Sunday, October 21, 2007

Let's lay this one to rest

Says Iranian foreign minister Manoucher Mottaki:
"America, today, in the international system is facing a serious challenge ... Americans are in a very, very difficult situation.

"The people of Afghanistan would not allow America to use Afghanistan against any country. This is our ... belief," he said.

Mottaki said Tehran's findings from three rounds of talks with U.S. officials on the situation in Iraq was that Washington was facing "very serious" difficulties there.

Washington has no exit strategy from Iraq and is bogged down in the conflict there. He said the U.S. had not managed to deliver on its promises to the Afghan people either.

"Therefore, we do not see such a probability that the Americans would want to attack ... another country in the region. They are not in such a position."

You can't fault the guy for clarity. Or realism. Let's cut to the carrierwatch, shall we? Here we are; Enterprise is on station, the only US carrier currently deployed. Hardly the Guns of August. The others? Kitty Hawk is back in Yokosuka; Ronald Reagan in San Diego catching up on her interrupted maintenance schedule. Washington is gradually working-up, having done her sea trials at the end of August. Lincoln's most recent task was Fleet Week in San Diego. Washington is doing a similarly steady return from dockyard hands. Vinson and Theodore Roosevelt are in deep refit. John C. Stennis has joined them, having returned from her short-notice deployment and gone straight into drydock. Nimitz is in Pearl Harbour after a long and slow return trip.

Harry Truman is probably the highest-readiness ship, having already done a COMPTUEX and a JTFEX over the summer; however, she's currently employed doing carrier qualifications off the mid-Atlantic coast. Washington returned as late as the end of May.

So, yes - Mottaki is quite right. Enough for the description of things as they are, though; what about things as they should be? Daniel Levy, writing in Ha'aretz, is sensible. He points out that the US and Israeli strategy towards Iran is hopelessly confused; the aim is left open between regime change and nonproliferation. The chief motivation for investing in nuclear technology is to prevent regime change, but no-one is willing to offer the regime security in return for nonproliferation; so why would they stop proliferatin'? And if they don't stop, where is your regime change then?

This is pretty basic international relations theory; it's all about people, states, and fear. States invest in fearsome weapons because they believe that the fear of them increases their security (i.e. reduces their own fear); if you want them to abstain from these weapons, you need to offer a substitute form of insurance. In the Cold War this was thought of in terms of a combination of deterrence and reassurance; one version of reassurance being "self-deterrence", making it clear that you yourself recognised the principle of non-provocation that you expected the other side to observe.

The Americans have frequently tried versions of this with Israel; trying to buy territorial concessions with substitute deliveries of weapons. So far as it goes, there is quite a lot to be said for this; it's better that Israel should look to its wooden walls, or rather its aluminium walls, for security than that it should try to grab more and more territory as a static defence, which increases the chance it will need all those jets. The problem is that they never get to the flipside of this, which is that US military aid should come with conditions. The result is an unhealthy dependence of the Israelis on the Americans, and an American inability to insist on Israeli moderation for fear of weakening them. It's a ratchet; the more people the Israelis alienate, the more arms they need to deal with the worst case scenario consequences. And the more arms they get, the more able the forward school in Israeli politics is to alienate more people.

Anyway, Levy proposes a twin-track diplomacy based precisely on these principles; one track would concern non-proliferation, the other a broad security agreement dealing with the entire perimeter around Iran. Essentially, each track addresses one party's fears. This is roughly what the Baker -Hamilton commission recommended. Levy's original contribution, however, is that the Israelis should press the Americans to open such talks. I think it's an excellent idea, and Olmert is probably scared enough about his political future to be receptive.

The moment is also good; the British army's move back in southern Iraq, as well as the relaxation in US naval operations, are all helpful in reducing the degree of fear.

Meanwhile, we have an amusing study in outdated thinking. Via Yglesias, a thinktank suggestion that "an Islamic Republic accountable to its citizens would not divert billions into uranium enrichment and ballistic missiles"; so, of course, we've got to fight them because of the corruption/malinvestment/whatever. This is silly, but it was very common in 2003-2005; such and such a country's government was corrupt, and the oil (or whatever) money was being wasted, so call forward the Marines! It goes without saying that this sort of thing is fear-generating, in so far as anyone takes it at all seriously.

It's especially stupid, because we know what Iranians do when they believe their government to be corrupt; they change it. That was how Khatami got elected; it was also how Ahmadinejad got elected. And that was also how the revolution got started.

No comments:

kostenloser Counter