Sunday, January 21, 2007

Will Bush Use State of the Union to Raise Ante on Iran?

As Bush's poll numbers continue to drop, it's not certain what steps, if any, he will take to repair his foreign policy. His surge in Iraq, of course, is more a political tactic than a serious confronting of his failing policies in the Middle East.

Here's a quick roundup of stories on Iran. First, from Mark Mazzetti of The New York Times:
The new chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Friday sharply criticized the Bush administration’s increasingly combative stance toward Iran, saying that White House efforts to portray it as a growing threat are uncomfortably reminiscent of rhetoric about Iraq before the American invasion of 2003.

Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, the West Virginia Democrat who took control of the committee this month, said that the administration was building a case against Tehran even as American intelligence agencies still know little about either Iran’s internal dynamics or its intentions in the Middle East.

“To be quite honest, I’m a little concerned that it’s Iraq again,” Senator Rockefeller said during an interview in his office. “This whole concept of moving against Iran is bizarre.”

Then here's Gregory Djerejian of The Belgravian Dispatch:
What is current U.S. policy towards Iran, and where might it be heading? Of late, we seem to be sensing Ahmadi-Nejad has been over-playing his hand (correctly, to some extent, as note even Supreme Leader Khamenei has reportedly recently expressed some discontent re: Ahmadi-Nejad). Meantime, there is quite a bit of anti-Shia feeling brewing from Cairo to Riyadh, born of the fear of a rising Iran our Iraq intervention helped trigger, and so Condi Rice appears to have been cobbling together something of an anti-Iranian coalition (with Bob Gates making a coordinated trip where his message, in so many words, was basically that the US remains a major power in the region, no matter the controversy and deep pain of the Iraq War, that we have vital interests in the Gulf, and that we're not leaving the region anytime soon).

Frankly, I'd be much more comfortable with some of this muscle-flexing and formation of (supposed) anti-Iranian bulwarks in the region if they were being accompanied by serious offers to talk with the Iranians as well. In the absence of that linkage, while we are importantly telegraphing to the Iranians we have national resolve and staying power, we also seem to be achieving two other, and less favorable, things, in the main: 1) we are risking a confrontation with Iran born of a combination of recklessness, miscalculation, and hysteria and 2) we are further giving the lie to the supposed Bush Doctrine of democracy exportatation (right now we are mostly relying on Sunni type strong men and satrapies to counter the rising popularity among many on the Arab Street for Iran's hard-line rejectionist stances vis-a-vis the U.S. and Israel, not to mention of course Sheikh Nasrallah and Hezbollah's immense popularity resulting from the bungled Israeli War in Lebanon, and Hamas' alliance of convenience with Iran).

Finally, we have Sam Gardiner in The Left Coaster:
Military forces continue to move toward Iran. We have more details. In addition, a new concern emerged this morning. Iran may be reacting.

The USS John C. Stennis departed Bremerton, Washington last Saturday and sailed to San Diego to on load its air wing. That has been completed. It is to depart this morning (Saturday) for the Gulf.

We have to keep in mind this deployment was leaked even before the President’s speech on the Iraq Surge. Sources even then said the deployment was about Iran. The Secretary of Defense repeated that theme while he was in the Middle East this week. It is about Iran.

(snip)

After seeing all of this unfold, there is an obvious question. What’s the U.S. strategy for Iran? Does all of it mean an attack is close. My sense at this point is an attack is not imminent.

I think we are seeing an unfolding of a broad strategy to put pressure on the Iranians. ...

How does one use the marshaling of military power to put pressure on a nation if there isn't dialogue? Leaving everything to the Europeans and others to negotiate with Iran is a perilous course in the hands of an incompetent president and vice president. There's word that Kissinger is involved but Kissinger may be assuming that the world, at least as far as foreign policy is concerned, still operates the way it did thirty-five years ago. It doesn't.

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