Sunday, February 04, 2007

Bush's Mess: Iraq and Iran

In my view, nothing is more important than repairing American foreign policy so we can deal with a growing number of crucial issues. Given Bush's obsession with his war in Iraq, the effort to begin repairs of our foreign policy may be another two or three years away. But Democrats can take steps to limit the damage. And Republicans, instead of obstructing serious efforts to limit the widening of the war, could be helping our nation move on instead of rubber stamping a failed president. Right now, Republicans are behaving like Enron's board of directors while Bush keeps trying to get people to buy shares in his latest fiasco. Bush's presidency is over. The sooner Republicans recognize it, the sooner our nation can begin to move on.

Some good people are being sent to Iraq but they're a bit like a crack fire engine company that's asked to save a city block that is already burning badly when it's more important to keep the fire from spreading to other city blocks.

No, things are not good in Iraq and there is a real danger of stumbling into a war in Iran, but I want to make clear that I'm not trying to paint an overly dark picture. It is possible to wind down in Iraq and limit the damage despite how badly Bush has undermined America's credibility. Given how things now stand, it is likely that if we stay, things will only get worse and if we leave, even by carefully and slowly disentangling ourselves with hard-nosed political talks, there's a good chance that it still won't be pretty but it may be the best chance Iraq has to stabilize itself and for legitimate leaders to emerge, though no one at this late date should expect a Jeffersonian democracy.

It's also possible to avoid war in Iran; in reality, it only requires that the Bush Administration not try to turn some incident into an excuse for a major bombing campaign. In the meantime, however, we need to be clear about what the facts are and what some of the possibilities are.

Here's an article in The New York Times on the consequences of the Shiites standing down in Baghdad:
A growing number of Iraqis blamed the United States on Sunday for creating conditions that led to the worst single suicide bombing in the war, which devastated a Shiite market in Baghdad the day before. They argued that slowness in completing the vaunted new American security plan has made Shiite neighborhoods much more vulnerable to such horrific attacks.

The chorus of critics said the new plan, which the Americans have barely started to execute, has emasculated the Mahdi Army, the Shiite militia that is considered responsible for many attacks on Sunnis, but which many Shiites say had been the only effective deterrent against sectarian reprisal attacks in Baghdad’s Shiite neighborhoods. Even some Iraqi supporters of the plan, such as Hoshyar Zebari, the Iraqi foreign minister who is a Kurd, said delays in implementing it have caused great disappointment.

Gareth Porter of The American Prospect writes on Bush's attempts to blame Iran for his failures:
After promising that the Bush administration would publish a document this week detailing the evidence for its charge that Iranians in Iraq are providing arms and advice to Shiite militias to kill American troops, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack suggested Wednesday that no such document would be forthcoming any time soon. Paul Richter of The Los Angeles Times reported that some officials, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, had resisted the release of the dossier, because they believed the assertions contained in it would have so little credibility that it would backfire politically. As Richter wrote, "They want to avoid repeating the embarrassment that followed the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, when it became clear that information the administration cited to justify the war was incorrect…"

Indeed, the new campaign hyping Iranian meddling, like the 2002-2003 propaganda campaign leading up to the invasion of Iraq, emphasizes a single, highly emotional theme. Instead of the “mushroom cloud” invoked by Condoleezza Rice in September 2002, the administration now conjures up the image of Iranian agents lurking in Iraq for the purpose of killing Americans. And although the White House has decided against the release of any documentation of these allegations for now, the campaign proceeds apace.

The 'mushroom cloud' is still there though that angle is being pushed more by the neocons outside the administration. Given apparent recent failures in Iran's nuclear program and even the double fizzle by North Korea's missile tests and nuclear test, Bush can't sell his fear scenarios as easily as before. Nuclear proliferation is very serious business but it needs to be handled without the political posturing and without the fear mongering.

Here's another item from The American Prospect, an interview with John Edwards, who has this to say among other things:
EK: So, the Iran speech to Herzliya. That caused me to think a little bit more about what we had spoken about Iraq [in a previous interview]. And so I wanted to talk to you for a minute about --

JE: Do you mind me taking just a minute to lay out where I am on Iran and then you can just ask anything you want? Here’s my view about what we ought to be doing in Iran.

Number one, you have a radical leader, Ahmadinejad, who is politically unstable in his own country. The political elite have begun to leave him, the religious leaders have begun to leave him, the people aren’t happy with him, for at least two reasons: one, they don’t like his sort of bellicose rhetoric, and second, he was elected on a platform of economic reform and helping the poor and the middle class, and he hasn’t done anything. In fact, while he was traveling, the leaders of the legislature sent him a letter saying, ‘when are you gonna pay attention to the economic problems of our country.’ So, I think we have an opportunity here that we need to be taking advantage of.

First, America should be negotiating directly with Iran, which Bush won’t do. Second, we need to get our European friends, not just the banking system, but the governments themselves, to help us do two things -- put a group, a system of carrots and sticks on the table. The carrots are, we’ll make nuclear fuel available to you, we’ll control the cycle, but you can use it for any civilian purpose. Second, an economic package, which I don’t think has been seriously proposed up until now. Because there economy is already struggling, and it would be very attractive to them. And then on the flip side, the stick side, to say if you don’t do that, there are going to be more serious economic sanctions than you’ve seen up until now. Now of course we need the Europeans for this, cause they’re the ones with the economic relationship with Iran, but the whole purpose of this is number one to get an agreement. Number two, to isolate this radical leader so that the moderates and those within the country who want to see Iran succeed economically, can take advantage of it.

Iran's oil infrastructure is said to be aging and in a mess. The Europeans are getting uneasy with Russia and it's oil politics. It might be mutually beneficial for the Europeans to work something out with the Iranians on their nuclear program in exchange for updating Iran's oil infrastructure—if the Europeans and the Iranians can be assured, as part of the deal, that there will be no attack by the United States (or Israel, for that matter). Possibilities do exist.

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