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Saturday, September 20, 2014

The United States can negotiate with Iran on items of mutual interest, accepting that Iran has different interests and will continue competing with the U.S. on many fronts

Failure to Cooperate with Iran Against ISIS Will Open the Door To Greater Risk

by Guest Blogger for Janine Davidson
September 17, 2014

Council for Foreign Affairs
This commentary comes courtesy of Major Ben Fernandes, U.S. Army, a CFR term member and PhD candidate at George Mason University. He argues that the issues of Iranian nuclear weapon development and the anti-ISIS effort cannot be viewed in isolation. A push to arm “moderate” Syrian rebels without Iranian consultation could quickly antagonize Iran, whose leaders do not draw the same distinctions between the Sunni militant groups. This could result in a renewed Iranian push for nuclear deterrent—and increase the risk of regional destabilization.
By Ben Fernandes
Recent media coverage and U.S. policy pronouncements focus heavily on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) without effectively addressing how it relates to other regional security concerns.  Many foreign policy experts and senior U.S. officials acknowledge that ISIS, Iranian nuclear weapon development, and regional instability threaten U.S. interests.  However, several foreign policy experts seem to misunderstand Iran and the underlying causes for security problems in the Levant.  Furthermore, senior U.S. officials including Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, understand that preventing Iranian nuclear weapon development represents a “number one goal.”.  Regardless of which challenge is greatest, failure to prioritize and link the various issues makes defeating or containing ISIS less likely, Iranian nuclear weapon development more likely, and declining regional instability almost assured.
The current U.S. strategy to defeat ISIS unintentionally incentivizes Iran to build a nuclear weapon by increasing Iran’s perception of external threats and a need for the protection afforded by the possession of nuclear weaponry.  The U.S. intent to arm “moderate” Sunni groups in Syria to fight ISIS will simultaneously (if inadvertently) increase the “Sunni threat” to Iran and Iranian allies like the Assad regime.  Iran perceives all Sunni groups in the Levant as threatening regardless of a Sunni group’s views of the United States as the enemy.  Just as Saddam Hussein prioritized potential threats from Iran and internal dissidents far above the threat of external attack from the United States, Iran acts similarly towards internal dissidents, Saudi Arabia, and other Sunni groups vis-à-vis the United States.
ISIS credibly threatens regional stability, Iranian interests, U.S. interests, Iraq, and many others.  As such, there may be a way to find common ground with Iran in the fight against ISIS.  Iran will not become a reliable U.S. partner, but can be a transactional partner for specific issues of mutual interest just as the U.S. partnered with the Soviets in World War II.  A grand U.S.-Iran bargain over Syrian governance, ISIS, Iranian nuclear weapons, and sanctions may be more practical than dealing with each of these issues in sequence, per the current “ISIS first” approach discussed in GEN Dempsey’s testimony.  While Iran wants Assad to remain in power, Iranian leaders might be willing to discuss Assad’s departure with the right incentives and assurances protecting Iran’s high priority interests in Syria.  After all, the Assad regime’s brutality helped create ISIS, which is not in Iran’s interests.  In a grand deal that puts the various issue on the table holistically, both sides can give more on issues of less importance while holding firm on their highest priorities.  This assumes different prioritization by each side, which has potential in this case.
Both sides seem to recognize the need to cooperate, but are having a hard time finding the right means.  Iran openly rejected U.S. invitations to cooperate, but then were insulted when they were left off the Paris summit guest list. U.S. overtures to Iran have been somewhat contradictory as the U.S. indicates a willingness to talk with Iran (which Iran rejected) but unwillingness for Iran to attend the Paris talks.
Successful cooperation with Iran will be difficult and a grand deal may fail.  However, achieving U.S. goals in the region and defeating ISIS is even less likely than successfully negotiating with Iran due to the constraints of questionable partners, “no U.S. ground combat troops,” and little ability to address the root causes for ISIS’ rise.  The Obama administration has rightly noted that long-term success against ISIS requires an inclusive Iraq government.  There is no guarantee the new Iraqi government will be more inclusive than Maliki’s administration.  Additionally, Iran will play a significant role in all future Iraqi governments and likely have influence with Shiite militias.
Although working with Iran may fail, dealing with the various regional issues separately offers even less chance of success and hinders the U.S. ability to pursue an integrated regional strategy.  The United States has worked well with Iran in the past.  After 9/11,thousands of Iranians held a candlelight vigil and Iran was working to overthrow the Taliban long before 9/11.  Furthermore, during the 2001 Bonn Conference, Iran supported U.S. policy in Afghanistan, suggested the idea of democratic elections, and helped secure the U.S.-desired Karzai government.  Relations with Iran declined precipitously after the U.S. labeled Iran as part of the “axis of evil” and proceeded to surround Iran with military forces by invading Iraq (another “axis of evil” member) on what Iran likely perceived as fabricated evidence.
The U.S. should view Iran as a state with its own interests, domestic politics, and perceptions.  As a state, the United States can negotiate with Iran on items of mutual interest, accepting  that Iran has different interests and will continue competing with the U.S. on many fronts.  There are risks, but also rewards.  Nonetheless, there will be issues where a negotiated settlement will benefit both parties.
U.S. policy should prioritize and link the Levant issues (nuclear weapons, ISIS, Syrian governance, and Iraqi governance) and make Iran part of the way forward where interests align to advance the highest U.S. priorities, which may come at the expense of less important interests.  The United States will achieve far more at a lower cost by working with others whenever interests align and properly focusing our efforts on the most important issues.  Ultimately, in the Gulf Region, the United States has no permanent allies or enemies—only permanent interests of varying import.
Major Benjamin Fernandes, U.S. Army, is a CFR Term Member and PhD student at George Mason University.  His studies focus on security assistance, principal-agent theory, and grand strategy.  He is currently assigned to the Army Capabilities Integration Center (ARCIC).  The conclusions and opinions expressed are his own and do not reflect the official position of the U.S. government, U.S. Army, or ARCIC.

Wolves vs The Grizzly Bear in Yellowstone

Friday, September 19, 2014

The US goes to war again - How will this time be different from the last 35 times since 1980?

Hat Tip: Juan Cole

How does this End? 35 Military Interventions since 1980 and Terrorism Grows

Printer Frien
Brave New Films:
“Since 1980, we have militarily intervened at least 35 times in more than 27 countries. We keep bombing, we continue spending trillions of dollars, but we’re no safer as a result.”

The US Ally, Saudi Arabia, The Real Axis Of Evil, Beheaded 22 People Between August 4 and 22, Eight Of Them For Nonviolent Offenses, Including Sorcery

The Beheading Coalition

Posted on Sep 18, 2014


The U.S. plan to fight Islamic State with a coalition of countries, including gems like Saudi Arabia, should make us reflect carefully about the motives behind the operation. In Mark Fiore's new animation, the cartoonist points out the inherent hypocrisy and contradictions involved in attacking brutal IS forces with brutal forces of our own (and while he focuses on Saudi Arabia, it's also worth turning the mirror on some U.S. military tactics which, lest we forget, were recently deemed torture). Read about Fiore's inspiration in his customary introduction and watch his latest animation below.

Now that the United States is forming another military coalition to combat evil in the Middle East, maybe we should pause to take a closer look at the members of this coalition. Sure, ISIS is terrible and does awful things like behead people, but they’ve got nothing on Saudi Arabia, which beheads people as a matter of policy. Between August 4th and 22nd, Saudi Arabia executed 22 people, bringing the yearly total to 34. (They executed 79 people in 2013 and killed 2000 people between 1985 and 2013.) They recently killed four members of the same family for drug trafficking.

I’m not saying every one of our allies in the fight against ISIS has to be perfect, but it does seem a bit hypocritical when one of our most important allies in the Middle East has such a thing for beheading— just something to keep in mind when the next terrible ISIS beheading video is released. Nobody seems to get worked up when prisoners who have been tortured and condemned by a religious court are beheaded in a public square, as long as it happens in Saudi Arabia. Dogboy is a little confused by this whole thing, and Mr. Dan is trying desperately to make the world black and white. You can of course find more links about the news behind this cartoon here.