Sunday, May 4, 2008

Iran and Lessons In Diplomacy

Although Iran met with the U.S. in Iraq several times in 2007 and gave assurances that they would stop the arming and funding of militias, their promises have proven false. To the contrary, there has been a sharp increase in the operational tempo of their proxy war since the start of 2008. Not surprisingly, Iran has refused to meet again with Ambasador Crocker to discuss security in Iraq. In February, they could not meet because of "scheduling difficulties." Today, they refuse to meet because of "Americans' massive attacks on the Iraqi people in various cities" - i.e., we are attacking their proxies, particularly in Sadr City. There are some clear lessons about the limits and advisability of diplomacy to be gleaned from our attempts to engage Iran.

The Washington Post is reporting that Iran is refusing to meet with our Ambassador in Iraq, Ryan Crocker, to discuss the security situation in Iraq ostensibly because U.S. forces are attacking defenseless Iraqis in cities throughout the country. Why would they meet with us in 2006 and 2007, but not in 2008?

In 2006, it looked to the world as if the U.S. was going to pack its bags and go home, leaving Iraq to be divided between al Qaeda and Iran - obviously the desired outcome for Iran. The theocrats in Tehran were doing their part, giving money to all sides and executing a low level proxy war against the U.S., just enough to add to the mayhem without crossing the line that would bring the 82nd Airborne in on a night jump into Tehran. They only needed patience. And so they met with the U.S. and Iraq on several occasions to give empty assurances, merely awaiting the inevitable.

But then something happened on way to the mosque. Bush refused to blink, Petraeus executed a brilliant counterinsurgency plan, al Qaeda grossly overplayed its hand in the Sunni tribal regions, and PM Maliki grew into his office. So that when 2007 came to an end, Tehran had a major problem. Al Qaeda was strategically defeated, peace was decending, and the Iraqi government grew stronger each day. It was decision time for the mad mullahs.

Clearly the trajectory was towards the development of a strong, secular Iraqi government and a stable Iraq. That would be the worst possible outcome for Iran's theocracy. Their theocracy is deeply unpopular, their hold on their citizens is maintained by the gun, and their legitimacy is based on a philosphy representing a complete break with a millenium of Shia apolitical traditions. Thus, the decision was easy - step into the breach and increase the operational tempo of their proxy war against U.S. forces and the Iraqi government.

And that is precisely what the theocracy has done in 2008. Rockets were smuggled into Iraq and the Green Zone has been under steady bombardment throughout much of this year from the Sadrists. Sadrist proxies increased their attacks, and attempted to carry out bombings disguised as al Qaeda. According to intelligence, there was a surge of Iranian Qods force members into Iraq in February. And of course, there was the takeover of Basra once the British withdrew. Iran upped the ante considerably in an effort to turn the tide.

Here is where things get interesting. Though the U.S. has been complaining about IED attacks since early 2007 and pointing the finger at Iran, apparently PM Maliki and the Shia's dominating the Iraqi government with a plurality did not consider Iran a major threat. But then came Basra. When the Iraqi forces went into Basra to reestablish government control, they found themselves fighting people armed, funded, trained and quite possibly led by Iran. General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker have both said that Basra was the wake-up call for the Iraqi government. They now fully understand the extent of Iran's proxy war and its danger to their government.

All of that said, this leads one to suspect that Iran's refusal to meet with Ambassador Crocker and the Iraqi government in February was likely to forestall any complications from having to explain the increase in their operational tempo. With the Iraqi government seemingly not hostile in February, there was nothing to be gained from the meeting - and thus the "scheduling conflict." The same is true today's call for a meeting, though the information is all out in the open now and the Iraqi government is highly annoyed. There are no more scheduling conflicts. Rather Iran's refusal to meet now seems, as best I can assess, a weak attempt at spin aimed at an international audience and our Democrats. In any event, their refusal to meet is a tacit acknowledgment that they do not intend to change course.

Update: As discussed here, Iran did meet with an Iraqi delegation that travelled to Tehran recently carrying with it the evidence of Iran's acts of war inside Iraq. According to a member of the delegation, Iran refused to acknowledge the evidence, claimed it was not training, funding or arming the militias, and gave its assurances that it would respect Iraqi sovereignty. In other words, business as usual.

What are the lessons to be learned here. The first is that any agreement with Tehran isin't worth the paper its printed on. Anyone deeply familiar with the near thirty year history of Iran's mullahocracy knows that, but this is simply one more example. While their diplomats were promising greater security in Iraq, their Qods force was smuggling in rocketry for the Sadrists.

Two, while "we should never negotiate out of fear, but never fear to negotiate," we must not be so stupid as to attempt a negotation with a country that has shown no indication that it would do so in good faith. That is merely an invitation to be played and manipulated - and in Chamberlainesque fashion, encourage rather than discourage more aggressive behavior on Iran's part.

Three, and most importantly for our peace at all costs left, diplomacy is not a panacea. It will not cure all ills. It will not solve the problem of Iran's proxy war in Iraq if Iran is bent on turning Iraq into a mirror of Lebanon.

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