“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Red October: Russia, Iran and Iraq

Red October: Russia, Iran and Iraq

By George Friedman,

The course of the war in Iraq appears to be set for the next year. Of the four options we laid out a few weeks ago, the Bush administration essentially has selected a course between the first and second options -- maintaining the current mission and force level or retaining the mission but gradually reducing the force. The mission -- creating a stable, pro-American government in Baghdad that can assume the role of ensuring security -- remains intact. The strategy is to use the maximum available force to provide security until the Iraqis can assume the burden. The force will be reduced by the 30,000 troops who were surged into Iraq, though because that level of force will be unavailable by spring, the reduction is not really a matter of choice. The remaining force is the maximum available, and it will be reduced as circumstances permit.

Top U.S. commander in Iraq Gen. David Petraeus and others have made two broad arguments. First, while prior strategy indeed failed to make progress, a new strategy that combines aggressive security operations with recruiting political leaders on the subnational level -- the Sunni sheikhs in Anbar province, for example -- has had a positive impact, and could achieve the mission, given more time. Therefore, having spent treasure and blood to this point, it would be foolish for the United States not to pursue it for another year or two.

The second argument addresses the consequence of withdrawal. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice summed it up in an interview with NBC News. "And I would note that President [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad said if the United States leaves Iraq, Iran is prepared to fill the vacuum. That is what is at stake here," she said. We had suggested that the best way to contain Iran would be to cede Iraq and defend the Arabian Peninsula. One reason is that it would release troops for operations elsewhere in the world, if needed. The administration has chosen to try to keep Iraq -- any part of it -- out of Iranian hands. If successful, this obviously benefits the United States. If it fails, the United States can always choose a different option.

Within the region, this seems a reasonable choice, assuming the political foundations in Washington can be maintained, foundations that so far appear to be holding. The Achilles' heel of the strategy is the fact that it includes the window of vulnerability that we discussed a few weeks ago. The strategy and mission outlined by Petraeus commits virtually all U.S. ground forces to Iraq, with Afghanistan and South Korea soaking up the rest. It leaves air and naval power available, but it does not allow the United States to deal with any other crisis that involves the significant threat of ground intervention. This has consequences.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki attended a meeting of the Iranian-Russian Joint Economic Commission in Moscow over the weekend. While in the Russian capital, Mottaki also met with Russian Atomic Energy Chief Sergei Kiriyenko to discuss Russian assistance in completing the Bushehr nuclear power plant. After the meeting, Mottaki said Russian officials had assured him of their commitment to complete the power plant. Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, said, "With regards to the Bushehr power plant, we have reached good understanding with the Russians. In this understanding a timetable for providing nuclear fuel on time and inaugurating this power plant has been fixed." While the truth of Russian assurances is questionable -- Moscow has been mere weeks away from making Bushehr operational for the better part of the last three years, and is about as excited about a nuclear-armed Iran as is Washington -- the fact remains that Russian-Iranian cooperation continues to be substantial, and public.

Mottaki also confirmed -- and this is significant -- that Russian President Vladimir Putin would visit Tehran on Oct. 16. The occasion is a meeting of the Caspian Sea littoral nations, a group that comprises Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. According to the Iranians, Putin agreed not only to attend the conference, but also to use the visit to confer with top Iranian leaders.

This is about the last thing the United States wanted the Russians to do -- and therefore the first thing the Russians did. The Russians are quite pleased with the current situation in Iraq and Iran and do not want anything to upset it. From the Russian point of view, the Americans are tied down in an extended conflict that sucks up resources and strategic bandwidth in Washington. There is a similarity here with Vietnam. The more tied down U.S. forces were in Vietnam, the more opportunities the Soviets had. Nowadays, Russia's resources are much diminished compared with those of the Soviets -- while Russia has a much smaller range of interest. Moscow's primary goal is to regain a sphere of influence within the former Soviet Union. Whatever ambitions it may dream of, this is the starting point. The Russians see the Americans as trying to thwart their ambitions throughout their periphery, through support for anti-Russian elements via U.S. intelligence.

If the United States plans to stay in Iraq until the end of the Bush presidency, then the United States badly needs something from the Russians -- that they not provide arms, particularly air-defense systems, to the Syrians and especially the Iranians. The Americans need the Russians not to provide fighter aircraft, modern command-and-control systems or any of the other war-making systems that the Russians have been developing. Above all else, they want the Russians not to provide the Iranians any nuclear-linked technology.

Therefore, it is no accident that the Iranians claimed over the weekend that the Russians told them they would do precisely that. Obviously, the discussion was of a purely civilian nature, but the United States is aware that the Russians have advanced military nuclear technology and that the distinction between civilian and military is subtle. In short, Russia has signaled the Americans that it could very easily trigger their worst nightmare.

The Iranians, fairly isolated in the world, are being warned even by the French that war is a real possibility. Obviously, then, they view the meetings with the Russians as being of enormous value. The Russians have no interest in seeing Iran devastated by the United States. They want Iran to do just what it is doing -- tying down U.S. forces in Iraq and providing a strategic quagmire for the Americans. And they are aware that they have technologies that would make an extended air campaign against Iran much more costly than it would be otherwise. Indeed, without a U.S. ground force capable of exploiting an air attack anyway, the Russians might be able to create a situation in which suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD, the first stage of a U.S. air campaign) would be costly, and in which the second phase -- battle against infrastructure -- could become a war of attrition. The United States might win, in the sense of ultimately having command of the air, but it could not force a regime change -- and it would pay a high price.

It also should not be forgotten that the Russians have the second-largest nuclear arsenal in the world. The Russians very ostentatiously announced a few weeks ago that their Bear bombers were returning to constant patrol. This amused some in the U.S. military, who correctly regard the Bear as obsolete. They forget that the Russians never really had a bomber force designed for massive intercontinental delivery of nuclear devices. The announcement was a gesture -- and reminder that Russian ICBMs could easily be pointed at the United States.

Russia obviously doesn't plan a nuclear exchange with the United States, although it likes forcing the Americans to consider the possibility. Nor do the Russians want the Iranians to gain nuclear weapons. What they do want is an extended conflict in Iraq, extended tension between Iran and the United States, and they wouldn't much mind if the United States went to war with Iran as well. The Russians would happily supply the Iranians with whatever weapons systems they could use in order to bleed the United States a bit more, as long as they are reasonably confident that those systems would not be pointed north any time soon.

The Russians are just as prepared to let the United States have a free hand against Iran and not pose any challenges while U.S. forces are tied down in Iraq. But there is a price and it will be high. The Russians are aware that the window of opportunity is now and that they could create nightmarish problems for the United States. Therefore, the Russians will want the following:

In the Caucasus, they want the United States to withdraw support for Georgia and force the Georgian government to reach an accommodation with Moscow. Given Armenian hostility to Turkey and closeness to Russia, this would allow the Russians to reclaim a sphere of influence in the Caucasus, leaving Azerbaijan as a buffer with Iran.

In Ukraine and Belarus, the Russians will expect an end to all U.S. support to nongovernmental organizations agitating for a pro-Western course.

In the Baltics, the Russians will expect the United States to curb anti-Russian sentiment and to explicitly limit the Baltics' role in NATO, excluding the presence of foreign troops, particularly Polish.

Regarding Serbia, they want an end to any discussion of an independent Kosovo.

The Russians also will want plans abandoned for an anti-ballistic-missile system that deploys missiles in Poland.

In other words, the Russians will want the United States to get out of the former Soviet Union -- and stay out. Alternatively, the Russians are prepared, on Oct. 16, to reach agreements on nuclear exchange and weapons transfers that will include weapons that the Iranians can easily send into Iraq to kill U.S. troops. Should the United States initiate an air campaign prior to any of this taking effect, the Russians will increase the supply of weapons to Iran dramatically, using means it used effectively in Vietnam: shipping them in. If the United States strikes against Russian ships, the Russians will then be free to strike directly against Georgia or the Baltic states, countries that cannot defend themselves without American support, and countries that the United States is in no position to support.

It is increasingly clear that Putin intends to reverse in practice, if not formally, the consequences of the fall of the Soviet Union. He does not expect at this point to move back into Central Europe or engage in a global competition with the United States. He knows that is impossible. But he also understands three things: First, his armed forces have improved dramatically since 2000. Second, the countries he is dealing with are no match for his forces as long as the United States stays out. Third, staying out or not really is not a choice for the United States. As long as it maintains this posture in Iraq, it is out.

This is Putin's moment and he can exploit it in one of two ways: He can reach a quiet accommodation with the Americans, and leave the Iranians hanging. Conversely, he can align with the Iranians and place the United States in a far more complex situation than it otherwise would be in. He could achieve this by supporting Syria, arming militias in Lebanon or even causing significant problems in Afghanistan, where Russia retains a degree of influence in the North.

The Russians are chess players and geopoliticians. In chess and geopolitics, the game is routine and then, suddenly, there is an opening. You seize the opening because you might never get another one. The United States is inherently more powerful than Russia, save at this particular moment. Because of a series of choices the United States has made, it is weaker in the places that matter to Russia. Russia will not be in this position in two or three years. It needs to act now.

Therefore, Putin will go to Iran on Oct. 16 and will work to complete Iran's civilian nuclear project. What agreements he might reach with Iran could given the United States nightmares. If the United States takes out Iran's nuclear weapons, the Russians will sympathize and arm the Iranians even more intensely. If the Americans launch an extended air campaign, the Russians will happily increase the supply of weapons even more. Talk about carpet-bombing Iran is silly. It is a big country and the United States doesn't have that much carpet. The supplies would get through.

Or the United States can quietly give Putin the sphere of influence he wants, letting down allies in the former Soviet Union, in return for which the Russians will let the Iranians stand alone against the Americans, not give arms to Middle Eastern countries, not ship Iran weapons that will wind up with militias in Iraq. In effect, Putin is giving the United States a month to let him know what it has in mind.

It should not be forgotten that Iran retains an option that could upset Russian plans. Iran has no great trust of Russia, nor does it have a desire to be trapped between American power and Russian willingness to hold Iran's coat while it slugs things out with the Americans. At a certain point, sooner rather than later, the Iranians must examine whether they want to play the role of the Russian cape to the American bull. The option for the Iranians remains the same -- negotiate the future of Iraq with the Americans. If the United States is committed to remaining in Iraq, Iran can choose to undermine Washington, at the cost of increasing its own dependence on the Russians and the possibility of war with the Americans. Or it can choose to cut a deal with the Americans that gives it influence in Iraq without domination. Iran is delighted with Putin's visit. But that visit also gives it negotiating leverage with the Americans. This remains the wild card.

Petraeus' area of operations is Iraq. He may well have crafted a viable plan for stabilizing Iraq over the next few years. But the price to be paid for that is not in Iraq or even in Iran. It is in leaving the door wide open in other areas of the world. We believe the Russians are about to walk through one of those doors. The question in the White House, therefore, must be: How much is Iraq worth? Is it worth recreating the geopolitical foundations of the Soviet Union?


  1. DEBKAfile reports: Israel enhances military intelligence capabilities versus Iran in its first double spacecraft liftoff with India this week

    September 18, 2007, 8:18 PM (GMT+02:00)

    US and Indian military sources say that, if successful, the twin launch by the same Polaris/TecSat vehicle Sept. 17-20 will add Israel to the few nations with imaging radar reconnaissance satellites able to distinguish camouflaged vehicles from rocky terrain – by night and through foliage.
    The Israeli military satellite will lift off along with India’s first military recon spacecraft, Cartosat 2A. They will be fired in an approximately 600-km polar orbit atop the same Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle from an island in the Bay of Bengal. The data-gathering features of Polaris 1 are especially pertinent for a potential attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
    DEBKAfile’s military sources add that the Israeli satellite’s ability to “see through” cloud and foliage and distinguish between camouflaged vehicles and rocks, provide an answer for Iran’s ingenious camouflaging methods employed by Hizballah in the 2006 Lebanese war.
    The Indian Cartosat 2A spacecraft on the same mission is secret. It carries a powerful panchromatic camera. New Delhi is interested in buying Israel’s imaging radar satellite design for its reconnaissance operations which focus on Pakistan, China and increasingly the US.
    Polaris 1 is electronically steered, and its synthetic aperture radar has a 1-meter resolution; its differing spot, mosaic and strip modes provide many different radar aspect angles from which to illuminate ground targets, a huge military asset for precise data-gathering on Iran’s military weapons systems and an improvement over the information available to ordinary spy satellites. Polaris radar-imaging intelligence features compare in quality to the U-2’s Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar 2A sensor, according to Jeff Grant, a Northrop Grumman official.
    Our military sources report that the new radar satellite continues the spurt in Israeli milsat development and complements the features of another new imaging reconnaissance spacecraft, Ofek-7 which was launched in June and offers an improved, half-meter resolution.
    Western military sources report that in February and March 2007, Israel carried out at least three more successful satellite launchings but was equally successful in blanketing them with secrecy.

  2. Conception Day in Russia.

    Pat Buchanan says it's "No Laughing Matter."

  3. I completely disagree with Friedman's analysis. It's in Russia's economic and military interest to see Iran enfeebled and destroyed. Russia is setting the Mullahs for a hard fall.

  4. Brett Stevens on Hewitt now former J Post Editor

    re: Syria/Israeli contrempts.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

    Currently with wsj

  7. "Have to consider Syria, Iran, and Iraq as a whole"
    (not addressing connections amounts to denial)
    ...but then he DOES mingle w/JOOS, so he should be disregarded, just ask you know who.

  8. I see Russia under Putin as an opportunist looking for attention and advantage wherever it can find it. Putin understands what is going on in China and he know that there is no way for Russia to compete with China. The only thing that China requires from Russia is raw materials and Putin wants to make sure the Chinese pay for them rather than annex parts of Russia and just take what they need.

    In the long run, Russia has Europe, oil and superb engineers and scientists. Europe is the only future that Russia has.

  9. Proof of co-operation between Iran and Syria on WMD/Missile work presented by JANES.
    re: Accident in July involving WMD-Armed missile which killed dozens of Syrians and Iranian ENGINEERS.
    Vx gas and one other.
    Too bad the CIA evidently has Iranian Blinders.

  10. Please pray that the next president understands the advantage of balancing budgets and energy independence.

  11. 'Dozens died in Syrian-Iranian chemical weapons experiment...
    Proof of cooperation between Iran and Syria in the proliferation and development of weapons of mass destruction was brought to light Monday in a Jane's ...

  12. Don't need no stinkin Budgets and Greenie Weenie Behavior:
    Have a
    Hummer Tailgate Party, and Party like it's 1999!

  13. "Russia is setting the Mullahs for a hard fall.

    You got a comment on another thread?
    If not, please explain.

  14. JPost provides no link to article or primary source.

    But I'm sure DIA is on it, Doug.

    DIA. The other white meat.

    (Hard not to believe he's dumb as a stone sometimes, not just ignorant and propagandized. Course his dad WAS a Perfesser.
    Have Pity!)
    Ash said...
    OJ got tried before a jury and they found him not guilty. What is the problem with accepting our legal system in this case? Why this preoccupation with second guessing it? Nobody here sat through the whole trial, listening to all of the evidence. What makes you think you know better? The MSM reports??? Tell me how you trust the MSM to tell you the truth again?

    What I find really puzzling in this is that he was found not guilty in criminal court yet found liable in civil court. What the hell kind of justice is that?

  16. No link?
    Maybe you could get a job with the JP!
    ...well practiced at that!

  17. Probly just some more Jooish propaganda, huh?

  18. Is there no such thing as Israeli propaganda? If there isn't, there certainly oughta be.

  19. Whatever happened to the IAF/Syria story?

    Atlas Shrugged got anything new today? Captain Ed?

  20. Proof of cooperation between Iran and Syria in the proliferation and development of weapons of mass destruction was brought to light Monday in a Jane's Defence Weekly report that
    dozens of Iranian engineers and
    15 Syrian officers were killed
    in a July 23 accident in Syria.

    According to the report, cited by Channel 10, the joint Syrian-Iranian team was attempting to mount a chemical warhead on a Scud missile when the explosion occurred, spreading lethal chemical agents, including sarin nerve gas.

    Analysis: There's a reason world is quiet on alleged IAF strike
    J'lem downplays Iranian threat; Olmert: I respect Assad

  21. Doug,

    Sorry for the belated response, I’m catching up with missed episodes of BSG. (Excellent series btw).

    Russia has raw materials, and the fewer suppliers that sell these commodities, the better it is for Russia. That’s the economic angle. The military angle is simple:

    25 million Muslims in Russia
    50 million Muslims in C. Asia (former USSR)
    70 million Muslims in Iran
    140 million Muslims in Pakistan
    70 million Muslims in Turkey
    30 million Muslims in Afghanistan

  22. Mat,
    But what ACTIONS has Russia taken that lend credence to your assertion?

  23. The Russian sell expensive airdefense systems that cam be turned off.

    And the folks keep on buyin', that's the amazing part.

  24. 2164th: Please pray that the next president understands the advantage of balancing budgets and energy independence.

    Under Clinton 42 we had balanced budgets and gas was under a buck. Some people say Clinton 44 will be a return to the Good Old Days.

  25. They got a Breaker Box with the Star of David on it 'Rat?

  26. Some say that it was a missile that went into the Pentagon.

  27. Way beyond my pay grade, doug.

    I'm still stymied by that B52 at the start of the subliminal messaging, 30 Aug, wasn't it? Or the dangest set of coincidences ...

    All the stories, they fade away...

  28. Where did Mrs Olsen end up, then?

    What happened to the plane?

  29. Doug,

    Are you at all familiar with Russian/Soviet history? :D

  30. Just sayin
    "Some Say"
    a LOT of things, and Katie C. reports all the ones she likes.
    Now ms T is quoting those "some" people.

  31. Not much, but why does it APPEAR they are helping Iran.

    I DO know there problems with Muzzies go WAY back, and many a head rolled off some proud horsemen!

  32. Now you're startin to write like Trish instead of answering my queries!
    Not a good sign!

  33. Doug,

    That’s the way they operate.

  34. I guess takin' the bus to Syria is tougher than I had thought...

    Stop the terrorists from flying, they stop traveling. Not a dedicated bunch of suiciders.

  35. I always knew taking a bus was worth than "Death."

    heh, heh

  36. Israel did what it's been doing regularly for years now.

    Dropping empty tanks is Israel's way of saying nyah-nyah - we can.

    And out of all this comes...the most amazing b.s. storm.

    Hey. Whatever works.

  37. "That’s the way they operate."
    A Trish Award Weiner!

  38. Let's see--screw gas canister into warhead

    ah, I can't read persian

    attach fitting x

    ah, here

    try this


  39. "Good News! Fewer Saudis Choose to Explode in Iraq "
    Maybe they're volunteering to become IDF Drop Tanks so they can visit Sunni Kin in Syria?

  40. That's why we need a single worldwide language AlBob:
    I propose English.

  41. Hell, I tried to prepare a meal from a Spanish Recipe, and ended up with a potent Spanish Fly extract and got myself raped.

  42. I wish I could figure out which 10% or so of all the news I read to actually believe.

  43. Doug,

    When Stalin was providing military training to Hiltler’s army, why do you suppose he did that?

  44. 10%? Do you think it's "That" High?

  45. jees, I didn't realize I put that 0 behind the 1.

  46. Yeah, That's more like it.

  47. So when Hitler invaded, Soviet losses would be higher?

  48. The defense is up to bat in the polygamist Trial in Utah. Here's where it should get interesting.

  49. Doug,

    Or maybe Stalin figured the rest of Europe were closet Nazis. Which do think is closest to the truth?

  50. According to the JPost, Syria wants above all normalized relations with the West. At the same time, according the JPost, Syria thought it a swell idea to offload North Korean nuclear contraband for safe-keeping.

    I buy that. And so does John Bolton. Oh, yes, and John Burns.

  51. They so want normalized relations, they continue to help get our troops killed!
    Nancy Pelosi Logic!

  52. The Whole ME just wants to get along:
    Just ask Trish!

  53. This comment has been removed by the author.

  54. This comment has been removed by the author.

  55. Take out their tanks, then. No tanks, no problem.

  56. For that matter...

    Take out Assad. No Assad, no problem. Take out the al Sauds. No al Sauds, no problem. Take out Saddam. No Saddam, no problem.

    Take out Musharraf. No Musharraf, no problem.

  57. Tasered student Seared in Kerry's memory.

  58. Take out student. No student. No problem.

  59. Student, merchant, farmer...everyone else you wanna round up onto the back of the truck.

  60. Alliance
    Amnesty Update

    Special Audio Report on new amnesty bill here:


    Our staff just completed canvassing every Senator who voted
    against the Bush-Kennedy amnesty bill this summer to find
    out their position on the Dream Amnesty Act. Here's what
    we learned.

    Grassfire has confirmed that there are still 37 key Senators
    who officially have "no position" on the Dream Amnesty Act.
    These are the key Senators who stopped Bush-Kennedy this summer.

    Go here and click on "Grassfire Vote Count" to see where
    each of these key senators is standing:

    The good news is, the number of Senators opposing the Dream Act
    is growing -- thanks in large part to the grassroots pressure
    coming from citizens like you.

    But unless we increase this number dramatically in the next
    few days, this Dream Act will sail through the Senate and
    open the doors to massive amnesty.

    + + Action-- Schedule your faxes

    Our contacts on the Hill tell us the vote could come anywhere
    between the next 24 hours and the next week. That means there
    is still time to get your faxes scheduled and sent.

    Go here to schedule your faxes:

    + + FaxFire targets all 37 key senators

    We have designed our FaxFire to target all 37 key senators who
    still have "no position" on this amnesty bill. These senators
    need to get flooded with faxes and phone calls.

    Note-- we have also posted all the fax numbers and phone numbers
    for these key senators so you can make phone calls and send your
    own faxes if you choose.

    Finally, please take a moment to listen to a new audio
    report Ron De Jong and I just recorded for you -- our
    briefing on this crucial issue.

    Thank you so much for taking a stand to stop this newest
    amnesty bill.

    Steve Elliott, President

    + +
    (Note: Please do not "reply" directly to this e-mail message.
    This e-mail address is not designed to receive your personal
    messages. To contact with comments, questions
    or to change your status, see link at the end.)
    + +

    + + Feedback or comments on this update?

    Go to and post your comments so that the
    Grassfire staff along with thousands of citizens can benefit
    from your thoughts and opinions:

    + + Technical questions only:

    For technical questions regarding this email, go here:
    (Not for comments/feedback on this update)

    + + + + + Alliance is a non-profit 501(c)4 issues advocacy
    organization dedicated to equipping our 1.5 million-strong network
    of grassroots conservatives with the tools that give you a real
    impact on the key issues of our day. Gifts to are not
    tax deductible.


    No time to get complacent.

    student, merchant, farmer, blogger...
    salesman, housewife, dentist, jobber...

  61. Those worthless motherfuckers are wearing my poor old redneck ass out. I Call and email my two worthless senators, and congressman, tomorrow morning.

    Damn, I got better things to do than ride herd on these silly c*******ers.

  62. Exactly the way I feel Rufus, and I'm doing the same, but I'm not sure if I have two Senators, or just one, now. I think I'd be better off with just the one, on this issue. Know I would, in fact.

  63. Don't believe the upstart Jane's Magazine
    (insert slur here)
    believe Trish!
    Much more reliable source:
    Trust me.

  64. Hell, Doug, there's no damn link to Janes let us read it for ourselves.

    To let you read it, Doug.

    Which apparently you have no need to do.

  65. And I don't know about you, but I'd seriously question "diplomatic sources."

    Not to be trusted.

  66. They didn't want to spend money on postage sending out copies of Janes Magazine to eager readers:
    They ARE Jooish, you know!

    So in your World, newspapers are eager to lose their reputations by reporting on non-existent publications?

  67. "Not to be trusted."
    The list GROWS!