Saturday, April 18, 2009

Moscow affected by U.S. play for Iran

The above article was written by Fyodor Lukyanov for Russia in Global Affairs, April 15, 2009, and is entitled “High Stakes for Moscow in U.S. Play for Iran.” It is available at the above site in English, Russian, Czech and Polish.

Lukyanov believes that Iran was the only clear winner “following the U.S. invasion of Iraq.” That remains to be seen. Saddam Hussein, it is true, was Iran’s chief rival, but Hussein was a disruptive influence that has now been replaced by something else. That “something else,” i.e., what Iraq is becoming, may be another winner. It is too soon to tell. And Lukyanov’s assumption that Iraq and Iran, once the U.S. leaves, will be natural allies, isn’t something I would assume. Yes, the majority in Iraq are Shiites; so they Iraq may become an ally of Iran, but Arab Shiites have not traditionally been allies of Persian Shiites. The Arab Shiites had no qualms about supporting Saddam Hussein in an eight-year-long war against the Persian Shiites.

Lukyanov assumes another thing I wouldn’t, namely that the US is interested in reducing European dependence on Russian gas and oil. Russia needs to sell gas and oil as much as Europe needs to buy it. I don’t see a problem there. Does Lukyanov think the US is worried about a resurgent Russian Empire? Yes, I know Putin and the Sovereign Democrats are hinting at that, but I would be surprised if anyone in the US state department believed Russia could pull it off. Russia is a dwindling force in the world and needs (I would hope our State Department believes) to be encouraged rather than opposed. Five years ago the CIA voiced the opinion that the Russian Federation would break up within ten years: I don’t know if the CIA still believes that, but plenty of people in Russia believed it. If Putin has a number of Russians now thinking they can become Tsarist Russia redivivus, then more power to them – well sort of. I wouldn’t want them invading Poland, Ukraine or anyone else, but a non-active myth of Tsarist Russia – sort of like the myths of the American cowboy and the Japanese Samurai, might do them some good.

Lukyanov doesn’t consider the possibility that Israel may take military action, merely that the US might, indeed might have to. Lukyanov is intrigued over the possibilities:Iran is a problem for Russia regardless of which direction Tehran goes. A nuclear-armed Iran would greatly destabilize the region. It is difficult to predict the extent and aim of Iran's ambitions. Any attempt by the United States to apply force against Iran would mean that the military conflict would be brought to Russia's southern border. Moreover, if Washington achieves its objectives in Iran, it would shift the strategic balance of power in favor of the United States and away from Moscow. But a failure by the United States to achieve its goals in Iran could undermine the existing balance of power.

“No matter how subsequent events develop, Moscow will play no more than a supporting role at best. One big risk for Russia is coming out the loser if it supports the wrong side in the struggle.”

I don’t agree with Lukyanov’s belief that a victory over Iran would result in a “strategic balance of power in favor of the United States.” The political advantage, wouldn’t represent a “shift in power” that I can see, and if we consider military action, then I would observe that Lukyanov doesn’t fully grasp how much the US wants not to engage in it. In the days of the British Empire, the British loved it that the sun never sat on its empire. Churchill regretted the loss of empire, I’m sure until the day he died. But the US has a different tradition. We have a tradition of not desiring to be embroiled in foreign wars. It does no good to observe that we have been embroiled in foreign wars aplenty, they are engaged in reluctantly. Critics see us cause a regime change in Iraq and say “ah ha,” the US is expanding its empire. Baloney. The longer we stayed in Iraq the louder the hue and cry for us to get out became. We can never have an empire. We can’t even dream of an old one the way Russia can.

What we can do, and this is more or less approved by both Democrats and Republicans is a seeking after “stability.” We don’t like “Rogue States” that can disrupt the stability of a region, for even though we aren’t an empire we have lots of allies, or “client states” if one prefers, and we don’t want them invaded or even threatened. If the threat is sufficient, we could rush half say around the world with our C-17s and smart bombs and “stabilize” a hitherto disruptive Rogue State. But be sure that after we do, assuming that we do, we shall load our C-17s back up and rush home – the sooner the better for congress, our media and all the folks at home wringing their hands.

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