The Stone City

Words Made to Last

Monday, December 04, 2006

Enemy of My Enemy

Options now include providing Sunni military leaders (primarily ex-Baathist members of the former Iraqi officer corps, who make up the backbone of the insurgency) with the same types of assistance — funding, arms and logistical support — that Iran has been giving to Shiite armed groups for years.... Remaining on the sidelines would be unacceptable to Saudi Arabia.
There has been much discussion of the recent Saudi pronouncement on the future of Sunni Iraq, most of it missing the mark. Kevin Drum views it through his usual anti-Bush lenses:

MARCHING ORDERS FROM THE HOUSE OF SAUD....Nawaf Obaid is "an adviser to the Saudi government," but his opinions "are his own and do not reflect official Saudi policy." Roger that. With that boilerplate warning out of the way, Obaid takes to the pages of the Washington Post to warn us in no uncertain terms that if we try to withdraw from Iraq, the Saudi monarchy will make us very, very sorry.

... I wouldn't be surprised if this was the lecture the House of Saud delivered to Dick Cheney after they summoned him to Riyadh last week. Not that Cheney was an unwilling listener or anything. Just one more excuse to stay the course, after all.

Somewhere, the War Nerd is dancing. The Saudis may not have much military expertise, but unless America actively prevents them, they can afford to ensure that Iraq's Sunnis are much better armed than their opponents.

Since Saddam's fall, our strategic enemy in the Middle East has been Iran. Our first tactic, intervening against the Sunni insurgency in an attempt to prevent its interfering with the establishment of civil order in Iraq, was not overtly anti-Iranian. But it failed, or perhaps overshot its goal. We are being forced toward a new tactical struggle against Iran's proxies.

The best outcome for Iran is a Shiite client state in Iraq, with an ongoing American involvement, providing the Iranian government with cover for its own nuclear program (by blowing up whenever it is convenient, to distract attention from possible action against Iran). In passing, it is worth noting that this is why inviting Iran to participate in an Iraqi "peace process" is the worst possible plan: it invites Iranian involvement and gives them this cover as a gift -- and then calls the result a success.

What legitimate objectives can America realistically pursue against Iran? (Not many, as noted here.) Violent overthrow of the ruling regime is presently off the table, and the undisputed lesson of Vietnam is the futility of fighting a war which you cannot bring home to the enemy.

Increased sanctions. The goal of sanctions is often misunderstood. Iran's theocratic rulers nonetheless depend on some degree of support from the mercantile class; by allocating lucrative import licenses, they can reward their supporters and punish their enemies. (Also, a supply of foreign luxuries makes life more pleasant for both merchants and mullahs.) Sanctions aim to disrupt this system, diverting the Iranian government's attention and resources toward the preservation of its own power.

Arming internal enemies. Many Iranians, such as the so-called "students" and the large Azeri minority, are dissatisfied with their government. Increasing their access to weaponry, even if we have no precise control over its destination, will weaken the Iranian regime (though the benefits to America are second-order).

The Saudi threat is partly aimed at us, since the American military's heavy hand has tipped the balance of Iraqi power decisively against the former Sunni rulers; but it is also aimed at Iran. In particular, a diversion of Saudi terror funding from anti-Western irhabists to anti-Persian Arab nationalists would be a real blow to Iran. Since Iran is known to be training, funding and supplying terrorists itself, this would be an unmitigated positive. Let those who are supplying the fuel stand next to the fire for awhile.