First, there was an announcement by Olmert (Prime Minister of Israel), who was once bullish on the prospect of bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities, that he believed a ‘negotiated’ deal with Iran was possible. Countless Israeli politicians had been accusing Iran of being a state sponsor of terrorism, financing Hamas and Hezbollah. Israeli politicians even declared that the Mullahs in Iran were global threats on the scale of German Nazis.
Then Condoleeza Rice, stated in Norway this week, that she believed there was a ‘negotiated way forward with Iran’ and was looking forward to Iran participation in the Iraq stabilization conference at a resort in Egypt and meeting Iran’s foreign minister. While 5 Iranian diplomats are being held in Iraq for assisting insurgents, and mounting evidence of Iranian arms shipments to Iraq.
And, yet another day has passed with unspeakable carnage in Iraq. Yet another car bomb has blown up. Hundreds of injuries and dozens are dead. Nothing seems to be working in Iraq. George Bush knows fullwell that Iran has been a destructive and polarizing influence in Iraq.
Iran's Mullahs are singularly responsible for his failures. Meanwhile, the Europeans, who recently walked out of negotiations with Iran, suddenly invited Iran back to the table this past week. And just announced that Europe and Iran are near unity on a resolution. And Mr. Solana, EU representative then further asked that Iran and US have direct negotiations. All these positive signs of engagement are emerging after several years of pseudo-threats of war, UN sanctions, travel restrictions, etc.
The mullahs have not budged an inch! They have continued with their nuclear program. They continue to support Hamas and Hezbollah. They continue to maintain totalitarian control of Iran. Nothing has changed in Iran! Nothing will change in Iran as long as the mullahs remain in power. There is no way to verifiably stop the Mullahs from supporting their partners in the Middle East!
Obviously what has changed is Bush’s willingness to engage with Iran. Bush has capitulated. Bush blinked. He is entering into this negotiation with very few cards in his hands. And the cards he holds have very little value. Bush cannot threaten Iran with war. The Iranians know he has no support for a military escalation at home. He cannot threaten Iran with further sanctions. The Iranians already have long-term agreements with the Russians and Chinese. They will veto anything the United States proposes.
Apparently Bush needs the Mullahs. The Mullahs do not need Bush at all. Iran’s mullahs can, if they want to, play a constructive role in stabilizing Iraq (they have done so in Afghanistan). To paraphrase the Afghans in Herat: “When we had no power, the Americans sent us a few trucks with fuel for our generators; the Iranians on the other hand brought power lines to the City and provided us with permanent power.”
Reading between the lines, Bush is in effect willing to trade short-term stability in Iraq (knowing that the Iranians can participate as a constructive force and transform Iraq’s condition) for Iran’s nuclear program and continuing theocratic rule in Iran. Such a deal will probably be the single largest strategic mistake in the history of the United States. The implications of such a deal are profound and likely have not been thought through (as with everything else this administration has had do deal with). This would be a major strategic blunder behind another major strategic blunder (the Iraq war).
There is a fundamental truth about the emergence of Islamic fundamentalism. The mullahs in Iran have become Billionaires. Iran’s supreme leader receives 1/7th of Iran’s oil income. Every single Mullah from Morocco to Malaysia looks up to Iran’s Mullahs and is involved in political subversion, dreaming of leading another Islamic Revolution with all the riches it will bring.
Islamic fundamentalism has also emerged as the vehicle for expressing opposition to other totalitarian regimes in the region. Mullahs everywhere are overwhelmed with recruits. There is apparently no other legitimate vehicle for expressing disagreement with US supported totalitarian governments such as the Saudi Regime or Egypt’s Mubarak regime, or Jordan’s royalty. Islam, it seems, is the road to power. Hamas and Hezbollah are now de facto governors of their neighborhoods. Iranian backed political parties, war lords and militias in Iraq and Afghanistan also have a major stake their national governments.
The Mullahs in Iran are not only inspirational leaders and living examples for other mullahs; but are actively financing and feeding these fundamentalists…everywhere.
Appeasing Iran’s Mullahs therefore will assist in helping fix a short-term political problem Bush has i.e. “stabilizing Iraq”; but will not solve the underlying problems in the region. A temporary relief from bad news in Iraq might provide the Republican Party with a fighting chance in the Presidential elections, but will only defer the problem to the future. Bush might even look like a Nixon flying to Tehran and cutting a deal.
Appeasing the Mullahs in Iran will also continue to embolden them and other Mullahs everywhere. They have been emboldened by America’s weakness. With their enemies (Saddam Hussein and the Taliban) defeated they have now become a regional superpower. Not only will they continue to assist fundamentalists everywhere, but they will have demonstrated to other fundamentalists that by standing firm (and not compromising) they have forced America’s hand.
This conclusion provides disincentives for resolving other issues in the Middle East – such as the Israel-Palestinian matter. US support for Israel is critical to Israel’s survival. The Mullahs in Iran are showing Hamas what works! Do not compromise and assist in America’s demise!
Remember, Mullahs have not budged one inch. It is Bush that is down on his knees. He is a victim to America's political cycles. The United States must however, in the long run, maintain and expand its interests through decency with real respect and compassion for the people of these nations.
With Iran especially, the United States does have a debt of decency. Consider Eisenhower's CIA backed coup to eliminate democracy in Iran (1952); Or Carter's active assistance in the demise of the Shah and promotion of Islamic militants (1979). Or even Reagan's back room deals with the same Islamic militants to swing them against Carter and delay the release of the hostages to win the 1980 presidential elections. And the subsequent arm sales to both sides extending the Iran-Iraq war resulting in 1 Million deaths and injured. It is worth repeating: Iran's mullahs have grown very rich and remain symbols of success for other Islamic militants.