Historian Gareth Porter has been following the diplomatic manueverings over Iraq and Iran very closely. In a series of three articles over the last couple of weeks, he's summarized the current state of negotiations and the role of the US in the Iraqi civil war (aka, "sectarian conflict").
In The Bloodbath We Created TomPaine.com 12/14/06, Porter addresses the argument that pulling American troops out of Iraq would lead to a bloodbath. He notes that the Baker-Hamilton commission in using this argument "has unconsciously mimicked the argument use by President Richard Nixon to justify continuing the U.S. war in Vietnam for another four years". (Although I'm not quite sure that it was unconscious.) Porter explains:
The bloodbath argument evades the central fact that the U.S. occupation has never been aimed at avoiding or reducing sectarian war between Sunnis and Shiites. On the contrary, the U.S. has used sectarian conflict for its own purposes. The main purpose of the U.S. occupation has been to claim victory over those who resisted it, which has meant primarily suppressing the Sunni armed resistance throughout the Sunni zone. The Bush administration had to have Iraqi allies against the Sunni resistance, and after Sunni security units showed in 2004 that they would not fight other Sunnis on behalf of the occupation, the administration began relying primarily on Shiites to assist its war against the Sunnis. ...
The bloodbath argument foisted on the public by the ISG is really about the refusal of a large segment of the political elite to accept the fact that the United States has broken Iraq in a way that can no longer be fixed by U.S. power - and has lost a war it entered into with such arrogance. It is a statement of ideological belief by an elite still deep in denial.
He explains that both the police and the Iraqi Army are largely composed of Shi'a partisans or members of partisan Shi'a militia. So in training the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF; army and police combined), the US has been training Shi'a militia for the civil war. And to fight the Americans.
In this piece, he talks about the contacts and negotiations between the US and the Sunni insurgents late last year and earlier this year, which seem to have fizzled out in the spring: Sunni Groups: US Weighed Offer to 'Clean Up' Militias by Gareth Porter Antiwar.com/Inter Press Service 12/14/06. Much of it is based on this report, Secret American talks with insurgents break down by Hala Jaber 12/10/06, though Porter also wrote back in the spring about the breakdown in talks.
A year ago, US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad was flirting with a "Sunni strategy" that would have involved a tilt to the Sunnis. It was never clear to me from the little about this negotiations that has become public to date whether this was an attempt to achieve some sort of internal political balance in Iraq, or whether the intention was to ally with the Sunnis against the Shi'a in preparation for an attack on Iran.
But, as Josh Marshall has recently reminded us, in the phantasmagorical world that the neocons see in place of reality, the Iraqi Shi'a might be downright enthusiastic to ally with the US against the Iranian Shi'a. Marshall writes on 12/12/06:
The folks who brought you the Iraq War have always been weak in the knees for a really whacked-out vision of a Shi'a-US alliance in the Middle East. I used to talk to a lot of these folks before I became persona non grata. So here's basically how the theory went and, I don't doubt, still goes ... We hate the Saudis and the Egyptians and all the rest of the standing Arab governments. But the Iraqi Shi'a were oppressed by Saddam. So they'll like us. So we'll set them up in control of Iraq. You might think that would empower the Iranians. But not really. The mullahs aren't very powerful. And once the Iraqi Shi'a have a good thing going with us. The Iranians are going to want to get in on that too. So you'll see a new government in Tehran. Plus, big parts of northern Saudi Arabia are Shi'a too. And that's where a lot of the oil is. So they'll probably want to break off and set up their own pro-US Shi'a state with tons of oil. So before you know it, we'll have Iraq, Iran, and a big chunk of Saudi Arabia that is friendly to the US and has a ton of oil. And once that happens we can tell the Saudis to f$#% themselves once and for all.
Now, you might think this involves a fair amount of wishful and delusional thinking. But this was the thinking of a lot of neocons going into the war. And I don't doubt it's still the thinking of quite a few of them. They still want to run the table. And even more now that it's double-down. I don't know what these guys are planning now. But there's plenty of reason to be worried.
Finally, last week Porter gave us an update last week of the state of diplomacy with Iran, which at this point can't be easily separated from the situation in Iraq. He pointed to some factors that got overwhelmed in the news about the Baker-Hamilton report. In Rice's Iran Strategy Fizzles, Cheney Waits in Wings Inter Press Service 12/03/06, he writes that the diplomatic initiative identified with Secretary of State Rice to present a united diplomatic front with the European Union, Russia and China against Iranian nukes has played itself out. As a consequence, Dick Cheney has a shot now at achieving his own goal toward Iran:
But Rice's diplomatic track on Iran was narrowly constrained from the beginning by a broader Bush administration policy of refusing any diplomatic compromise with Iran. Cheney and then Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld apparently agreed to let Rice go down that track in early 2005 because they knew that any diplomatic effort through the Security Council to get sanctions against Iran would end in failure and that such a failure was a necessary prelude to any use of force.
Porter doesn't phrase it this way. But part of what is happening with diplomacy on Iran is that other powers are starting to make arrangements to contain reckless unilateral actions by the United States. He writes:
Russian officials view the Iranian nuclear issue primarily in geopolitical terms, [Celeste] Wallander [of Georgetown University] writes, and they doubt that the United States really cares about proliferation per se. They believe Washington should fix the "demand side" of the proliferation problem - the Iranian insecurity and fear of U.S. policy - instead of focusing primarily on the "supply side" of the problem, according to Wallander.
Chinese interests on the Iran issue parallel those of the Russians. Beijing has been seeking to strengthen its strategic partnership with Russia, particularly since the Bush administration's invasion of Iraq and overt strategy of using alliances with Japan, India and South Korea as leverage on Beijing. Both China and Russia appear to view the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) as a vehicle for countering U.S. power across Asia. In 2005, Moscow and Beijing signaled their joint interest in cooperation with Iran against U.S. pressures by inviting Iran to become a member of the SCO.