Saturday, August 25, 2007

NRA Diplomacy

This morning, David Ignatius of the Washington Post offered up an insight into what he calls a, "subtle but important shift in strategy for the Middle East". This 'shift', as he puts it, is characterized by the recent arms sales to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Israel in what will be the "cornerstone" of our policy in the region- a "military-political alliance with the dominant Sunni powers--especially Saudi Arabia."

The idea, of course, is to challenge Iran's growing power and ambition in the new paradigm of chaos. According to an unnamed State Department official Mr. Ignatius talked to, "The message to Iran is, 'We're still powerful, we protect our friends, we're not going away' ". In addition to sending that message, we are trying to continue stripping the non-radical majority away from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And by continuing to step up pressure, we are fairly certain we can do that.

I have all the respect in the world for Mr. Ignatius. He's been at this a long, long time. He is plugged in, he talks to the right people, and he knows his stuff. So, in deference to him, I'll frame my doubts in the form of an honest question or two.

Is selling billions of dollars worth of arms to Saudi Arabia (and even more to Israel) either 'subtle' or a 'shift'? And will it really achieve the intended result?

Iran knows exactly how powerful we are and exactly how powerful we aren't. They know we could topple their government just as easily as we toppled Saddam's, but they also know we're not going to do that. So why the posturing- on our part and theirs (other than it's just how the game is played)? This is an honest question- not a rhetorical one.

As I understand it, Iran has got some pretty heavy duty economic issues that are likely to cause increasing strain for the government. Their growing middle class is consuming so much subsidized energy, that they're running out of crude to export. They will need foreign capital, technology, and expertise to boost current production and to exploit remaining reserves.

For this and other reasons, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has his hands full maintaining power and influence. The sanctions seem to be slowly but significantly taking a toll on the Iranian people's patience. Why would arming his adversaries serve as anything other than a rallying cry for the regime? Again, honest question.

This whole message we're trying to send: "we're powerful, we protect our friends, we're not going away"... will the Iranians really believe that? Does anyone believe that? Do we believe that?

I understand that there needs to be a counterweight to Iran. But perhaps that should be the rational Iranian public and not a bunch of shiny new Israeli bombs. And for that matter, what is the logic behind giving Israel even more bombs, and then asking the Palestinians to sit down and have peace talks (which is also supposed to put pressure on Iran)? I don't understand why this would do anything but encourage an arms race, which is exactly what we're trying to avoid in the first place, by keeping Iran from getting nuclear weapons.

It's important to have allies, and it's particularly important to have Sunni allies. But if we believe so much in democracy- and I'm not just talking about nation-building neo-con belief in democracy- why are we so completely terrified to let it run its course?

Why, when we have proven ourselves so inept at meddling in other regions' affairs, when we have been an incorrigible control freak on every single continent for half a century, why don't we just let the Iranian people work it out? Why don't we keep just the sanctions in place (which the entire world minus Chavez supports) and get back to more important long-view business?

For example, we could've been building a whole lot of hybrids and investing in much-needed mass transit improvements and providing incentives for cleaner industry with the money we've spent in Iraq. And the billions we (actually defense contractors) got for the most recent sale could've done a little more.

Because, at the end of the day, if we really want to hurt the oil rich regimes we don't like (and to distance ourselves from the oil rich regimes we have to like), we shouldn't put more guns in the region... we should stop buying their oil.

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