Middle East

Newt Gingrich Wants to Take us to War with Iran

Has this guy read a newspaper in the last 5 years?  It's like it's 1998 and he's addressing the Project for a New American Century.  Nobody can rest until Gingrich and his ilk are thoroughly discredited.  We know what happens when we let neocons test drive our foreign policy. 


This video was posted by Gingrich's own people.  That's right, it's not oppo research.  Wow.

You negotiate with the Iran you have...

Robert Gates is bringing a new realism to the Defense Department, sharing what should be blindingly obvious, that we have to engage Iran, in his first speech since replacing Donald Rumsfeld earlier this year.  From the WAPO:

In his first domestic public speech since taking office in December, Gates laid out a pragmatic approach to foreign policy -- one that emphasizes using diplomacy to overcome disagreements with Turkey, Iran and other nations regarding Iraq.

Gates, who had advocated dialogue with Iran before becoming defense secretary, said "the regional talks recently held in Baghdad were a good start toward improved cooperation, and our government is open to higher-level exchanges."

Too bad he wasn't there in 2003 when the Bush Administration passed on the opportunity to negotiate a grand bargain with Iran, that could have included support for terrorism, WMD, recognition of the state of Israel, the sovereignty of Iraq, etc.

Iranian Weapons in Iraq

Fascinating in-depth article in the NYT today on the alleged flow of Iranian weapons to Shiite militias in Iraq.  The whole article is worth reading for a reminder of how complicated the situation is and how little foresight went into the planning of this war.  Especially worth noting is the final quote of the article, where ISG Co-Chair Lee Hamilton renews the call for engaging Iran:

“The fact that Iran may be supplying lethal equipment is all the more reason to deal with them,” Lee H. Hamilton, a co-chairman of the panel, said in an interview. “We do think it fortifies the case for engaging Iran.”

A Quieter and More Effective Approach on Iran

See, not all foreign policy has to be based on aircraft carriers and ivory tower war gaming at AEI.  Treasury and State are running an effective campaign to get banks to deny credit to the Iranian institutions that fund terrorists.

The financial squeeze has seriously crimped Tehran's ability to finance petroleum industry projects and to pay for imports. It has also limited Iran's use of the international financial system to help fund allies and extremist militias in the Middle East, say U.S. officials and economists who track Iran.

They had their chance

My Pennsylvania bias aside, I think you'll agree that this video of Rep. Patrick Murphy's closing speech on the Iraq Accountability Act is amazing.

More the Shiite-Sunni struggle that is remaking the Middle East

The Times has a good story this morning on how Saudi Arabia is stepping up its role in the Middle East to block the regional rise of the Iranians and their Shiite allies:

With the prospect of three civil wars looming over the Middle East — and Iran poised to gain from them all — Saudi Arabia has abandoned its behind-the-scenes checkbook diplomacy and taken on a central, aggressive role in reshaping the region’s conflicts.

On Tuesday, the kingdom is playing host in Mecca to the leaders of Hamas and Fatah, the two feuding Palestinian factions, in what both sides say could lead to a national unity government and reduced bloodshed. Last fall, senior Saudi officials met secretly with Israeli leaders about how to establish a Palestinian state.

In recent months, Saudi Arabia has also increased its public involvement in Iraq and its support of the Sunni-led government in Lebanon. The process is shaping up as a counteroffensive to efforts by Iran to establish itself as the regional superpower, according to diplomats, analysts and officials here and throughout the region. Some even say that the recent Saudi commitment to temper the price of oil is aimed at undermining Iran’s economy, although officials here deny that.

“We realized that we have to wake up,” said a high-ranking Saudi diplomat who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media. “Someone rang the bell, ‘Be careful, something is moving.’ ”

More on the Shiite ascendency in the Middle East

Following on our post from yesterday, the Post has a strong piece this morning about the powerful new dynamic in the Middle East unleashed by America's actions in recent years:

Four years after the United States invaded Iraq, in part to transform the Middle East, Iran is ascendant, many in the region view the Americans in retreat, and Arab countries, their own feelings of weakness accentuated, are awash in sharpening sectarian currents that many blame the United States for exacerbating.

Iran has deepened its relationship with Palestinian Islamic groups, assuming a financial role once filled by Gulf Arab states, in moves it sees as defensive and the United States views as aggressive. In Lebanon and Iraq, Iran is fighting proxy battles against the United States with funds, arms and ideology. And in the vacuum created by the U.S. overthrow of Iranian foes in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is exerting a power and prestige that recalls the heady days of the 1979 Islamic revolution, when Iranian clerics led the toppling of a U.S.-backed government.

"The United States is the first to be blamed for the rise of Iranian influence in the Middle East," said Khaled al-Dakhil, a Saudi writer and academic. "There is one thing important about the ascendance of Iran here. It does not reflect a real change in Iranian capabilities, economic or political. It's more a reflection of the failures on the part of the U.S. and its Arab allies in the region."

Added Eyal Zisser, head of the Middle Eastern and African Studies Department at Tel Aviv University in Israel: "After the whole investment in democracy in the region, the West is losing, and Iran is winning."

The Times reports this morning that European governments are questioning America's strategy seeking to isolate Iran.

More on the Sunni-Shiite struggle in Iraq

The Times has another story today that shows how important the underlying Sunni-Shiite struggle is to understanding what is happening in Iraq today:

As the United States debates what to do in Iraq, this country’s Shiite majority has been moving toward its own solution: making the capital its own.

Large portions of Baghdad have become Shiite in recent months, as militias press their fight against Sunni militants deeper into the heart of the capital, displacing thousands of Sunni residents. At least 10 neighborhoods that a year ago were mixed Sunni and Shiite are now almost entirely Shiite, according to residents, American and Iraqi military commanders and local officials.

For the first years of the war, Sunni militants were dominant, forcing Shiites out of neighborhoods and systematically killing bakers, barbers and trash collectors, who were often Shiites. But starting in February, after the bombing of a shrine in the city of Samarra, Shiite militias began to strike back, pushing west from their strongholds and redrawing the sectarian map of the capital, home to a quarter of Iraq’s population.

The Shiite-dominated government publicly condemns violence against Sunnis and says it is trying to stop the militias that carry it out. But the attacks have continued unabated, and Sunnis have grown suspicious.

Plans for a new bridge that would bypass a violent Sunni area in the east, and a proposal for land handouts in towns around Baghdad that would bring Shiites into what are now Sunni strongholds underscored these concerns.

Sunni political control in Baghdad is all but nonexistent: Of the 51 members of the Baghdad Provincial Council, which runs the city’s services, just one is Sunni.

In many ways, the changes are a natural development. Shiites, a majority of Iraq’s population, were locked out of the ruling elite under Saddam Hussein and now have power that matches their numbers.

The danger, voiced by Sunni Arabs, is that an emboldened militant fringe will conduct broader killings without being stopped by the government, or, some fear, with its help. That could, in turn, draw Sunni countries into the fight and lead to a protracted regional war, precisely the outcome that Americans most fear.

No Way Out

The postponing of the Administration's new plan for Iraq until next year makes it clear the Administration no longer has any idea what to do in the Middle East, and that their inability to let go of a discredited and failed strategy in Iraq is endangering our national security and driving the Middle East to further chaos.

At the core of the Administation's ideological struggle is their inability to admit there is no longer a way to solve the problems of the Middle East through war and military means. Everywhere one turns there is mounting evidence that one of the core recommendations of the ISG Report - a massive diplomatic effort to restore political and economic stability to the region - is an essential part of any future strategy, but that of course would mean the Administration would have to acknowledge the limits of the military path.

Lets review the dead-ends we keep hitting: The Saudis again warned that the region was about to descend into a Sunni-Shiite war. The Administation's idea of a "Shiite tilt," would certainly accelerate this regional war, and would of course strengthen the region's Shiites, including Iran and Hezbollah, no friends of America. The Iraqi PM this week announced that a significant increase in American advisors to the Iraqi police and military - an idea central to virtually every American plan for Iraq - was a non-starter. Gruesome killings and bombings continued this week. And things have become so bad that the Pentagon leaked a plan it is hatching to restart government run factories in Iraq to help tackle the 70% unemployment rate...so we have come to the point where our most conservative government in over a century is resorting to a Soviet-inspired public jobs program to bolster their prospects in Iraq.

So what is the one idea that seems to be gaining currency in the White House? More troops. But to do what? Crush the Sunni-led insurgency in the center and north? Disarm the Shiite militias, supported by Iran and a critical part of the current coalition government? Attack the growing Al Qaeda presence in Anbar? While important, it is certainly not a critical step to restoring stability to the country. How can 20,000 additional troops solve the political and economic challenges underlying the current descent of Iraq, and solve the problems we've been unable to solve these past 3 1/2 years?

As the Inspector General of the Iraq Reconstruction said this week: "The solution in Iraq is not primarily a military one. It is primarily an economic and political solution."

Until the Administation comes to terms with this essential reality, there is no way forward, and no way out, of our current terrible troubles in the Middle East. And as the ISG Report made plain, the current path leads to a diminshed America, a regional Sunni-Shite war, a renewed Al Qaeda in the heart of the Middle East and oil soaring to new and dangerous levels.

The rise of the Shiites

One of the very predictable outcomes of America's taking out of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein was an opportunity for Iran and the region's Shiites to exert themselves. Understanding this dynamic is critical to understanding what is happening in the Middle East today. Some thoughts:

- Iran is the global center for Shiite Muslims. Shiites are a minority of the world's Muslims, an estimated 10 percent. There are old, deep and difficult tensions with the majority Sunnis, many of whom do not view the Shia faith as a legitimate form of Islam. Sunni Muslims run the Arab world, and while many Arab nations have a minority Shia population, Sunni Islam is the politically and culturally dominant form of Islam in the Arab Middle East.

- One of the holiest cities in the Shia faith, Najaf, is in the Shia dominated part of southern Iraq. Many Shia religious leaders have studied and trained in Najaf, including the leader of the Iranian revolution, the Ayatollah Khomeni. There are very strong cultural and religious ties between the Shiite South of Iraq and Iran, even though Iranians are Persians, not Arabs. The overwhelming majority of Iraqis are Shiite Arabs, with small minorities of largely Sunni Kurds and Sunni Arabs. Saddam Hussein's government was run by Sunni Arabs, oppressed the Shiite majority and significantly curtailed the public expression of the Shiite faith.

One of the first acts of the revolutionary Iranian government was to end up in a war with Iraq, a war that lasted 8 years and cost more than a one million lives. America sided with the Iraqis in the war to help curtail the expansion of the Iranian, Shiite-led revolution, a revolution that Saddam Hussein, a Sunni, was very well aware could radicalize his majority Shiite population. Shiites well remember whose side America was on in this terrible battle.

- The Taliban, and Al Qaeda, are Sunni extemists, and do not see the Shia faith as a legitimate form of Islam.

- Thus, when our government cleared out the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam in Iraq, and created a process that guarenteed the election of the first Shiite-led government in the history of the Arab world, we dramatically reorganized the region's balance between Sunni and Shiite in favor of the Iranians and the Shiites. A clear outcome of our early post 9/11 strategy would be the rise of Iran, growing power for the regions Shiites and a remaking of the Middle East in a way that would not sit well with the region's Sunnis, and that would embolden deeply anti-American and anti-Western elements.

- The regional Shiite, Iranian momentum is growing. Iran has aggressively pursued nuclear weapons despite extraordinary global condemnation. The Iranian-backed Shiite Hezbollah are in the process of taking down the fragile Lebanese government. Iran has become one of the most significant financial backers of the new Hamas-led Palestinian government. The Shiites who run the Iraqi government refuse to disband their Shiite militias, and have rejected the idea of a regional peace conference involving neighboring Sunni states. There is new evidence that Iranian security services have been training and funding the Shiite militias in Iraq, and have now embedded military advisors in the militias themselves.

It is my view that Iraq is lost, but not to chaos per se, but to a regional set of Shiite leaders now in firm control of the Iraqi government and politics, desperate to right the wrongs of generations and bent on holding and expanding power at all costs. The Shiites have waited over 1,000 years to control an Arab Muslim country, and will use this new base to wage a pitched battle against their Sunni adverseries for the future of Islam and regional control.

- The expected reactions to this American-led reordering of the Middle East have begun. The Israelis went after Hezbollah this summer in large part to send a signal to the Iranians that despite the Americans failings their regional hegemonic desires would not go unchecked. Last week Sunni Saudi Arabia made it clear they are willing to go to war with Shiite-led Iraq if necessary. Finally, Al-Qaeda is developing a very strong base in Western Iraq as a vehicle to help protect Sunni Arabs against the Shiite majority.

A long post, I know. But very little of what I hear from our government seems to understand all this. While so much of our discussion now is about the Iraqis taking more responsibility for their country, in practical terms turning over the reins of power to the Iraqis means turning over the reigns of power to the region's Shiites. It also almost certainly means the strengthening of Iran, the revival of Al-Qaeda, a potential regional war and oil soaring way beyong $100 a barrel. If this is where we are headed our government better start having a big conversation with its people about the consequences of so many bad and niave decisions by the Republicans in charge of our government these past six years. I hope this process begins this week with the release of the Iraqi Study Group report.

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