I suspect that we will soon see more collisions between US military squads and Special Force operations against suspected Syrian and Iranian convoys and personnel — civilian and military — inside Iraq as well as more border interdiction. At some point, these units will go into Syria and Iran to accomplish their “disruption” missions.
At that point, Syria and Iran will make a calculation as to whether they should respond with proportionate military force against US military assets — or whether they respond in lateral ways against other players in the region — like American allies in Afghanistan or Iraq, or Israel. Alternatively, Iran could pump up the sophistication of weaponry it is supplying to Shiite groups and design and organize higher profile assaults on the Sunni population and American and British forces — operating through proxies.
Despite Vice President Cheney’s desire to see Iran directly fire a few missiles at our troops in response to provocations from the U.S. — thus firmly establishing a casus belli for a full-fledged American attack against Iran — Iran will probably be craftier than that and will respond in fuzzy, indirect, but highly disruptive ways — through Hezbollah, Shiite militia, and other agents.
Also, expect to see Iran’s top tier diplomats, theocrats and political elite make “mutual interest” trips to Moscow and Beijing. Iran will offer highly lucrative “energy arrangements” that major powers focused on further global ascension won’t be able to resist. Unless America is willing to figure out and pay the diplomatic price desired by China and Russia for uniform action against Iran, then Iran will cultivate these two rising peer competitors and balancers against American power.
Given Japan’s and Europe’s direct dependence on Iranian oil exports, as the heat in the region rises and direct military collisions occur, Japanese and European diplomats will attempt to wedge themselves between the conflicting parties.
America may again find itself diplomatically isolated as it wages a subtle war against Iran — which despite Iranian funding of destabilizing non-state forces in many parts of the Middle East — may find that it has a diplomatic edge because America never engaged in credible diplomatic engagement with Iran over its nuclear program and about its regional misbehavior.
Just to be clear, I feel that a significant portion of the Iranian political elite wants Iran to develop nuclear weapons — mostly as a shield to protect itself from perceived threats. I don’t buy the “peaceful use” line fully — but there are ways to make the “peaceful use” option work. The problem is we aren’t really trying. With Iran, we are perceiving its program as an “all or nothing” event. That kind of Manichean view of this problem by the United States is something that most other global powers won’t accept and which will further erode America’s leverage in this process.
Ahmadinejad wants an attack on Iran nearly as much as Cheney does. An American or Israeli bombing of its nuclear facilities and the killing of 6,000 of its top engineering talent (and the many tens of thousands who happen to be near them at the time of the bombing) will consolidate his power inside the country — something he is no where close to at this point.
The nightmare scenario — as if this was not bad enough — is that Iranian-backed agents in the region roll out disruption plans across moderate Sunni regimes — particularly Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt.
Many I have spoken to from the defense and foreign affairs sectors from various Middle East states worry about well-disguised yet successful assassination attempts against Saudi or Jordanian leaders — throwing the Sunni regimes into turmoil and igniting national and regional rage that they feel will ultimately be anti-American, anti-occupation, anti-colonial, and of course, anti-Israel.
This is the course we seem to be on now. And it doesn’t need to be this way. There are alternatives — but nearly all of them require a creative, bold approach that might enable us to leap-frog over our massive failures in the region.
We need to consider an alternative plan, and I’ll be posting my thoughts on that soon — but we need to have squarely in our mind how nasty and brutish the results of our current policy course are to help muster the consensus needed to make the President and Congress uniformly change course. . .and change course for real.
— Steve Clemons