Complimenting Anthony Shadid's work is almost redundant. But he's got a wonderful piece about a not very wonderful subject in tomorrow's Post: the growing Iranian ascendence in the Middle East. In the US at present we tend to think of the 'Iran' issue in terms of Iranian influence (or 'infiltration' -- take your pick) on Shia militias and political factions within Iraq. But we need to pull back the frame of reference and see that before 2001 Iran was bordered on the east and west by hostile or at least unfriendly countries -- Afghanistan and Iraq. Iran almost went to war with the Taliban government in the 1990s, Shadid notes.
Over the last five years we've overthrown both governments and in each case, though to differing degrees, created a power vacuum into which the Iranians have been free to extend themselves. Read Shadid's narrative of events and you see that if the US government were in the pay of Iranian agents they would have been hard-pressed to find a series of actions and policies better crafted to increase Iranian prestige and power in the region and decrease ours. We took out hostile powers to their east and west and then took the regional hegemonic power -- i.e., us -- and weakened it dramatically, greatly enhancing, at least in relative terms, their power.
As a Saudi writer told Shadid: "The United States is the first to be blamed for the rise of Iranian influence in the Middle East. There is one thing important about the ascendance of Iran here. It does not reflect a real change in Iranian capabilities, economic or political. It's more a reflection of the failures on the part of the U.S. and its Arab allies in the region."
Not that it's all peaches and cream for the Iranians. They also feel themselves under acute threat, which of course, they are. There's the nuclear power, Israel, to the west, the newly nuclear Pakistan over to the east and the global superpower America with occupying armies on either border.
And here we come back to the recurring theme of the Bush presidency: the president's perverse effort to be the beneficiary of his own incompetence and policy disasters.
Think back over this young year. How much have you heard about Iraq and how much have you heard about Iran? From where I'm sitting news of tits for tats with Iran, skirmishes between Iranian and American personnel, Cheney-heralded naval deployments are the order of the day. If you listen to these things closely everything is now turning toward Iran. Iraq, though central to everything, is also becoming old news.
And Iran's power is waxing. And we're supposed to rely on the approach of the White House, the guys who created the terrible situation in the first place, to solve the consequences of their latest screw up. It's like a perpetual motion machine of calamity and self-justification.
It's like Iraq only writ small (or writ large, I can't tell): Don't tell me about how stupid I was to get us into this situation. Now that I've created a disaster this big, what's your policy to deal with it? Sort of takes your breath away.
Pull our troops out? How's that gonna work now that we've unleashed a civil war there?
You may remember quite a bit earlier in our long national nightmare the White House and its toadies and acolytes were very big on the so-called 'fly-paper' theory of the Iraq War. All the bombings and killings were a sign that the policy was working. Rather than have the terrorists hitting us in America or other spots around the world we had created a terrorist killing field in Iraq where we could wipe them out on our own terms, right where we wanted them. That and create a democracy there too.
I still remember one really clever TPM Reader writing in and telling me: that's brilliant. Sort of like by creating a really dirty hospital, we're going to create a place where we can fight the germs on our own terms!
I don't know about you but sometimes I feel like we're in this eerie afterburn of our four long years of disaster. The public has rendered its verdict. Every thinking person has rendered their verdict. But the administration is still going on more or less as though nothing's happened. Serious thinking in Washington of The Note variety is still on a sort of mental autopilot. The story's over. All the real arguments are settled. But as of yet the car is still in drive rather than reverse.
Like the line says, first do no harm. And for the United States as a country, right now, that means doing everything constitutionally, legally and politically possible to limit the president's and even more Vice President Cheney's free hand to shape and execute American foreign policy. Sift it all out and it's that simple. Stop them from doing any more damage. All the rest is commentary and elaboration.
* in that context, lemme repost this, again:
Luke: Larisa, one of the things that jumped out of me in your interview in July of last year with [former Ambassador to Gabon] Joe Wilson - when you asked him about whether the goal of the Iraq invasion was to have a “fundamentalist military conglomerate in Iran” and there was a curious dance there between the two of you - trying to see whether he agreed with that, and whether that was the actual purpose, or an unintended consequence - can you shed any light on that?
Here's the exchange I'm referring to:----------------------------------------------
Raw Story: And now we see that Iraq and Iran have just signed a military treaty. Is that what we wanted?
Wilson: Iran is the big winner in this.
Raw Story: Is the goal a fundamentalist military conglomerate? Is that what we wanted?
Wilson: Sitting right on the border of the Kuwait and eastern Saudi oil fields...
Raw Story: Right, if that is what we wanted…
Wilson: Then we have achieved it.
Larisa Alexandrovna: Well, I can only speak for myself and I think he answered that for himself in the conversation where he says 'then we've succeeded'. Again, I cannot really speak for him outside of what he himself said in the interview.
In my view, one only needs to look at the real big winner of the Iraq war and there is no doubt that it is Iran. So if one argues that the goal was somehow to the benefit of Iran, then that has in fact been achieved.