The four diplomatic mysteries can now be addressed with the particular twists of the moment. What unites all of these solutions is that America will make nearly any concession to its adversaries and allies in order to find a tolerable exit from Iraq and Afghanistan, yet the adversaries and allies do not and will not guarantee that America can achieve its aims.
1. Why is America treating with its enemy Iran over Iraq? America is participating in the regional talks in Baghdad in a hasty and lonely search for an exit from Iraq. America’s principal desire is to end the war and, in the ringing words of an earlier crisis in American foreign policy, “to bring peace with honor” to the region. The Maliki government wants America to leave quickly, yet opposes and sabotages the recently invented American efforts to mitigate its failures with the so-called surge tactics to impose security in Baghdad.
What especially bedevils this tangle is that America will not acknowledge the fait accompli that the Maliki government, and the Shia militias, and the cutthroats of the Ministry of Interior and Defense, are completely and willingly allied with Tehran. Also, America will not acknowledge that the Kurdish faction in the north is completely and willingly allied with Tehran. Also, America will not acknowledge that Iraq is where it wants to be under a centralized, well-armed majority, the Shia, who are linked culturally and practically to Iran.
The odd men out in this scenario, the Sunnis of Anbar and Baghdad provinces, are not in alliance with Tehran and are on the defensive.
The Sunnis do have protection from the various clan apparatuses in Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and they are not likely to be displaced, only marginalized, in the coming Islamic Republic of Iraq.
Al Qaeda in Iraq, entirely radical-Sunni-based, called Wahhabists, are no one’s ally and are treated by all parties as provocateurs and crazies. At their worst, al Qaeda characters in Iraq are homicidal maniacs like the late Zarqawi, who believe slaughtering Shia is a holy pursuit; at their best they are regarded by Tehran as sufficiently anti-American to be tolerated for now.
2. Why is Saudi Arabia treating with its adversary Iran? The Saudi princes have determined that the only way they can survive in the immediate future is to ally completely and willingly with Tehran.
Saudi Arabia understands that America is trying to make a deal with Tehran to hand over the whole of Iraq if America can exit without a nightmare. Then again, America gone from Iraq is the al-Saud nightmare.
The House of Saud knows that Tehran will next come looking to take control of the Shia of Eastern Arabia, on the Persian Gulf, which is the basis of the Saudi Arabian oil infrastructure. In order to postpone this gruesome logic as long as possible, King Abdullah now makes a hudna, or truce, with Iran that baldly surrenders everything, promising to pay and pay, to cooperate with energy matters, as well as to support the Tehran plans with Hamas, Syria and Hizballah to degrade Israel.
The only thing that the House of Saud fears worse than Tehran ascendant is the Islamist-jihadists ascendant. Saudi princes madly plead with Tehran that it must protect it from the al Qaeda leadership that will soon enough come looking for vengeance and victory. Tehran promises, in the words of Ahmadinejad, “to devise some measures to prevent the enemies from harming the Muslim world and to foil their plots.” However, this is not a guarantee to the House of Saud — a hudna lasts only as long as it is expedient for the parties– because Tehran cannot and will not constrain al Qaeda.
3. Why is the Taliban leader Mullah Dadullah boasting of a spring offensive against America? The neo-Taliban, sponsored and protected by the Pakistani regime, just as was the original Taliban, is also an ally of al Qaeda. The neo-Taliban, observing that the Americans are retreating from Iraq, aims to demonstrate its power by displaying its own version of a surge. America wants to find a tolerable exit from Afghanistan; but rather than accept the known fact that the neo-Taliban is a Pakistani creature, America is forcing the Karzai government at Kabul to make even more concessions to the very same tribal leaders who make up the recruiting strength of the neo-Taliban.
Also, Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf needs to control Afghanistan in order to offset the threat of the rising superpower India. Musharraf and his military and intelligence base in Islamabad are convinced that in order to survive a clash with India, Pakistan must control Afghanistan to its flank and rear, as it has since partition, as it did even before it was a state, with the khanates of the frontier, where the British fought in vain to protect the riches of India. Today, allowing Afghanistan to become a viable democratic state under the control of America and NATO would be a mortal threat to Pakistan’s future as an Islamic republic. Vice President Dick Cheney’s recent dashing visit to Musharraf yielded a big fish of the Islamist-jihadists that was meant merely as a facile gesture of obedience. In order to hurry America out of Afghanistan, Musharraf now sponsors the neo-Taliban spring offensive to degrade and break the American and NATO forces. Also, Musharraf certainly knows that al Qaeda is resurgent inside his cities, and that it openly operates new training camps in the border region. Musharraf must get America out before al Qaeda strikes mainland America again and the Americans come hunting with fire in their eyes.
In addition, the recent Pakistani nuclear weapon-capable short- and long-range missile tests were another way to intimidate India, to consternate America and to demonstrate Pakistan’s resolve to survive no matter how bad it gets in Iran.
4. Why is America treating with its adversary, the nuclear weapon-wielding rogue North Korea? America’s February concessions to North Korea with regard nuclear weaponeering, racketeering, drug-running, money laundering and counterfeiting is a sloppy and frustrated attempt to demonstrate some statesmanship success to its allies. America knows that North Korea is the research and development facility for the Iranian ballistic missile program and for the Iranian nuclear weapons program: Tehran paid for and participated in the missile tests and nuclear weapon test of last year. America also knows that North Korea will not change its ways for an agreement that does not provide intrusive, enforceable inspections. In a rush, America did not even preclude the possibility of North Korea now adding a uranium nuclear fuel cycle to its extant plutonium fuel bomb arsenal. America is beingbullied by its allies in the six-party talks into a bad deal — arguably worse than 1994’s broken promises — simply because American diplomacy has exhausted its nativeshrewdness in these perilous days. “If we continue this approach, what is already a bad deal will become a dangerous deal,” writes former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton recently in the Wall Street Journal, “whether we make it with North Korea directly or in the six-party talks.”
The collision of America and Iran is viewed by the major powers to be a dark future, yet no one at this date believes it can be stopped.
Russia thinks it’s unstoppable, and will ride out the storm as an energy supplier for Asia, Europe and Africa while the Persian Gulf energy cutoff rocks the global economy. China thinks it’s unstoppable and will ride it out as long as it can get energy from Russia. Europe thinks it’s unstoppable and will ride it out dependent upon Russia for energy and upon American power, even in retreat, for its security.
Finally, there are strong reports from overseas that Russia and Europe, especially Berlin, have warned Tehran that, in the coming battles, Israel must not be destroyed, that a mortal attack on Israel is a red line not to be crossed. Russia especially intends a long-term relationship with Israel, chiefly because of the nearly million Russian-origin citizens now in the Holy Land. Israel, keenly aware of the approaching storm, is preparing to defend itself against Syria, with or without American shoulders alongside. America aims to support Israel, but in the meantime pressures Israel to make more and more concessions to Tehran’s surrogates in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon and Syria.
In March 1914, the mystery of the “Russophobe Chorus” — why is the state-directed German press threatening war with Russia and the Triple Entente? — engaged analysts across Europe. The explanations were cautious and credible. Some said it was Germany looking to make a better commercial deal in the Black Sea region by rattling Russian confidence beforehand. Some said it was a “counter blast” to recent visits by the Triple Entente principals, King George to Paris, and President Poincaré of France to the Romanov court at St. Petersburg.
This particular interpretation so threatened London counselors that they defended Britain by reminding Germany that it had said the two extant competing alliances were a “bulwark,” not a danger to continental stability. Other analysts said that the German bullying of Russia was meant for domestic ears, to shake loose more money from the Reichstag, perhaps even to shake loose more money from the lawmakers in Vienna in order better to arm the fragile Austria-Hungary. “The French bogy is all very well for Germany,” argued the analysts in the London Times, “but the Russian bogy is preferable to strike terror on the Danube as well as on the Spree.” On balance, the analysts found in favor of the positive interpretation that the “Russophobe Chorus” in Berlin would strengthen the bonds of the Triple Entente and “secure the mass of Frenchmen” in a commitment to military readiness.
A haunting incident on the French border, on March 5 at Montbéliard near Belfort, a few days after the Russophobe outburst, at first glance seemed to support the sanguine stronger-bonds interpretation. A postmaster accidentally distributed French war department circulars announcing mobilization. Between 9 p.m. and midnight, the men of the town came running, prepared to go to war with Germany at first light.
“No great harm was done,” read the English newspaper report based upon the French newspaper Temps, adding the happy surprise that Paris had discovered that even in an industrial, heavily “socialistic” and iconoclastic district, “the men were quite ready to answer the call of duty.”
The London Times headlined the small item, “Mobilization in Error.” A deeper interpretation is that the Frenchmen of Montbéliard knew of the rumors of war between the Triple Entente and the Triple Alliance, between France and Germany, from the newspapers reporting the most esteemed diplomatic voices in the capitals. The Montbéliards were not in error. They were simply early. The mysteries of war warnings are supposed to be early. Hearing the mysteries of war warnings is supposed to be difficult. In 1914, what followed in five months, we know now, was the end of the world that the Europeans knew, forever.
In 2007, what follows for America is more mysteries of war warnings.
Sign up to the Human Events newsletter