Sunday 6 November 2011

Dogs of War

And Caesar's spirit, raging for revenge,
With Ate by his side come hot from hell,
Shall in these confines with a monarch's voice
Cry "Havoc!" and let slip the dogs of war

1. No, we’re not gearing up for war (yet)

I don’t really have time to be writing as much as I used to be but I thought I’d just write a post with an assortment of recent issues. Firstly, The Guardian has yet again managed to exaggerate and misrepresent British foreign policy. They start the article of their front page ‘UK military steps up plans for Iran attack amid fresh nuclear fears’ with

The Ministry of Defence believes the US may decide to fast-forward plans for targeted missile strikes at some key Iranian facilities. British officials say that if Washington presses ahead it will seek, and receive, UK military help for any mission, despite some deep reservations within the coalition government.

There are so many things wrong with the story, its hard to know where to start. Firstly, looking at the quotes of the officials, it is no big change in British government policy nor is it as apocalyptic as the Guardian is making it sound. One quote from the officials state

The British government believes that a dual track strategy of pressure and engagement is the best approach to address the threat from Iran's nuclear programme and avoid regional conflict. We want a negotiated solution – but all options should be kept on the table.

But what about the plans!? The Guardian admits ‘there are no hard and fast blueprints.’ But what about other preparations that Guardian mentions?! Well, here’s another quote:

I think that it is fair to say that the MoD is constantly making plans for all manner of international situations. Some areas are of more concern than others.

And just to really drive the point home, a MoD source told The Telegraph ‘We have contingency plans on everything... It doesn’t mean anything will come of it but at least someone is thinking about this sort of thing.’ And lets assume that there were full blown preparations for a military confrontation with Iran – it simply doesn’t mean anything. David Cameron would still have to lobby for support for the war. This isn’t a dictatorship where the UK can simply go into war without any recourse (people made the same misguided argument about Blair).

2. Neither is the U.S

I’m not denying that war with Iran won’t happen in the future, but the current apocalyptic vision seems to be misleading to me. Firstly, it should be kept in mind that the U.S has tried to downplay any suggestion that its seeking a military confrontation with Iran, ‘saying it would rather exercise and exhaust "tough diplomacy" first.’ Secondly according to various reports in American and Israeli media the ‘U.S. is "absolutely" concerned that Israel is preparing an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.’ Thirdly, it looks like the U.S is going to use the upcoming IAEA report to ‘further isolate Iran’:

Over the longer term, several senior Obama administration officials said in interviews, they are mulling a ban on financial transactions with Iran’s central bank... Also being considered is an expansion of the ban on the purchase of petroleum products sold by companies controlled by the country’s elite military force, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

The recent publicised links between Al Qaeda and Iran are only news to people who haven’t read the 9/11 Commission Report. (This is not to entertain the frankly ridiculous idea that Iran had any foreknowledge of 9/11 – as the commission itself said). So, to repeat, there may be a war but the signals that people are reading into are simply not there.

3. In defence of President Obama

I wanted to talk about this blogpost on a website called ‘British Neo-libertarian.’ I read it a lot and I find myself disagreeing with it all the time. It tries to argue that the U.S withdrawal from Iraq is misguided – and it fails terribly to provide any sound reasoning. The first false assumption is:

In 2006, when troop levels dropped in Iraq, there was an explosion of violence... [Then] President Bush decided to reinforce troops in Iraq to root out al-Qaeda through General Petraeus. It has been a large success (Study the US military troop level, and civilian fatalities). It is a simple fact that more US soldiers works in creating conditions for better results.

This simplistic view of the Surge simply withstand scrutiny. While it certainly played a role, as Douglas Ollivant has written, it was primarily the realisation of defeat for the Sunnis that allowed for a settlement:

By late 2006, it was becoming quickly apparent to the Sunni that they were losing, particularly in Baghdad, as entire sectors of the city, and virtually the entire East side, were systematically cleansed of Sunni residents.. The mounting casualty count fundamentally changed Sunni outlooks and caused them to begin to look for a way to reach a settlement

There are many factors in what led to the drop in violence – form concrete barriers to operations against Al Qaeda. It’s also worth noting that the U.S military found Al Qaeda documents and used them to convince Middle Eastern and North African nations to stop would-be suicide bombing leaving the country. General Petraeus credits this diplomatic initiative as being the primary reason for the 85% drop in suicide bombings. So this simplistic and quite frankly propagandistic account of the Surge quelling violence is wrong.

The rebutting of this assumption goes some way in showing how the remaining presence of U.S soldiers will not necessarily make things better or worse. Iraq’s security woes wont be fixed overnight – but as Ollivant wrote in Foreign Policy, ‘these technical gaps can easily be filled, and the market will respond quickly to Iraqi petrodollars.’ Surely someone with libertarian in their blog name will see the utility in this argument? The argument that Iran’s position should determine U.S presence is similarly misguided.

It’s based on the false notion that Iraq is or is going to be a Iranian client state. This is just nonsense; Iran’s staunchest ally won only 20 seats out of over 300 in the last election. Indeed, this was lower than they achieved in 2008 and Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi credits this to the fact that the party was seen as an Iranian client. And, as the New York Times reported in July 2011, ‘Iraqi security forces have unleashed a sweeping crackdown on Iranian-backed Shiite militants responsible for most of the lethal attacks.’ American withdrawal wont stop these operations and wont change Iraqi reluctance toward Iran. If anything, withdrawal will take the rug out from under Iran.

It just seems hard to deny: Iraq is not a puppet state of Iran or the United State. The very fact that a sovereign Iraq has stood by its guns and refused to support even a mild presence also shows, yet again, that this isn’t some pansy puppet government. The security situation may get worse, there may be a series of bombs going off as has happened in the last two months, but they do no justify U.S presence any longer. 

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