The world has watched most of the last year and the one preceding, the Iran-US confrontation, at times with baited breath as the two seemed to be on hair trigger alert from time to time. The battle of nerves has ebbed and flowed over the last two years and mostly away from the US. Thanks to the badly configured and unfinished war in Afghanistan, the foolish misadventure in Iraq, and the inability to control Pakistan in the so-called Global War on Terror, the mighty US has today been reduced to trying to fend off a regional power, Iran, from acquiring precisely the same kind of stature that Bush’s National Security Doctrine seeks to prevent – that a regional power becomes strong enough to challenge US interests. As a result of the ill advised and ill planned interventionism that has been the singular feature of Bush’s foreign policy, other players like Russia and China today have a role in the region.
Both the Iraq and Afghanistan projects of deconstructing first and then reconstructing, have floundered badly. A secular Iraq has now been replaced by Shia militants, Sunni Salafist fundamentalists and Kurdish separatists. Yet some can argue that in Iraq this may have been partly mitigated if one considers that US oil interests for the future may have been safeguarded somewhat regardless of the cost (US $ 500 billion) to the US exchequer. There is no such perceived counterveiling benefit from the Afghan imbroglio. In fact the spectacular growth of the heroin trade is an alarming consequence.
The author of the book World War III: the Long Struggle Against Islamofascism, Podhoretz had met Bush in New York last October where he outlined his case for air strikes against Iran. Republican Presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani also joined this chorus where the refrain was “˜bomb Iran using cruise missiles and bunker busters.
For an American President battling desperately for at least one foreign policy success in the winter of his political career, the Iranian refusal to blink even in the midst of all threats that were held out to them, including nuclear attacks, must have been most exasperating. The neo-con belief that extraordinary military prowess could deliver results, did not take into account that after the dismal display of limitations of military power in neighbouring Iraq, no country was going to take these threats seriously. Even the combined pressure of the British, the French and the Germans has not helped. The Arab street was not going to buy the new line, there was something of a regional pride in this defiant anti-Americanism and for Iran it was also civilisational. It was a case of national pride with strong Islamic overtones, a quest for regional security if not dominance in an area traditionally known to be hostile to them.
A defiant Iran finally decided to go ahead with its oil bourse in Euros and not deal in the dollars that Ahmadinijad had described as a scrap of paper. Besides China and Russia, the other members of the P-5 and emerging players in West Asia, were on Iran’s side. The Iranian defiance, has led to the most important development of the 21st century, that the US has reduced itself to losing a war of nerves with Iran, which until recently was an extremely weak power in the region, surrounded not only by hostile or suspicious Arabs, but also American armoury in all its might, and a hostile Israel.
The battle Washington has waged is not just about a regime change in a rogue state, but ultimately to ensure energy security for itself and its European allies, regional security for Israel, and maintaining global dominance in a world, where there are new and aggressive players challenging America’s writ. The new players on the scene are the resurgent Russians under Putin, challenging American interpretation of the scene in West Asia, and the emerging Chinese seeking a role for themselves as they search for energy security to sustain their double-digit growth. Putin became the first Russian President, ever, to have visited Iran last September and he followed this up with a visit to Saudi Arabia. He was obviously making in-roads into traditional American territory. Besides, members of the Gulf Co-operation Council have made overtures to Iran. President Ahmedinijad visited Saudi Arabia on an invitation from the Saudi King Abdullah for Haj and the two held cordial discussions.
The drum beats were louder for some time in September and October last year and were accompanied by loud rhetoric, but the march was mostly out of step by then. Condoleezza Rice had threatened to cut off Iran’s “malignant activities” in Iraq, informing the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee in October that Iran would not be allowed to use “the international financial system to move its ill-gotten gains from proliferation or terrorism around the world.” The Secretary of State dutifully described Iran’s policies as constituting “perhaps the single greatest challenge to American security interests in the Middle East around the world,” and adding that El Baradei was wrong on Iran – and this is despite 2700 person hours of inspections including numerous snap and intrusive visits by the IAEA inspectors. It is true that Iran is not entirely innocent in all its dealings, especially the A Q Khan connection, but neither is it as guilty as the West makes it to be. It was when the French-British-German reneged under US pressure after first agreeing with Iran in 2005 that forced Iran to resume enrichment the next year.
In autumn last year, however, Seymour Hersh wrote in the New Yorker that the war in Iraq was being redefined as a strategic war between Iran and the US. The summer hysteria about Iran possessing a nuclear bomb, had changed to Iran wanting to possess one, and finally to the allegation that the Iranians had the knowledge to make a bomb. Iran was now threatening to destabilise Iraq by aiding the Shias there, and Revolutionary Guards of Iran were declared as a terrorist organisation. Iran was at that time threatened by surgical strikes instead of the earlier bombing blitzkriegs that were openly talked about. There were unsubstantiated allegations that Iran was helping build a Hezbollah type of insurgent organisation in Iraq. An element of the plan was to provoke Iran into some action that would require an immediate US response. The Iranians did not bite.