Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Out of Iraq

Army Lt. Gen. William E. Odom is the former director of the National Security Agency. According to Odom's analysis, the U.S. has already missed all its chances to accomplish its original goals of establishing a democracy in Iraq. Iraq may not even acheive stability.

Now, we are truly faced with a Vietnam-style situation in which the United States realizes that it must leave, but is unwilling to do so. Unlike Vietnam, a poorly managed pull-out from Iraq could significantly worsen our overall security. Whereas pre-invasion Iraq was contained very effectively, we now face the prospect of civil war in Iraq. Civil war would erase the gains in prosperity of the Kurds of Northern Iraq, and create a power vacuum that would be filled by neighboring forces from Iran, Syria and Turkey. The resulting chaos would be the perfect breeding ground for terrorism. Instead of being a monolithic enemy that strives for its own survival, Iraq will become a base for terrorists who cannot be deterred by any means.

To make matters worse, Bush's foreign policy has forced the Iranians to pursue nuclear weapons on an accelerated schedule. In the lead-up to the invasion, the U.S. made it clear that there was nothing Saddam Hussein could have done to avert war. The U.S. systematically dismantled the U.N. inspection regime in order to remove all obstacles to invasion. Bush even turned down opportunities to kill terrorist mastermind Al-Zarqawi before the invasion so that he could falsely claim there were terrorist ties to Hussein (even though Al-Zarqawi operated from Kurdish Iraq, outside of Hussein's control). The message was clear: if you're part of the "axis of evil", you will be invaded. The only way to deter U.S. invasion is to possess your own nuclear deterrent. Both Iran and North Korea received the message loud and clear.

Odom now says that each day we stay in Iraq worsens our predicament. If he's right, and I believe he is, how do we extricate ourselves from this mess?

Perhaps Iran is the key.

What if the U.S. could do a deal with the Iranians for stability in Iraq?

The U.S. would promise Iran
  • trade and oil contracts,

  • cultural exchanges,

  • a non-agression pact,

  • some political influence at the U.N.,

  • and major influence over Iraqi affairs

in exchange for
  • an end to terrorist sponsorship,

  • termination of Iran's nuclear program, whether civilian or military, guaranteed by U.N. or E.U. inspections,

  • and Iranian protection of Kurdish areas of Iraq.

Though I shudder at the very thought of making deals with Iran, it actually makes a lot of sense. A well crafted agreement could snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in Iraq. Iran could become a reformed member of the family of civilized nations. Despite the history of conflict between the two states, I think that there's reason to believe that the peoples of Iran and the United States could reach a prosperous new arrangement.

Iran knows that eventually the U.S. will withdraw. Iran is now working to establish its influence over Iraq. It appears that former neoconservative darling Ahmed Chalabi has been cooperating with the Iranians, possibly in the role of a double-agent. This raises the question: why should Iran deal with the Americans when it knows that Iraq will be under its control eventually? In essence, the price the U.S. is willing to pay Iran for a smooth exit will only increase with time.

The answer may lie in Iran's relations with the U.S., and in particular, the threat of U.S. military action to prevent the development of Iranian nuclear armament.

After the World Trade Center attacks, the United States was in a position to establish a new world order. The U.S. could have made it clear that countries that support terrorism would be held responsible for terrorist acts against allied interests. A nuclear attack in New York would be answered by a compensatory attack on the cities of terrorist sponsors. At the same time, the U.S. could have offered carrots to those nations willing to cease terrorist sponsorship. Carrots would have included trade and political influence.

In late 2001, the necessary invasion of Afghanistan was a symbol of America's awesome military power. We were in a perfect position to mend relationships around the world. We might have traded, say, $100 billion in oil for peace across the Arab world (half what we've spent on the Iraq war). For years, the Iranian dictatorship has been teetering on the brink of collapse from within, with young Iranians struggling for democratic freedoms. Iran was ripe for political change catalyzed by American policy overtures.

Ironically, Osama bin Laden's attack on America should have backfired. The horrific attrocities of 9/11 gave the United States a position from which it could have dispatched justice to bin Laden, and yet made symbolic overtures to the Islamic world.

Fortunately for bin Laden, George W. Bush has fanned the flames of holy war, and a chance for the eradication of organized terrorism was lost. Bush's "justice" will be no justice at all, for it demands more pain and suffering for us and for future generations.

Now we find ourselves in far weaker bargaining position. Our forces are overstretched, dramatically reducing the deterrent power of our military, and the political situation now favors the totalitarian regimes in the region.

Will a deal with Iran facilitate an exit strategy for occupying U.S. forces?

Don't expect to see any international political schemes, like the one above, hatched by members of the Bush administration. The plan's not simple enough for their tiny minds.

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