July 16, 2006


Cry havoc, and let slip the puppies of war (Spengler, 7/15/06, Asia Times)

The old dogs in Tehran and Riyadh can do nothing to satisfy the deeply felt and long-frustrated aspirations of their pups in the Gaza strip or Baghdad's Sadr City, no more than Nicholas II could requite the nationalist hopes of Serbia without going to war with Austria and Germany. In fact, nothing can dampen the Palestinians' existential outrage against the misery of their circumstances, or fulfill the ambitions of Iraq's Shi'ites without the reduction of the Sunni population.

That leaves Tehran in a dilemma. Iran's power rests on its ability to threaten destabilization, especially in Iraq, and it is counting on this to keep the Bush administration at bay. Even the greatest military autocrat, though, is constrained by the character of his army, and the standing of the region's little powers depends on the outcome of the puppy fights now in progress. The logical result is continued escalation until America and Iran stand off in earnest.

Saudi Arabia, by the same token, cannot abandon its Sunni brethren in Iraq by acquiescing to an Iranian power play, which in the long run threatens the kingdom's own security. Dallas Morning News editor Rod Dreher spoke to Saudi Minister of State Abdullah Zainal Alireza on June 28, who stated "that the US cannot allow Iran to get the bomb". Dreher asked him, "What if it happens anyway?" The Saudi minister, Dreher reported, "repeated, firmly, that it must not be allowed to happen. Period. The end."

This declaration to a prominent US journalist should be assigned high significance. As I observed earlier this year, "Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have the most to lose from a nuclear-equipped Iran. No one can predict when the Saudi kingdom might become unstable, but whenever it does, Iran will stand ready to support its Shi'ite co-religionists, who make up a majority in the kingdom's oil-producing east."

It should be no surprise that Western governments are watching the events in Gaza slack-jawed and confused. Not only the dogs, but the dogs' owners, have plunged into the melee. The divisions inside Hamas make matters more complicated still.

Hamas' military wing in Gaza takes orders from the Syrian-based Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, "because he distributes the funds received from Iran and the Gulf States", as the Guardian of London reported July 4. The region's governments blame each other for failing to persuade Meshaal to free the Israeli corporal.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has the most to lose, blames Syria for ignoring Egyptian requests to arrange the soldier's release. But the Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath told the Saudi daily Al-Watan on July 9 that both Egypt and Saudi Arabia were blocking Western efforts to convince Iran and Syria to use their good offices to free Shalit.

Iran's President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and his Revolutionary Guard supporters are the puppies of the Iranian revolution. Western diplomacy presumes that the old dogs, specifically Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and former president Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, will kennel their curs before the US takes military action of some kind. But that is harder to do than some Western analysts suppose, for Iran's influence over Shi'ite militias in Iraq represents the Islamic Republic's most important source of leverage over the United States.

Tug on the loose ends and this whole ball comes untied. It obviously can not both be the case that Iran is the great center of Shi'ite power and the support and defender of Shi'ites across the Middle East and that it's primary weapon against the U.S. is to destabilize the Shi'ite dominated Iraqi state, an end that the Sunni enemy favors. In fact, one of the most important reasons for us to have withdrawn promptly from Iraq was because in our absence the Iranians would have to support the Shi'ite regime, even though it is anti-Khomeneist. Likewise, there is an easy conmtradiction to be forced in Syria, where Iran is in cahoots with a regime that represses the significant Shi'ite population.

Israeli strikes are part of a broader strategy (Robin Wright, July 16, 2006, The Washington Post)

Israel, with U.S. support, intends to resist calls for a cease-fire and continue a longer-term strategy of punishing Hezbollah, which is likely to include several weeks of precision bombing in Lebanon, according to senior Israeli and U.S. officials.

For Israel, the goal is to eliminate Hezbollah as a security threat -- or altogether, the sources said. A senior Israeli official confirmed that Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah is a target, on the calculation that the Shiite movement would be far less dynamic without him.

For the United States, the broader goal is to strangle the axis of Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria and Iran, which the Bush administration believes is pooling resources to change the strategic playing field in the Middle East, U.S. officials say.

Except that Israel can't prevent eventual Shi'ite domination of Lebanon and the United States views the Shi'a as de facto allies against radical Islam.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 16, 2006 11:09 AM

Premature withdrawal would have led to complete and utter chaos in Iraq, not the chaotic tranformation we have witnessed, and we would have been compelled to attack Iran long before now. All of the region's nation-states, save Syria and Lebanon, would have insisted on it. While some might argue that would have been a good thing, I think it's a crisis we may yet avoid. (Armageddon does have a certain seductive appeal at times like the present, though.)

Posted by: ghostcat at July 16, 2006 1:31 PM

No, it wouldn't.

Posted by: oj at July 16, 2006 1:34 PM

The entire Spengler article and its linked antecedents make good points, for all that the author steps back from the logical conclusions.

The figure of the "puppy dogs" is apt. The point here is that the owner of the misbehaving dog absolutely must restrain it or someone will do it for him.

The game the Islamic world is playing with the rest of humanity cannot go on foreer. The game is to keep saying, "Oh, well," to terrorism financed and launched from within one's borders and to pretend that there is notning to be done about it.

On the contrary, if they cannot or will not control their puppies the World Government will do it for them. Spengler's prediction of thirty years for the active phase of World War IV is grossly inaccurate. Try thirty seconds. Justem enim bellum quibus necessarium, and moral too.

Posted by: Lou Gots at July 16, 2006 7:20 PM

No, it won't.

Posted by: oj at July 16, 2006 8:26 PM