Saturday, June 6, 2009

Obama's Middle East Endgame: Part II - The June 12th Wildcard

In a previous post I hypothesized that Obama's Middle East End Game was to get the Sunni Arab states and Israel sitting together in a security framework to push back against Iran.

But what if something changes in Iran?

From Andrew Sullivan, earlier this week:

I don't know whether you have been reading the various press accounts of the election campaign in Iran. I know that the candidates' list is fixed, but I can also see democratic spirit when it is bang in front of me. There appears to be a genuine fight for votes; and the images from the Mousavi rallies look more like Obama rallies than assemblies in a totalitarian state. Notice how young these people look, and how unafraid. Does anyone doubt that if this kid of peaceful campaigning were happening in Iraq, it would be regarded as a sign of a nascent democracy? And, for what it's worth, Ahmadinejad increasingly looks desperate - the bribing of Red Iran doesn't seem as powerful right now as the rallying of Blue Iran. Check out the photos of a May Mousavi rally headlined by Khatami on this Iranian photo-blog,

From the New York Times

Mr. Moussavi, a former prime minister, was born in Khameneh, a small town near this northwestern city in East Azerbaijan Province. He was speaking here on Tuesday as part of a two-day tour to win the votes of Turkish speakers, nearly one-third of Iran’s eligible voters.

In his speech, Mr. Moussavi denounced the pressure put on student activists through expulsions and jail terms during Mr. Ahmadinejad’s term and called the president’s policies “old and backward.”

He said the major goal of the 1979 revolution was freedom.

“We wanted to become free and be progressive in the world, not faced with backward ideas and notions today,” he said.

The rally was an unusual event in this northwestern city, where political and social restrictions are enforced more fiercely than in the capital, Tehran.

Young men and women sang together, and even moved their bodies rhythmically to the music. The young men rushed from their side of the segregated auditorium to the women’s side, to take cellphone pictures of girls dancing. The women had green headbands or ribbons in their hair, and had pushed back the black hoods they are required to wear as far back as they could go.

Many in the audience said they were frustrated by four years of economic mismanagement and social and political suppression under Mr. Ahmadinejad. They said they hoped that Mr. Moussavi would reverse those policies.

Nassim, 19, a radiology student, who withheld her family name for fear of retribution, said she had to resign as a member of her university’s Islamic Association, the only pro-reform political association for student activists, because of pressure from university hard-liners.

“I could not even do social or cultural work,” she said. “They accused us of doing political work no matter what we did.”
And beyond simple rallies, this week witnessed a fiery debate between Ahmadinejad and Moussavi in which Moussavi called out the current administration for its anti-semitic remarks and failed foreign polices:

He also took issue with Mr. Ahmadinejad’s constant questioning of the Holocaust, saying that it harmed the country’s standing with the rest of the world and undermined its dignity. “For the past four years you kept saying that the United States is collapsing,” Mr. Moussavi said. “You have said Israel is collapsing. France is collapsing.”

He added, “Your foreign policies have been based on such illusional perceptions.”
So what happens if Moussavi wins?

I think its unlikely that Iran would be quick to capitulate on its nuclear program. They live in a bad neighborhood filled with unstable nuclear powers and aggressive, nuclear armed petro-ocracies.

I like to point out that I wouldn't live in my neighborhood if I didn't own a gun, so I shouldn't expect Iran to accept existence in a dangerous area without a nuclear deterrent.

So where does this leave Iran and U.S.? And by extension Iran and the U.S.-Israeli-Sunni Arab partnership?

It's hard to say. For his part, Obama has hinted that the U.S. may be willing to drop preconditions on talks with Iran.

I've often heard that in 1969, when the Soviets were considering attacking China, a Soviet emissary was sent to speak with someone in the White House about what America's reaction would be if the Sovs bombed China's nuclear facilities. Nixon's response was swift and unambiguous: the U.S. would not accept a Soviet attack on China. It seems to me that the Iran-Israel-U.S. situation right now is similar.

Assuming three things are true:
  • a). The Israelis are serious about attacking Iran's nuclear program and the Iranians know that they are serious.
  • b).The Iranians know that the consequences of Israel's attack would be both devastating and difficult completely predict.
  • c). That Iran wants maintain at minimum a strategic nuclear ambiguity for deterrence.

Then the only sensible move for the Iranians to make would be for Moussavi to immediately reach out for formal talks with the Obama administration as soon as possible, assuming he wins.* Obama then has the ability to do to Israel what Nixon did with Iran - declare that an attack on Iran would be absolutely unacceptable. This would serve to weaken Netanyahou's government and probably push back the planned Israeli strike indefinitely.

The Sunni regimes won't be happy about the opening of the relations between Iran and America, but it won't matter. Better relations between the U.S. and Iran, similar to relations between China and the U.S., make everything else a feit accompli.

*All bets are off if Ahmadinejad wins, he benefits from conflict with the west.

No comments: