Attacking Iran would be costly… so appeasement became the default policy of Bush and his successor.
Why have two successive administrations avoided confronting multiple Iranian provocations against American interests in the Middle East? Why has the US refused to deal directly with Iranian funded and sometimes officered attacks on American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, against Iran-supported terrorism, its nuclear weapons program. Surely America’s leaders recognize that even the appearance of weakness emboldens Iran and erodes Arab confidence in America’s ability and resolve to stand behind its defense commitments, to defend its regional interests and allies?
Last week I discussed the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq, its growing “alliance” with Ahmadinejad to limit American casualties by limiting the scope of the war. This week I turn to Obama and how the Bush policy of dependence and appeasement continues to evolve under the new administration.
The fall of Sadam, Reuters
Whoever ordered the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran its assurances “with confidence” that had Iran abandoned its nuclear weapons program in 2003 allowed Bush to abandon his cosmetic threats against Iran and “surge” his way into an “honorable” exit and allow his successor to deal with the conseq1uences of his 2011 withdrawal date. In his favor Obama inherited the Iran/Iraq/Afghanistan quagmire from Bush. But his more reasoned and less confrontational approach backed by sanctions would prove as ineffective as his predecessors bluster in dissuading Ahmadinejad from his hegemonic ambitions.
The problem with sanctions is that there is much evidence indicating they are usually ineffective. Certainly this was true for the North Korea nuclear program. And Iran is both more resourceful and has more wealth and natural resources than her far eastern predecessor. Obama’s failure was not in having tried the more reasoned approach but in not appreciating its failure. Iran and the Arabs and perhaps all other countries expected the president to eventually stop putting off his deadlines and act as promised. With each successive deadline deferred Ahmadinejad’s gravitas grew on the Arab street, and Arab leaders dependent on America’s promise of a defense shield, grew increasingly anxious.
“The problem is that Obama’s White House, like George W. Bush’s, fears that taking too active a role against Iran and its assets will put U.S. military personnel at risk of Iranian retaliation in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to some U.S. intelligence estimates, Shiite Iran is responsible for far more American deaths and injuries in America’s two Middle East combat theaters than al-Qaida or other Sunni factions… Washington’s policy of not confronting Iran about its openly aggressive behavior has created a situation in which our troops are now effectively being held hostage.”
Unable to disengage from Iraq “with face” Obama followed his predecessor’s policy of spending American lives and treasure in an obviously no-win war.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates at the White House meeting planning withdrawal of US forces from Iraq, 22 January, 2009. The secretary and his Joint Chiefs chairman had long opposed a military strike against Iran.. Reuters
If Iran saw the US as its gladiator against Sadam’s Iraq, it was apparent that the Bush administration needed little encouragement (table talk to that effect preceded his election to the presidency). The administration must have been eager regarding Iranian supplied intelligence, particularly as it was supported by that second source, Iran’s man in the White House Ahmed Chalabi. Doubts regarding Chalabi’s loyalties surfaced not long after the invasion began. But by then the Bush was confronting Iran-backed militias, Iraq teetering on civil war. Under the circumstance the White House apparently saw its best option as cutting a deal with the devil, the backer of the militias, Iran: if Bush could not retreat at least he could limit American losses by limiting the scope of the war.
For Iran, America was the perfect foil. Bush had eliminated their feared adversary at little cost to Iran. And the longer the Americans could be bogged down in Iraq the more freedom Iran would have to pursue its ambitions in the Arab world, and the nuclear weapons that would provide teeth to their ambitions. As for America, boots were on the Iraqi ground, it was not possible to just leave. Attacking Iran would be costly, so Bush chose to cut his losses and pay the price of reducing the loss of American lives by limiting the scope of the war. Appeasement became the default policy of Bush and his successor.
“If the only country able and willing to go after Iran’s nuclear program is Israel, the only one who is capable of stopping the Israelis, Tehran realizes, is the United States. And so Iran and the United States now find themselves in one of the Middle East’s oddest alliances, with the United States unwittingly [?] aiding Iran in its effort to get the bomb.”
The United States attacked Iraq for reasons known only to the Bush administration. Certainly the excuses advanced at the time, WMD; democracy for the Iraqis; protection of the Arab oil monarchies and Israel, etc. were, as discussed last week, fallacious. As to the war’s achievements:
In lives lost: Iraq, the country the US set out to “save from Sadam,” more than 150,000 dead, civilian and fighters, between 2003-11, and millions more refugees; America, as of 28 May, 2010, 4,404 lives lost, and another 32,000 wounded (small compared to Vietnam over a comparable period); Financial costs of this under-the-table funded war in dollars: according to the Department of Defense, at least $757.8 billion. But this figure does not begin to cover interest accumulating and owed on the borrowed funds, and money spent and anticipated for the care of our wounded, etc. Agreeing with an MIT study, The Washington Post recently put the real cost the war at around $4 trillion, and described the impact on the US economy:
“This was the first time in American history that the government cut taxes as it went to war. The result: a war completely funded by borrowing. U.S. debt soared… As a result of two costly wars funded by debt, our fiscal house was in dismal shape even before the financial crisis -- and those fiscal woes compounded the downturn… The global financial crisis was due, at least in part, to the war.”
And what has the United States achieved by “saving” the Iraqi people from their oppressive Baathist regime, by turning over the reigns of power to the formerly downtrodden Shiite masses? After eight years and four thousand America lives, four trillion dollars already spent or in the pipeline America transformed Iraq from firewall against, to vassal state of America’s principle regional enemy, Iran. And under Iranian influence that American-installed Shiite-ruled Iraqi government is showing their hapless benefactor to the exit.
In 2008 Bush signed an agreement with the Iraqi government to withdraw all troops by 2011. But to withdraw means Iraq is easy prey for an Iranian takeover, throwing open the entire region to the Iranian threat.
JCS chairman Mike Mullen delivers a “deadline” for Iraq to permit a residual American force after withdrawal. Reuters
“An Obama administration proposal to keep a few thousand American troops here after the end of the year to train the Iraqi military is being scaled back, as the administration has concluded that the Iraqi Parliament would not give the troops legal protection.”
And if, as likely, the proposal fails the Times article continues, “they could still return next year [sic] to negotiations that would allow the return of some American personnel.” That is, after Iran is even more entrenched in the running of the “democratic” Republic of Iraq!
Perhaps more than anything else, the Bush-Obama policy of appeasement towards Iran best represents America’s failure at strategic foresight, its declining position in the world, its voluntary or not withdrawal into isolationism.
Other articles in this series:4. George Bush and the Diplomacy of Inadvertence