Are the next several weeks a critical window for diplomatic solutions in the Middle East?

Some excerpts from “Intelligence Guidance: Week of 27 July 2008”, Stratfor, 25 July 2008 — This is one of the things Stratfor does best, so attention should be paid.

(1)  U.S.-Iranian talks: The United States has given Iran until August 2 to respond to the latest – and most serious – offer of cooperation. Iran is holding out for something more, but also cannot ignore the risks it would be taking in dragging these talks out and missing the opportunity to reach a deal over Iraq with the current U.S. administration. It has never been about nuclear weapons, much less enrichment. Both sides are preparing their publics for a deal, and time is running short. … The next few weeks should be lively.

(2)  Israel-Syrian peace talks: There is no must-solve issue or deadline to worry about, but that does not mean that those wanting to tank the process don’t need to act quickly. The player with the most to lose remains Hezbollah, and all involved with the talks are working to shatter the organization’s organizational coherence. We are close to the point where Hezbollah will either strike out or break down.

(3)  Turkey’s domestic politics: Turkey is nearing a balance point. The secularists are about to use the courts to break the Islamic-flavored Justice and Development (AK) Party government. There is only as much room for compromise as there is willingness on the AK Party’s behalf to cave – the secularists hold most of the cards. How far is the AK Party leadership willing to let itself be knocked back?

The situation in the the Middle East is unusually fluid.  However, I am skeptical about all of these, esp. the first and third. 

  1. Is time Iran’s friend or enemy?  Friend, I suspect — their position seems likely to only grows strong with time. 
  2. Is time President Bush’s friend or enemy?  Enemy.  If he wants some positive resolution to his Middle East adventures, this is the last opportunity.  Otherwise the laurels might be gathered by his successor.
  3. is time a friend or enemy for Syria?  Israel?  Enemy for both regimes, I suspect.  But the pressure of vital competitors both inside and around them, growing stronger each year, might make bold action necessary — and difficult.
  4. Is time America’s friend or enemy with respect to Iran?  Enemy.  As the pressure to exit Iraq grows — and it is growing, both domestically and in Iraq — than our leverage vs. Iran is fading.
  5. Is time the friend or enemy of Turkey’s secularists?  Enemy.  I suspect not only that they do not “hold all the cards”, but time has and will continue to weaken their position.

For a very different view of Turkey see “Turkey in the throes of Islamic revolution?“, Spengler, Asia Times, 22 July 2008 — “Turkey is half pregnant with political Islam, if one believes Western foreign ministries and the mainstream press.”

Please share your comments by posting below (brief and relevant, please), or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

For more information about these things

  1. Iran – will the US or Israel attack Iran?
  2. Iraq & Afghanistan Wars – my articles
  3. Iraq War – Goals and Benchmarks

9 thoughts on “Are the next several weeks a critical window for diplomatic solutions in the Middle East?”

  1. Libya and Swizerland are in a sharp conflict presently. If Libya would be nuked today (following the example of the USA, Israel), inside 2 weeks the radioactive dust would fall on Europe (Italy, France, etc.), so much is known meteorology. So, nukes seem to be a boomerang. Which countries get dusted in case of Iran? Say Europe, China, or India? Why doesn’t somebody point out how many dead would a nuclear attack on Iran cause elswhere?
    Fabius Maximus replies: Not my field, but I suspect that a tactical strike at a small number of small targets might release relatively (an absurd term in this context, of course) small amouts of radioactive material to the winds. Note the tiny number of deaths outside Russia caused by Chernobyl.

  2. DEBKA recently reported that various naval forces engaged in an exercise that practiced a blockade of Iran.

    While I share your skepticism of DEBKA reports, isn’t a blockade technically an act of war?
    Fabius Maximus replies: What does “technically” mean in the context of acts of war? Any experts care to comment? Here is the Wikipedia entry. While discussing the confused state of “international law”, it says “The International Criminal Court plans to include blockades against coasts and ports in its list of acts of war in 2009.” No citation given.

  3. What could a deal between the US and Iran possibly involve? Presumably the US wants to maintain a military presence in Iraq. Could Iran agree to that? What is Iran’s primary goal? Domestic nuclear power? Guarantee against attack from Israel? Guarantee against US attack from Iraq or the Gulf? I dont see how any of these are compatible or securable verbally. It appears that if Iran wants to achieve real security, it has to drive toward a position like Russia’s- i.e. deterrence, or ability to retaliate.

  4. “The Americans should remember that the British didn’t lose the Suez conflict due to a Soviet nuclear threat — they lost it because Eisenhower — angered by the fact that the British, together with the French and the Israelis, took the action against Nasser without first consulting him — “threatened to withdraw support of the British currency” (David Fromkin, “Stuck in the Canal,” New York Times, 28 October 2006).

    If the Americans refuse to learn from history and continue to soldier on in the Middle East, wasting their treasure, depreciating the dollar, making oil prices higher, and endangering their own solvency as well as the world economy, maybe the Chinese and others should put America into receivership. ”

    (Comment by Yoshie Furuhashi on the blog Critical Montages.)

  5. plato, i agree with #3. re #4, what if the chinese, and the gcc, and the russians, want us to soldier on?

  6. Sorry Fab, wrong on #5: Obama is pivoting to make sure there is no timeline for complete withdrawal of troops from Iraq — the 60 years of troops in Germany and Japan and S. Korea mean that the US voters will accept troops in Iraq, if the Iraqis accept them.

    Perhaps not enough troops to invade Iran easily (as are there now), but enough to ensure no terrorists seriously threaten the elected (and corrupt) Iraq gov’t.

    The US needs to replace “aid” for Iraq with USD loans to their munipalities, and/or new corporations, with the idea of Iraqis using the US cash loan to decide what to rebuild, when, and then pay the loan back. It should always have been Iraqi decided and controlled loans, but Reps accepted Dem objections to loans (so as to shove the aid to Rep friends).

    More right on 4, 3, 2 — but also half-wrong on #1. Time with a successful, growing democracy in Iraq next to Iraq is an enemy of the Iranian mullahs. Time is only Iran’s friend on the nuclear isssue — but you’re also half wrong about nukes being less important. Because nuke acquisition IS hugely important, gaining time to get nukes is Iran’s friend.

    On #4, after the Nov election and Jan switch, time will again be OK for the new Pres. I don’t think Iran will have nukes yet, but the new Pres. will likely have to decide what steps, like a blockade?, need to be taken to punish Iran for not coming to an agreement and keeping it.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I do not understand much of your comment.

    (a) Obama pivoting: I agree, except this is not really a pivot. As I said in “A look at the next phase of the Iraq War: 2009-2012“, Obama’s position on Iraq was vague (like so much of his “platform”). Folks read into it what they wanted to see, much more than what was actually there.

    (b) “Time with a successful, growing democracy in Iraq next to Iraq is an enemy of the Iranian mullahs.” You’re kidding, right? The Kurds have de facto left. The national government has little influence in much of the remaining parts of Iraq, other than through the army. The Executive and Legislature routinely operate outside the Consitution. Elections in the provinces are uncertain, both as to date and fairness.

    (c) “half wrong about nukes being less important.” When did I say that. Nukes are the ultimate sign of great power status in the world, for nations that care about such things. Nukes are also the ultimate provider of security. I suspect Iran wants nukes for both reasons.

  7. This is one of the things Stratfor does worst, so no attention should be paid.

    “We are close to the point where Hezbollah will either strike out or break down.”

    Don’t hold your breath.

  8. “So,nukes seem to be a boomerang. Which countries get dusted in case of Iran? Say Europe, China or India? Why doesn’t somebody point out how many dead would a nuclear attack on Iran cause elsewhere?”

    To houswife :

    that’s b’coz those affected are NOT the citizens of their own country. People are basically RACIST by nature, IMO (I have occasionally been guilty of that as well). Hence, “why should we care for the few deaths in some foreign land which we’ve never even heard of (or even understand)”, is what EVERYONE thinks. I guess most members of the weaker sex are generally more compassionate than us men.

    Yours Truly

    Have a pleasant week ahead.

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