Gary Sick Lays Out Probabilities in US-Iran Arena

-

gary sick.jpg
I have just come by a lucid, excellent analysis of the recent “formal negotiations” between Iran and the U.S. which took place in Baghdad written by Iran expert and Columbia University/School of International and Public Affairs scholar Gary Sick.
I reprint this analysis with permission, as it is not currently available on the web:

US-Iran Talks, 3 June 2007
by Gary Sick

On Monday [May 28], the United States and Iran sat down together in the office of the Iraqi prime minister in Baghdad to discuss mutual concerns about Iraqi security. It marked a turning point in the hostile but impersonal relations between the two countries that many had feared would turn to war. That has not happened. In case there was any doubt about it, Condoleezza Rice said on Friday that “The president of the United States has made it clear that we are on a course that is a diplomatic course,” and she refused to speculate on a military option. Skepticism is still in order, but it is evident that something is happening in US policy. Here is my own take in the form of a Q & A:
Q — Is this meeting really a big deal?
A — It is a big deal. Iran and the United States have not met face-to-face in a formally acknowledged bilateral meeting of substance (even in the presence of a mediator) since before the hostage crisis in November 1979.
The respective domestic policies and political sensitivities of both countries have conspired — the word is deliberate and accurate — to prevent such a meeting for nearly 28 years.
Q — Then why now?
A — The decision-making process in both Washington and Tehran is extremely murky, and one is reduced to reading tea leaves to divine meaning and purpose in either capital. But in my view, the imminent dangers of the Iraq crisis have persuaded both countries to reject the advice of their respective hardline factions, at least for the moment, since neither Iran nor the United States can expect to construct a coherent policy in Iraq and the Persian Gulf region without some measure of cooperation from the other.
Q — Aren’t their objectives too far apart to permit meaningful negotiations?
A — Actually, as US Ambassador Ryan Crocker and others noted after the meeting in Baghdad, the two sides started in almost perfect agreement about their mutual objectives. Both sides would like to see Iraq remain a single political entity, with central authority in the hands of a freely elected government, and with no sectarian/civil war.
That would permit the US to declare a victory of democracy-building and would likely insure Iran of a relatively sympathetic Shia-dominated government and relative quiet on their western border. The big questions are tactical — what does each party do to get to that outcome? — and that is the essence of negotiation.
Q — Won’t this be sabotaged by hardliners on either side who are opposed to any kind of reconciliation between the US and Iran?
A — They are trying and will continue to try. Thus far, and quite surprising to me, the political leadership in Washington and Tehran, who despise and distrust each other, have stuck to their guns even as they showed a lot of defensiveness in justifying their decision to talk. There have been no shortage of pretexts for a breakdown.
In the days leading up to the talks in Baghdad, Iran arrested a number of Iranian-American scholars and the US introduced the largest naval armada in recent history into the Persian Gulf for rather provocative exercises. The United States continued to hold five Iranian Revolutionary Guards who were arrested in Irbil in January and have been held incommunicado ever since on charges of espionage. Iran claimed that the US had sent agents into Iran to foment dissent among separatist movements from the Turkish to the Pakistani borders.
Yet both sides simply continued with the talks.
Q — Are both sides willing to make the kind of domestically unpopular political decisions and tradeoffs that would be required for any kind of real progress?
A — I’m not sure that either the Iranians or the American leadership are sure of the answer. It depends on what the other side has to offer. I suspect that the Bush administration has chosen to ignore all of its past rejections of bilateral talks with Iran because it is convinced that no orderly withdrawal of US forces in Iraq is possible without some measure of Iranian cooperation.
Similarly, Iran must think that some measure of cooperation with the Great Satan is required — despite the howls of anguish from their ultra-conservative base — if order is to be preserved in Iraq as the US occupation begins to wind down.
Q — This doesn’t sound like George Bush. What makes you think he has changed his stripes?
A — I suppose that whatever change has occurred is strictly due to necessity, not choice. As Peggy Noonan puts it with incomparable brevity, speaking of Bush and his advisers in the Wall Street Journal, “Desperate straits have left them liberated” from their conservative base. Remember, we are talking four years after the invasion of Iraq: a lot of the enthusiasm for foreign adventures has cooled.
As to Bush’s personal role in all this, just look at the people he has lately nominated for all the major posts in his administration who are major players on this issue: Josh Bolten as White House chief of staff, Bob Gates at Defense, General Petraeus in Iraq, Adm. Fallon as Centcom, Ryan Crocker as ambassador in Baghdad.
Whatever their personal differences and backgrounds, these are not ideologues, and several of them have expressed forcefully and publicly their lack of interest in an expanded war and/or their interest in engaging Iran diplomatically.
Bush could not have been unaware of the political pedigrees of all these recent appointees, and he must have had more ideological candidates to choose from — did Dick Cheney have nothing to do with the selection process? A few days ago, in response to charges that the “crazies” might still choose to go to war, Condoleezza Rice said (with perhaps just the slightest touch of exaggeration?) “That policy [the diplomatic course] is supported by all of the members of the cabinet, and by the vice president of the United States.”
We don’t have to accept that as revealed truth, but however he got to this point, Bush now openly talks about his “Plan B-H” referring to the Baker Hamilton report — something that was unthinkable just a few months ago.
Q — Can you attach a timeline to this change? If you’re right about a fundamental shift, when did it happen?
A — The Bush administration does not share its innermost deliberations with me or any outsider, so one has to judge on the basis of external behavior. On April 11 undersecretary of state Nicholas Burns gave a speech at the Kennedy School at Harvard.
Burns is a cautious diplomat who protects his flanks and never gets out ahead of the action. In that speech, referring to his congressional testimony a few days earlier, Burns said that “diplomacy is our best course of action in blocking and containing the Iranian regime; that a military confrontation with Iran is not desirable, nor is it inevitable if we continue our skilled diplomatic course and have the patience to see it play out over the mid- to long-term. I am confident that we can avoid a conflict and see our strategy succeed.” I take that as evidence that the internal battle was over by the end of March and that Cheney and those around him had lost, at least for the moment.
Q — You paint a very rosy scenario. Does this mean that the path of US-Iran relations will be smooth from here out?
A — I am very conscious of the fact that political analysts earn their keep by being cynical and negative. They can tell you fifty reasons why something desirable will not happen — then, if it happens, give you an instant fifty reasons why it was inevitable all along. I don’t want to lose my good standing in the fraternity by being too positive, so let me toss in a few negatives.
Although the hardliners in Iran and the US seem to have been outflanked for the moment, they are still there and they are very persistent and powerful.
According to blogger Steve Clemons, “The person in the Bush administration who most wants a hot conflict with Iran is Vice President Cheney. The person in Iran who most wants a conflict is Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Quds Force would be big winners in a conflict as well — as the political support that both have inside Iran has been flagging.
“Multiple sources have reported that a senior aide on Vice President Cheney’s national security team has been meeting with policy hands of the American Enterprise Institute, one other think tank, and more than one national security consulting house and explicitly stating that Vice President Cheney does not support President Bush’s tack towards Condoleezza Rice’s diplomatic efforts and fears that the President is taking diplomacy with Iran too seriously.”
Helene Cooper, in Saturday’s New York Times, identifies the individual as David Wurmser, the principal deputy assistant to Mr. Cheney for national security affairs.
In Tehran, the security services are arresting every American scholar or journalist who is working in Iran or simply visiting a relative and tossing them into the dungeons of Evin prison, at least in part as an effort to pressure the US to release the five Iranians who have disappeared into the secret American dungeons in Iraq.
In the past weeks we have had unprecedented shows of military force, ugly demonstrations of individual persecution, reports of US subversive actions inside Iran, and capture of 15 British sailors and marines in the Persian Gulf. Both sides are being creative and insidious.
So fasten your seat belts. This ride has just begun.
— Gary Sick

Sick’s material is important to ponder and digest. It’s not naive and full of wistful thinking about what might be doable in ideal circumstances between Iran and the U.S., but it does give us insight into the possible and practical, given the enormous mistrust between both sides.
I think he lays out the probabilities compellingly — and I agree with him that what Ryan Crocker and those behind him like Nick Burns, Negroponte, and Rice achieved in Baghdad is good news — though the American and Iranian efforts to lay new track in the relationship is fragile and subject to potential serious sabotage by stakeholders in both governments.
— Steve Clemons
Update: This is a well-done interview on broad Iran issues that Columbia Magazine writer Paul Hond did with Gary Sick a few months ago. Well worth review.
— Steve Clemons

Comments

18 comments on “Gary Sick Lays Out Probabilities in US-Iran Arena

  1. Al says:

    Iranians would engage in a real negotiation only if the U.S. recognizes Iranian regime 100% and goes into a deal with Iran in Iranian hardliners’ terms.

    Reply

  2. Mr.Murder says:

    China calls the shots, they have a deal with Iran, and they underwrite our currency due to foolishly uneven tax cuts Bush put in place.
    We only met in Iraq to get our people from Iraq with theirs, it was about a smooth handover of power, provided we keep dibs on oil rights concessions and bids.
    We asked that of China, since they are in Iran’s energy sector now they can ask the same of Iran.
    The money is meeting before the men are. It’s a done deal.

    Reply

  3. Mr.Murder says:

    China calls the shots, they have a deal with Iran, and they underwrite our currency due to foolishly uneven tax cuts Bush put in place.
    We only met in Iraq to get our people from Iraq with theirs, it was about a smooth handover of power, provided we keep dibs on oil rights concessions and bids.
    We asked that of China, since they are in Iran’s energy sector now they can ask the same of Iran.
    The money is meeting before the men are. It’s a done deal.

    Reply

  4. TonyForesta says:

    Serious thinkers should look up the word fascist before dismissing anyone using that term to describe the ideologies, pathologies, machinations, and policies of the warmongers, profiteers, and pathological liars in the Bush government.
    Curious how all the serious thinkers are perpetually wrong on virtually every issue, and particularly Iraq and Iran, and those they childishly dismiss are more often then not, – and quite tragically accurate and correct in assessing these issues, particularly Iraq, and Iran.
    America, and the world will have to live with a nuclear armed Iran, just as we must all tolerate a nuclear armed Pakistan, (one bullet away from jihadists nukes), Israel, India, NK, and all the friends and foes alike with nuclear capabilities.
    Sadly there is no uninventing these weapons. There is only intelligent containment. Irans nuclear ambitions (and whatever unknown unknowns they may be) are not as predatory as they are defensive.
    Iran is the victor in Iraq. Iranians today and for decades to come can thank the fascists in the Bush government for handing them greater power, oil wealth, and political and religious control and access in the region and the world as a direct result of the Bush governments deception, abuses, imperialism, predatation, marauding of Iraqi oil resources, woeful incompetence, fascist machinations, and wanton profiteering ongoing in the costly bloody, noendinsight horrorshow and lost cause in Iraq.
    If America or Israel do strike at Iran unprovoked and attempt to decapitate the regime, or destroy Iran’s nuclear capabilities, – the mission or missions must be well planned and perfectly executed, (precluding any involvment with the incompetent fascists in the Bush government) – or whatever is left of Iranian capabilities, and the pandora’s box of Shi’a furies will be unleashed on America, American interests, American allies, and Israel.
    Ashes ashes, all fall down!
    “Deliver us from evil.”

    Reply

  5. Robert Morrow says:

    I think Gary Sick was probably right when he said the Reagan people made a deal with Iran in 1980 to avoid Jimmy Carter “October Surprise” of letting the hostages back home.

    Reply

  6. section9 says:

    Right, people who scream “fascist” or “Nazi” right out of the box when Bush and the Republicans are mentioned aren’t serious thinkers and don’t deserved to be treated as such. There’s a place for this kind of nonsense: it’s called “Daily Kos”.
    It should be noted, Steve, that George Friedman and the people at Stratfor have been predicting this kind of thing for about six months now. Sick is a bit of a Johnnie Come Lately.
    I was of the opinion that Ahmadhi-Nejad was going to overwhelm his opposition, but the failure of his client Nasrallah to sieze power in Lebanon was probably his undoing. Cooler heads in Tehran have probably decided that it’s time for a deal with the Americans. Cooler heads in America, led by Condi, whom everyone in the Democratic Party appears to despise, appear ready to deal as well.
    The anger of the Michael Ledeen/Michael Rubin crowd over at NRO and The American Spectator is an indication that Condi is on the right track. I’m a Republican, and even I know when that crowd has lost the plot. Although, let’s be frank, the EFP smuggling of the Revolutionary Guards Corps is one mass killing of American Soldiers away from starting a war. They need to knock this s**t off; if they’re serious about a deal. The Iranians haven’t gone after our sailors like they did the Brits because they understand that our Navy has standing orders to kill anything that moves if something like that happens. Wars have started for less.
    As Sick indicated, it will be a bumpy ride. Methinks they still want the Atomic Bomb, and that’s a red line I don’t think Bush or Rice can let them cross.
    Good on Condi and her boys, then. Thus far, it’s been difficult, but they’ve done about as well as could be expected of them.

    Reply

  7. section9 says:

    Right, people who scream “fascist” or “Nazi” right out of the box when Bush and the Republicans are mentioned aren’t serious thinkers and don’t deserved to be treated as such. There’s a place for this kind of nonsense: it’s called “Daily Kos”.
    It should be noted, Steve, that George Friedman and the people at Stratfor have been predicting this kind of thing for about six months now. Sick is a bit of a Johnnie Come Lately.
    I was of the opinion that Ahmadhi-Nejad was going to overwhelm his opposition, but the failure of his client Nasrallah to sieze power in Lebanon was probably his undoing. Cooler heads in Tehran have probably decided that it’s time for a deal with the Americans. Cooler heads in America, led by Condi, whom everyone in the Democratic Party appears to despise, appear ready to deal as well.
    The anger of the Michael Ledeen/Michael Rubin crowd over at NRO and The American Spectator is an indication that Condi is on the right track. I’m a Republican, and even I know when that crowd has lost the plot. Although, let’s be frank, the EFP smuggling of the Revolutionary Guards Corps is one mass killing of American Soldiers away from starting a war. They need to knock this s**t off; if they’re serious about a deal. The Iranians haven’t gone after our sailors like they did the Brits because they understand that our Navy has standing orders to kill anything that moves if something like that happens. Wars have started for less.
    As Sick indicated, it will be a bumpy ride. Methinks they still want the Atomic Bomb, and that’s a red line I don’t think Bush or Rice can let them cross.
    Good on Condi and her boys, then. Thus far, it’s been difficult, but they’ve done about as well as could be expected of them.

    Reply

  8. glasnost says:

    Steve, it’s too bad Gary doesn’t have any info at all on the specifics of the negotiation agenda, or the progress of the talks. Where can we find info on that? If we can’t, when should we expect to see it?

    Reply

  9. TonyForesta says:

    Peggy Noonan is right – the entire fascist totalitarian dictatorship, warmongering, profiteering, pathological lying, neverendinwar and Pax Americana empire thing is…soooo 2003.
    If all goes well, the fascists in the Bush government (by necessity, as a direct result of the decetptions, abuses, wanton profiteering, catastrophic failures and the bloody costly events in the field) will be put back in the keep) and there will indeed be a glimmer of hope.
    That said the tyranical kings – I mean presidents May 9 http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=5816 directive could dash all our hopes in the event some sort of catastrophic event or false flag episodic wherein the fascist will declare martial law, suspend the Constitution, cancel the election, and entrench forever the tyrannical fascist grip on whatever will be left of our once more perfect union.
    Until we put these beasts (the fascist warmongers, profiteers and pathological liars in the Bush government) safely locked behind bars and far removed from contact with any aspect of the government – anything, – and I mean ANYTHING, including another homecooked 9/11like event is possible.
    Deliver us from evil.

    Reply

  10. PissedOffAmerican says:

    This weapons thing is interesting by the sheer scope of the hypocricy.
    Who in the world deals in small arms sales on the scale we do? What has killed more people in the last fifty years, small arms, or WMDs?
    Who has been the only KNOWN seller of chemical weapons in the Middle East in the last 30 years? Clue; think Rumsfeld/Cheney.
    Who, in the Middle East, developed nuclear weapons in underground bunkers, without oversight from the UN or the IAEA? Who now possesses an arsenal of nuclear weapons in the Middle East, fueling the pursuit of nuclear weapons in the neighboring nations?
    What deterent is there against Israel’s use of nuclear weapons, if none of the neighboring nations have them? Has the wisdom of MAD been set aside to enable an expedited extermination of the Muslims?

    Reply

  11. Jessica says:

    Today, national boundaries no longer define our world. We face common problems and must work together as a world community to fight them. The United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals, which call for cutting world hunger in half by 2015 and eliminating it altogether by 2025, are a good place to start thinking and acting with a global mindset. It is estimated that the expenditure of a mere $19 billion would eliminate starvation and malnutrition worldwide. In a time when the United States’ current defense budget is $522 billion, the goal of eradicating world hunger is clearly well within reach if we act together as one world.

    Reply

  12. Jessica says:

    Today, national boundaries no longer define our world. We face common problems and must work together as a world community to fight them. The United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals, which call for cutting world hunger in half by 2015 and eliminating it altogether by 2025, are a good place to start thinking and acting with a global mindset. It is estimated that the expenditure of a mere $19 billion would eliminate starvation and malnutrition worldwide. In a time when the United States’ current defense budget is $522 billion, the goal of eradicating world hunger is clearly well within reach if we act together as one world.

    Reply

  13. bob h says:

    But I would put my money on the negotiations with Iran over nuclear issues failing, with the result that Israel feels compelled to attack pre-emptively, drawing us in.

    Reply

  14. Marcia says:

    Cheney has had six unhindered years to place his pawns at all levels in the administration and must remain a formidable power even with the loss of Rumsfeld.
    Is there enought information to evaluate the power of the rival factions in the Iranian governmant and religious structure?

    Reply

  15. Sandy says:

    OTOH, maybe I was a bit too quick to feel optimistic:
    CIA running black propaganda operation against Iran, Syria and Lebanon, officials say
    Larisa Alexandrovna
    Published: Monday June 4, 2007
     
    Some intelligence sources more wary of covert Pentagon operations
    The Central Intelligence Agency has received approval at least twice in the last several years to conduct an “information war” against several countries in the Middle East, including Iran, Lebanon and Syria, according to current and former intelligence officials.
    In addition, the Bush Administration has been running operations out of the Defense Department that are not subject to Congressional oversight, intelligence sources say. These programs appear murkier, and have included support for an alleged terrorist group in Iran…. snip
    http://tinyurl.com/ywtvhk

    Reply

  16. john somer says:

    Speaking of Iranian weapons, the Turkish press reported a few days back that Kurdish terrorists in southeastern Turkey attacked a goods train coming from Iran and bound for Sytria. One carriage was derailed and the Turks discovered that the container on it was full of weapons (most probably meant for Lebanon’s Hizbollah)

    Reply

  17. Sandy says:

    Thank you for at least this small glimmer of hope, Steve.
    And, how nice that Gary Sick refers back to what you said in that earlier column of yours.

    Reply

  18. Zathras says:

    I note Gary Sick mentions nothing about Iranian weapons and support to militias in Iraq. In the short term at least this is likely to be a more serious impediment to progress toward more constructive Iranian-American relations than anything he does mention.

    Reply

Add your comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *