Luttwakianism Applied to American Policy Towards the Middle East

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Edward Luttwak — a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and author of many best-selling high concept treatments of war, strategy, and the international economy — is a turbo-charged intellect wrapped in the garb of a John Le Carre-esque spy. I always feel like I’m learning secrets from him.
I run into him in the most unusual places — whether it is an Okinawa kenjinkai culture and sake-tasting evening or hanging out with Cuban, German, French, Israeli, and Polish intelligence officials — along with Richard Perle — in Caen, France — where Eddie Luttwak was there not for the company but to get his itch for Caen’s shellfish scratched. He is a brilliant conceptualizer who sees through problems and twists and flips the component pieces in ways that reveal important realities. His “process” often makes his listeners squirm.
I think Luttwak has quite important insights into our mess in the Middle East, and I’m inviting TWN readers to a meeting I’m chairing with him tomorrow, Thursday, in Washington, DC at the New America Foundation — 1630 Connecticut Avenue, NW, 7th Floor — from noon til 2:00 p.m. If you would like to attend, just zap me an email at steve@thewashingtonnote.com.
His topic is “What to Do About I-rak and I-ran? How New Divisions in the Middle East offer the U.S. an Opportunity to Regain Influence in the Region.”
Just for fun, here are the first two paragraphs and last two paragraphs of two articles that Luttwak has recently published — one on Iraq and one on Iran:

To Help Iraq, Let it Fend for Itself
New York Times, 6 February 2007

The sooner President Bush can get his extra troops for a “surge” in Iraq, the sooner he will be able to announce that all American troops are coming home because of the inevitable failure of the Iraqi government to “live up to its side of the bargain.” In fact, in the run-up to the surge proposal, it is unlikely that there was any real two-sided bargaining before Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki was induced to issue promises — particularly in terms of government troops taking on Shiite militias — that he cannot possibly fulfill. Mr. Maliki, it seems, simply agreed to whatever was asked of him, to humor the White House and retain American support for a little while longer.
For the Iraqi Army and police to disarm the Shiite militias, the prime minister would have to be a veritable Stalin or at least a Saddam Hussein, able to terrorize Iraqi soldiers and policemen into obedience. Mr. Maliki, of course, has no such authority over Iraqi soldiers or police officers; indeed he has little authority over his own 39-person cabinet, whose members mostly represent sectarian parties with militias of their own. . .
. . .Were the United States to disenage, both Arab Sunnis and Shiites would have to take responsiblity for their own security (as the Kurds have been doing all along). Where these three groups are not naturally separated by geography, they would be forced to find ways to stabilize relations with each other. That would most likely involve violence as well as talks, and some forcing of civilians from their homes. But all this is happening already, and there is no saying which ethno-religious group would be most favored by a reduction of the United States footprint.
One reason for optimism on that score is that the violence itself has been separating previously mixed populations, reducing motives and opportunities for further attacks. That is how civil wars can burn themselves out. In any case, it is time for the Iraqis to make their own history.

And another piece this week that focuses on Iran:

Persian Shrug
Wall Street Journal, 27 February 2007

Almost everyone in Washington agrees that Iran is the big winner in the Middle East power competition, and the U.S. the big loser. Instead of the irremediably hostile Taliban, Iran now has a friendly Afghan government on its eastern border. Rather than having to face Saddam Hussein’s regime, Iran has nothing to fear from an Iraqi government dominated by friends and obedient clients, many of whom lived as protected exiles in Iran for 20 years or more.
Having crushed Tehran’s enemies, the U.S. finds itself under attack by Iran’s rulers, who no longer have to worry about defending their own borders and can instead challenge American interests all over the Middle East, and as far away as Venezuela. At the same time, Iran continues to build facilities to process, gasify and enrich uranium, in spite of the International Atomic Energy Agency and solemn resolutions by the U.N. Security Council. . .
. . .Viewed from the inside, Iran is hardly the formidable power that some see on the outside. The natural outcome of increasing popular opposition to extremist rulers, of widening ethnic divisions and bitter Sunni resentment of Shia oppression is a breakup. Certainly there is no reason why Iran should be the only multinational state to resist the nationalist separatism that destroyed the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, divided Belgium in all but name and decentralized Spain and even the United Kingdom, along with other states large and small.
Once again, there is a better alternative to detente with a repulsive regime, and that is to be true to the Wilsonian tradition of American foreign policy by encouraging the forces of national liberation within Iran.

Should be an interesting session tomorrow.
— Steve Clemons

Comments

16 comments on “Luttwakianism Applied to American Policy Towards the Middle East

  1. pen Name says:

    PK:
    Also note that the following countries can also be broken up:
    US, Canada, UK, Belgium, Italy (yes – think of Tyrol), Romania, Ukraine, Russia, Georgia, Estonia, Latvia, Afghanistan, Turkey, Pakistan, India, China, Thailand, Israel, Syria, Lebanon – and I am not even considering Africa.
    Luttwak is a dangerous intellectual whose polciy perscriptions are neither realist nor conservative – they are dangerously Jacobin.
    Really, people who are living in glass houses should not throw stone – what do you Americans want: a Occupied Mexico National Liberation Front? Persist on this path and by God you will get it.

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  2. PK says:

    Luttwak’s talk had several analytical flaws and was ahistorical. He claimed that a break-up of Iran is “inevitable.” Its very convenient to point out Iran’s ethinic mix and therefore say that the country is about to fall apart-but Iran has a national identity that applies to beyond just its Persian population, and also goes back several hundred years. Iran is not some artificial state put together in recent times.
    He also said that Syria is hamstrung from supporting Hezbollah because the overwhelming Syrian Sunni population backs the Sunni-Hariri camp. I doubt it. Support for Hezbollah in Syria during the war against Israel was overwhelming, and this went for many Syrian Christians too. Syria has less influence on Lebanon because of the post-Hariri assassination environment which backfired on Damascus, not because of sentiment of the Syrian domestic population.
    Overall I found Luttwak’s talk to be pretty disingenuous and misleading. Its not for any one country to stoke civil unrest in another country just because it might have the potential power to do so. I also fail to see how his talk had anything to do with promoting a progressive US foreign policy.

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  3. Dan Kervick says:

    Ah yes, this follows in the wake of such other works of “high concept” genius, like Luttwak’s Telegraph article from last July: “Civil war: the only way to bring peace to Iraq.”
    What Luttwak is advocating is taking one country – Iran – in which people are not yet murdering each other and blowing each other up by the hundreds on a daily basis, and turning it into a second Iraq – all supposedly in the name of “national liberation”. But the only kind of liberation Luttwak cares about is liberating Muslims from their wealth, power and mortal lives.
    The only high concept in these writing on the Middle East is the same one present in most Zionist authors – a pathological hatred of Arabs, Persians and other Muslims, and an obsession with dividing existing Muslim polities into fragments. Luttwak shares with his fellow Zionists the politicidal convinction that a susccessful Muslim country is just a country that hasn’t been smashed up yet into tiny Muslims particles by Israel and Uncle Same. He probably woun’t be happy until the entire Middle East is reduced to rabble of weak, poor and fighting tribes.
    Steve, don’t you think there are certain things you should not give a forum to? I mean, is it considered just generally OK for big shot Washington thinkers to get together and advocate policies designed to encourage the murder of hundreds of thousands of people?
    And if you are going to allow these speakers, is it really necesassary to preface the announcement posts with a stream of sycophantic flattery.
    Steve, get out of Washington while there is still time. Go fishing. Save your soul.

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  4. dan says:

    Wow. Luttwak is another in the increasingly long-line of US fantasist idiots apparently seeking a strategic partnership with Al Qaeda and other assorted terrorist groups.
    I’m also curious as to when was the last time Luttwak spent any time inside Iran to see how things actually look from there. Perhaps, Steve, you could ask him about his extensive experience of travelling around the country in the last couple of years; I’m sure he’s got some great anecdotes for you.

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  5. pen Name says:

    I have read his piece on Iran in yesterday’s WSJ. I believe he is mistaken both in his understanding of the Iranian polity and in his policy perscriptions that were articulated in that op-ed.
    Modern Iran is a creation of the Safavdis that is based on the dual ethnic elements of Azeri Turkish and Persians. It is a country of the Shia for the Shia. In fact, if you look at a religious map of the Middle East, you will note to the extend that boundaries of Iran correspond of the distribution of Shia populations (excepting Southern Lebanon.). Moreover, those Shia areas outside of Iran used to be part of Iran – Western Afghanistan (including Herat), Azerbaijan Republic, and Basra and its environs.
    Mr. Luttwak is correct about the Sunni Kurds of Iran – that they do not share in this Iranian identity which is a mixture of pre-Islamic Iran and Shia Religion. A mixture the significance of which, I believe, he does not understand or appreciate.
    If you people are interested in helping Afghanistan and Iraq you will help strengthen Iran.
    If you people are interested in the spread of representative government in Muslim countries, you will have to support the Islamic Republic of Iran to the hilt.
    If you guys are interested in helping Muslim women reach and maintain a higher social status then you will need to be there in Iran helping that polity.
    Make no mistakes – if you want to diminish the Iranian power (for a variety of misguided and fatutous excuses about which we will – no doubt – read in your high-school history textbooks 2 decades later – as is usual in your country) then you will have to write off both Iraq and Afghanistan. Your projects there will be kaput, finished. That means you will condemns the 50 million inhabitants of those two countries to decades of chaos and death because of your obdurance.

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  6. David N says:

    Another item to bring up in the discussion this afternoon:
    Before invading Iraq, Bush gave as one of the conditions for leaving that there be no violence in that country to suppress. Given that one of the most important targets of the violence is American troops, that was at the time a formula for indefinite occupation.
    Leave aside the fantasy that there will be any rational calculation involved in Iraq policy, what can be done to induce this administration to abandon the billions being spent to construct permanent bases in Iraq and to leave the country and its oil without maintaining WH corporate control?
    As to the insurgency, let us say, on behalf of the military, that one major goal of their articulation of a working counterinsurgency strategy was to make clear that it was a costly, time-consuming business for an imperial power, and, in so many ways, not worth it. Is there a chance in hell that anyone in this government at the political level can understand what the military has been telling them for the last six years, when they have ignored this and so much else up to now?

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  7. Den Valdron says:

    Huh

    Reply

  8. kim says:

    And another great article in the WSJ, saying the administration stumbled into a perfect storm in the middle east where everyone is dependent upon the US:
    http://online.wsj.com/article_print/SB116838757703472030.html

    Reply

  9. Navin R, Johnson says:

    Luttwak smokes only BEST!!
    What a visionary!!!
    I bet he sees a world of democracy in a grain of sand!!!
    Cf.:
    The Surge
    By Peter W. Galbraith
    NYRB, Volume 54, Number 4 · March 15, 2007
    [snip]
    President Bush’s plan has no chance of actually working. At this late stage, 21,500 additional troops cannot make a difference. US troops are ill prepared to do the policing that is needed to secure Baghdad. They lack police training, knowledge of the city, and requisite Arabic skills. The Iraqi troops meant to assist the effort are primarily Kurdish peshmerga from two brigades nominally part of the Iraqi army. These troops will have the same problems as the Americans, including an inability to communicate in Arabic.
    [snip]
    George W. Bush has said he will leave the problem of Iraq to the president elected in 2008. Rather than acknowledge failure in Iraq—and by extension a failed presidency—Bush has chosen to postpone the day of reckoning. It is a decision that will cost many American and Iraqi lives, will leave the United States weaker, and will prolong the decline in American prestige abroad caused by the mismanaged Iraq war. And it will not change the truth that the President so desperately wishes to escape: George W. Bush launched and lost America’s Iraq war.
    The New Middle East
    Richard N. Haass
    From Foreign Affairs, November/December 2006
    Summary: The age of U.S. dominance in the Middle East has ended and a new era in the modern history of the region has begun.
    Iraq Is Not Winnable
    SPIEGEL INTERVIEW WITH RICHARD HAASS
    The old Middle East — an era which I believe has only recently ended — was one in which the United States enjoyed tremendous dominance and freedom of maneuver. [snip] It’s one of history’s ironies that the first war in Iraq, a war of necessity, marked the beginning of the American era in the Middle East and the second Iraq war, a war of choice, has precipitated its end.
    IRAN’S GROWING POWER IN THE MIDDLE EAST
    The Spider’s Web
    By Georg Mascolo and Bernhard Zand
    More people than ever are dying in Iraq while the United States looks on powerlessly. In the wake of its invasion of Lebanon, Israel is riven with self-doubt, while Europe tries to establish peace. But there is one country that is benefiting from every crisis in the region: Iran.
    Iran looks like the winner of the Iraq war
    The Islamic Republic’s clout in the region, confirmed by the Iraq Study Group, could cost the United States.
    By Alissa J. Rubin, Times Staff Writer
    December 10, 2006
    Far from spreading democracy through the region, the Iraq war has strengthened a theocracy in which unelected religious figures make many of the crucial decisions.
    “So far, Iran won the Iraq war,” said George Perkovich, the vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “They gained the most by far.”
    Can Democracy Stop Terrorism?
    F. Gregory Gause III
    From Foreign Affairs, September/October 2005
    Summary: The Bush administration contends that the push for democracy in the Muslim world will improve U.S. security. But this premise is faulty: there is no evidence that democracy reduces terrorism. Indeed, a democratic Middle East would probably result in Islamist governments unwilling to cooperate with Washington.

    Reply

  10. Navin R, Johnson says:

    Luttwak smokes only BEST!!
    What a visionary!!!
    I bet he sees a world of democracy in a grain of sand!!!
    Cf.:
    The Surge
    By Peter W. Galbraith
    NYRB, Volume 54, Number 4 · March 15, 2007
    [snip]
    President Bush’s plan has no chance of actually working. At this late stage, 21,500 additional troops cannot make a difference. US troops are ill prepared to do the policing that is needed to secure Baghdad. They lack police training, knowledge of the city, and requisite Arabic skills. The Iraqi troops meant to assist the effort are primarily Kurdish peshmerga from two brigades nominally part of the Iraqi army. These troops will have the same problems as the Americans, including an inability to communicate in Arabic.
    [snip]
    George W. Bush has said he will leave the problem of Iraq to the president elected in 2008. Rather than acknowledge failure in Iraq—and by extension a failed presidency—Bush has chosen to postpone the day of reckoning. It is a decision that will cost many American and Iraqi lives, will leave the United States weaker, and will prolong the decline in American prestige abroad caused by the mismanaged Iraq war. And it will not change the truth that the President so desperately wishes to escape: George W. Bush launched and lost America’s Iraq war.
    The New Middle East
    Richard N. Haass
    From Foreign Affairs, November/December 2006
    Summary: The age of U.S. dominance in the Middle East has ended and a new era in the modern history of the region has begun.
    Iraq Is Not Winnable
    SPIEGEL INTERVIEW WITH RICHARD HAASS
    The old Middle East — an era which I believe has only recently ended — was one in which the United States enjoyed tremendous dominance and freedom of maneuver. [snip] It’s one of history’s ironies that the first war in Iraq, a war of necessity, marked the beginning of the American era in the Middle East and the second Iraq war, a war of choice, has precipitated its end.
    IRAN’S GROWING POWER IN THE MIDDLE EAST
    The Spider’s Web
    By Georg Mascolo and Bernhard Zand
    More people than ever are dying in Iraq while the United States looks on powerlessly. In the wake of its invasion of Lebanon, Israel is riven with self-doubt, while Europe tries to establish peace. But there is one country that is benefiting from every crisis in the region: Iran.
    Iran looks like the winner of the Iraq war
    The Islamic Republic’s clout in the region, confirmed by the Iraq Study Group, could cost the United States.
    By Alissa J. Rubin, Times Staff Writer
    December 10, 2006
    Far from spreading democracy through the region, the Iraq war has strengthened a theocracy in which unelected religious figures make many of the crucial decisions.
    “So far, Iran won the Iraq war,” said George Perkovich, the vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “They gained the most by far.”
    Can Democracy Stop Terrorism?
    F. Gregory Gause III
    From Foreign Affairs, September/October 2005
    Summary: The Bush administration contends that the push for democracy in the Muslim world will improve U.S. security. But this premise is faulty: there is no evidence that democracy reduces terrorism. Indeed, a democratic Middle East would probably result in Islamist governments unwilling to cooperate with Washington.

    Reply

  11. eCAHNomics says:

    Read his article in Harpers–February issue I think–can’t seem to get into the website right now. It’s much more sane & insightful than those already cited. Title is Modern War: Counterinsurgency as Malpractice, and argues that no power who values lives of its military can compete with insurgents for whom life is less valuable, and other good military insights–i.e. U.S. lost Iraq before the first troop crossed the border. If you read only one thing on counterinsurgencies, this is it.

    Reply

  12. Marky says:

    As long as we are considering rational, clearheaded alternatives for ME policy, how about taking a look at what some say is our best option for dealing with global warming—-using alien technology taken from crashed UFOs.
    http://rawstory.com/news/afp/UFO_science_key_to_halting_climate__02282007.html
    I tell ya, those aliens are going to be greeted as liberators one of these days.

    Reply

  13. Marky says:

    Here’s another example of Luttwak’s clear vision.
    He writes that although bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities may be a bad idea ( wink wink—maybe not), it could be done in one night!
    http://acdn.france.free.fr/spip/breve.php3?id_breve=63&lang=en
    Well, heck! Sign me up. If its going to be that easy, we might as well do it, just to be prudent.

    Reply

  14. Marky says:

    Was Luttwak a PNAC signer? What about the Clean Break?
    I was very suspicious to read the support for Wilsonian liberation or whatever, since Bush has been very strongly criticized for following in Wilson’s footsteps. Well, one google search away, I found some of Luttwaks very charming views on the civil war in Iraq. Civil war is salutary, in his view:
    From http://tigerhawk.blogspot.com/2006/05/dr-luttwak-and-how-he-learned-to-love.html
    we have the following excerpts from a Globe and Mail editorial of Luttwak.
    “Civil wars can be especially atrocious as neighbours kill each other at close range, but these wars, too, have a purpose in this world — they can bring lasting peace by destroying the will to fight, and by removing the motives and opportunities for further violence.
    ….
    he fundamental factors causing the violence are now impossible to reverse. Physical separation is therefore the remaining means of limiting the killings. That is under way, thanks to the very violence that is driving out one sect or the other from mixed villages, towns and city districts. The process is especially cruel for those who still feel no sectarian hostility — including the offspring of mixed marriages — but that is one way in which civil war achieves its purpose of bringing peace.
    …”
    Ah, listening to the “contrarian” views of the PNAC crowd—there’s some “bold centrism” for you!
    I think that some of Newt Gingrich’s fresh ideas would make this TWN day complete, dont’ you?

    Reply

  15. JohnH says:

    Hmmm-where to start peeling off ethnic regions in Iran? I know! The Ahwazi Arabs in their oil-rich homeland in Khuzestan. Exactly what Saddam tried to do when he invaded Iran.
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/02/25/wiran25.xml

    Reply

  16. Bonethug Iranian says:

    “Encouraging the forces of national liberation within Iran” sounds like Iraq redux part 13. More mindless slaughter and more wanton vapid Bush-wellian idiocy. No nation on the planet can control that which is unleashed by preventive preemption. No politician, no “intellectual”, and certainly NO ONE in or around the Bush administration. Why not try some good old fashioned keeping the hands off and the soldiers away from the intended victim. Some geo-political evolution might just be the key to sanity.

    Reply

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