Friday, December 22, 2006

MIDDLE EAST: The pending fourfold crisis

Making predictions is a dangerous game, but experience shows that careful analysis of a situation can provide accurate foresight. Kaveh L Afrasiabi notes the unfortunate accuracy of his own warnings on the probable debacle that would result from a US invasion of Iraq, and offers some insight into King Abdullah of Jordan's triple - or more likely quadruple - crisis in the Middle East.
Dec 23, 2006

The pending fourfold crisis
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi

As a political scientist, and a Hegelian at that, I have never considered making predictions more than an occasional byproduct of in-depth analysis that would be germane to an intrinsic evaluation of one's corpus of explanations.

However, that does not preclude analyzing the perspectives that offer forecasting with or without the benefit of a sound theoretical and methodological framework.

Take, for instance, King Abdullah II of Jordan's alarm of a coming "triple crisis" in the Middle East in 2007, ie, in Lebanon, Iraq and the occupied territories, although with Iraq still under foreign occupation, we must quickly add "in Palestine" to the last. How accurate is this prediction?

The situation in Lebanon is veering simultaneously toward and away from a civil war, not least because all parties have learned from the past the precious lesson that it could turn out to be a lose-lose situation and not worth the risk, particularly as the country has yet to recover minimally from the devastations of Israel's aggression last summer.

In terms of the tension between Hamas and Fatah, it is too early to tell, since the main theater of power struggle is in Gaza and not the West Bank, and the upcoming elections may succeed in taking some of the steam from the brewing conflict between the Palestinians.

In Iraq, on the other hand, there is a nexus between civil war and insurgency that has yet to be fully explored, and one wonders if the Shi'ites can hold onto their political gains as long as they are viewed as occupation collaborationists by the Sunnis. The current state of civil war in Iraq will likely continue unabated and will parallel the tempo of insurgency and counter-insurgency.

The US is now poised to increase its troop levels in Iraq, despite the opposite advice of the Iraq Study Group and the dissenting voice of former secretary of state Colin Powell, who has openly wondered what a surge in troop levels can actually accomplish (other than inflaming the nationalist sentiments of Iraqis further).

Maybe the United States should combine that with a timetable for withdrawal, a one-two punch, which avoids the binary decisions and recommendations hurled at President George W Bush these days. There is, after all, something amiss with the Iraq Study Group's pitch for a troop increase in Afghanistan because of rising insecurity there and yet refraining from making similar recommendations for Iraq, which admittedly faces a "grave and deteriorating" situation. Vice-versa, the US could apply the Afghanistan model, that is, just as the Taliban have won "sanctuaries" or "zones" of freedom in Afghanistan, similarly the US could forfeit certain areas in Iraq to the insurgents under the condition that they would not transgress their limits.

Had the US done this in Fallujah, for instance, and reached a modus vivendi with the insurgents, the situation might not have turned out as badly as it has. Another prudent move would be to give the Kurds a greater role in Iraq's security above and beyond their enclaves. Yet another idea would be somehow to bring the United Nations back in the picture and entertain the experimental infusion of UN peacekeeping forces in certain areas not too hot to handle by the UN.

Turning to Iran and the nuclear crisis, that is the other, fourth crisis that King Abdullah might have wanted to add to the list, given the impending UN sanctions and the negative ramifications of this crisis on regional security. The pertinent question is, of course, whether or not the electoral victory of a coalition of reformists and pragmatic conservatives led by the former president, Hashemi Rafsanjani, will translate into continuity or change in Iran's foreign policy.

There is a good-to-excellent chance that in light of the election results, widely interpreted as a vote of no confidence in President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, the moderate politicians in Tehran will succeed in influencing the tone and content of Iran's foreign policy toward compromise and dialogue with the West. The "Eastward" orientation pushed for by Ahmadinejad has its limitations, and a return to the more balanced, neither West nor East, initial elan of the post-revolutionary regime may be called for, albeit with the positive twist of "both West and East". That is more in tune with the Iranian character, in view of Iran's history and geographical location in Europe's proximity.

At this point, a note of self-reflection. Soon after the invasion of Iraq, I published the following letter in the New York Times, dated March 20, 2003:
The war just unilaterally declared by President Bush, in addition to lacking legitimacy and harming the United States' global image for a long time, is likely to turn most if not all of Iraq into rubble. At a minimum, it will turn Baghdad into a Mesopotamian Stalingrad, causing intolerable death and destruction, as well as an ecological catastrophe.

The shortsighted dreams of quick victory are likely to evaporate in a war of attrition, disruptions in the flow of Persian Gulf oil, acts of terrorism and so on - all this as a result of a war of choice, not of necessity.
My subsequent letter in the New York Times, dated September 3, 2003, explicitly stated that there was now a civil war in Iraq, reflected in the assassination of a Shi'ite leader:
Regarding the murder of the Shi'ite leader Ayatollah Muhammad Bakr al-Hakim and scores of others in Najaf, the United States military bears part of the responsibility for the security lapse. The ayatollah's death is a severe blow to the postwar political reconstruction of Iraq, and a sad reminder of the civil war that has followed the military invasion of the country in clear breach of the United Nations charter, notwithstanding the absence of weapons of mass destruction. The ayatollah's collaboration with the United States may have cost him his life, and he and his group may have underestimated the anti-foreign passion of Iraqis reflected in the sentiments of many younger Iraqi Shi'ites against the United States occupation.
In yet another such letter, published in April 2004, I stated that military victory in Iraq was unachievable and the US was better off thinking "shared sovereignty":

"There is no military solution to [the] Iraqi quagmire, and a prudent American policy would be to negotiate shared sovereignty at macro-levels as well as micro-levels (town by town) as the framework of a viable exit strategy."

These are just a few samples of my own "predictions", which I dare say have turned out on the mark, and, in turn, this gives me hope to keep the flame of writing that is the essence of enlightenment.

Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) and co-author of "Negotiating Iran's Nuclear Populism", Brown Journal of World Affairs, Volume XII, Issue 2, Summer 2005, with Mustafa Kibaroglu. He also wrote "Keeping Iran's nuclear potential latent", Harvard International Review, and is author of Iran's Nuclear Program: Debating Facts Versus Fiction.

Copyright 2006 Asia Times Online Ltd.

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