Monday, November 8, 2010
How U.S. policy defeats its own aims. By Haviland Smith Rutland Herald/Barre Times Argus PERSPECTIVE SECTION
Much is being made here in America of Iran’s provision of money to Karzai’s Presidential office in Kabul. Some call it meddling in internal Afghan affairs, others call it a classic Iranian covert action operation designed to clandestinely undermine American interests in Afghanistan. Some believe that these payments are really an expression of Iranian national interests in the region.
Most Americans approved of our 2001 invasion of Afghanistan on the grounds that it was justifiable retaliation for 9/11. When the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, there was some skepticism among the population, but a supine Congress went along.
The first analyses of the Invasion outcomes were pointedly critical in the sense that the results favored Al Qaida and Iran, not the US.
Al Qaida has a major problem in Islam. It is unacceptably radical and therefore, lacking general support from moderate Muslims, it is very likely to die on the vine. What our invasion of Iran and subsequent reinvasion of Afghanistan have done is set up a Hobson’s choice for Muslim moderates. Whom do they hate more, the invading foreign army (American) or Muslim apostates (Al Qaida)? Without that invading, foreign army there would be no future for Al Qaida.
So, we have voluntarily entered into a policy the ultimate outcome of which is to strengthen Al Qaida in the Muslim World. Our hopes for stability in that region as well as our need to cope effectively with fundamentalist Muslim terrorism, will continue to be unachievable as long as that policy of military confrontation is in place.
As if that were not enough, our military-based policies in the region have accomplished just about all the goals Iran has had in its quest to become a major player in the Gulf region. As the largest, most populous, best educated country on the Gulf and rich in natural resources, Iran thinks is should have some influence there.
First, we wiped out Saddam Hussein and the Baath Party which represented the backbone of regional opposition to Iran’s goals.
Our defeat of Iraq unleashed Shia Iran, the largest country with the largest army in the region (and non-Arab to boot) against the mostly Arab and Sunni Gulf states and Israel.
Then, in taking on the Taliban in 2001, we fought and defeated another major threat to Iran – a fundamentalist Sunni organization that had nothing religiously or philosophically in common with the fundamentalist Shia in Iran. In the vast chess game of the Middle East, the Taliban had always been arrayed against Iran. We forwarded Iran’s goals with our 2001 invasion and again with our 2009 reinvasion of Afghanistan. A weaker Taliban is absolutely in Iran’s favor.
Finally, with Saddam and the Baath in power, the inherent religious, tribal and sectarian destabilizing elements in Iraq were managed through forceful repression. With Saddam gone, those forces were unleashed. The result has been internecine warfare which has led to internal instability which has only been marginally mitigated by the US military presence. In short, we have created a new, unstable “Iraq” which benefits only Iran and Al Qaida.
What we accomplished with invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq has wiped out all of Iran’s real enemies and given Al Qaida hope for survival. If Iraq and Al Qaida had been asked to create a US policy for their region, one which weakened the United States and strengthened them, they simply could not have done better than the combined Bush and Obama policies.
So, all of that history aside, how can we be surprised that Iran is funneling money to the Karzai government? With American commitment to the region on the wane, Karzai is their best bet for keeping the Taliban out of real power and fostering the national instability that is in their interest.
How can we be surprised that the Iranians are supporting their Shia co-religionists in Iraq and that they are almost certainly creating instability there? A dis-united, unstable Iraq is in their national interest.
How can we be surprised that Iran is baiting Israel? Israel-baiting keeps the pot boiling in the Middle East and supports the instability that in turn supports Iranian national interests.
And all of this encourages regional instability which is precisely what we would like to eliminate, but which we will never do as long as our own unique contribution to instability, our military presence and activities, is ongoing.
This is not an apologia for Iran. We don’t have to approve of what the Iranians are doing, but must understand why they do it, because if we don’t we will never find a policy that will permit us to realize our goals for stability in that region.
Haviland Smith of Williston is a retired CIA station chief who served in East and West Europe and the Middle East and as Chief of the Counterterroism Staff.
Posted by Michele Kearney at 9:15 AM