Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Big Issue of 2014: Iran

There’s no question what the big foreign policy issue for the Obama administration is going to be in 2014: Iran. How the US navigates the small space between war and peace in the volatile Middle East is going to determine the fate of our overextended and nearly bankrupt empire, and Tehran – the epicenter of yet another ginned up "crisis" – is ground zero.

This drama has been playing out over the course of the past decade, starting with the Bush administration’s weird relations with the mullahs – a relationship that was openly hostile and covertly something else altogether.

Team Bush regularly denounced Tehran as the main generator of terrorism in the region, and routinely threatened them, but these were mere words. In practice, US foreign policy actually favored the Iranians: the invasion of Iraq, engineered with the help of Iranian agent Ahmed Chalabi, eliminated their old enemy Saddam and opened up a whole new sphere of influence. The anti-Saddam groups that took power after the invasion and the much vaunted elections had long been headquartered and succored in Tehran, and when they reentered Iraq in the wake of the Americans’ short-lived "victory" the long arm of the mullahs reached all the way to the southern border with Saudi Arabia. Iraq today is an Iranian ally, albeit one that is still asking the US government for aid to fight the Sunnis and keep Kurdistan from hiving off.

This covert US-Iranian collaboration ended, however, with Israeli demands that their American patrons "do something" about the alleged Iranian nuclear threat. No sooner had we declared "mission accomplished" in Iraq then Tehran became the next target in America’s ongoing Middle Eastern regime change operation. Sanctions, a propaganda war, a covert military campaign utilizing Sunni terrorist outfits like Jundullah in Iranian Baluchistan, and a sustained cyber-attack on Iran’s energy infrastructure soon followed.

The end of the Bush era did not signal any real change in US policy: the Obama administration not only continued and increased the economic sanctions, but there’s some question about whether the US is still supporting groups like Jundullah and the Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK), which have conducted attacks on Iranian soil. However, the election of Barack Obama signaled a sea change in the American polity: a war weariness engendered by a decade of constant military action, which was in large part responsible for propelling Obama into the White House. 

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