Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Iraq and the Wider Middle East/Credibility on Iran's Nuclear Program

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Update from AIJAC

May 17, 2007
Number 05/07 #07

Today's Update features two analyses that tie the crisis in Iraq to the wider Middle East situation from world-renowned Middle East scholars.

First up, Johns Hopkins Prof. Fouad Ajami says it is time to recognise that, despite anything Western diplomacy may do, the Arab states will never provide any assistance to the Iraqi government, because those governments dread the prospects of the success of that government more than its failure. He says a Shi'ite-led democracy is too alien and too threatening, and it must either sink or swim on its own efforts, without any regional assistance. For this full argument, CLICK HERE.

Next up, doyen of Middle East scholars Bernard Lewis looks at how al-Qaeda and other Islamic extremists viewed America and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. He says they perceived the Soviets as the stronger challenge to their hopes for world dominance, and after, in their view, having destroyed the USSR via Afghanistan, turned against the Americans with the expectation it would be  comparatively weak. He says that the reaction to 9/11 was therefore a shock, but that recent debates in the US risk appearing to prove bin Laden right in this claim. For all of Lewis' analysis, CLICK HERE.

Finally, this Update has another good piece on how to successfully conduct diplomacy to stop Iran's nuclear weapons program, at a time when the  threat now looks more imminent than ever, according to recent statements by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Well-known American foreign policy analyst and author Robert Kagan says that while no one, including the Bush Administration, wants to use force, the only hope to avert both force and a nuclear Iran is to increase the credibility of the threat to use force. He has some suggestions about how this can be done, and to read them, CLICK HERE.


The Great Circle of Enmity

By Fouad Ajami
US News and World Report, Posted 5/13/07

Truth be known, American diplomacy can't reconcile the ruling order of power in Arab lands any more than it can sweet-talk the Arab "street" to accept the right of this new Iraq to its place among the nations. Hard as the Bush administration might try, there is no hope that those Arab neighbors will write off the debts incurred by Saddam Hussein in his ruinous wars. It is idle to think that the day is near when the Arab satellite channels, silent toward the misdeeds of Arab rulers, will cease the steady drumbeats against all that plays out in Baghdad.

Vice President Dick Cheney may descend on Arab capitals, as he did last week, and our secretary of state can assemble one huge diplomatic conclave after another in support of Iraq , but the great circle of enmity around this fragile Baghdad government will not be broken. We can warn the powers in Arab capitals of the dangers of failure and breakdown in Iraq, but we should understand that those neighbors may dread the prospects of Iraq's success more.

This region has been stubborn in its refusal to accept the stark verdicts of history. The State of Israel is a year away from its 60th anniversary, and still the Arab imagination denies Israel's legitimacy. Iraq is different, but a state that gives pride of place to the Shiites (and the Kurds) is still an oddity in the Arab landscape. For well over a millennium, the Shiite Arabs have not governed; they have been the stepchildren of the Arab world. But in their long years of defeat and subservience, the Shiites remained righteous in their claim to the Prophet Muhammad's mantle, in their stubborn hope that the day would come when the order of things would be righted.

True to those Shiite hopes, American power, in a moment of perfect innocence, struck into Baghdad and upended an entrenched order of power, granted the dispossessed a chance at a new history, delivered them a big country loaded with oil and possibilities.

The Sunni Arab rulers, and the angry men and women on the airwaves and in the "chat rooms" of the Arab world, insist that their animus toward this new Iraq derives from their opposition to the American presence. This is plain hypocrisy, for vast stretches of the Arab world are within the orbit of American power. Pax Americana, and the shadow and the reality of its power, underpin the security of the Arab states of the Persian Gulf. In Amman, Jordan, and Cairo, American largess and security networks uphold these regimes. In the Arabian Peninsula, the American presence-military and economic and cultural-dates back decades.

Those angry preachers and pundits who take to the pages of the Arabic dailies or to the ceaseless agitation of al Jazeera television to brand Iraq's leaders American "collaborators" and stooges look past the entire edifice of American power all around them. They shout in the knowledge that America is too unschooled in Arab malice and evasions to see through their mischief and belligerence. If anything, it is the prospect that America may forge a bond with those embattled Iraqis that unsettles Iraq's Arab neighbors.

New political order. Against the background of a cruel war, and in a region addicted to failure and self-pity, American power has brought forth in Baghdad a political order alien to its habitat-a state that does not belong to a ruling caste or a single master. That state fights for its life, but a secular Kurd of great civility and learning, Jalal Talabani, is the constitutional head of state, and a modest Shiite man who has risen from the depths of Iraqi society, Nouri al-Maliki, is the head of government. Around them are political figures drawn from practically all of Iraq's checkered communities-a Kurdish foreign minister, a Sunni speaker of parliament, etc. To be sure, the Sunni Arabs are no longer masters of this turbulent country, but no one in Iraq thinks that a new, tranquil order could be had without them.

This new Iraqi history will stand or fall of its own weight; the specter of an Iranian-dominated Iraq peddled by the Arabs is a scarecrow. Now the Arab regimes are openly campaigning for nothing less than an American coup d'état against the Maliki government and for the return of interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a man at ease with Arab rulers and intelligence services. But Allawi, who spends more time in Amman and the United Arab Emirates than in Baghdad, is anathema to his own Shiite community, and America has not waded deep into Iraq to perpetuate those old Arab ways.

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Was Osama Right?

Islamists always believed the U.S. was weak. Recent political trends won't change their view.

BY BERNARD LEWIS

Wall Street Journal, Wednesday, May 16, 2007

During the Cold War, two things came to be known and generally recognized in the Middle East concerning the two rival superpowers. If you did anything to annoy the Russians, punishment would be swift and dire. If you said or did anything against the Americans, not only would there be no punishment; there might even be some possibility of reward, as the usual anxious procession of diplomats and politicians, journalists and scholars and miscellaneous others came with their usual pleading inquiries: "What have we done to offend you? What can we do to put it right?"

A few examples may suffice. During the troubles in Lebanon in the 1970s and '80s, there were many attacks on American installations and individuals--notably the attack on the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, followed by a prompt withdrawal, and a whole series of kidnappings of Americans, both official and private, as well as of Europeans. There was only one attack on Soviet citizens, when one diplomat was killed and several others kidnapped. The Soviet response through their local agents was swift, and directed against the family of the leader of the kidnappers. The kidnapped Russians were promptly released, and after that there were no attacks on Soviet citizens or installations throughout the period of the Lebanese troubles.

These different responses evoked different treatment. While American policies, institutions and individuals were subject to unremitting criticism and sometimes deadly attack, the Soviets were immune. Their retention of the vast, largely Muslim colonial empire accumulated by the czars in Asia passed unnoticed, as did their propaganda and sometimes action against Muslim beliefs and institutions.

Most remarkable of all was the response of the Arab and other Muslim countries to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979. Washington's handling of the Tehran hostage crisis assured the Soviets that they had nothing to fear from the U.S. They already knew that they need not worry about the Arab and other Muslim governments. The Soviets already ruled--or misruled--half a dozen Muslim countries in Asia, without arousing any opposition or criticism. Initially, their decision and action to invade and conquer Afghanistan and install a puppet regime in Kabul went almost unresisted. After weeks of debate, the U.N. General Assembly finally was persuaded to pass a resolution "strongly deploring the recent armed intervention in Afghanistan." The words "condemn" and "aggression" were not used, and the source of the "intervention" was not named. Even this anodyne resolution was too much for some of the Arab states. South Yemen voted no; Algeria and Syria abstained; Libya was absent; the nonvoting PLO observer to the Assembly even made a speech defending the Soviets.

One might have expected that the recently established Organization of the Islamic Conference would take a tougher line. It did not. After a month of negotiation and manipulation, the organization finally held a meeting in Pakistan to discuss the Afghan question. Two of the Arab states, South Yemen and Syria, boycotted the meeting. The representative of the PLO, a full member of this organization, was present, but abstained from voting on a resolution critical of the Soviet action; the Libyan delegate went further, and used this occasion to denounce the U.S.

The Muslim willingness to submit to Soviet authority, though widespread, was not unanimous. The Afghan people, who had successfully defied the British Empire in its prime, found a way to resist the Soviet invaders. An organization known as the Taliban (literally, "the students") began to organize resistance and even guerilla warfare against the Soviet occupiers and their puppets. For this, they were able to attract some support from the Muslim world--some grants of money, and growing numbers of volunteers to fight in the Holy War against the infidel conqueror. Notable among these was a group led by a Saudi of Yemeni origin called Osama bin Laden.

To accomplish their purpose, they did not disdain to turn to the U.S. for help, which they got. In the Muslim perception there has been, since the time of the Prophet, an ongoing struggle between the two world religions, Christendom and Islam, for the privilege and opportunity to bring salvation to the rest of humankind, removing whatever obstacles there might be in their path. For a long time, the main enemy was seen, with some plausibility, as being the West, and some Muslims were, naturally enough, willing to accept what help they could get against that enemy. This explains the widespread support in the Arab countries and in some other places first for the Third Reich and, after its collapse, for the Soviet Union. These were the main enemies of the West, and therefore natural allies.

Now the situation had changed. The more immediate, more dangerous enemy was the Soviet Union, already ruling a number of Muslim countries, and daily increasing its influence and presence in others. It was therefore natural to seek and accept American help. As Osama bin Laden explained, in this final phase of the millennial struggle, the world of the unbelievers was divided between two superpowers. The first task was to deal with the more deadly and more dangerous of the two, the Soviet Union. After that, dealing with the pampered and degenerate Americans would be easy.

We in the Western world see the defeat and collapse of the Soviet Union as a Western, more specifically an American, victory in the Cold War. For Osama bin Laden and his followers, it was a Muslim victory in a jihad, and, given the circumstances, this perception does not lack plausibility.

From the writings and the speeches of Osama bin Laden and his colleagues, it is clear that they expected this second task, dealing with America, would be comparatively simple and easy. This perception was certainly encouraged and so it seemed, confirmed by the American response to a whole series of attacks--on the World Trade Center in New York and on U.S. troops in Mogadishu in 1993, on the U.S. military office in Riyadh in 1995, on the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, on the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000--all of which evoked only angry words, sometimes accompanied by the dispatch of expensive missiles to remote and uninhabited places.

Stage One of the jihad was to drive the infidels from the lands of Islam; Stage Two--to bring the war into the enemy camp, and the attacks of 9/11 were clearly intended to be the opening salvo of this stage. The response to 9/11, so completely out of accord with previous American practice, came as a shock, and it is noteworthy that there has been no successful attack on American soil since then. The U.S. actions in Afghanistan and in Iraq indicated that there had been a major change in the U.S., and that some revision of their assessment, and of the policies based on that assessment, was necessary.

More recent developments, and notably the public discourse inside the U.S., are persuading increasing numbers of Islamist radicals that their first assessment was correct after all, and that they need only to press a little harder to achieve final victory. It is not yet clear whether they are right or wrong in this view. If they are right, the consequences--both for Islam and for America--will be deep, wide and lasting.

Mr. Lewis, professor emeritus at Princeton, is the author, most recently, of "From Babel to Dragomans: Interpreting the Middle East" (Oxford University Press, 2004).


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Necessary Threat

TO AVOID CONFLICT, PREPARE FOR WAR.

by Robert Kagan  

The New Republic, Post date 04.24.07 | Issue date 04.23.07             

The paradox of U.S. policy toward Iran is that no one, including the Bush administration, wants to use military force. Yet neither Tehran nor our European allies have sufficient incentive to stop Iran's nuclear program peacefully without a reasonable belief that the United States will use force if diplomacy fails.

Those who oppose military action rightly point to the risks involved. Iran would retaliate and probably with some success. Any military action would prompt angry denunciations even from close allies. International condemnation might be tolerable if the action accomplished its purposes. But, even after a successful attack, the United States would not know how much damage it had done to Iran's nuclear program and would have a difficult time monitoring the Iranians' inevitable efforts to resume it. The only answer to both problems would be to remove the regime entirely and install international monitors. But that would require at least temporary occupation of the country and the use of hundreds of thousands of ground troops that the United States does not currently have.

For these and other reasons, military action really should be the last resort. By far the best option remains the marshalling of international political and economic pressure against Iran so as to isolate and impoverish the ruling elite and strengthen the hand of those who already may be questioning the wisdom of the current path. There are signs these pressures have caused concern in Tehran, though not enough to change its course. More pressure and isolation could possibly convince Iranian leaders to delay or even suspend their program.   

Unfortunately, the prospect of greatly increased international pressures, absent a credible military threat from the United States, is not bright. There is little will among the EU-3--Great Britain, France, and Germany--to move toward strict and punitive economic sanctions against Iran and a growing unwillingness, especially in Berlin, to act without Russian approval. If Russia refuses to isolate Iran, the leading European powers are unlikely to act on their own.

European reticence poses problems in the long as well as short run. Some American analysts believe the United States, rather than taking military action, should lay the groundwork for international containment of Iran once it acquires nuclear weapons. But they overestimate the international community's enthusiasm for such a policy. Russia will not participate in the containment of a nuclear Iran, and the same Europeans who are reluctant to confront Iran now will be even more reluctant to confront it when it has nuclear weapons. This is partly because the majority of Europeans do not believe they have anything to fear from Iranian nuclear arms--unless they provoke Tehran. French President Jacques Chirac's admission that he could tolerate Iran's possession of nuclear weapons accurately reflects the European consensus.

In fact, to the degree that Europeans are engaged on the Iran issue at all, it is not because they fear Iran so much as because they fear the prospects of a U.S. attack on Iran. The primary aim of the EU-3 talks over recent years has been not to stop Iran's program but to forestall a U.S. action Europeans consider fraught with peril. Paradoxically, or perversely, the Bush administration's continued warnings of possible military action have long provided the strongest incentive for continuing European diplomatic efforts.

For all these reasons, the prospect of a U.S. attack on Iran to prevent its acquisition of a nuclear weapon must be more, not less, credible than it is today. This will require an increase in U.S. military capacities, especially a rapid and significant increase in the overall size of U.S. ground forces. But it will also require substantial political preparation. The present administration has lost credibility with the American public and the world. Were it to claim that Iran is on the verge of building a nuclear weapon, even if intelligence supported such a judgment, most observers would be skeptical. For this and many other reasons, one hopes that Iran will not reach that stage during Bush's presidency. Still, the credibility problem will persist beyond Bush. This administration should begin now to foster greater confidence that the United States will act only on the best available intelligence.

One way to do this is to create yet another bipartisan panel of respected "wise men" to provide regular assessments to the president on the progress of Iran's nuclear program. Bush or any future president would retain the right to take action, or not take action, regardless of the panel's assessment. But ignoring the panel would carry high political risks. The panel itself could be trusted to make a sober judgment of the available facts, inasmuch as it would not want to be held responsible either for the emergence of a nuclear Iran or for a war not justified by the evidence. The virtues of creating such a panel--which might include such senior statesmen as Harold Brown, Brent Scowcroft, Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, and William Perry--are twofold: It would provide reassurance that the United States would not act rashly, and it would also signal American seriousness and determination to act if Iran is found to be on the verge of building a nuclear weapon.

A more credible military option opens the door for more flexible diplomacy. To the extent the United States can establish its ability and willingness to take military action when it becomes necessary--and to the extent that it can build support for such action at home--it will then be free to pursue all possible diplomatic paths to avoid such action, including direct and unconditional negotiations with Tehran. The main reason the United States avoids such talks now, without a prior suspension of Iranian efforts to enrich uranium, is that it fears Iran will simply drag out talks while it proceeds with its nuclear program. But Iranian stall tactics become far less effective if the United States has already signaled that it is willing to take military action to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

There is bipartisan consensus in the United States that Iran should not be allowed to build a nuclear bomb. A nuclear-armed Iran under the present regime will inevitably grow bolder in pursuing traditional Iranian hegemonic ambitions in the Middle East as well as the ideological mission of spreading its version of Islamic fundamentalism. It will be freer to take aggressive action against neighbors, especially by supporting terrorist groups, knowing that the United States will be wary of confronting a nuclear power. The resulting combination of increased Iranian ambition and the loss of confidence in American resolve will force Iran's neighbors either to accommodate Tehran's rising power or to build nuclear weapons themselves to safeguard their own security and independence. Given Sunni fears of a Shia bomb, the latter option seems likeliest, which would mean a new, many-sided nuclear arms race in the world's most unstable region.

It is not enough to ask whether there are enormous risks and dangers in taking military action before this sequence of events unfolds. There are. But history teaches that the choice is often not between war and no war. Even if the United States chooses not to take military action in the coming years, it might well have to fight later under even more disadvantageous circumstances. The best way of avoiding war is to create a credible threat of military action and then proceed with steps that could produce a peaceful resolution of the crisis--vigorous international diplomacy and stronger sanctions. But the military option needs to be viable--not least because, as the recent hostage crisis involving British sailors makes clear, Iran itself may start a war.

Robert Kagan is a contributing editor at The New Republic and the author of Dangerous Nation: America's Place in the World from its Earliest Days to the Dawn of the Twentieth Century.