the case. There are only two reasons the U.S. government would choose to issue a report that publicly undermines the past four years of its foreign policy: a deal has been struck, or one is close enough that an international diplomatic coalition is no longer perceived as critical. This level of coordination across all branches of U.S. intelligence could not happen without the knowledge and approval of the CIA director, the secretaries of defense and state, the national security adviser and the president himself. This is not a power play; this is the real deal.
The full details of any deal are unlikely to be made public any time soon because the U.S. and Iranian publics probably are not yet ready to consider each other as anything short of foes. But the deal is by design integrated into both states’ national security posture. It will allow for a permanent deployment of U.S. forces in Iraq to provide minimal national security for Iraq, but not in large enough numbers to be able to launch a sizable attack against Iran. It will allow for the training and equipping of the Iraqi military forces so that Iraq can defend itself, but not so much that it could boast a meaningful offensive force. It will integrate Iranian intelligence and military personnel into the U.S. effort so there are no surprises
on either side.
But those are the details. Here is the main thrust: Ultimately, both sides have nursed deep-seated fears. The Iranians do not want the Americans to assist in the rise of another militaristic Sunni power in Baghdad — the last one inflicted 1 million Iranian casualties during 1980-1988 war. The United States does not want to see Iran dominate Iraq and use it as a springboard to control Arabia; that would put some 20 million barrels per day of oil output under a single power. The real purpose of the deal is to install enough bilateral checks in Iraq to ensure that neither nightmare scenario happens.
Should such an arrangement stick, the two biggest winners obviously are the Americans and Iranians. That is not just because the two no longer would be in direct conflict, and not just because both would have freed up resources for other tasks.
U.S. geopolitical strategy is to prevent the rising of a power on a continental scale that has the potential to threaten North America. It does this by favoring isolated powers that are resisting larger forces. As powerful as Iran is, it is the runt of the neighborhood when one looks past the political lines on maps and takes a more
holistic view. Sunnis outnumber Shia many times over, and Arabs outnumber Persians. Indeed, Persians make up only roughly half of Iran’s population, making Tehran consistently vulnerable to outside influence. Simply put, the United States and Iran — because of the former’s strategy and the latter’s circumstances — are natural
On the flip side, the biggest losers are those entities that worry about footloose and fancy-free Americans and Iranians. The three groups at the top of that list are the Iraqis, the Russians and the Arabs. Washington and Tehran will each sell out their proxies in Iraq in a heartbeat for the promise of an overarching deal. Now is the time for the Kurds, Sunni and Shia of Iraq to prove their worth to either side; those who resist will be smears on the inside of history’s dustbin.
Separately, a core goal of U.S. foreign policy is to ensure that the Russians never again threaten North America, and to a lesser degree, Europe. A United States that is not obsessed with Tehran is one that has the freedom to be obsessed with Moscow. And do not forget that the last state to occupy portions of Iran was not the United States, but Russia. Persia has a long memory and there are scores to settle in the Caucasus.
Back in the Middle East, U.S. foreign policy has often supported the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, favoring the weak against the strong in line with the broad strategy discussed above. A United States that does not need to contain Iran is a United States that can leverage an Iran that very much wishes to be leveraged. That potentially puts the Arabs on the defensive on topics ranging from investment to defense. The Arabs tend to get worried whenever the Americans or the Iranians look directly at them; that is nothing compared to the emotions that will swirl the first time that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and U.S. President George W. Bush shake hands.
We expect the days and weeks ahead to be marked by a blizzard of activity as various players in Washington and Tehran attempt both to engage directly and to prepare the ground (still) for a final deal. Much will be dramatic, much will be contradictory, much will make no sense whatsoever. This is, after all, still the Middle East. But keep this in mind: With the nuclear issue out of the way, the heavy lifting has already been done and some level of understanding on Iraq’s future already is in place. All that remains is working out the “details.”
The main interest to me is the part about how coordinated the release of the “no Iranian nuke threat” document was. Iraq has the 150 billion barrels of oil, at least, and keeping it for the U.S. energy interests ( and away from the Chinese and Russian energy interests) is the main deal. Mollifying the Iranians temporarily is necessary for that goal. The commentary is humorously in favor of U.S imperialism, takes that as unquestionably good. The fact that the U.S. and British elites overthrew the government of Iran and installed the Shah isn’t worth note. Neither is it of note that the U.S. promoted the Iran/Iraq war and wanted it last as long as it could so as to do the most damage to both sides ( according to Henry Kissinger). The U.S. sold the nerve gas to Saddam and helped him drop it on the Kurds who were allied with the Iranians.
U.S. geopolitical strategy is to prevent the rising of a power on a continental scale that has the potential to threaten North America.
By “threaten North America” I do not suppose it is meant that the Iranians are going to drop anchor in Manhattan or Miami but rather that some other power would control the oil (our elitist nightmare), their own oil by the way as long as we think in terms of private property and all that. Burning all that oil will kill mammalian life on this planet so we’d all be better off if it were left in the ground. The real threat to North America is our own government and our own ignorance. The ignorance and arrogance of Russian and Chinese elites are on a par but unlike Steve Russell I do not have a favorite among the Imperialist Powers since they will kill us all equally.
The report is evidence of how weak and desperate the End Timer Greedheads in Washington D.C. are. They want to seal the oil deal with our puppet government in Baghdad so badly that they are signing a non-aggression pact with Tehran before the Democrats take office. Not that I think the Democrats will rush in and give Iraq back to itself, apologize and make restitution. No, that would happen in some other just universe.
Stratfor is worth watching but totally invested in rational choice, which might not be the best way to explain stuff all the time.
For instance, Stratfor assumes that the NIE could not have become public without the blessing of the Bush Administration at the top levels. That would be true in a rational, competent government.
However, it’s just as likely that some of the intelligence gremlins, still smarting from how they took the spear for Bush in the Iraq debacle, freaked out at his WWIII rhetoric and decided they were not going to be left holding the bag again.
After all, this NIE was a major credibility blow to an administration that has very little credibility to squander. Would Bush have taken that hit on purpose because it’s good for the country? Since when does he put the national interest above the interests of the Repugs?
And there’s this from Informed Comment: Global Affairs:
Reading the NIE in Tehran
Posted by Farideh Farhi, Thursday, December 6, 2007
Although the immediate official reaction to the release of the National Intelligence Estimate has been curiously positive, welcoming the assessment as a vindication of Iran (an “official confession” of the United States, in the words of government spokesman and justice minister Gholam-hossein Elham and “announcement of Iranian people’s victory on the nuclear issue” according to Ahmadinejad), there are signs that other important players are mulling over questions related to the timing and implications of the report. The report also seems to be feeding into the on going domestic debates about the Ahmadinejad administration’s handling of the nuclear file as well as regular political jockeying that is integral to the Iranian political landscape.
The first objection to seeing the report only in a positive light came in Tabnak, a website closely associate with the former head of Islamic Revolution’s Guard Corps, Mohsen Rezaie. A commentary called “The Other Side of the Coin of the NIE,” acknowledges the positive impact of the argument that Iran has not had a weapons program since 2003 but cautions about the negative aspect:
“If in our reasoning for the critique of U.S. foreign policy regarding Iran’s nuclear technology, we rely on this report in a one-sided and reckless manner, this means that we accept that the American spy agency [sic] has mastered , at least in the past seven years, its knowledge of the process of the expansion of Iran’s nuclear technology and negate the past statements of this agency which saw its hands tied in the Iran’s information and security arena and this, undoubtedly, can have very negative and unpleasant effects in the domestic developments of the country. All these things were unfortunately ignored in the official position announced on Tuesday.”
The commentary goes on the point out how the NIE effectively negates the IAEA’s long standing position that no evidence of diversion has ever been found in Iran and urges the government to approach the report with more caution and not affirm the “intelligence presence of the United States in Iran.”
In another commentary in Tabnak, the NIE’s assertion of a 2003 turnaround is discussed as a “big lie” and the point is made that no change occurred in the Iranian program in 2003. The real change, the piece argues, came in 1998-9 when there was a change of leadership at Iran’s Nuclear Energy Organization and when under this new leadership “various and dispersed activities …became focused in activities related to the fuel cycle.”
Another set of cautions came in a television interview with Ali Larijani, Iran’s nuclear negotiator who was recently relieved of his job by Ahmadinejad. Pointing out that the NIE was released at Bush’s behest, he posits the report as part and parcel of American domestic politics, pointing to the need to create credibility after the Iraq intelligence fiasco. The need to make the case that at every step, depending on the information available, the right decision is made in the US, is offered as the second reason for the release of the report while the creation of a “breathing space” and need for a push back of the “Zionist lobby’s intense war mongering” is posited as the third reason.
Finally, Larijani points out that in the NIE there are elements in line with the 5+1 position that pressure works on Iran. This leads him to say, “On this basis it can be interpreted that by the release of the report the U.S. intends to change phase in its stance regarding Iran…. ElBaradei’s recent report and clearing of most of the ambiguities placated the United States. With this report, Washington intends to affirm ElBaradei’s report and say that like ElBaradei we think Iran does not have a nuclear weapon but believe it can move in that direction in the future.”
Also, in an implicit dig against Iran’s current chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, who has reportedly not been very cooperative in his meeting last week with Javier Solana, Europe’s foreign policy chief, Larijani identifies Iran, Solana, ,and ElBaradei as a triangle and sees Iran in need of cooperation with the IAEA as well as continued dialogue with Solana. Cautioning against presenting the discussions with Solana as unimportant, Larijani analogizes the situation to a “container of milk that the United States would like to overturn.”
Along the same lines, the former deputy foreign minister, Abbas Maleki, writing in Etemad-e Melli daily, acknowledges the domestic consumption of the NIE and its importance in undercutting the rush to war. He also points to the seeming confusion that plagues current US foreign policy is the Middle East. Still he states what while “American power may be in decline,” underestimating American diplomatic prowess is a mistake.
Finally, speaking to students at Ferdowsi University in Mashad, Ali Akbar Velayati, Iran’s former foreign minister and current advisor to the supreme leader, also cautions against seeing the report as positive. “We should not be too content with these types of reports. These reports, for or against Iran, have no impact on Iran’s diplomatic behavior… Of course we should see it as a good omen that our peaceful nuclear program has been vindicated and we should know that this report, like ElBaradei’s report, contains positive and negative points, hence value it on the basis of its capacity… These types of reports should be approached with doubt since more than wanting to give Iran its due; they are pursuing their own electoral interests.”
Clearly, important players of Iranian politics are more reluctant to declare the report as a victory for Iran than Ahmadinejad who has a political stake in taking credit for Iran’s aggressive policies paying off and implicitly connecting his policies to the turnaround of the American intelligence community.