Wednesday, November 15, 2006


Iran, Al Qaeda, and Etcetera

The Telegraph reports on Iranian influence on Al Qaeda, based on leaked intelligence:

Iran is seeking to take control of Osama bin Laden's al-Qa'eda terror network by encouraging it to promote officials known to be friendly to Teheran, The Daily Telegraph can reveal.

According to recent reports received by Western intelligence agencies, the Iranians are training senior al-Qa'eda operatives in Teheran to take over the organisation when bin Laden is no longer leader.

Somehow I think this is more merger than hostile takeover. Bottom line – literally at the bottom of the article – up front:

Any increase in Iran's influence over al-Qa'eda could have potentially devastating consequences for international security. Al-Qa'eda has made no secret of its desire to acquire weapons of mass destruction — including "dirty" nuclear bombs.

Intelligence experts believe that Iran will soon have the capacity to develop its own nuclear weapons and Teheran is also known to have developed a highly effective chemical weapons programme.

"We are looking at a Doomsday scenario here where al-Qa'eda finally fulfills its ultimate goal of acquiring weapons of mass destruction," said a senior Western intelligence official. "And unlike other terror groups, al-Qa'eda is perfectly willing to use them."

You’d almost think there’s an Axis of Evil or something, that we’re in some kind of Global War on Terror. Must be a Rovian plot, damn those Republicans for making us so fearful!

Bad timing, all this, for wayward Tony Blair, who picks this auspicious moment to suggest diplomacy with diplomacy with Syria and Iran:

The  first cracks in the united front over Iraq between Tony Blair and President Bush appeared last night as the Prime Minister offered Iran and Syria the prospect of dialogue over the future of Iraq and the Middle East.

Mr Blair said there could be a new “partnership” with Iran if it stopped supporting terrorism in Iraq and gave up its nuclear ambitions. Syria and Iran could choose partnership or isolation, he said.

The Prime Minister tried to exploit moves in Washington to rethink strategy on Iraq by holding out the prospect of engagement with two countries once dubbed by President Bush as part of the “axis of evil”. For the first time he also explicitly ruled out military action against Iran.

And, in words clearly directed at Mr Bush as he prepares for his final two years in power, Mr Blair called for the United States to lead a new drive towards peace in the Middle East, including peace in Palestine and the Lebanon, arguing that ultimately it was the only way to defeat al-Qaeda.

The only way to defeat them is to ignore their duplicity and do what they want us to do. Ah, the ever so nuanced “make them think we’re surrendering” ploy.

In direct contrast to Tony Blair’s speech The Guardian runs a report about how British Intelligence believes Al Qaeda is planning a nuclear attack on Britain.

Why would anybody need to worry about a nuclear Iran, who happens to control Al Qaeda? As I said, bad timing for the wayward Blair.

Speaking of wayward in another sense, Gregory Djerejian at Belgravia Dispatch hopefully views the Baker-Hamilton Commission as the last best hope for an acceptable outcome in Iraq.

That Djerejian can even make this argument, I would think, represents a “brightening” of his opinion on Iraq. Unfortunately, Djerejian tends to mistake the primary sources for his optimism, as he has likewise mistook the sources for his prior and lingering pessimism.

Here’s his optimistic assessment:

All the above aside, however, I will stress again in these cyber-pages that a dramatic move to regionalize our approach to the Iraq issue is desperately needed. Not only will this signal to the American public that ‘stay the course’ is over and done with, it will also convince skeptical European capitals and chanceries that we are truly moving in a new direction, not merely providing a fig-leaf for a sequenced withdrawal that does not constitute a convincing new plan (offering Europeans and others non-discriminatory access to reconstruction bids is also advisable on this score). In my view, and as I’ve previously stated, we should convene a major Iraq Contact Group consisting of the Americans, British, Germans, French, Russians and Chinese—with full participation by each of Iraq’s neighbors (Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, Jordan, Turkey, Kuwait), as well as other critical Arab and/or Islamic countries as observers to the Contact Group (Egypt and Morocco, for instance). To represent the U.S. at the Six-Plus-Six Contact Group we should appoint some of the very best envoys the country has at its disposal.

One critical priority must be addressing directly the wider regional tensions Iraq has exacerbated so that the conflict does not spill over to other countries. There might well be surprising areas of common interest among many of the regional Contact Group members on this score. A variety of goals will need to be tackled, and the diplomatic might of the entire key “Big Six” of the Contact Group must be marshaled to 1) build on Syria’s (still not convincing enough) efforts to make the Iraqi-Syrian border less porous, 2) continue to assist Riyadh in minimizing insurgent flow from Saudi Arabia into Iraq, 3) bolstering via diplomatic and other efforts countries facing growing religious radicalism from within like Jordan and, less noticed, Syria, 4) engage Iran full-bore on the Iraq agenda (to include as necessary other issues of mutual concern on a discrete case by case basis) to assure that the most radical elements in Teheran are dissuaded from providing arms and materiel to the worst of the Shi’a militias (lately groups splintering away from Moktada-al-Sadr), 5) dialogue more closely with Turkey to assure that her vital interests are not being imperiled by Kurdish resurgence, and 6) get Arab countries more involved generally with the situation in Iraq (greater Arab influence, in terms of bolstering the Sunni position, might well help serve to contain some of Iran’s growing influence, while also perhaps reducing the appeal of the ‘alliance of convenience’ between Syria and Iran, the former 70% Sunni, the latter a predominately Shi’a country). This is an impartial list, but the point is clear: a massive, full-scale international effort comprising all the great powers and the key regional actors must be convened to, around the clock, tackle the Iraq crisis.

Djerejian anticipates and confronts some of the more immediate objections I’d have with his premise that Syria and Iran might be “good faith” partners, in helping us finding solutions for Iraq and the region (emphasis mine):

Many readers ask: what will we gain from direct discussions with Syria and Iran? I can think of several actions, without limitation, that the Syrians could take if we extended various carrots to them (such as facilitating a return to negotations with the Israelis over the Golan Heights issue), including: 1) making the Syrian-Iraqi border less porous, 2) reducing Iraqi Baath money floating about Syrian banks and thus ultimately getting to insurgents, 3) cutting down on former deviationist-type Iraqi Baath who fled to Syria during Saddam's regime trying to cut a non-Saddamite, neo-Baath resurgence in Iraq, and 4) inducing Damascus to be more cooperative with Maliki's government so as to help stabilize the national government in Baghdad. As for the Iranians, it's no secret they are hedging their bets and, not only supporting Shi'a militias, but also Sunni insurgents. Similar inducements (mixed with the specter of punitive actions) could get the Iranians to reduce support to some of the groups causing us the worst problems, whether Sunni or Shi'a. Neither Damascus nor Teheran want a total meltdown in Iraq--which would also involve large refugee flows to both their countries--countries with their own somewhat disgruntled minorities (Azeris in Iran) or indeed majorities (Sunnis in Syria). In diplomacy, as in life, you talk to your opponents on occasion to get results. Hope and 'they know what to do' isn't a plan.

No, it’s not. And if one has to measure a plan by any sense of feasibility, neither is what Djerejian proposes here, though I give him high marks for the effort. Ultimately, he was probably better off in gloom, as what’s here is an Ivory Tower of dizzying heights.

Who are our enemies? If Iran is actively building up proxy forces against us, plotting terrorism and other escalations against the US, UK, and our allies, if non-democratic governments are supporting and fueling the anti-US sentiments, how do we possibly gain by doing the diplomatic dance to their music?

There’s a kind of naiveté, or if not naiveté exactly, a pronounced inability to recognize that the Diplomatic game being proposed is markedly different than that played in previous geopolitical times and places.

In the Cold War, we often negotiated with our enemies, with the USSR, China, or even some of their proxies, because there were measurable, achievable gains both sides could make be dealing. As Djerejian observes, “In diplomacy, as in life, you talk to your opponents on occasion to get results.”

This is no doubt true, but whether you choose to talk to your opponents should be based on your best estimate of what you’re likely to achieve, what they want, and what you’re willing to give away.

When the opponent seeks some gain over you, and you over him, and the realm is politics, no harm no foul, perhaps compromise is the better part of virtue.

When a predator seeks to fool his prey into compliance, in exchange for freedom or some concession, he may in reality be seeking a more compliant victim. Go along to get along may work with neighborhood bullies, or political opponents, with the murderer who seeks to kill you or the rapist set on ravage, anything short of fighting back could be fatal.

Jury’s out on several of Djerejian’s first six of the six plus six party of talks, namely the Russians and the Chinese. They don’t actively seek confrontation or terror against us, but they have in the past and their interests are not ours.

Move to the second tier of six plus six, and we see several who are more enemy than friend: Iran and Syria surely, but some would add Saudi Arabia as well.

Our enemies, whether Al Qaeda, their Iranian masters, Syrian, or other Islamic sponsors and supporters, view our willingness to negotiate as complete fulfillment of these phase of their master plans. Their goal is to fool us into complacency and compromise, so as to better position themselves for wreaking greater harm upon us in future.

We’re being played for fools. I’m prepared to accept that Democrats and their mainstream media allies in the Media War aren’t traitors in playing along with our enemies’ PR Campaigns, but I’m not prepared to excuse them for their obliviousness. It will get many more people killed, and many more enslaved, before events overtake even the Diplomats, and we begin another type of conversation. Would that it were otherwise, but a true Realism starts with whose holding the knife behind their back.

(Links via Memeorandum)

Others commenting:

Omar at Iraq the Model

Counterterrorism Blog

Pajamas Media

James Joyner at Outside the Beltway

Right Wing News

Bill Roggio

Dave Schuler at Outside the Beltway

Blue Crab Boulevard

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