I went and put my foot right in it when I came back to Iraq this time around, and though being so close to and busy with the situation may impair my ability to dispassionately assess the situation here I feel it is important to write a follow-up to the last article I wrote about how unlikely the any US invasion of Iran is. I feel this is important for two reasons:
-It assists me and readers in assessing how predictive I am and forces me to examine why I was right or wrong, which is often a highly informative and revealing process which assists in clearing up continuing analysis
-It forces us to remember what we were talking about yesterday regardless whether or not it is being spotlighted in the fuzz-fest of a media we have… particularly in an American Presidential election year
As I wrote before, it is highly impractical and unlikely for the US to invade Iran or engage in any serious military actions against Iran for as many reasons as Iran has for slowly aligning with the US itself. That being said, it is important to remember that most folks were buzzing their wings off about an “imminent” US invasion of Iran just a few short months ago, but now all that fluffy buzz has ceased. This has a lot more to do with the fact of American Presidential elections coming up soon than any real change in the situation in the Middle East.
The situation in Iraq, Saudi, Lebanon, Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran have continued to improve for the US and deteriorate for Iran. What we see now is an Iran following its predicted (and logical) course and pushing more in line with the US, away from a potential future global menace of a Russia, and preparing itself and its surrogates for the final physical play of the end-game in Iraq. This does not mean Iran has changed its public tune much nor that the US has, either. But it does mean that the likelihood of any overt action between the two has decreased even more — at least outside of Iraq.
Iraq is fairly quiet these days, US casualties are very low and even Iraqis are feeling different about things. Gone are the days of week-long bombardments in the Green Zone, the sporadic small-arms fire on checkpoints, etc. The violence today is different in many important ways from previous years. The violence today is largely unguided, spontaneous and small-group oriented as opposed to being perpetrated by well-prepared groups working in large concert who are seeking not the immediate effects of violence but the long-term second- and third-order effects of regional disruption. This basically is to say that the current violence smells more of unplanned civil disobedience than sinister extra-regional planning.
So why are the Iranian-organized groups not making a hard push at the end of the Bush presidency? It is worth remembering that Iran would rather deal with a known quantity in Bush than the unknown potential of a freshly vigorous and seasoned John McCain (or even a characteristically naive and uncharacteristically pissed-off Barak Obama). This enhances Bush’s trading power with Iran and thereby Saudi Arabia to such a degree that it is very likely that the final status agreements among the parties will be presided over by Bush in act, though possibly with public credit given to the next president on the day of signing — if ever there is a public one.
Iran has lost a lot in the last few years and its menu of choices has dwindled considerably. Both Iranian leadership camps are feeling the squeeze now, at the end of this long struggle and are racing for ways to enhance their standing at the moment of truth when the deals actually go down. It is not directly in Iran’s interest, but it is part of their social programming and active program to resort to demonstrations of power even when they are likely to be less than spectacular. This suits their self-conception and plays well with their public. Expect to see Iran make one last violent push in Iraq right at the end of the year after a period of consolidation and preparation.
I will restate this differently: Expect to see a violent final quarter of the year in Iraq. There are two reasons for this, one being that Iran is fighting the inertia of its dwindling influence and position even as it is relying on the inertia of the pens coming to paper on Iraq final status agreements at the end of the year. The other reason is that when the deals are all struck, the dust settles, and everyone is about to finally get on with their belated Cold War II preparations Iran wants to be able to tell its people — and a deaf world — that it influenced the US, Saudis, Israelis, etc. with its resolute strength in the final months before the Iraq War really ended. As silly as that is, it is sound reasoning from a propagandist regime’s point of view… and that carries weight over the long-term, which is what Iran is really concerned with now, having admitted to itself that it has lost this particular round of regional plays which it hoped would launch it into the global realm of influential politics.
I probably put down some fairly chewed-up sentences here, so this will likely require an edit at a later date for clarity and brevity. I would recommend to any serious-minded individual to ignore the overwhelming fuzz invading the news in such a huge election year and stick to focusing on economic indicators and the numerous other concrete facts available to get a sense for what is going on in the world today. If you were to believe the news a few months ago, the US was about to march on Tehran, and if you believe the news today then it matters what an American candidate says about state tobacco taxes… despite his position having very little to do with domestic policy and everything to do with American foreign policy and projection.