Since this blog was written nearly four weeks ago the rushed UN resolution authorizing a “no-fly” zone over Libya went into effect, and hours later the US appears to have destroyed Gaddafi’s air force and defenses with 112 cruise missiles. The following day American, British and French aircraft attacked Gaddafi’s ground forces. The US was now committed to the assist the Egyptian-backed tribal rebels of the east in a quixotic adventure to replace Gaddafi.
And still Iran, the greatest threat to Middle East stability, to American homeland security, to American economic and strategic national interests; it appears that it comes down to anything but confront Iran.
On Tuesday, 15 March, Israeli commandos boarded the Liberian flag cargo vessel “Victoria,” which American intelligence had identified as carrying a shipment of sophisticated Iranian arms for Gaza. The same intel had been known to that American naval armada sent to intercept those two cadet-manned Iranian warships at the mouth to the Suez Canal three weeks earlier. Not only did the cadets brush by the US threat, but our navy even failed to board them for inspection under US sponsored UN sanctions against Iran.
The Victoria took on the weapons at Latakia, feinted to Turkey by way of deception, and resumed its journey, destination Alexandria, Egypt. Instead it made an unscheduled stop at Ashdod, Israel.
Beyond the embarrassment of failing to frighten the Iranian cadets, our navy knew that those ships were carrying the weapons shipment. Is it our intention to provide an example to the world that enforcing the UN sanctions regime is optional?
A heavy mortar shell, “Victoria” cargo bound for Gaza
Still, the day after Israel boarded the “Victoria” Turkey, Iran’s sometimes ally (they did vote against US sanctions at the UN), ordered an Iranian cargo plane to land for inspection. Two days later the Turks ordered a second Iranian plane to land for inspection, confiscated its shipment of arms for Syria and ports unknown, embargoed the plane and arrested its crew.
In the Far East, as reported by a UN diplomat, “South Korea and Singapore have intercepted suspected nuclear and weapons materials bound for Iran that breach UN sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic.”
Only the United States violates its UN sanctions against Iran?
During the final years of the Bush presidency hardly a day passed that Bush didn’t threaten Iran over its nuclear program. Whether or not the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran was specially prepared in response to an administration request, to the glee of Ahmadinejad the NIE concluded that Iran had abandoned its weapons program in 2003(!). That NIE provided Bush all the cover needed to close the book on his bluster, and take the unwanted Iran attack option off the table.
Minus American action Israel, with Arab encouragement, sought US approval to act on America’s behalf. But Secretary of Defense Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mullen warned authorizing Israel carried the same costs as were America to attack Iran’s nuclear weapons program itself. Which explains Bush‘s reticence to allow Israel to do the task he himself chose to avoid.
Following his invasion of Iraq Bush was faced with a Sunni-Shi''ite civil war and an anti-American insurgency. He was unexpectedly dependent on the primary supporter those fighting the United States to at least minimize American casualties. Which reduced American options in dealing that which constituted the greater threat to regional, and international security, a hegemonicly ambitious Iran pursuing nuclear weapons. But an America on the defensive only served to embolden Iran, assured Ahmadinejad that, so long as he didn’t push the envelope too far, he was free to arm, train and even provide officers to lead insurgent attacks on American troops without fear of a direct military response. This same “accomodationist” policy towards Iran introduced by Bush has been adopted by Obama, with the same result: Iran is now assisting the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Iran, and just a reminder that Russia provides her armaments and diplomatic cover is, as she did in Iraq, helping the US remain bogged down while she and Russia pursue their own Middle East agenda.
Ahead of the first Day of Anger, an Iran-inspired protest inside Saudi Arabia by minority Shi''ites, Iran brazenly warned the Sunni monarchy against “launching preventive security measures against the Shi''ite protesters.” The Sunni monarchies recognized this as, “a call to the Shi''ite minority to rise up against the [Saudi] throne.”
Then along came Bahrain.
Bahrain is a small island connected by a 14-mile long causeway to Saudi Arabia. Ruled for 200 years by a minority Sunni monarchy, the small island nation has a majority Shi''ite population. The island is home to US Naval Forces Central Command/5th Fleet.
While Obama’s first response to Bahraini demonstrations was to support Shi''ite demands for “democracy,” even to the administration soon realized that a Shi''ite-dominated Bahrain already under Iranian influence would mean the end to America’s strategic base guarding the Gulf, and the Straits of Hormuz. And so within weeks cracks in Obama’s “democracy-for-Bahrain” agenda began to appear. But for the Saudis and the Emirates, just a causeway away, a Shi''ite Bahrain, outpost for the Iranians just fourteen miles off the Arabian Peninsula, demanded a strong response and the message to Iran America was unwilling to provide.
Gates and Mullen made separate trips to Bahrain intended to reassure the king (the Saudi king refused to even see the Obama’s representatives) and both left the region not only failing to convince but, according to the Pentagon, ignorant of the impending Saudi/Emirates deployment to the island. If not a case of “plausible denial” by the administration out of fear of antagonizing the Iranians then it is clear that, in the eyes of the Arabs, the US is not to be trusted.
In an article following the Arab deployment David Ignatius was told by a Saudi official that, “’We don’t want Iran 14 miles off our coast, and that’s not going to happen…’ U.S. officials counter that Iran, so far, has been only a minor player in the Bahrain protests.” Whether rationalization or self-deception, that story just won’t sell in the region.
Evidence of a break between the Saudis and their receding American patrons goes back at least to 2003 and Bush’s invasion of Iraq. “The latest tensions between Washington and Riyadh began early in the [Egyptian] crisis when King Abdullah told President Obama that it was vital for the United States to support Mr. Mubarak, even if he began shooting protesters. Mr. Obama ignored that counsel. ‘They’ve taken it personally,’ said one senior American familiar with the conversations, ‘because they question what we’d do if they are next.’”
“Tehran sees a historic opportunity to reshape the political reality in its Arab neighbors to favor the Sh’ia given the unrest in the Gulf Arab states and the US withdrawal from Iraq, where Iranian influence already runs deep.” A high level associate of Ahmadinejad was scheduled to travel to the US on 18 March to attend a celebration at the United Nations. Always on the lookout for any sign Ahmadinejad would talk to Obama, the visit was described in that Stratfor article as, “Mashaie’s visit could kick-start back-channel negotiations (more negotiations; when will Obama learn?) between Iran and the United States and its Sunni Arab allies… Such an understanding would recognize Iran’s influence in Iraq and the surrounding region while providing Iran with significant economic leverage over energy assets in the region.”
Both countries recognize that, so long as the distraction of Afghanistan continues, the US “faces a growing strategic need to ease its military burden in the region (ibid).” Not exactly a position of strength for an American negotiating position.
America’s strategic interests, our foreign policy objectives (see Woodward’s, Obama’s Wars), are apparently dictated by a narrow military fixation on reversing the embarrassment of our decade-long military failures, first in Iraq and continuing in Central Asia. But even if successive American president’s fail to recognize this, America’s strategic interests go far beyond allowing the military a face-saving Afghan victory, a second bite at the failed Viet Nam apple. The Middle East with its oil, its Suez Canal, these are essential American assets deserving military focus, not glory or revenge in Afghanistan.
The choice is clear, the consequences stark. Eliminate the Iranian threat or face global military and diplomatic failure, defeat and retreat from the international stage. Neglect the Iranian threat and America’s days as “the world’s only superpower” are at an end.