Thursday, January 11, 2007

Nudge Nudge

Tim is back. Yay!

As the Iraqi end of Bush's speech is well covered there, I'll continue to concentrate on the Iranian angle. Let's look at the references to Iran in yesterday's speech. I'll ruin the tension straight away and tell you that he didn't explicitly reference the "captured intelligence" reported by the New York Sun.

Right, here's the first mention of Iran.
Al Qaeda terrorists and Sunni insurgents recognized the mortal danger that Iraq's elections posed for their cause, and they responded with outrageous acts of murder aimed at innocent Iraqis. They blew up one of the holiest shrines in Shia Islam -- the Golden Mosque of Samarra -- in a calculated effort to provoke Iraq's Shia population to retaliate. Their strategy worked. Radical Shia elements, some supported by Iran, formed death squads. And the result was a vicious cycle of sectarian violence that continues today.
It is undisputed that the Iranians support the SCIRI and therefore the Badr Organisation so the explicit, but actually very limited claim made here is probably true. No reference here to Iranian support for Sunni extremists though or of an Iranian policy of intentionally fuelling sectarian conflict. Instead, Iran is mentioned in the context of the attack on the Golden Mosque and a strategy of provoking sectarian violence. Note that the NYS article suggests that the Iranians are "clandestinely cooperating, with Sunni Jihadists who attacked the Golden Mosque". Bush didn't explicitly make the same suggestion. Nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more.

I've run out of time. More on this in an update to this post this evening.

Update

We interrupt the analysis of Bush's speech to point out that U.S. escalation against the Iranians is ongoing.

For some reason, I'm reminded of the way Bush wanted to provoke Saddam into retaliatory action by painting U2 spy planes in UN colours and then flying them over Iraq. The thinking was that if Saddam did react, this could then be used as a justification for the military action Bush had already decided to take. That plan was never actually carried out, of course.

More later.

Update 2

Right, here are the rest of Bush's references to Iran in yesterday's speech.
The consequences of failure are clear: Radical Islamic extremists would grow in strength and gain new recruits. They would be in a better position to topple moderate governments, create chaos in the region, and use oil revenues to fund their ambitions. Iran would be emboldened in its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Our enemies would have a safe haven from which to plan and launch attacks on the American people. On September the 11th, 2001, we saw what a refuge for extremists on the other side of the world could bring to the streets of our own cities. For the safety of our people, America must succeed in Iraq.
This time, mention of Iran is embedded in a series of key words and phrases. Radical Islamic extremism, chaos, Iran, nuclear weapons, our enemies, safe haven, attacks on the American people. The ultimate key phrase, "September the 11th, 2001", is also there. No explicit link is made (apart from the nuclear one) but the implication that Iran is somehow connected to all of these phrases is obviously intentional.

In fact, of course, victory in Iraq, the stabilisation of the Shiite dominated government, would be a victory for the Iranians. Failure of the sort Bush imagines, a Sunni extremist, al Qaeda style group taking control of Iraq, would be very bad news for the Iranians too.

Last section now and this is the really troubling one.
Succeeding in Iraq also requires defending its territorial integrity and stabilizing the region in the face of extremist challenges. This begins with addressing Iran and Syria. These two regimes are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq. Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We'll interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.

We're also taking other steps to bolster the security of Iraq and protect American interests in the Middle East. I recently ordered the deployment of an additional carrier strike group to the region. We will expand intelligence-sharing and deploy Patriot air defense systems to reassure our friends and allies. We will work with the governments of Turkey and Iraq to help them resolve problems along their border. And we will work with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating the region.
This is the escalation as it relates to Iran. Rather than talking to the Iranians as recommended by the Iraq Study Group, Bush goes all out and claims that the Iranians are providing "material support for attacks on American troops". Instead of dialogue, there will be increased military pressure on the Iranians.

As far the claim that Iran and Syria are "allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq" goes, this is pure misdirection. The U.S. are on the other side of those borders. If it was so easy to stop insurgents moving across them, why don't they do it? It's because it would be enormously difficult. Iraq's borders with these countries are long and extremely difficult to police. You could probably stop a conventional military force from crossing because a conventional military force is large and pretty obvious. Terrorists and insurgents, on the other hand, are not easily spotted. That's sort of the point.. You might as well claim that the U.S. government allowed the 9/11 terrorists to move into their territory before the attacks. It's quite true but it says nothing about whether they supported the terrorists activities. (Note to conspiracy theorists: not interested, take it elsewhere.)

It may be true that the Iranians are providing "material support for attacks on Americans troops". Juan Cole offers a considerably more plausible explanation.
Although Bush keeps implying that Iran is supplying weapons and aid to US enemies in Iraq, the circumstantial evidence is that it was helping the two main US allies in Iraq with their paramilitary capabilities-- Kurdistan and SCIRI. But it is likely that the money and weapons do bleed over into insurgent groups and have a destabilizing effect.
It certainly wouldn't surprise me if they are supplying material aid to Shiite and Kurdish groups in order to bolster their ability to fight Sunni insurgents, particularly the Baathists (all three groups hated Saddam's regime with a vengeance). And, as the Professor says, in the chaotic world of today's Iraq it is highly likely that some of this material aid could be diverted from its intended purpose. Material aid delivered by the British and Americans has certainly found its way into the wrong hands.

That's a far cry from an Iranian strategy of deliberately targeting U.S. troops or indeed fuelling the sectarian violence by supporting each side against the other (the second of which, as I said, Bush did not in any way claim). It is certainly true that Iran is actively involved in Iraq but all the evidence suggests that Iranian involvement is at the active request of Shiite and Kurdish members of Iraq's "unified and democratic" government.

If they are provoking instability, it is only to the extent that they are aiding the Shiites, and to a lesser extent the Kurds, in their efforts to defeat Sunni insurgents. This is exactly what the U.S. government says it has been doing in Iraq these last three years. I wonder if that counts as fuelling instability and sectarian violence too?

For those who think the difference is that the Iranians are funding Shiite death squads, think again. Check the date of that article. How does that correspond with the rise of Shiite death squads in Iraq?

Just to re-emphasise one more time, at no point did Bush claim that the Iranians were playing Sunni against Shiite in Iraq. But he did make some pretty serious threats.
We'll interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq... I recently ordered the deployment of an additional carrier strike group to the region. We will... deploy Patriot air defense systems to reassure our friends and allies.. And we will work with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating the region.
These are not small measures. One U.S. carrier group is an extremely powerful force; having two in the region is significant. As a means to combat Iraq's sectarian strife, two U.S. carriers groups would be overkill in all senses of the word. And what are the Patriot air defence systems for? You certainly don't fight terrorists or insurgents with an air defence system designed to shoot down ballistic missiles. These are systems designed to be used against a conventional military force. What did Bush say they are being sent for? "To reassure our friends and allies". To reassure them against what exactly?

It is possible that all of this is just sabre rattling designed to pressure the Iranians into halting its nuclear enrichment programme but Bush is not known for making empty threats. He is, rather, known for his propensity to favour violence as a means to achieve his stated goals. If that's what he intends to do, I doubt the Democrats or anyone else will be able to stop him.

If he does escalate the conflict and start attacking Iranian facilities in any significant way, it'll make what's happened so far look like that elusive "cakewalk" we were promised. Because if the Iranians really start to cause trouble for U.S. forces in the region, it'll be a whole lot worse than anything that has gone before.

6 comments:

Niels said...

Nicely timed, what with the 5th anniversary of Guantanamo and all...

Niels said...

"Reports say the Iranian consulate there was set up last year under an agreement with the Kurdish regional government to facilitate cross-border visits. "

(from a separate BBC article)

If true, I think this means the US Gov has managed to piss off all the factions of the Iraqi parliament, by now. Which would be impressively stupid.

Bock the Robber said...

You might be overestimating the subtleties of the speech a bit. Or you might not.

It's just that, as Dubya is aiming it at the Murrican people, he's not exactly dealing with the cutting edge of plitical analysis. Does anyone in Murrica know the difference between a Shia and Sunni? Or even between an Iraqi and an Iranian?

Dubya could stand up and say, "We gonna bomb them goddam A-Rabs if'n they don't back off" and he'd get the same reaction.

I'm not sure what constituency you reckon he's aiming the speech at. Is he talking to us?

CuriousHamster said...

niels, it does appear to be true. Not sure it was an officially recognised consulate, one report I now can't find said it was a visa issuing office, but this certainly pissed off the Kurds.

"The raid... drew criticism from Iraq's Kurdish regional government, which called it a violation of its sovereignty and of international immunity laws... In a strongly-worded statement from one of Washington's closest allies in Iraq, the offices of the Kurdish prime minister and Kurdish president expressed their "disturbance and condemnation" over the predawn operation and urged the U.S. military to release employees arrested during the raid."

They seem to have collected the whole set.

Bock the Robber said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
CuriousHamster said...

Bock, that reminds me of a Jon Stewart joke. Iran - probably developing WMD, Iraq - not developing WMD. So close. They only got one letter wrong...

Anyway, he's not talking to us, he's talking to his supporters and to those who might be persuaded. But there are laws on making knowingly false statements to the American people so he can't make explicit statements he knows not to be true. I'm pretty sure that's why he didn't come out and claim that the Iranians were aiding Sunni insurgents.

This is what Bush did with the Saddam connection to the attacks on New York and the Pentagon. At one point, 70% Americans believed that there was such a link even though Bush never explicitly claimed that there was one. They only claimed that Saddam had links to al Qaeda, something they could argue that they genuinely believed at the time. And it worked.

It works in this country too. Blair has employed similar techniques. Never underestimate the power of nudges and winks.