Monday, February 12, 2007

Is War With Iran Inevitable?

Wes Clark writes for Dailykos:

by Wes Clark
Mon Feb 12, 2007 at 09:24:57 AM PST

As the President fights for public support of his troop surge in Iraq, he is also ratcheting up the pressure on Iran. A second aircraft carrier battle group (with Newsweek reporting a third group likely to follow), Patriot missiles to protect our allies, arresting Iranian personnel in Iraq, releasing additional information about Iranian involvement, appointing a Navy Admiral to command forces in the region, even seeking diplomatic support from Sunni Arab friends in the region - Yes, the Iranians are interfering inside Iraq and seeking nuclear capabilities. Yet the President's recent actions give the US little additional leverage to engage and dissuade Iran, and, more than likely, simply accelerate a dangerous slide into war. The United States can do better than this.

Since 9/11 the Iranians have tried on several occasions to open a dialogue with the United States. They, of course, had their own interests at heart, not ours. Yet, from dialogue some common interests might have emerged. The Bush Administration would have none of it, and branded Iran a member of the Axis of Evil.
During that period, with most of the world on our side, we had enormous diplomatic, economic and military leverage over Iran. Now, deeply committed militarily in Iraq, more isolated diplomatically, increasingly indebted to some of Iran's crude oil customers, only modestly successful in gaining UN sanctions against Iran, the Administration has refused to change our approach, and has instead chosen to augment the least effective element of US power in the region - air and naval.

We are already totally dominant in air and naval power over Iran. Even with Iran's new Russian antiaircraft equipment, no one should doubt that US forces could penetrate these defenses and strike with precision with minimal losses. Iran's naval countermeasures in the Gulf can be largely preempted. The Iranians no doubt recognize this.
But the Iranians perceive American weaknesses on the ground, with an American Army too small to invade and occupy Iran, and too engaged inside Iraq even to threaten it. They see our soldiers through sniper sights, and from behind the triggers of improvised explosive devices, while they see themselves as a nation that gained considerable strength from a war with Iraq that cost a million casualties, took eight years, and involved withstanding missile strikes on cities and the use of chemical weapons. They no doubt believe that, whatever the current alignments of Sunni states, a US strike against Iran would bring outpourings of sympathy, public support, and waves of impassioned volunteers from throughout the Islamic world. They would see themselves as the heroic martyrs uniting Islam. The Iranians may believe this reaction would enforce on the United States a rapid, humiliating withdrawal from the Persian Gulf, leaving them military savaged but strategically victorious.

In this they might very likely be proven wrong. US power is far more sustainable in the region than Iran would like to believe, and the military humiliation Iran would suffer at the outset could well deter any outside assistance. The US does have a military option. But this is a struggle that will be costly for all involved, will further isolate the region, and whose ultimate outcome is likely to be decided by future incumbencies. Leaders on both sides should recognize that war is the most unpredictable of human endeavors, and that unanticipated consequences almost always follow.

I believe some in the Administration have seen this confrontation as inevitable - or have sought it - since late 2001. At that time a Pentagon general held up to me a Defense memorandum which he described as a five year road map to the conflict. But surely we have learned by now that, particularly in this region, force and the threats of force should be the last, last, last resort.
Military power aside, the US has enormous economic leverage over the Iranians through our influence on world financial institutions, international commerce and capital flows. While the latest actions against Iran's banking system show the sharp stick of US power, the potential carrots are enormous, too. Islamic pride cannot be purchased, but neither can a proud nation ignore a more hopeful vision of its future.

The American troop surge is not likely to impact Iran's on-the-ground influence in Iraq. Their presence serves the interests of some in Iraq; and they are deeply embedded and widely active. Only their perception of new interests and opportunities is likely to do this. They would need to see their situation through a different lens. It is asking a lot. But, cannot the world's most powerful nation deign speak to the resentful and scheming regional power that is Iran? Can we not speak of the interests of others, work to establish a sustained dialogue, and seek to benefit the people of Iran and the region? Could not such a dialogue, properly conducted, begin a process that could, over time, help realign hardened attitudes and polarizing views within the region? And isn't it easier to undertake such a dialogue now, before more die, and more martyrs are created to feed extremist passions? And, finally, if every effort should fail, before we take military action, don't we at least want the moral, legal and political "high ground" of knowing we did everything possible to avert it?

Whatever the pace of Iran's nuclear efforts, in the give and take of the Administrations rhetoric and accusations and Iran's under-the-table actions in Iraq, we are approaching the last moments to head off looming conflict. Surely, it is past time to ask our elected officials in the White House and Congress to exercise leadership: recognize the real strategic challenge we face, and start to work now to avoid an escalation and widening of conflict in the Mideast.
Thank you for reading my thoughts on Iran. This is a critical issue for our nation, and I look forward to discussing it further with you in the comments below.
Wes Clark
WesPAC -- Securing America's Future

No comments: