Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Enemy of my Enemy ....

"There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune,
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries."

William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

This may be Obama's time, if only he seizes it.

The thought of a nuclear armed Iran is bone chilling for anyone who understands the consequences. It is an existential threat for not just Israel, as many would like to pretend, but for the entire western world. We have dallied far too long, wishing somehow it would just go away.

During the "Green Revolution" protesters in Iran rose up in force demonstrating against the regimes theft of the election. Obama chose to side with the Mullahs. I can only guess he calculated that his support for their totalitarian regime would cause them to negotiate away their nuclear ambitions. If so, he was very wrong.

Had he backed the demonstrators there would only have been a small chance of success, but that chance was squandered. If somehow the regime had toppled (would the Revolutionary Guard have fired on their own people, probably, but we can't be sure), the present nuclear problem would likely have been arrested. Funding for Iran's proxies like Hezbollah and other regime backed terrorist groups would have dried up, or at least being curtailed. It would have been a safer world. But that was then, and now is now.

An editorial in The NY Post, Facing a Common Foe by Alexander Smoltczyk and Bernhard Zand, says that at a forum at The Aspen Institute Ideas Festival last week the United Arab Emirates' ambassador to the US was asked whether the UAE would support a possible air strike against the regime in Tehran. He said, "A military attack on Iran by whomever would be a disaster, but Iran with a nuclear weapon would be a bigger disaster. " A Middle East expert. Jeffery Goldberg said the Ambassador was expressing "the standard position of many Arab countries." Goldberg believes the Jewish Arab problem is bad, very bad, but the Persian Arab problem is far worse. The deep seeded hatred and mutual distrust has been simmering for centuries, and it is far worse now with Iran threatening to develop a nuclear bomb.

Saudi Arabia suspects Iran of stirring up the Shite minority in its eastern provinces. In fact the Saudis have had military exercises where they have stood down their air defenses in a manner that would allow Israeli jets to fly through their airspace. If Israel does attack Iran, the Saudis will be ready to help- not Iran but Israel. The Arab emirates, Egypt, Jordan and Kuwait have in one way or another expressed grave concerns over the growing Iranian threat. They all have been helpful seizing illicit cargo aimed at countering Iranian mischief. There is no love lost here.

Because of this Obama has an even better opportunity to end Iran's nuclear threat than before, but this time he might simultaneously create a lasting peace in the Middle East. Our State Department should meet secretly with those Arab nations that are fearful of a nuclear armed Iran and propose that they make peace with Israel, and quickly, within a year. They would further be tasked with forcing the PLO and Hamas to accept Israel's right to exist, and complete an agreement for a two state solution, insuring Israel's security, even if the implementation of such an agreement took a while longer to complete. If all parties agreed, and if they completed their tasks, the US would guarantee to use any force necessary to de fang Iran. The biggest risk for the Arabs would be the failure of the US to honor it's word, and so their answer would in no small part depend on how much they trusted the President. It is therefore vital that Obama give every possible assurance that he will not back away.

It is certainly in the Arabs long term interests to agree. Remember, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Israel does not threaten their existence, Iran does. The Arabs can save face while reversing course with Israel by directing their populations anger towards a bigger enemy, a bigger threat, Iran. Deadlines with catastrophic consequences help focus the mind, and the deadline of needing action before Iran develops the bomb could well be the catalyst necessary for the Arabs and Israelis to truly achieve a lasting peace.

If Syria watched this unfold, they would likely abandon Iran. It would be clear which the winning side would be, and they would have to act quickly in order to extract some concessions from Israel before the dust settled and they risked becoming a rogue outlier.

For the US the benefits are tremendous. If agreements were finalized, it would put severe and unprecedented pressure on Iran to give up their ambitions. Unlike past vacuous statement about all options being on the table, the message here would be unambiguous. "The US, Israel, Europe and the Arab states stand together and are prepared to do whatever it takes to end the Iranian threat." It is anything but certain that Iran would turn their swords into plowshares, but they would have internal pressure from a young, well educated, cosmopolitan, western leaning majority, and external pressure from a large, powerful international coalition. Combined, the pressure would be an order of magnitude greater than anything they have felt thus far.

If they didn't capitulate, there would be enough support worldwide that the Chinese and the Russians, looking at this huge coalition with an irrevocable commitment to act, would at worst steer clear of the situation, and at best join in.

The key to success is that our commitment be absolute. The behavior of all the players, the Arab states, China, Russia, Syria, not to mention Iran, will be very different depending on how they interpret our resolve.

There are three possible roads to success. Iran could capitulate. If not, strategic attacks could both seriously damage their nuclear facilities and at the same time undermine the government, perhaps allowing the Green Party to take over. The third and last alternative is war.

The first phase of a war would not likely be terribly difficult. With a joint US Israel attack (assuming a Desert Storm strategy was not adopted where Israeli hands were tied) the Iranians would have a hard time resisting. Certainly with ground troops we could easily set the nuclear program back many years. And unlike Iraq and Afghanistan where the "peace" became the real problem, there is a popular government in Iran waiting to take over.

Of course with any war, things could go wrong, terribly wrong. But the consequences of even the worst turn of events pales in comparison to a nuclear armed Iran, not to mention the dangers of an irreconcilable situation in the Middle East.

The world would hardly be a safe place even if success here were achieved. A not very stable Pakistan has nuclear weapons and a terrorist takeover would not be shocking. Sudan is a failed state that harbors terrorists and could easily become a safe haven for them. Russia and China have ambitions that are yet to be understood, and Al Qaeda continues to actively plot our destruction. None the less, an achievement of this magnitude would be a huge step towards peace and stability.

The likelihood of getting the Arabs on board is very small. The likelihood of succeeding even if we do get them on board is small, but the reward is huge. We must do something.