UPI Editor Emeritus Martin Walker has put out a useful essay on a Royal Institute of International Affairs report on Iran and the U.S.
The Chatham House/RIIA report can be downloaded as a pdf here.
I love the line about American poker players and Iran’s chess strategy.
A detailed new report issued this week from Britain’s top foreign policy think tank, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, says “Iran’s influence in Iraq has superseded that of the United States, and is increasingly rivaling the U.S. as the main actor at the crossroads between the Middle East and Asia.”
Moreover, the report says, the Bush administration has directly helped strengthen Iran to become a major regional power.
“The war on terror removed the Taliban and Saddam Hussein — Iran’s two greatest regional rivals — and strengthened Iran’s regional leverage in doing so,” it says, adding that “Israel’s failure to defeat Hezbollah has reinforced Iran’s position as the region’s focal point against U.S.-led policy.”
Iran’s role within other embattled areas in the region like Afghanistan and southern Lebanon has now increased hugely, says the report, which was prepared with considerable input from British officials and diplomats, as well as academics and regional experts.
“While the U.S. has been playing poker in the region, Iran has been playing chess. Iran is playing a longer, more clever game and has been far more successful at winning hearts and minds,” says Nadim Shehadi, one of the report’s authors and a fellow of the Institute’s Middle East department.
The report stresses that the Bush administration and its allies have yet to appreciate the extent of Iran’s regional relationships and standing — a dynamic which is the key to understanding Iran’s newly found confidence and belligerence towards the West. As a result, the U.S.-led agenda for confronting Iran is “severely compromised by the confident ease with which Iran sits in its region.”
“While the U.S. may have the upper hand in ‘hard’ power projection, Iran has proved far more effective through its use of ‘soft’ power,” the report says. “The Bush administration has shown little ability to use politics and culture to pursue its strategic interests while Iran’s knowledge of the region, its fluency in the languages and culture, strong historical ties and administrative skills have given it a strong advantage over the West.”
What worries me about Iran’s perceptions of American weakness — and America has become weaker in the region and globally — is that superpowers with swagger and considerable ego don’t usually acknowledge their failings. In desperation and attempting to show that their resolve is solid and military strength robust, big nations having a bad time strike out to prove a point.
George W. Bush may strike Iran not only because of a military rationale that his advisors assemble but because he wants to reassure the world that America still has the backbone and capacity to hit other countries — ironically undermining the very perception of power he is trying to transmit.
The combination of a weakened U.S. and pretentious Iran is highly dangerous, despite many who think that rational calculators will prevail at the end of the day.
But bottom line is America better not only start playing chess but better get to mastering the three-dimensional version.
— Steve Clemons