(RIEAS Junior Analyst and Coordinator for the World Security Network Foundation Southeastern Europe Office)
The latest developments relating to the inter-departmental report of the American intelligence services created a stir in the international media as well as in Iran where it is viewed as a retreat of the USA policy towards that country. Also in Europe there is a certain feeling that the Iranian nuclear issue could be forgotten at least for the foreseeable future.
Presently a strike against Iran should be excluded, since USA cannot act on military terms alone, whilst it is still deeply involved in Iraq and has numerous obligations stretching the whole of the globe. Moreover, Washington cannot stabilize Iraq, if it is not capable of creating a federal system between Shia, Sunni and Kurds. For the first one, the Teheran administration is eager in influencing directly, therefore the Iraqi policy of the USA is deeply interrelated by its stance in Iran and vice versa. Only a regime change in Iran could reveal this particular political nightmare from the American and the Western countries.
The situation is actually more complicated because an autonomous Kurdish state meets the fierce resistance of Turkey & Syria and an Iraqi-Sunni zone in the middle of the country is viewed with hostility by Saudi Arabia because of the Jordan factor. In overall, the USA entrance in “Babylon” in April 2003 unlocked a flood of promises and perils to almost all Middle Eastern entities and has created a Gordian knot of global proportions, on which Iran’s strategy is an important element. The role of that country is highly important should the USA wishes to reengineer the Middle East in order to create stability and security.
USA cannot do it alone. It needs European and Russian support. The former lead by UK, Germany and France are more or less eager to join a USA-led coalition so as to acclaim a greater role in the Middle East and gain a greater role of energy supplies and reserves. Their role is mostly diplomatic and political and they constitute a great assurance for the American public opinion that is influenced by the European media to a greater extent that it is originally thought; due to the all-pervading reach of the internet. Russia on the other hand is vital from a military point of view. It has an ideal geopolitical placement in the North of Iran and acknowledges the real capabilities of Teheran since it assisted it for its nuclear program along with numerous military training schemes and weapons procurements.
The real issue for the above is that USA has opened two wide fronts it cannot win by itself. Russia and Islam are both opposed at the same time, adding to those the emerging opposition from certain Latin American countries and the rising giant of the East, China. In simple terms USA suffers from overstretch of its capabilities that were empower briefly in a psychological level by the victorious conquer of Iraq in 2003, that proved to be a continuous guerilla warfare analogical of the Vietnam war, alas with less casualties for the time being.
Moscow from its point of view suffered a huge defeat after the collapse of its own “Imperial system” in 1989-1991 and a consequent decade of decadence. Its main aim is to extend its power further to the CIS countries, such as Georgia, Ukraine or Kyrgyzstan that were effectively maneuvered to the Western influence over the past five years. The Iranian issue will ultimately lead USA and Russia to negotiate possible trade-offs that include the aforementioned.
A very important issue is the energy reserves of the Central Asian states. Currently the antagonism between USA-Russia has seen an elevation of Iran’s posture in the Caspian Basin and Putin’s recent trip to Teheran further supported that role. By taking into account the expanding Muslim population in Central Asia, the dearth of the Russian-Christian one and the role of numerous Jihad-driven organizations, it is not improbable to predict a major advance of both Shia and Sunni Islamists in the region to the loss of both Moscow and the West. In this scenario China will be also affected because a great number of energy deals for its industry needs, originate from there and to a lesser extent that is also relevant for Europe. The conflict in Central Asia is more complicated than a simple Russian-USA one, and it is another parameter in the Iranian equation.
Cooperation in terms of opposing the nuclear plans of Iran is absolutely necessary for the overall security structure of the Middle East. Organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah are very much dependent on Iran’s continuous support, and an American retreat will strengthen their unproductive role in any future negation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. To put it bluntly, as long as Washington gives ground to Teheran’s advancements that will create a dangerous situation for the existence of Israel and the moderate Muslim administrations in Jordan, Lebanon and possibly Egypt. Thus the world will enter in a diplomatic “Armageddon” that would have the probability of becoming a real one, in just a few years from today.
World peace, security and prosperity are still in the hands of the “great powers” and most importantly those of the American Administration. A grand gesture that will include Europe + Russia on a wider front against a nuclear Iran and towards the reconstruct of the present day political geography of Iraq would be a positive initiative of historical proportions.
The two other options: Go it alone and/or retreat, are a recipe of disaster that will render any chances of peace in the Middle East and might end up to the total withdrawal of the American forces from Iraq and the subsequent creation of a Shia Empire. USA has still the option of multilateral action that can achieve great results using primarily diplomatic means and have the option of joint use of force as a last resort. The international community will follow closely the developments over the coming months which are crucial for the stability of the region and the strategy to be followed in relation to Iran. In any case retreat is not only a bad solution but a catastrophic one, especially if reengineering could suit the interests of the international community and ease quite a few unresolved tensions in multiple theatres in Eurasia.