Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Marching to Glory

Reading the news this week is akin to reading a John le Carré novel. In the Middle East, we see live in the midst of a giant spy-thriller, with Iran, the Arabs, the United States, France, England, China, and Russia all vying for a slice of the petroleum pie.

As the centre of gravity of this mini-cold war shifted to the Persian Gulf and focuses on Iran, Israel and its immediate neighbours find themselves reduced to bit players.

Tehran’s Summer

Iran has been feeling the heat of late. They tried to put a brave face after the defection of Asghari, enlisting his other(?) wifes and kids to demand hubby comes back home, but after more news of the capture of other Iranian intelligence personnel in Iraq, the Iranians had to retaliate.

And those are the troubles we hear about in the Western Media. Inside Iran, the power struggle appears to be revving up; the revolution is divided, paradoxically weakened by the failure of the Khatami’s “reforms” with Bazaris and Mullahs in decline in the face of the interests aligned around the Bassij. As the Khomeiny’s heirs destroy one another, regime opponents are waiting in the wings.

Dere-stroika

In Soviet times, the failure of Gorbatchev’s perestroika only revealed the unreformable nature of the system. Similarly, in Iran, Khatami’s failure may have only heralded the end of the Mullah regime.

However, oil prices are higher now. So, while the Russian were defeated by cheaper Saudi oil, the Mullah’s are propped up by high oil prices. Their regime is able to buy itself some time, but this is a dynamic resource that is slowing running out; with Iranian production in decline, the regime desperately needs to invest, but the know-how and funds are only found in the hands of those imperialist infidels. In the immediate, at least USD 30 Billion worth of investments are needed for upgrades in Khuzistan and developments such as the Golshan and Ferdows fields.

This is where Iran’s policy proves to be self-defeating; pursuing nuclear ambitions in the face of opposition from those pesky infidels, while at the same time desperately needing Western know-how and funds to develop an oil-centric economy.

Nuclear Roots

Back in the 1970’s, the Shah appeared able to square that circle for a time, by providing financial support for French Nuclear mining in Gabon. But back then, the Cold War was on, and the Mullah’s were out.

Things changed after 1979, when Khomeini came back. In order to take over Iran, him and the Mullah’s needed to destabilize more secular minded Iranians, so they decided to exorcize the Western Demons (who else). Those Western Demons had little choice but to cut off funds and technical know-how, as well as support for Iran’s budding nuclear program. The wave of terror attacks in France did little to earn the Mullahs any goodwill; especially not the assassination of one of the architect of the Gabon deal, George Besse, even if the French did bomb Busher in 1983.

The Mullahs could have decided not to pursue Nuclear Ambitions, and they did for a while. However, their opposition to the West earned them few friends, and their traditional rivals remained. With Sunni Pakistan and Arab Iraq (until 1981) on their way to get the bomb, the Russians in Afghanistan, and the Balouchis increasingly restive, the Mullahs felt naturally paranoid. The use of chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq war drove the point home.

"Boulangisme" in Tehran

Since a complete reform of Iran’s economy was far less important back then than securing their regime, they made do with a few cursory reforms. To be fair, reform efforts were limited because of Iraqi invasion, but on the long run, the Mullah’s regime evolved into a form of religious “Boulangisme”, from which Ahmadinejad emerged. Tadaa…

Ahmadinejad is not such a nut job as much as a logical result of the Islamic revolution (and a fine product of its education system, with a PhD in Engineering). In the Iranian system, the president is nothing more than a glorified Prime Minister, with real power in the hands of the Supreme Guide, Khamenei. With his margin of manoeuvre limited on the inside by the Wali Faqih, his only option is to circumvent the Mullahs, and increase tensions on the outside.

He is not really creating a new Iranian policy as much as implementing it in a “purer” form.

This meant vociferous support for Hezb in Lebanon, a more forceful destabilisation of Iraq, and an increasingly “assertive” flexing of muscles.

With this in mind, the Iranians were bound to respond to their latest intelligence setbacks with some sort escalation. In Lebanon, it is taking the form of increasing support for the “opposition” and for Syria’s intransigent insistence on its return to the land of the Cedars. In Iraq, they are revving up where they can, by kidnapping the British sailors, for example (with a short-term benefit of a spike in oil prices).

Own Goal

On the downside, the Iranians are stuck with a plethora of new ennemies, and remain prisoners of their own policies.

Rest assured, the Mullahs generally understand the limits of this aggressive stance and try to build regional alliances. The latest Security Council resolution drove it home to even the thicker heads, as evidenced by the growing internal opposition to Ahmadinejad.

However, there is little the Mullahs can do to change things on the long run; they are now wed to a maximalist position, and prisoners of their own internal political infighting. They can only make a bad situation worse, as any attempts at “negotiation” will only be viewed as weakness by one side, and exploited by rallying the braying masses.

The side-effect is the multiplication of "own-goals". This should remind us that, for all its faults, Bourgeois Democracies provide better government than Dictatorships, and that Populism is a poor substitute for either.

12 comments:

Traffic said...

Great Post.

Just one question. Do you think that the US has the patience needed to wait for the Iranian regime to implode, or are they going to go for a full blown military showdown with the Iranians?

Jeha said...

Not quite.

One Side of the answer;

While the United States may not have the patience, it has the staying power and the long view when it comes to strategic resources. The "Rapid Deployment Force" was started as a result of Roosevelt's concern for the safety of Middle Eastern oil, and its efficacy was revealed in Lebanon in 1958, as well as during Gulf War 1. All the troops that kicked Iraq out of Kuwait were ableo to rely on pre-established logistical support; a rough math is about 10 men involved with logistics for every fighting man on the front line. For Air Forces, it is about 60 mechanics and 2 pilots per plane. I think that they are well equipped and well prepared for prolonged warfare in the region, and that oil is vital enough for them to "stick it out".

The Other Side of the answer;

They feel that they can afford to get rid of "dead weight" like Lebanon to achieve their larger objective; they did so in 1991. So, what we see as short term thinking within our puny life span, could well be longer term planning. With current events, we could be reading the present with skewed view of the past, and the fact that they are supporting us now does not necessarily mean good news. I feel that we have a window of opportuinity that is fast closing. While I am confident that our "leaders" are competent enough to prevail over Bashar, I am not so sure they're toughful enough to establish the foundations for a sustainable democracy in Lebanon.

ghassan karam said...

There is no doubt that oil has played a role and will continue to play a role in shaping global geopolitics. But to assume that it is the most overwhelming issue in removing Sadam or attempting to stop Iran from acquiring the nuclear bomb is a major simplification. For starters it is of the essence to recognize that oil is a fungible commodity. In that sense the ownership of the resource is not very material. What is crucial for the world is to have access to the oil on an open market. As important as energy might be to modernity it will always be less important than the fear of uncontrolled acts of terrorism directed by a bunch of fanatics whose aim is nothing short of global dominance. We can always argue wheter the threat of Fascist Islamic Jihadists is real or imagined but dismiss it as a seminal cause of formulating policy in the Middle East is to misplace a seminal rationale in the dynamic of policy formulation.The campaigns in the Middle East cannot be explained in terms of peak oil because the current world policeman has paid a price in treasure and blood that would be the equivqlence of all the oil that the country needs for over a thousand years!!!
I have never agreed with the current US administration on anything but I will not accuse them of waging a war in order to get control of the Iraqui oil reserves. I truly fail to understand what is meant by such a statement. On the other hand I can understand, although I am totally opposedto it, the policy motivation that is aimed at disrupting the plans of the perceived deadly enemy of open, free, secular and democratic societies.

Jeha said...

Ghassan,

I understand your point, but I still feel that the issue is oil, for 3 main reasons.

1- Perception. The debate among experts is only whether we are in already in peak oil now or will be in 2050, and I have also noted how many discount the possibility of abiogenic oil, except for most Russians and a few maverick Texans.

2- Long Term/Short Term. On the long run, you would be right; we do not need oil as much as a source of energy, but on the short run, the necessary "retooling" means that resources may not always be considered fungible. Crucially, the princes' advisors, concerned about the limits to resources, are less likely to consider that oil is a fungible resource, and will advise their paymasters accordinly.

3- Screw ups.The expense in blood and treasure by the United States in Iraq does not necessarily disprove the assertion that oil was predominant in their minds. Their current troubles are largely caused by the incompetent team they had placed there initally. And let's not forget they're not lead by the sharpest mind, no matter how well qualified his team may be.

Traffic said...

So predicting the next turn of events in the US-Iranian conflict is nothing more than pure guesswork. So, what the hell, might as well place a bet that the current matter relating to the 15 held-up British soldiers will set the grounds for an internationally backed strike.

Anonymous said...

There were many inaccuracies in this text.
It is the West that adopted, since the beginning, a hostile stand towards Iran not the opposite.
Iran never attacked anyone (not in the last 2 milleniums at least) on the other hand the US messed with Iran and attacked it directly or through proxies time and again, including with WMDs.
Ahmadinajad is not a "product", he has been ELECTED by the people.
Iran is sitting on a ton of cash.
Iran is not breaking international law with its nuclear program.
Many Iranian diplomats and military personel are held by the US occupation in Iraq long before the British sailors were arrested after they went to board an Iranian ship off the coast.
It is zionists and the zionist controlled US that is destabilizing Iraq (and the whole region) not Iran.
Last but not least Syria is interested in the Golan heights not going back to Lebanon: The US offered Syria to stay in Lebanon in exchange for disarmin Hezbollah and Syria refused the deal, it wants the Golan heights.

anonymous2 said...

anonymous-

you should work on your deductive reasoning skills. and you should also stop believing everything al-manar tells you.

Jeha said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeha said...

Anon 12:04

As to the "inaccuracies in this text";

1- you are partially right about "the West's [...] hostile stand towards Iran"; at first, Khomeiny did stop the nuclear program. And the embassy storming by the students was done with the story of the downfall of Mossadegh in mind.

2- you are right in stating that Iran was attacked with WMD's by Iraq, my piece reflects this.

3- Ahmadinejad was indeed elected, but he remians a "product" of the Iranian system, as much as we are a "product" of the Lebanese mess.

4- The "cash" Iran is sitting on is not as much as you think it is. A country's wealth should be based by the opportuinities it affords its people, not resource extraction.

5- Iran's nuclear program is not in violation of international law; Iran is only violating the treaties it signed. Israel, in comparison, never signed the non-proliferation treaty.

6- You are right about "Iranian diplomats", but you should realize that Iranian "military personel" should not have been found in Iraq. And you forget that the British Sailors were in Iraqi waters; the ship they were boarding is still moored at its original location.

7- Stop blaming Zionists; remember what we Arabs do to one another; Halabja, Hama...

8- Personally, when I think of Syria, I think of many incidents such as the Khairallah barracks...

You appear articulate and well informed, but I feel that not all the points that you make, however, are not completely based in fact. I understand that you may be comitted to a given ideology, but I feel that one should always bear in mind that politicians, even those we like, have a way of "bending" the facts to serve their interests, and therefore do a disservice to the truth.

Anonymous said...

Jeha

>> that Iranian "military personel" should not have been found in Iraq.
But the US is?
>> And you forget that the British Sailors were in Iraqi waters
Oh yeah? What were the British doing in Iraqi watres?

>> Stop blaming Zionists; remember what we Arabs do to one another; Halabja, Hama...
The fact that arab regimes (some now defunct) did wrong does not absolve zionists from their crimes that are still being committed today.

About Georges Besse he was killed by members of action directe a leftist french groupuscule that was active in the 80s, at least one of them is sitting in prison for that crime: nothing to do with Iran.

>> I think of many incidents such as the Khairallah barracks...
What does that have to do with anything?

I understand that you may be comitted to a given ideology, but I feel that one should always bear in mind that politicians, even those we like, have a way of "bending" the facts to serve their interests, and therefore do a disservice to the truth.

Jeha said...

Anon 14:24,

You should be able to do better than recycle my arguments and copy my words. I will only clarify these points;

1- The Iranian claim was that the sailors were in Iranian waters.

2- No Israeli leader ever massacred his own people. Even Sharon never bombed any labour strongholds...

3- If you fail Khairallah barracks have to do with anything, there is no way anyone can convince you of anything.

And finally, reusing my own words is sooo childish. Grow up, or go away.

Anonymous said...

1- The Iranian claim was that the sailors were in Iranian waters.
It is a matter of dispute but the point is that you are failing to see that the sovereignty of Iraq has been theoritcally transfered to Iraq. But US and British troops are arresting Iranians in (or maybe outside!) Iraq even when Iraqi authorities are protesting (like in the case of the Iranian personnel arrested a few weeks ago)

2- No Israeli leader ever massacred his own people. Even Sharon never bombed any labour strongholds...
Not true. King David hotel bombing is the best example (I have others). Plus the leaders you are describing were never elected they were imposed to us by... the WEST
including Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the Shah in Iran.
Again this does not absolve the zionists of all the crimes they are still commiting today.

3- If you fail Khairallah barracks have to do with anything, there is no way anyone can convince you of anything.
Yes this has NOTHING to do with the fact that the current Syrian leadership is pursuing Golan heights and is not interested the least in going into Lebanon.

Stick to the facts please.