Lynch addresses poll on Arab public Opinion

August 6, 2010

Yesterday I blogged about the new poll released showing that Arab public opinion has been turning quickly against the U.S. and its interests following the surge that accompanied Obama’s election and his Cairo speech. In that post I referenced the CNAS report that Marc Lynch and Kristine Lord had co-authored. Today Lynch actually addresses the poll results on his own blog The post is worth reading.

One of the interesting things that Lynch addresses in the poll is the increasing prominence of Turkey and its Prime Minister Erdogan, who the poll found to be the most popular individual in the Middle East. Stephen Kinzer recently published a book titled “Reset: Iran. Turkey, and U.S. Foreign Policy” which I haven’t read but have heard good things about and plan on reading in the near future. From what I’ve heard, Kinzer argues that the Turkey and Iran are inevitably going to play a larger and more predominant role in the region and the United States should accept this and act accordingly. I think there’s some wisdom to this but I’d like to make a few points.

First, I’m certainly no expert on Turkey (anyone know any good books for someone who hasn’t studied Turkey much), but from I understand about them I think they can play a positive role in the Middle East. The U.S. should certainly welcome Turkey’s presence in the region, and pass on some of the burden of maintaining an acceptable order in the region to Turkey. And, although I encourage the Obama administration to try actual diplomacy Iran, I don’t think I can say the same things for Iran. In certain cases, such as Afghanistan (SE Asia not ME) and Salafist Jihad, our interests do align with Iran. Yet the regime in the power in Iran can’t afford much reapproachment with the United States or the West in general. Their grip on power relies, at least on part, on having this Great Satan to blame for their problems. Moreover, I don’t think that can or intend to play a positive role in the region, at least from a U.S. interest. Ultimately we are going to have to accept that Iran is one of the strongest powers in the region but we don’t have to encourage it.

Ultimately, the worse scenario is a full-fledge alliance between Iran and Turkey in the region, especially if hostile to the U.S. and our interests.d This is not unthinkable, given that these are two non-Arab nations in an Arab region, and after a history of an Iran-Turkey-Israel alliance that the U.S. backed in the early Cold War years. What the U.S should hope to accomplish is having Turkey become a balancing force against Iran in the region, since we destroyed the previous Iran balancer when we toppled Saddam’s Iraq. That Turkey and its leader are popular among the Arabs is then a good thing, if used correctly. They have the oppourtnity then to moderate against Radical idelogies within the Arab Middle East, as well as balance against the Persian-Shitte growing power. Arab leaders that can’t publically ally too much with the U.S., could find Turkey an acceptable alternative.

I foresee two potential threats to the U.S. embracing this opportunity, both of which we create ourselves. First, the U.S. seems increasingly uncomfortable in buck passing any responsibility for global order and stability even when states have the same interests we do and despite our huge deficit. Want evidence of this? How about that were still deeply engaged in Europe as a “balancing force” even though these nations refuse to fight any wars and we’ve spent the past (almost) twenty years trying to create a purpose for NATO. (Side note: the answer to the question that all the FM’s of NATO get together each year to figure out, What is the strategic purpose of NATO in the new international world is there is none. The purpose of NATO-U.S. on the other hand, is to maintain order in Europe which shouldn’t be too difficult.)

The second threat is obviously that Turkey doesn’t bend over and kiss Israel’s ass. As a Jewish American I strongly believe in Israel (though, as with my own government, I don’t ALWAYS agree with it), but that doesn’t change the fact that Turkey doesn’t pose much of a threat to Israel, and the small disputes they get into which don’t actually matter only strengthens Turkey’s appeal in the Arab Middle East; which ultimately works in both the United States’ and Israeli’s favor, as described above.


You (wanna) break it, You buy it.

August 5, 2010

As some may have seen, Andrew J. Bacevich wrote an article in The New Republic yesterday, calling for an Afghanistan War tax. For those who don’t know, Dr. Bacevich served in the military during Vietnam, is now a Professor at Boston University, and a common and thoughtful critic of what he would call the U.S. empire. He’s written a bunch of books, including one that just came out called Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War. His son also died fighting for our country in Iraq, and the Center for New American Security has named a Fellowship after him, which Brian Burton currently holds (and Shawn Brimley who is now in the DoD used to hold)

Why I bring this up however is because I had been contemplating submitting a piece to one of the few online publications that allow Undergraduates to submit too on a similar topic. As noted in my last post, there has been an increasing fervor calling for attacking Iran. Although most of this has been limited to air strikes, I think that any invasion of Iran must be accompanied by raising taxes to pay as you go, and instituting a military draft (even though I’d be in the age group drafted). There is no way that our treasury or our military can can handle another war without it. Conveniently, this would also make it unlikely that we would invade Iran, which is the point Bacevich is making with Afghanistan. I also think this idea might be worthwhile because I get the feeling that Prez Obama and most of his team isn’t in favor of attacking Iran. I think the recent contradictory evidence has been related to the election, but I could be completely wrong. However, if I am right, there are still many who are going to rally up support for the wand this proclamation would be good political cover for the President to use to avoid making that costly mistake. So if Rahm or Gibbs or any of the others read this, you have my permission to use this just hit me up with a job when I graduate next year in return.

The Iranian-Israeli-U.S. hardliners’ conseneus

August 5, 2010

I’m up early today so, although I’d have preferred my first post to be something more thoughtful, I’m just going to go ahead with it.  As people with only a minimal amount of understanding of terrorism or guerrilla warfare know, often the attacks are strategically aimed at provoking a overreaction from the enemy.  Indeed, the FLN in Algeria once brutally murdered an entire village of Europeans in the country in hopes of getting the French to respond with indiscriminate violence on the Algerian population, which they did.  No doubt ONE of Al-Qaeda’s goals with the 9/11 attack was to plunge the United States into the Middle East indefinitely.  The logic in this is that the enemies response will  win over new recruits to the guerrilla/terror movements, by alienating their target population (native Algerians for FLN and the Arab and wider Muslim world for AQ).  The FLN was extremely successful at doing this during the French occupation; many disparate groups allied together around hatred of the French mainly because of these indiscriminate attacks.  Once the French left, they returned to fighting each other.  AQ was less successful in Afghanistan at least initially, presumably because most Muslims could see our initial response was justified, but once we went into Iraq this certainly was the case.

Which brings me to Iran, unlike the two examples above, a state actor.  As has been adequately covered elsewhere (don’t know how to link look at Jim Lobe, March Lynch, Steve Walt, and other blogs along with original pieces), the chorus calling for military action against Iran.  As with Iraq (h/t Walt, Lobe), parts of the moderate  FP establishment, such as CFR via Haass, Takeyh, and Simon, have begun calling for action.  Around two weeks ago, reports started coming out from news sources such as Newsweek that cited annoymous Obama Administration sources saying military action was back on the table.  JCS Mike Mullen then confirmed this last Sunday on Meet the Press.

This got me thinking that the Iranian regime, especially certain influential parts of it, would (privately) welcome, perhaps even try to provoke, surgical air strikes by the U.S. or Israel.    Note, they certainly do not want a U.S. invasion as this would certainly result in the end of their regime.  Air strikes, on the other hand, by even the rosiest estimates, wouldn’t have disastrous effects for them.  At most they’d set the nuclear program back a few years.

At the same time, as many including the U.S. Secs. of State and Defense have both noted, Iran has increasingly become a military dictatorship, a product of the veterans of the Iran-Iraq war who know hold much sway in the regime.  An attack on Iran would enable them to accelerate this process.  It would also silence the growing domestic opposition from all corners of the country.  In fact, everyone would rally around the regime (as almost all nations do after they’ve been attacked think of people still mad about 2000 election and then 9/11 happened), and allow the regime to blame all their shortcomings on the “great Satan,” the regimes favorite pastime.

Moreover, it would make it harder for the leaders of the Arab States to balance the growing Iranian power because their domestic audiences would be even more sympathetic to Iran and even more anti-Israeli and/or U.S..  Support for enforcing the U.N. sanctions or even stronger unilateral ones, as some notable states have signed on to do in the past few days, would disappear.  Numerous states that had agreed or might have otherwise agreed to enforce them would surely refuse to do so.  Finally, as noted elsewhere (don’t know how to link stuff yet any help would be great), Iran would surely want to acquire nuclear weapons after they’d been attacked.  Furthermore, it would be impossible to try and convince the international community (or Iran for that matter) that they were acquiring them for aggressive reasons.  Surely they’d seem justified in the eyes of most if they had recently been attacked.

So, in final analysis, it seems that it would work in Tehran’s favor if Israeli or the U.S. attacked its nuclear program.  Paradoxically, this may the only issue where the hardliners in all three countries are in agreement on.