Tag Archives: US foreign policy

Why the US isn't leaving Iraq – even under Hillary

Just read the three powerful paragraphs below off the recent Strafor report. Damning stuff. It suggests the prospect of the US concentrating forces in Afghanistan are slight as Iraq will continue to tie them down for the next several years. Moreover, if there was ever any doubt, it should now be erased: the Neo-cons have created a geopolitical disaster that makes Vietnam look minor. The US had few tangible interests in Vietnam – in Iraq it has to worry about the stability of global oil supply.

“After years of organizational chaos, the United States has simplified its plan for Iraq: Prevent Iran from becoming a regional hegemon. Once-lofty thoughts of forging a democracy in general or supporting a particular government were abandoned in Washington well before the congressional testimony of Gen. David Petraeus. Reconstruction is on the back burner and even oil is now an afterthought at best. The entirety of American policy has been stripped down to a single thought: Iran.

That thought is now broadly held throughout not only the Bush administration but also the American intelligence and defense communities. It is not an unreasonable position. An American exodus from Iraq would allow Iran to leverage its allies in Iraq’s Shiite South to eventually gain control of most of Iraq. Iran’s influence also extends to significant Shiite communities on the Persian Gulf’s western oil-rich shore. Without U.S. forces blocking the Iranians, the military incompetence of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar could be perceived by the Iranians as an invitation to conquer that shore. That would land roughly 20 million barrels per day of global oil output — about one-quarter of the global total — under Tehran’s control. Rhetoric aside, an outcome such as this would push any U.S. president into a broad regional war to prevent a hostile power from shutting off the global economic pulse.

So the United States, for better or worse, is in Iraq for the long haul. This requires some strategy for dealing with the other power with the most influence in the country, Iran. This, in turn, leaves the United States with two options: It can simply attempt to run Iraq as a protectorate forever, a singularly unappealing option, or it can attempt to strike a deal with Iran on the issue of Iraq — and find some way to share influence.”

Apparently there is something worse than a contained Saddam Hussain in Iraq. An uncontained Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran.

Aerial bombing and Afgan Poppies

If you didn’t catch Taylor’s piece first time around in the Walrus – his article on the US bombing of Cambodia has been reprinted in Japan Focus and is picking up some serious press. This piece has obvious implications for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Indeed speaking of Afghanistan, the Senlis Council has opened an office in Ottawa. For those not familiar with Senlis they are a think tank that is very active in Afghanistan, especially around the issue of narcotics. They (like me) are deeply concerned about the American desire to spray Afghanistan in order to kill the poppy crop – a move that will very likely drive most locals into the hands of the Taliban. They’d proposed a licensing system for Afghan poppies so that they could used to manufacture medicines – it was an idea that virtually every liberal leadership candidate (at least those that spoke about foreign policy) latched onto.

Will be curious to see if Senlis has an impact on Canadian policy in Afghanistan – particularly under this government. All that said, be for good or bad reasons, the one interesting thing about Senlis setting up an office in Ottawa is that they clearly think Canada matter in Afghanistan. Now isn’t that interesting…?

Negotiating with the Enemy: the case of Iran, Syria and the United States

After my friend Taylor published this post about the US-Syrian-Iranian negotiation he asked me how would I structure the talks and what would be the most significant obstacle.

Back in the 1970’s Roger Fisher used a method called the one-text that helped create the document that became the basis for the 1978 Sinai Agreement between Israel and Egypt. The one-text process is a variation of mediation that is simple, but powerful. Clinton also proposed using the process in 2000 with the Israeli’s and Palestinians.

The one-text process feels appropriate because it works best in multi-party negotiations where trust is low. Iranian-Syrian-American relations have deteriorated to such an extent that any conversation is unlikely to be open, honest, or even civil. In short, they are unlikely to be productive. The basis for an agreement, and even just communicating, will be hard to establish. Think that diplomacy is above that? Then why did Bush feel the need to confirm that if Condi ran into her Iranian counterpart, she would be civil?

Indeed, this is the main issue: can the parties trust each other? There are enormous opportunities for joint gain… but the domestic risks for each of the actors are also enormous. This is the tragedy of the situation. Each actor (Syria, Iran and the US) is now hostage to the negative perceptions their domestic populations have of one another, negative perceptions their respective elites helped create, foster and nurture. How can Iran, America or Syria cut a deal with a country that have for 20 years been labeled as a mortal enemy? This would be, at best, politically problematic in the US and potentially destabilizing for the Syrian and Iranian governments.

Consequently any functional solution cannot threaten (in the short and medium term) the legitimacy of any of the actors domestic standing. This probably means that any negotiated solution will have to be discrete. The parties may come to agreement, but they cannot be seen coming to an agreement.

A back channel one-text thus becomes the obvious choice. The starting point being that all the parties recognize the opportunity cooperating presents, but also recognizing they can’t be seen working together. Of course, the other challenge is that this means there are huge risks for cooperating, but the costs of defection (particularly if the interest calculus shifts) are low. The negotiators would have to find a way to make the costs of defection feel relatively high versus the costs of cooperation. A one-text process that explores their interests may reveal such an outcome, but if I had an answer to that quandary offhand I’d probably be in an air conditioned room in Turkey right now, working with State Department officials.

Ironically, the main obstacle to using the one-text process would likely be a reluctance on the part of the United States to submit itself to a mediated process.  I suspect that although the Americans feel it is a good enough process for everybody else, the world’s only superpower will never enter into mediation.