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Entries in Iran (104)


WPR's The New Rules: Assad's Ouster Best Chance to Stave off Israel-Iran Conflict

The debate among U.S. foreign policy analysts over the wisdom of an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities -- and whether or not America should allow itself to be drawn into an ensuing conflict with Iran should Israel strike -- has largely taken place parallel to the debate over whether to pursue an R2P, or responsibility to protect, intervention in Syria. It bears noting, however, that forcing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s departure may be the best near-term policy for the U.S. to avoid being sucked into an Israeli-Iranian war.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.


Wikistrat post @ CNN-GPS: Ten Roads to Israel-Iran War

Editor’s Note: The following piece, exclusive to GPS, comes from Wikistrat, the world's first massively multiplayer online consultancy.  It leverages a global network of subject-matter experts via a crowd-sourcing methodology to provide unique insights.

Either Israel and the United States are engaged in a brilliant psychological operations campaign against Iran or the two long-time allies really are talking past each other on the subject of Tehran’s reach for a nuclear bomb. Either way, all this Bibi Netanyahu said, Leon Panetta said chatter is producing some truly jangled nerves over in Iran on the subject of Israel’s allegedly imminent attack on that country’s nuclear program facilities.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu keeps publicly implying that his nation can’t wait on Iranian events for as long as the Obama administration – with its looming embargo of Iranian oil sales to the West – would like. Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta keeps tripping over his own tongue, saying one day that America is doing its best to keep Israel’s attack jets grounded and the next offhandedly remarking to reporters that Tel Aviv is inevitably going to pull that trigger sometime this spring.

Again, as psyop campaigns go, this is brilliant, because it not only keeps the Iranians nervous and guessing, it forces them out into the diplomatic open with all manner of implausible counter-threats that reveal their increasing desperation.

Stipulating all this brinkmanship - coordinated or not - this week’s Wikistrat crowd-sourced analysis exercise involves imagining the range of possible pathways to an Israel-Iran war.  We don’t offer odds here. We just try to cover a wide array of possible vectors toward the trigger-pulling point.

Read the entire post at CNN's GPS blog.


Follow-on comment to my WPR piece on war with Iran



Per Maduka's comment that he was shocked to see this analysis from me (presumably he knows something of my years [roughly 8] of writing to different effect on this subject), I penned the following comment that I felt was important enough of a statement to post in full:

I was somewhat shocked to write the piece myself, but I found myself talking to people on the phone regarding this and I kept coming back to this sense of determinism, when all the dynamics are considered.

In the end, I do think the logic is very compelling for Israel - given the Arab Spring. Then we turn next to Obama, and given his drone use and desire to appear strong (hell, after all these years, let's just say the guy is strong on defense and leave it at that). Then we turn to the Pentagon, and I see a group of AirSea Battle Concept advocates who would love to test it out on Iran (limited scope) and, by doing so, signal VERY STRONGLY to China.

What I don't spot on any of these lines is a countervailing pressure of great strength.

Don't be confused, and I think I made this point decidedly in the piece (and you need to read it all to know this, so if all you scan is the opening . . . then please beg off further comment): this will be an air/SOF-only strike/war. This will be a "reducing" war, or what the Israelies call "mowing the grass." There is little sense of getting the job done with one effort.  

All you can hold out hope for is triggering the conditions for regime change (least likely from below; much more likely as result of regime infighting).  But that's at best a nice-to-get. You don't do it for that, even as I argue in the piece that you might as well - given the larger logic - target to encourage that (why not if you've making the effort already?).

And I think that's the macro lesson the US seems to be learning from the "war on terror," and it's making us more like Israel over time: we simply mow the grass now, and eschew the follow-on work.


WPR's The New Rules: The Coming War With Iran

While the debate over whether Israel will strike Iran ebbs and flows on an almost weekly basis now, a larger collision-course trajectory is undeniably emerging. To put it most succinctly, Iran won't back down, while Israel won't back off, and America will back up its two regional allies -- Israel and Saudi Arabia -- when the shooting finally starts. There are no other credible paths in sight: There will be no diplomatic miracles, and Iran will not be permitted to achieve a genuine nuclear deterrence. But let us also be clear about what this coming war will ultimately target: regime change in Tehran, because that is the only plausible solution.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.


Wikistrat post @ CNN/GPS: What Comes After Chavez?

Editor’s Note: The following piece, exclusive to GPS, comes from Wikistrat, the world's first massively multiplayer online consultancy.  It leverages a global network of subject-matter experts via a crowd-sourcing methodology to provide unique insights.

This Sunday, the historically disorganized Venezuelan opposition movement is holding its first-ever presidential primary to decide upon a single candidate to challenge long-time strongman Hugo Chavez. With regional governor Henrique Capriles expected to prevail, the aging Chavez faces a younger version of himself: namely, a dynamic rising star promising to transform the political landscape. This time, however, the figure is moving it away from the heavy-handed populism initiated by Chavez after he swept into office in 1998.

Over the course of his tenure, Chavez’s pursuit of “21st century socialism” in Venezuela has propelled him to self-declared “president for life” status. Among his accomplishments are the systematic and brutal persecution of political opponents and critical journalists, the stacking of parliament with his supporters, various cash-payment programs to the voting poor to ensure his popularity, and - in a related dynamic - the general undermining (aka, looting) of the country’s primary economic engine, the national oil company known as PDVSA. Chavez has also turned Venezuela into one of the most crime-ridden nations in the world with the annual inflation averaging close to 30 percent.

Still, El Comandante has inspired copycat Chavista leaders in Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua, and has reinvigorated Cuba’s communist dictatorship - all the best friends that money can buy.

But with the de facto dictator mysteriously seeking cancer care in Havana last year, widespread talk has surfaced that this election may well be Chavez’s last. Taking that hypothetical as our starting point, this week’s Wikistrat crowd-sourced analysis looks at what just might lie ahead for a post-Chavez Venezuela.  Here are five pathways to consider.

Read the entire post at CNN's GPS blog.


Wikistrat post @ CNN/GPS: How Will It End in Syria?

Editor’s Note: The following piece, exclusive to GPS, comes from Wikistrat, the world's first massively multiplayer online consultancy.  It leverages a global network of subject-matter experts via a crowd-sourcing methodology to provide unique insights.

It’s hard to gauge just how strong the Free Syrian Army really is.  It’s clearly growing in size and in its ability to control ever-widening swaths of territory.  But at the same time, Russian and Iranian guns pour into Bashar al-Assad’s government.  And Bashar al-Assad has a steely will to power.

Given the mounting tension, it’s worth thinking through exactly how regime change may unfold and what it’s consequences would mean for the region.

Wikistrat, the world’s first massively multiplayer online consultancy ran an online simulation on what could go down in Syria. Here are the results:

Read the entire post at CNN's GPS blog.


Wikistrat's chief analyst quoted in Reuters piece on great-power rivalries in the Mideast


Here's the intro and my section:

Global "great power politics" returns to Mideast

LONDON | Tue Jan 31, 2012 7:28am EST

(Reuters) - With Russia sending warships to discourage foreign intervention in Syria, and China drawn more deeply into Iran's confrontation with the West, "great power" politics is swiftly returning to the Middle East . . .

Chinese officials might be willing to use sanctions to negotiate better oil prices from Iran, but there seems relatively little prospect that they will stop buying even if Tehran's rival Saudi Arabia makes up the difference in output.

"Each time the West tightens the leash, Beijing quietly avails itself of the slack," says Thomas Barnett, a former strategist for the U.S. Navy and now chief analyst at political risk consultancy Wikistrat. "The more explicitly Washington bases its global strategic military posture on the perceived Chinese threat, the more Beijing will welcome - and even overtly encourage - these diversions" . . . 

Read the entire article at Reuters.


Time's Battleland: Would Assad’s Fall Limit the Nuclear Menace in the Middle East?

As Bashar Assad looks more internationally isolated by the day — and far more vulnerable to Western economic sanctions than uber-bad boy Iran — it behooves us to think through what general advantages accrue with his eventual fall. To date, most of the thinking has focused on Iran’s loss of its right-hand proxy in transmitting terror to Israel via Hamas and Hezbollah.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland blog.


Time's Battleland: The Perfect Headline on the Silent Sino-American Limited Liability Partnership

Iranian ships on exercise in Gulf

Comes from Bloomberg:

China Gets Cheaper Iran Oil as U.S. Picks Up Tab for Hormuz Straits Patrols

Brilliant huh?

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland.


Van Creveld tuned into Iran v. Turkey

Temp Headline Image

CSM op-ed, by way of WPR's media roundup.

As readers will attest, I've been saying this for a long time myself, both here and in columns and posts for other sites, but felt kinda odd that no one else was picking up on it. Knew I wasn't making it up.  Just wondered why the real lead being buried by MSM.

Well, this is one credentializing op-ed from Martin Van Creveld and somebody else.

Check it out.  I don't agree with all of it, but it's a powerful piece.

My annotated rundown:

[SUBTITLE] Many analysts say the Middle East is the focus of a geopolitical power struggle between the United States and Iran. That misses the primary thread of events – namely, the ongoing soft partition of the Arab republics between Turkey and Iran, with Turkey the stronger power.

What's not said: the power Turkey wields is entirely "soft," meaning the attraction of its culture, politics and its economic heft.  Turkey is not threatening with hard power, nor reaching for nukes - none of what Iran does. Instead, it's primary attraction is its success in growing and keeping happy an expanding middle class.

This is primarily China's soft-power attraction, so when we seek to counter it with a military "pivot" to East Asia, we don't look strong but weak.

During the last decade many right-wing American and Israeli analysts have described the geostrategic struggles unfolding in the Middle East as a new “cold war” pitting the United States against Shiite Iran. They have warned of an Arab “Shiite crescent” – stretching from Lebanon to Iraq – connected to Iran via ties of religion, commerce, and geostrategy . . .

Van Creveld puts Iraq too easily in Iran's camp - at least the Arab portion. I don't think it's such a done deal by any stretch, and we've seen plenty of reports that say the Turkish attraction is greater there on a lot of levels.

Back to the argument:

What this view of the Middle East overlooks is the fact that both the US and Iran are mired in internal political and economic difficulties. Simultaneously, inside the region, both are being outmaneuvered by an ascendant Turkey.

I don't think the US is being "outmaneuvered," just outperformed and out-clevered - if you will. Turkey, as a "young" rising power, has the strategic imagination required for the task, whereas the US strategic community is mired in a plethora of 20th-century concepts, many of which are so outdated as to be laughable. Turks just see the region with clearer eyes than we do.  No great mystery there.  Iran, thank Allah, is just as mired in the past.

Moreover, Western observers have missed the primary thread of events – namely, the ongoing asymmetric Turkish-Iranian soft partition of the Arab republics. Concomitantly, the American position as regional hegemon is vanishing. Today, only the Arab monarchies and Israel continue to look to the US as their primary patron.

I believe this to be true, but again, Turkey is winning and Iran's grip is tenable - see Syria.

Following the US withdrawal from Iraq, KRG officials bemoaned their need of a regional patron to protect them from dominance by Baghdad. Landlocked Iraqi Kurdistan also needs a conduit to export its oil to the West. The only country that can fulfill both roles is Turkey. That is why KRG officials, instead of supporting their ethnic brethren inside Turkey, have often sided with Ankara against the Kurdish separatist PKK.

This was made obvious to us when Enterra did its development work in the KRG.

Should more pipelines leading from Iraqi Kurdistan to the Mediterranean via Turkey be built, the result will be the de facto creation of an Iraqi-Kurdish buffer state. 

And frankly, the KRG is the nicest part of Iraq in terms of combined hydrocarbons and arable land.

In the southern part of Iraq, the situation is just the opposite. There, a Shiite Arab buffer state, buttressed by Iran as a bulwark against Turkish, American, or Saudi encroachments, is being created. The last two weeks’ events have removed any doubt that Prime Minister Maliki is “Iran’s man” in Baghdad. 

Again, I differ here on writing off the south, but point taken.

Yet despite this de facto partitioning of Iraq over the last month, Turkey and Iran are not challenging each other’s spheres of influence. Thus, Iraq has reverted to its traditional position as the Poland of the Middle East.

Cool analogy.

In post-Arab Spring North Africa, too, Turkey and Iran have essentially partitioned the resurgent Islamist movements between themselves. The Turks support the victorious “moderate” Islamists from Tunisia to Egypt. Iran backs the Salafist spoilers, even though they are Sunni.


Key point:

Since North Africa lacks indigenous Shiite populations and the “moderate” Islamists have now emerged as the main players in the region, it is Sunni Turkey, along with Qatar, that appears to be the rising political and commercial patron in North Africa.

Not arms, but soft-power backed by serious wealth accumulation.

Next arguments about Turkey and Iran synching their approaches to Israel-Palestine problem strikes me as weak. Van Creveld and his guy are interpreting Turkey's reorientation away from quasi alliance with Israel and a reorientation toward Iran's hard line.  I see nothing of the sort, but rather Turkey proving its Islamist credentials as it openly seeks regional leadership.  Israel here is just the litmus test.

Van Creveld and Pack see a clear struggle between the two powers in Syria, but again with an eye to soft partition, as they put it:

In a fragmented post-Assad Syria, Turkey will support the Sunnis, while Iran will remain the patron of the Alawites. Moreover, both will surely find a way to protect their strategic and financial interests in whatever regime emerges.

Strong finish on a point I have railed incessantly - our obsession with Iran's nukes blinds us to everything else going on in the region:

Throughout 2011, the continued Western obsession with the Iranian nuclear menace prevented policymakers from grasping the most salient dynamics at play in the new Middle East. Those who, like Mohammed Ayoob, have warned that “Beyond the Arab Democratic Wave” lies a “Turko-Persian Future” have been mostly ignored.

The Arab Spring has vastly weakened the Arab states, leaving them open to fragmentation, increased federalism, and outside penetration. With hindsight, 2011 may come to represent as sharp a rupture in the political landscape of the Middle East as 1919 did.

True to my "new map" approach: globalization, entering the Arab world, creates fragmenting tendencies (remapping, as I have long described it), and the two states seeking to take advantage represent polar opposites on adapting themselves to globalization's many challenges: Turkey embraces and is stronger for it, Iran does not and in its fight to keep it out becomes decidedly weaker (here our sanctions do help). Toss Qatar in the same basic globalization camp as Turkey.

Van Creveld and Pack view all this in terms of great power control over weaker states, and yes, we will witness plenty of these dynamics in the initial remapping process, but Turkey won't "own" the Middle East any more than China will "own" SE Asia.  Ultimately, as globalization takes deep root and economic opportunities arise, states will gravitate according to market power, not pol-mil influence.  Turkey will be prominent because of its significant market size (just like China in East Asia or India in South Asia or the US in the Western Hemisphere), adhering to my general principle that what rules in globalization is not supply (especially of hard power) but demand (the ultimate soft attractor).


WPR's The New Rules: A Foreign Policy Wish List for 2012 

Last year was a tough one in terms of global economics, humanitarian disasters and political leadership among the world's great powers. But it was also the year of the glorious Arab Spring and hints of similar developments in Myanmar, Russia and Ethiopia. So while the year's "fundamentals," as the economists like to say, weren't so good, it left us with plenty to be grateful for as globalization continues to awaken the desire of individuals for freedom the world over. Keeping all that in mind, here is my foreign policy wish list for 2012.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.


Quoted in Reuters piece on 2012 predictions

Find it here.


Analysis: 2012 could prove even wilder ride than 2011


LONDON | Thu Dec 15, 2011 11:01am EST

(Reuters) - The ancient Mayans attached special significance to 2012, possibly the end of time. That has spawned a rush of apocalyptic literature for the holiday season.

My bit:


   After the fall of several veteran Western-backed Arab rulers, the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq is seen as the latest sign of the diminishing influence of Western powers in a region they dominated for some 200 years.  

   In the resulting vacuum, regional powers such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and an isolated and perhaps more erratic Iran appear in increasingly open confrontation. 

   Western intelligence estimates that Iran is moving closer to a viable nuclear weapon have a shorter timeline, and some analysts say 2012 could be the year when Tehran's enemies decide to go beyond covert sabotage with a military strike that could spark retaliation against oil supplies in the Gulf. 

   "The bigger wild card out there is an Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear facilities and elements of regime control," says Thomas Barnett, chief strategist of political risk consultancy Wikistrat, saying neither the Israeli nor the Iranian leadership looks inclined to back down. "The setting here is scary... something has got to give in this strategic equation." 

   Even if the world avoids a devastating shock such as a Middle East war or a European breakdown, many analysts fear the business of politics and policy-making could become increasingly difficult around the world. 


Esquire's Politics Blog: So, How's That Egyptian Revolution Coming Along?

Egypt has just concluded voting for its new parliament — the first round, anyway — with surprisingly large turnouts and little-to-no serious violence. And that should make us all pretty happy, right? Alas, there's a lot of angst out there in the mainstream media and the blogosphere on all the issues that get lumped together in the big, mournful vibe of who killed the revolution? As usual, America's incredible impatience with progress, along with our unrealistic expectations about "new faces" dominating political outcomes, are fueling this growing sense of pessimism. But, in truth, the revolution is going along just fine.

Herewith, some whining you'll be hearing in the coming days — and the truth behind it....

Read the entire post at Esquire's The Politics Blog.


Quoted in Reuters piece on Syria & great powers

Quoted in Reuters piece about Russia bolstering its naval presence in the Eastern Med while making strong noises about no Western intervention into Syria.

The bits:

As Syria's uprising escalates into outright civil war and begins to drag in other states, it risks fuelling not only wider regional confrontation but also growing antagonism between the world's great powers . . .

That in itself could mark the beginning of a long, bloody, open-ended civil war. And speculation about foreign military intervention could even spark a Cold War-style face-off between Russia and the United States.

Analysts and foreign governments have long said they believed Iran was providing military and logistics support to Damascus, and some now suspect the opposition too is now receiving foreign weapons.

That, many analysts fear, risks further fuelling the growing regional confrontation between Tehran and its local enemies, particularly the Gulf states and emerging heavyweight Turkey. . .

My quote comes at the end.

"The problem with conflict in Syria is that it is much harder to contain than what we saw in Libya," said Anthony Skinner, Middle East analyst for UK-based consultancy Maplecroft.

"It has much wider regional implications that have largely been ignored. It feeds into what is already happening in the Gulf, as well as elsewhere" 

. . . 

"The Russians are signaling that on Syria, it is not a situation where they will publicly protest but quietly and privately acquiesce," says Nikolas Gvsodev, professor of national security studies at the US Naval War College.

"The danger is that it is not clear what they are prepared to do to stop open intervention."

. . .

"I think the Russians really were spooked by what happened in Libya and are determined to see that nothing like that happens again," said Nigel Inkster, a former deputy chief of Britain's Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) and now director of transnational threats and political risk at London's International Institute for Strategic Studies.

"In that they are joined by China and most of... the BRICs... (However) since there is clearly no appetite for a military intervention in Syria, the Russian navy's journey looks likely to be wasted."

. . . 

"What you're seeing in the Middle East with the withdrawal of the U.S. from Iraq is Iran moving into an increasingly stronger position," said Reva Bhalla, director of analysis at U.S. private intelligence company Stratfor.

"If Assad survives in Syria, he will also be increasingly isolated and dependent on the Iranians, which will reinforce existing regional fears of Iran's growing influence."

Further stoking events, many believe, is a much wider tussle for power as the realization dawns that some two centuries of regional dominance by outside powers - first colonial Britain and France, then the U.S. - may be drawing to a close.

"We shouldn't be surprised that the Russians - in addition to the Turks and Iranians - feel like they've got an opportunity to expand their political-military influence in the eastern Mediterranean," said Thomas Barnett, U.S.-based chief strategist at consultancy Wikistrat.

"Nature abhors vacuums and so do rising great powers."

Personally, I think Russia has decided it must be present on Syria, lest it allow the entire Arab Spring to pass without so much as a howdy-do.  I think Moscow has some ambitions to re-establish itself in the region, but that the main show remains the Saudis and Iran, with the second bill being Turkey and Iran - the rivalry that I think overtakes all under the right crisis conditions.


WPR's The New Rules: U.S. Must Engage With World Beyond Security Threats

Thanks to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and the two wars they spawned, it seemed like the near entirety of President George W. Bush’s two terms in office were characterized by efforts to define, harness and exploit fear. Despite living in the most peaceful, prosperous and predictable period in world history, Americans became convinced that they faced an unending era of war, impoverishment and chaos. That muddled mindset put us painfully out of touch with the rest of the planet.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.


WPR's The New Rules: How to Stop Worrying and Live with the Iranian Bomb

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s latest report on Iran’s nuclear programsurprised no one, even as it created the usual flurry of op-eds championing preventative “next steps.” As I’ve been saying for the past half-decade, there are none. Once the U.S. went into both Iraq and Afghanistan, the question went from being, “How do we prevent Iran from getting the Bomb?” to “How do we handle Iran’s Bomb?” That shift represents neither defeatism nor appeasement. Rather, it reflects a realistic analysis of America’s strategic options. With that in mind, here are 20 reasons why Iran’s successful pursuit of the Bomb is not the system-changing event so many analysts are keen to portray.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.


On RT's "The Alyona Show" last night re: IAEA report on Iran

Did it via Skype from home office. The raccoon eyes tell you we're suffering a weird warm spell here and the resurgence of pollen!

One misspeak, primarily because I was so tired:  when I spoke about Israel being Iran's "whipping boy" and excuse for reaching for the bomb, I accidentally slipped an Iran in there when I meant Israel.

Other than that mistake, and not saying "America's global war on terror" (just said "America's global war") early on, I was happy enough with the interview.

Skype from home certainly beats trudging downtown to a remote office and that whole drill, but the latency is a bit much to deal with.  Still, nice to be able to see yourself on Skype (small window) so you can orient your position onscreen (you can see me self-correction at points, which is tricky because all of your movements need to be "mirrored").


Time's Battleland: For all you Iran-is-winning types, the sad truth

You get two variants of this logic: 1) if the US leaves Iraq, Iran wins automatically (or it's won already because the Shiite majority actually rules); and 2) even more than al-Qaeda, Iran is the real beneficiary of the Arab Spring.

Both judgments are wrong in the way that America's capacity for frantic self-doubt and self-blame are routinely wrong.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland blog.



Being realistic on Iran's long-term influence in Iraq: it will lose out to Turkey and China and Kuwait

Story in WAPO gets the Iran-is-winning crowd all jacked up: Iraq is condemned for not siding with the anti-Assad movement in Syria and actually offering support to the regime! This is spun as clear evidence of Iran's influence, when there are a host of pragmatic reasons why Baghdad isn't so interested in having the Arab Spring topple the dictator Assad.

Some analysis that's far more nuanced and realistic is found in the NYT Sunday ("Vacuum Is Feared as U.S. Quits Iraq, but Iran's Deep Influence May Not Fill It," by Tim Arango).

The best bits:

As the United States draws down its forces in Iraq, fears abound that Iran will simply move into the vacuum and extend its already substantial political influence more deeply through the soft powers of culture and commerce. But here, in this region that is a center of Shiite Islam, some officials say that Iran wore out its welcome long ago.

Surely, Iran has emerged empowered in Iraq over the last eight years, and it has a sympathetic Shiite-dominated government to show for it, as well as close ties to the anti-American cleric Moktada al-Sadr. But for what so far are rather obscure reasons — perhaps the struggling Iranian economy and mistrust toward Iranians that has been nurtured for centuries — it has been unable to extend its reach.

In fact, a host of countries led by Turkey — but not including the United States — have made the biggest inroads, much to the chagrin of people here in Najaf like the governor.

“Before 2003, 90 percent of Najaf people liked Iranians,” said the governor, Adnan al-Zurufi, who has lived in Chicago and Michigan and holds American citizenship. “Now, 90 percent hate them. Iran likes to take, not give” . . .

So big surprise: those who deliver economically achieve real standing. Iran simply cannot do this, because it's economy is broken - just like its "revolution."

Now to address the conventional wisdom: 

A standard narrative has it that the Iraq war opened up a chessboard for the United States and Iran to tussle for power. One of the enduring outcomes has been an emboldened Iran that is politically close to Iraq’s leaders, many of whom escaped to Iran during Saddam Hussein’s government, and that is a large trading partner.

Yet the story is more nuanced, particularly in the Shiite-dominated south that became politically empowered after the American invasion upended Sunni rule. It has been other countries — most powerfully Turkey, but also China, Lebanon and Kuwait — that have cemented influence through economic ties.

The patterns were established soon after the American invasion. Shoddy Iranian goods — particularly low-quality cheese, fruit and yogurt — flooded markets in the south, often at exorbitant prices, said Mahdi Najat Nei, a diplomat who heads the Trade Promotion Organization of Iran office in Baghdad. This sullied Iran’s reputation, even though prices have since plummeted, creating an aversion to Iranian goods that lasts to this day, Mr. Nei said.

This has made it difficult for Iranian businesspeople to make investments in southern Iraq, said Ali Rhida, who is from Iran and is building an iron factory on the outskirts of Najaf. “The real problem is with the mangers of the economy in Iran,” he said. “After the fall of the regime, many Iranian companies came here but they screwed it all up.”

As always, the real winners are the ones who deliver opportunity. Iran makes demands and delivers burdens.

“Investment from Iran has almost stopped,” said Zuheir Sharba, the chairman of Najaf’s provincial council, referring to a phenomenon that has more to do with Iran’s anemic state-run economy than it does to Iranian ambitions. Speaking about Americans, he said, “They were coming, but they’ve stopped.”

Mr. Sharba continued: “We wish that American companies would come here. I wish the American relationship was that, instead of troops, it would be companies.” Mr. Sharba is a cleric, and he spent 14 years in Iran in exile during Mr. Hussein’s government.

Our failure at economy-building staring us in the face.  Why? We became obsessed with the notion that government-building equates to state-building, when it's economy-building that triggers the locals to make their own state happen. We acted like the Gorbachev here: imagining politics determines economics, when we should have played it like Deng, understanding that you start with the economics and let the politics slowly evolve.

Yes, Iran can make trouble, but who cuts the deals?

While Iran may be flagging in the battle for hearts and minds, it is still able to create trouble. A rise this summer in American troop deaths in southern Iraq at the hands of Iranian-backed militias raised alarms in diplomatic circles and became the core of the argument put forth by those who want a longer-lasting American military presence to counter Iran’s clout.

But the troublemaking does not extend to the more important arena of commerce, officials say. “Because of the political sensitivities of Iran, many people say Iran is controlling the economy of Iraq,” said Sami al-Askari, a member of Parliament and a close confidant to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. “No, the Turks are.”

Mr. Maliki once lived in Iran, and he surrounds himself with aides who have close ties to Tehran. Yet even these relationships have not translated into economic or cultural influence that could endear Iran to the Iraqi public at large. “I’ve yet to meet an Iraqi who trusts the Iranians,” said Joost Hiltermann, the International Crisis Group’s deputy program director for the Middle East.

But the mythology dies hard in Washington, so eager are we to crap on ourselves and see "loss" in everything right now. It's silly and it's childish, but that's what we are right now.

Kenneth Katzman, a Middle East analyst at the Congressional Research Service in Washington, said that because of numerous small projects — particularly related to religious tourism in Najaf, including a large underground toilet facility, and some construction projects in Basra — “a lot of these myths get perpetrated” about Iran’s influence in the south. “In the aggregate, it doesn’t add up to much,” he said.

Atmospherics trumping reality. Iran is a master at spewing this nonsense and we are adept at swallowing it, much like Ahmadinejad's diatribes and threats against Israel.

The Saudis know better and so do the Turks.  Given the choice, I choose Turkey, which, BTW, is really "winning" in Iraq - and that's just fine by me.

Will we Americans ever grow past this pathetic need to view all interventions in such black-and-white terms? I have great faith in the Millennials. The Boomers were raised in a Manichean childhood, and it permanently ruined their strategic thinking.


Iran crossing a line on attacks inside the US?

You've probably heard the reports coming over the various "wires."  Here's a link to ABC's version

Gist:  FBI and DEA (yes, the DEA!) say they disrupted an Iran sponsored plot to attack Saudi and Israeli diplomatic reps/buildings in Washington.  Naturally, if true, this would be a major-league line-crossing by Tehran, which has always been fairly "correct" - if such a term can be used here - in its anti-West/US/Israeli terrorism, meaning Iran has typically displayed a certain recognition that these targets will get you that indirect response from your opponents while those targets will place you in serious jeopardy of a direct response. Again, if true, these plots are of the level that can easily trigger some serious direct responses.

As way of background, here's a statement on these developments from a colleague of mine, Michael Smith. I repost in full with his permission. You will remember Mike from a piece we co-wrote on Syria a while back for WPR. I also wrote about Mike's report (mentioned again below) in another WPR column.

Statement from Kronos Principal and Gray Area Phenomena Subject Matter Expert Michael S. Smith II*


Regarding the linkage of the Iranian (Islamic) Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Qods Force to the terror plot targeting embassies located in Washington, DC

*Entered into the Congressional Record on September 23, 2011 by U.S. Congressman Jeff Duncan, in April 2011 Kronos Principal Michael S. Smith II presented members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the Congressional Anti-Terrorism Caucus a report on Iran’s ties to al-Qa’ida and Affiliated movements titled “The al-Qa’ida Qods Force Nexus.” A redacted version of this report is now available online.


The Qods Force (QF) is an elite and clandestine special operations unit nominally within the command of the Iranian (Islamic) Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). QF is Tehran’s top ambassador to the realm of Islamist terrorism. Its commanders serve as chief liaisons between the Government of Iran and organizations like Hizballah (which was formed with substantial support from the IRGC), as well as the leaders of Sunni militant groups such as Core al-Qa’ida and the Afghan Taliban. 

Operating globally, QF was created with a mandate to bolster the development and operations of Islamist terrorist groups that target Iran’s enemies in the Middle East and beyond. To that end, and frequently in collaboration with Hizballah — which has developed a substantial presence in Latin America and the Caribbean — QF provides financial, training, and tactical support to these groups, several of which are responsible for hundreds of attacks targeting American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

QF commanders report directly to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Hosseini Khamene’i, the top official among the most powerful cadre of government officials in Iran:  The Islamic Republic’s “unelected” theocratic leaders who do not rely on the popular vote to secure their positions of authority. QF purportedly maintains such a secretive existence that few Iranian government officials are aware of its membership numbers, which are assessed to range between 2,000 – 20,000. Its ranks are said to be comprised of Iran’s most highly skilled special operations and intelligence officers. High-profile officials affiliated with QF include Iran’s current minister of defense, Ahmad Vahidi, who previously served as a commander of this paramilitary unit and is known to have a decades-long relationship with Core al-Qa’ida Commander Ayman al-Zawahiri.

As noted in my April 2011 report on the Qods Force’s ties to al-Qa’ida for members of the United States Congress:  According to the U.S. Department of Defense, QF has been “involved in or behind some of the deadliest terrorist attacks of the past 2 decades.”1 QF was behind the two U.S. Embassy truck bombings in Beirut, the 1983 Marine barracks bombing that killed 241 U.S. soldiers, and most of the foreign hostage-taking in Lebanon during the 1980s and early 1990s. It is also known to have directed Saudi based Hizballah al-Hijaz, an organization created by the IRGC, to plan attacks against Americans. This directive is said to have manifest the 1996 attack on the Khobar Towers that killed 19 Americans and wounded another 372. An attack which authors of the 9/11 Commission Report suggested al-Qa’ida may have played a role in.

Statement Regarding Allegations of QF Involvement

It would be highly unusual for Qods Force operatives to be involved in such an operation as the recently uncovered plot targeting facilities and foreign officials in Washington, DC without the knowledge and consent of the Supreme Leader of Iran. Moreover, given the president of Iran’s ties to the IRGC, in which he previously served as an officer, coupled with his efforts to elevate IRGC officials’ roles in the Iranian government since he was first elected president, it is reasonable to speculate Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would have been apprised of such a plot.

If the Qods Force is indeed involved with the plot to bomb embassies based in Washington, DC this would represent a substantial and very alarming shift in Tehran’s use of terrorism as an instrument of the Islamic Republic’s foreign statecraft. Historically — although the Government of Iran vis-à-vis QF and its terrorist proxies has targeted American interests in the Middle East and South Asia — the Government of Iran has typically avoided involvement in plots targeting the U.S. Homeland. (Note:  A lawsuit in which plaintiffs assert the Government of Iran was involved with the 9/11 plot was recently initiated in a U.S. court.)


USG national security managers and policy makers should take Iran’s alleged involvement in this plot just as seriously, perhaps more so, than similar plots to strike the U.S. Homeland spearheaded by al-Qa’ida and Affiliated Movements. 

During the past three decades, Washington has failed to take appropriate action in responses to Iran’s involvement in successful terror plots that have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of American troops, as well as American civilians. And additional economic sanctions will only strengthen the Government of Iran, which in recent years has transformed the country from a theocratic state into a garrison enterprise by enabling the IRGC to acquire substantial stakes in virtually all important sectors of the country.

If the Iranian (Islamic) Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Qods Force was behind this recent terror plot, failure to issue a forceful response will only empower the Government of Iran in its all too well-known pursuits of opportunities to inflict harm on Americans and our allies. This, as Tehran is dangerously dabbling with the development of nuclear capabilities. 

If investigators have indeed confirmed the Qods Force played a collusive role in this plot, officials would be well advised to regard this as an (attempted) act of war.

Kronos is a strategic advisory firm established in 2011 by Medal of Honor recipient MajGen James E. Livingston, USMC (Ret) and Congressional counter-terrorism advisor Michael S. Smith II — online at

Unclassified Report on Military Power of Iran. U.S. Department of Defense. April 2010. Online via 

Coverage of The al-Qa’ida-Qods Force Nexus report was produced in May by the following news organizations:

Agence France-Presse (AFP) “Report Highlights Alleged Iran Force’s al Qaeda Links” (4 May 2011)
Link to report:

The Jerusalem Post “U.S. congressional report:  Iran offering support to al-Qaida” (5 May 2011)
Link to report:

Al Arabiya “Report from Congressional panel says Iran’s Revolutionary Guard helps Al-Qaeda” (5 May 2011)
Link to report: