When two parties enter into negotiation over a life-and-death matter intending
to cheat the other, in full knowledge that the other intends to cheat, how long
does it take for negotiation to give way to violence? I have predicted US
military action against Iran by Halloween (October 31), and I am sticking to my
destiny and madness in Iran, June 6).
Iran has no intention of abandoning its nuclear program, and the United States
has no intention of abandoning its efforts to destabilize the Iranian regime.
The US Republican Party's strategy for next November's congressional elections
keeps the farce before the public. It is doubtful that it can be spun out that
long. A warning on Friday from General George Casey, the top US commander in
Iraq, that the Iranians "are using surrogates to
conduct terrorist operations in Iraq both against us and against the Iraqi
people" indicates how unstable the game has become.
When Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad announced last week that Iran, inshallah,
("If Allah wills it") would answer America's proposal for direct negotiations
in return for suspension of uranium enrichment, he betrayed both a keen sense
of enjoyment and awareness of how much leverage Iran has over the White House.
The US president's surprise visit to Baghdad signaled a Republican decision to
run on the outcome of the Iraqi war. Iran's leverage over Shi'ite militias
allows Tehran to determine the level of violence and the US casualty count.
Without Iranian cooperation, President George W Bush has no hope of persuading
US voters that he has made progress in stabilizing Iraq.
The Republicans have no choice but to fall in line behind their president. As
the New York Times reported on June 21, "Just a few weeks ago, some Republicans
were openly fretting about the war in Iraq and its effect on their re-election
prospects, with particularly vulnerable lawmakers worried that its growing
unpopularity was becoming a drag on their campaigns. But there was little sign
of such nervousness on Wednesday as Republican after Republican took to the
Senate floor to offer an unambiguous embrace of the Iraq war and to portray
Democrats as advocates of an overly hasty withdrawal that would have grave
consequences for the security of the United States."
Last October 25 (A
Syriajevo in the making?), I predicted, "Washington will
refrain from military action to forestall Iranian nuclear-arms developments,
while Tehran will refrain from disrupting Washington's constitutional Potemkin
Village in Iraq." I added:
[Supreme Leader Ali] Khamenei and Iran's
President Mahmud Ahmadinejad remind us that the Persians invented chess. By
providing resources not only to Shi'ite "extremists" but to the Sunni
resistance as well, they set the stage to withdraw such support, making a
concession for which they would be rewarded in turn ...
In this exchange, Iran gives up nothing of importance, for the rage of the
Iraqi Shi'ites will only wax over time. Tehran retains the option to stir
things up in Iraq whenever it chooses to do so. Its capacity to do so will
increase with time as Iraq grows less stable. Time is on the side of Tehran.
Only with great difficulty could the US employ military means to prevent Iran
from acquiring nuclear weapons; once Iran has acquired them, the military
balance will shift decisively in favor of the Iranians.
Bush has illusions concerning his Iraqi policy, the Iranian regime, with better
sources of information in its Mesopotamian neighbor, does not. Tehran knows
that its Shi'ite allies will either crush the Sunni political elite that has
ruled the country since the British created it 85 years ago or they will be
crushed in turn. Iran cannot abandon the Iraqi Shi'ites, and cannot long keep
them on a leash.
For the moment, Iraqi Shi'ite politicians continue to enact the solemn farce of
national reconciliation. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Sunday offered an
amnesty to Iraqi rebels, but excluded those who have killed civilians.
Considering that both the Sunni and Shi'ite militias kill as many civilians as
they can get their hands on, the offer is meaningless. More radical Shi'ite
elements of the ruling coalition oppose any offer of amnesty to Sunni
guerrillas, but have let this formulation pass. Tehran holds enough swing votes
to shift from an empty offer of amnesty to an open offer of civil war.
Iran's leaders have a clearer strategic vision than do the Americans. They know
that the soap-bubble of Iraqi democracy cannot last for long. As long as it
does last, they retain leverage over Washington; when it pops, that leverage
Tehran finds itself in a variant of the "prisoner's dilemma".  If it accepts
the US proposal to suspend uranium enrichment while negotiating with Washington
- assuming that this can be verified to Washington's satisfaction - time will
be on the side of the Americans. As the Iraqi situation unravels, Iran's
leverage over Washington will erode, and Iran will have lost crucial time in
creating a nuclear-weapons capability. Iran's only logical response is the one
that Ahmadinejad already has offered: neither accept nor reject the proposal,
but play for time.
Washington cannot accept this proposal. It will indicate its impatience to
Tehran through various gestures, for example by inciting Iran's national
minorities or dissidents. But the effect of such action will be to reinforce
Tehran's conviction that it has nothing to gain by accepting US terms.
For this reason it seems very unlikely that the present phony war can be
perpetuated until the November US elections. We have had a relatively quiet
June and are likely to have a quiet July. August is a memorable month for major
wars, and I predict that August of 2006 will be an eventful one.
1. "Two suspects, A and B, are arrested by the police. The police have
insufficient evidence for a conviction and, having separated both prisoners,
visit each of them to offer the same deal: if one testifies for the prosecution
against the other and the other remains silent, the betrayer goes free and the
silent accomplice receives the full 10-year sentence. If both stay silent, the
police can sentence both prisoners to only six months in jail for a minor
charge. If each betrays the other, each will receive a two-year sentence. Each
prisoner must make the choice of whether to betray the other or to remain
silent. However, neither prisoner knows for sure what choice the other prisoner
will make. So the question this dilemma poses is: what will happen? How will
the prisoners act?" (Wikipedia)