Summary: Events in the Middle East highlight the contradictions of our irrational foreign policy. Since we have few contemporaneous sources of information about US government thinking, we can use Stratfor (among the best of the US private geopolitical analysts) as a window.
Today’s reading is “Bahrain and the Battle Between Iran and Saudi Arabia“, 7 March 2011.
In the Stratfor worldview (reflecting that of the US government) events flow only from the top down, as the chess masters of great powers move the pawns. Protests, like those in Bahrain, never result from popular movements. The pawns never move themselves. Let’s look at some examples, as they continue to help the government whip up a war with Iran.
Stratfor starts with realistic analysis, then move to confident guessing. For example, it makes sense that Iran and the Saudi Princes are jousting — but that does not make it so. Confusing estimates with fact is the top tool of propaganda — selling plausible geopolitical narratives to the masses.
The Iranians clearly have an interest in overthrowing the Bahraini regime. While the degree to which the Iranians are involved in the Bahraini unrest is unclear, they clearly have a great deal of influence over a cleric, Hassan Mushaima, who recently returned to Bahrain from London to participate in the protests. That said, the Bahraini government itself could be using the unrest to achieve its own political goals, much as the Egyptian military used the Egyptian uprising. Like all revolutions, events in Bahrain are enormously complex — and in Bahrain’s case, the stakes are extremely high.
… Bahrain is the focal point of a struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran for control of the western littoral of the Persian Gulf. If Iran is unable to capitalize on events in Bahrain, the place most favorable to it, the moment will pass. If Bahrain’s government falls, the door is opened to further actions. Whether Iran caused the rising in the first place is unclear and unimportant; it is certainly involved now, as are the Saudis.
Is Iran active in Bahrain? Almost certainly. Just as we are in Latin America; they’d be fools not to shape events in their key neighbors. Especially with Americans operating on three sides (two of which follow invasions). Like Obama, their leaders use rhetoric as a cost-effective lever (see this example, and this Stratfor report).
Then they advance the narrative, mixing strong reporting with wild (but purposeful) guessing that pretends to be analysis. As in these exerpts from “Iran Contemplates Its Next Move“, 17 March 2011.
The major driver behind the GCC deployment was to counter Iran’s rising influence in the Persian Gulf. Tehran sees an opportunity to build on its successes in Iraq and shift the balance of power in eastern Arabia to favor the Shia. Iran’s best-case scenario in Bahrain is for the complete overthrow of the Sunni monarchy, and it’s focused primarily on that possibility. But that is not to say Iranians are not meddling elsewhere at the same time. … Iran does not have as much room to maneuver operationally in Saudi Arabia as it does in Bahrain, but that doesn’t mean Tehran hasn’t been trying.”
It’s a safe guess that Stratfor’s analysts have no sources into the thinking of Iran’s senior leadership, although that write as if they’re best buddies. To say “it’s focused primarily on that possibility” confuses guesses with fact. “But that is not to say Iranians are not” is outright deception, weasel words disguising the fact that Stratfor has no evidence either way. Ditto with “that doesn’t mean Tehran hasn’t been trying.” It doesn’t mean they have been trying; it doesn’t mean they have been trying. No evidence means no evidence.
Occam’s razor suggests that the struggle in Bahrain forms one part of the larger struggle by the people in the Middle East for more representative governments. Deeply Islamic people resent secular governments. Oppressed minorities seek better terms. Entire populations seek to overthrow tyrannical and corrupt rulers. That’s the thread connecting Iraq, Afghanistan, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Saudi Arabia Bahrain — and the next people to rise in protest.
The ruling elites in the Middle East — and their allies in the US — seek to distort this simple picture.
- Some are painted as good, but only weakly supported. Like Tunisia, with few US interests at stake. Like Egypt, where the military-backed regime supports the US more strongly than any likely successor.
- Some are painted as good, where we hope (albeit with little evidence) to replace a neutral regime with a friendly one. Like Libya. Probably delusional, like Iraq — where we replaced a weak secular enemy of Iran with a somewhat theocratic friend of Iran.
- Some protests are painted as evil, like the Pashtun tribes seeking greater autonomy in Pakistan and Afghanistan (seeking to erase the Durand Line the UK drew in 1893 dividing Afghanistan and Pakistan, keeping both a confection of minority ethnic groups).
- Some we pretend not to see. Like the oppressed Shiite tribes protesting against rule by the corrupt Saudi Princes. Like the slowly (probably inevitably) rising protests of the Sunni majority against the kleptocratic Princes.
It’s an incoherent, even illogical, policy. It’s doomed to fail due to contradictions — both internal and with reality. But the chorus of our geopolitical experts will sing its praises until it collapses. Then they’ll explain why it failed.
This is not how a successful nation manages its foreign affairs. It’s the policy of a dissolute heir to great wealth, ignorant and careless, on his way to disaster. It need not be like this. Change will come only when we put new hands on the helm, different than the current Bobbsey Twins of the Republican and Democratic Parties.
For more information
For posts about Iran see the FM reference page Iran – will the US or Israel attack Iran?
About recent events in the Middle East:
- The Middle East scorecard, 18 March 2011
- Libya’s people need uninvited infidel foreigners to save them!, 1 March 2011
- “You just have not seen enough people bleed to death”, 8 March 2011
- About attacking Libya – let’s give this more thought than we did Afghanistan and Iraq, 6 March 2009
- Our geopolitical experts see the world with the innocent eyes of children (that’s a bad thing), 14 March 2011
- “The Revolution Is Not Yet Over”, Yasmine El Rashidi, blog of the New York Review of Books, 23 February 2011
- “Volcano of Rage“, Max Rodenbeck, New York Review of Books, 24 February 2011
- Important information about the riots in Egypt, FM website, 30 January 2011
- Why do we fear the rioters in Egypt?, FM website,30 January 2011
- Sources of information about the situation in Egypt, FM website, 6 February 2011
About America’s foreign policy:
- The Myth of Grand Strategy , 31 January 2006
- America’s Most Dangerous Enemy , 1 March 2006
- Why We Lose at 4GW , 4 January 2007
- One step beyond Lind: What is America’s geopolitical strategy? , 28 October 2007
- How America can survive and even prosper in the 21st Century – part I , 19 March 2007; revised 7 June 2008
- How America can survive and even prosper in the 21st Century – part II , 14 June 2008
- America’s grand strategy: lessons from our past , 30 June 2008 – chapter 1 in a series of notes
- America’s grand strategy, now in shambles , 2 July 2008 — chapter 3
- America’s grand strategy, insanity at work , 7 July 2008 — chapter 4
- Geopolitical analysis need not be war-mongering , 9 July 2008 — chapter 7
- The world seen through the lens of 4GW (this gives a clearer picture) , (10 July 2008 — chapter 8
- The King of Brobdingnag comments on America’s grand strategy, 18 November 2008
- Is America a destabilizing force in the world?, 23 January 2009