Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Iranian Angle
I wrote recently about Syria and Iran's battle for the dominant role in Middle East politics, and an op-ed piece in the Washington Post by David Ignatius sheds some light on Iran's growing confidence. This has recently been further spurred by the need for the US to use Iran and Syria as intermediaries in discussion on the future of Iraq.

Ignatius visited the Arab Strategy Forum, in which Iran's national security adviser, Ali Larijani, laid out his view of the current situation:
"When we face a strategic stalemate, we can break it only by changing the strategy itself," Larijani said in his speech. He explained that America's choice was to stick with a failing strategy of unilateralism, tinker with it to "retard the process" of defeat, or replace it altogether with a new strategy of "interdependence" that recognized Iran's primacy as a regional power. By embracing a new strategy, he said, the United States "would bring psychological calm to the region and help America to behave in a more rational way."

When I asked Larijani later at a news conference what Iran would regard as evidence that the Bush administration was indeed changing its strategy, he said, "The clearest sign would be the exit or evacuation of U.S. forces," adding: "Should there be a timetable presented, that would serve as a positive sign."

Iran is clearly enjoying this newfound position of power over the US in the Iraq process, albeit not with any constructive view of what to do with the power vacuum that will patently result from a US withdrawal. The Iranians will undoubtedly be backing a Shi'ite victory in what will no doubt become Iraq's full-blown (as opposed to currently inferred) civil war, as Iran is the spiritual home to the Shi'ites. This furthers their regional power, and it seems that Iran holds most of the cards at the table at present. Syria's influence is naturally also a key role-player, but with Shi'ite dominance in Iraq, will come Iranian dominance.

This naturally serves to further embolden Iran in its quest for nuclear materials. Larijani stated at the conference that the U.N. Security Council sanctions resolution would not stop Iran's uranium-enrichment efforts, saying bluntly "I announce: This is not effective".

It's amazing how much influence the US has lost in the region from the Iraq war. Any hopes of US mediation in Middle Eastern affairs has largely gone out the window, mirroring its fallen credibility. Much work will be needed by the next administration to regain that confidence and trust.