December 30, 2010

Obsessed with Iran? Me?

A reader recently complimented me on one of my articles, but added that I appear to be obsessed with Iran. I looked back at some of my recent articles and understand how someone might make that assessment. However, in my defense, there is reason to be concerned about Iran, especially in light of the Obama Administration's seeming willingness to downplay or even overlook the issues.

Iran is involved, either directly or indirectly, with almost every foreign policy issue facing the United States today. Let's first point out the fact that the current Iranian regime has American blood on its hands. It goes back as far as the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and continues today. The venues for these attacks on Americans not only includes the obvious battlegrounds in Iraq and Afghanistan, but extends to Lebanon and Scotland as well.

Let's review some American foreign policy issues that involve Iran.

Nuclear weapons
The most pressing issue is Iran's nuclear program. I do not think anyone seriously believes that Iran's program is aimed at generating electric power for a country with an almost unlimited supply of oil and natural gas. From a political standpoint, the Iranians have skillfully outmaneuvered the United States on this issue.

The Iranians continually agree to an endless series of talks that have yet to produce any positive results. At each meeting, they agree only to have another meeting, all the while continuing to enrich uranium far beyond the levels required for the mythical energy program. At some point, they will announce that they have nuclear weapons. I suppose they will even then continue to agree to talk, but at that point about how the weapons are a stabilizing factor in the region.

The Iranians continue to work against American interests in Iraq, as they have since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Hundreds of American troops have been killed by weapons made in, or supplied by, Iran to militants trained in and funded by Iran. They are the principal supporters of the radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his jaysh al-mahdi (Army of the Mahdi, or JAM). The JAM was active against American forces until the 2007 surge, after which al-Sadr determined that he would suffer unacceptable losses to the additional American combat troops.

Iran continues to support al-Sadr's ambitions to become the key political power broker in Iraq, recently encouraging him to join with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in a broad Shi'a coalition (allied with the Kurds) to form a new Iraqi government, despite the fact that al-Malii's party did not win the most seats in the elections.

The Iranians have key allies in the new Iraqi government. Al-Maliki is often referred to by his detractors as nuri al-irani (Nuri the Iranian), and his office as al-sajad al-irani (the Persian carpet). Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, has been close to the Iranians for years.

The recent statement by al-Maliki that all American troops must leave Iraq by the end of 2011 was no doubt encouraged by the Iranians. He said, "The last American soldier will leave Iraq...this agreement is not subject to extension, not subject to alteration. It is sealed."

The Iranians do not want any American military presence in the Gulf, especially on the ground in Iraq. American troops in Iraq sit between Iran and its principal ally Syria, and contribute to the impression in Tehran that the country is almost surrounded by pro-American governments. As long as western economies rely on the continual flow of Middle East/Persian Gulf oil, it is imperative that the United States maintain a military presence in the region. Iraq is the ideal location for that presence.

Iran's closest ally in the region may one day be Iraq, but currently it is Syria. The two countries have been allied since Syria supported Iran during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war; it was the only Arab country to side with Iran. Since then, the two have signed a mutual defense pact and cooperate in a variety of fields, including military and industrial efforts.

Syria allows Iran to use its airspace and territory to resupply Hizballah in Lebanon. Hizballah was created in 1982 through the encouragement, training and funding of an Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps unit that would later become the Qods Force. Iran continues to provide money, weapons and training to Hizballah. Since the end of the 2006 war between Israel and Hizballah, Iran has replenished Hizballah's rocket inventory, and provided more-capable rockets and missiles.

Much as it supports Hizballah in Lebanon, Iran also provides money, weapons and training to Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza. In the past, Hamas and Islamic Jihad launched crude, inaccurate homemade short range rockets into border towns in southern Israel. Today they have Iranian-made Katyusha and Grad rockets capable of reaching cities just south of Tel Aviv.

According to U.S. military officials, Iran is providing weapons and training to the Taliban in Afghanistan. Since the creation of the Taliban, there has been a rivalry between the Shi'a Iranians and the fundamentalist Sunni Afghan Taliban. At times that rivalry almost erupted into violence. Following the American invasion and occupation of Afghanistan in 2001, the Iranians have decided to support the Taliban against the Americans. The Iranian regime's hatred of the United States supersedes its dislike and distrust of the Taliban. As in Iraq, Iran has the blood of American troops on its hands.

Turkey is an American ally and a member of NATO. Until the recent Gaza flotilla incident in which several Turks were killed attempting to breach the Israeli blockade, it was a close military ally of Israel. The Iranians have made diplomatic inroads with the Turks, playing on the common religion and Middle East affiliation. The Turks (along with Brazil) have responded by allegedly brokering an agreement in which the Iranians export some of their enriched uranium to Turkey.

Turkey has also proposed it join with Iran and many of the newly independent Central Asian states, many of them Turkic, in a Caspian partnership. With Iran's coaching, Turkey appears to be looking more to the east instead of to the west.

South America
Iran is developing better relations with Venezuela, Bolivia and Brazil. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is permitting the Iranians to deploy medium range ballistic missiles to his country. (See my recent article, Nose under the tent - Iranian missiles in Venezuela)

Several South American countries have recently recognized a Palestinian state. As of this writing, Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia and Ecuador have already made the announcement. Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile and Peru are expected to do so in early 2011. I am sure these recognitions are encouraged by the leaders in Tehran. Why? Bad for Israel, and by extension the United States, is good for Iran.

Russia and China
Our relations with Russia and China are often colored by our relations with Tehran. It took months of backroom deals to get the two permanent members of the United Nations Security Council to agree to sanctions on Iran. Both countries have spotty records on adhering to the sanctions; China is actually quite blatant about ignoring them.

Human rights
Iran's record on human rights is abysmal. It runs the gamut: religious persecution, stoning and flogging of adulterers, amputations as punishment for theft, hanging homosexuals, shooting demonstrators in the wake of a corrupt election, sponsoring some of the world's most notorious terrorists, and on and on. Let's not forget the three American hikers (two still in custody for over a year) to go on trial for espionage.

Obsessed with Iran? You bet I am. I just wish President Obama would be obsessed with what the Iranians are doing rather than overlooking it all in a failed attempt to "engage." I am all for talking, but at some point, you have to assess that it is falling on deaf ears. We're well beyond that point.

Obsess, Obama, obsess.