Our Third Iran War

miercuri 1 oct. 2014

Edward Luttwak

Given Iran’s unrelenting hostility to the United States – “death to America” is the constantly repeated official slogan — a war would be readily understandable.  But  instead of fighting Iran as it continues to oppose American interests everywhere, we are now once again  fighting for Iran, by attacking its most deadly enemy of the hour.
Back in 1991, Iran’s most dangerous enemy was Saddam Hussein’s highly militarized Iraqi state, which kept Iran in check even after its  failure to destroy the Ayatollahs’  regime altogether — Saddam’s original aim in starting the war in September 1980.
Iran gained immensely from the American war of 1991 that decisively weakened Saddam’s regime, because it no longer had to keep up large frontal forces to guard against another Iraqi invasion. But there was no full demobilization to focus on rebuilding war-devastated areas. Instead Iran intensified its nuclear efforts and diverted personnel and weapons to Lebanon, to build up its fellow-Shia Hezbollah, and to Yemen’s to support the Houthis, also Shia albeit of a different sect. Then in 2003, Saddam Hussein’s state was altogether destroyed by the United States, allowing Iran to exercise unchecked influence over its fellow Shia of Iraq. One of its expressions was the Mahdi Army of the Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr armed and trained by Iran, which attacked American troops even as they were fighting against Sunni insurgents who were targeting Iraq’s Shia : evidently Iran’s overriding priority was to weaken the United States.  More broadly, once Saddam was no longer there, Iran instantly became the strongest power in Iraqi politics as a whole — no Arab Shia leader or party was ready  to oppose Iran’s will on anything of substance, even as they relied on American protection and American financial aid.
By then, the US had fought another war for Iran in 2001, to destroy the power of the Taliban, whose strict Sunni doctrine condemned the entire Iranian regime along with their fellow Shia of Afghanistan as heretics deserving of death.  In 1998, when the Taliban entered the city of Mazar-e-Sharif, there were massacres of local Shia, and the    diplomats of Iran’s consulate were killed. By then, Iran was forced to man its long border with Afghanistan very intensively, to guard against Taliban raids, Baluch insurgents, armed smugglers and illegal immigrants in large numbers.  The US invasion of Afghanistan replaced the Taliban regime with the Afghan government of Hamid Karzai, whose attitude to the United States was to degenerate into outright hostility even as his government continued to rely largely on US funding and US protection, but whose attitude to Iran was never less than deferential.
In both Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States was of course focused on the main action of removing an offending regime. But in both cases there could have been action early on to mitigate the collateral benefits to Iran. Because it persistently resorted to terrorism and the support of terrorists to attack Americans, there were opportunities for countermeasures and for retaliation that would have weakened Iran but which remained unused.
This grave omission must not be repeated. As the US acts against the Islamic State and some other Sunni Jihadis in Iraq and Syria, thereby benefiting Iran by attacking its enemies, it is essential to offset that collateral benefit by intensifying pressure on the Iran regime, not only in regard to its nuclear activities but also for its long-range missile  and terrorism violations. To enter into a tacit alliance with Iran against the Islamic state would not amount to cold-blooded realism, but to a gross failure of statecraft, inexcusable three times in a row.

September  25, 2014

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