This is going to get all kinds of folks excited because it seems to imply that Kissinger is ready to wave a white flag and retreat from Iraq. It just isn’t so.
Kissinger is making the big headlines. But Brent Scowcroft is also lowering expectatiosn on Iraq. He was quoted on the front page of the New York Times:
“Things are so difficult and so complicated, it may be beyond anyone’s ability to be successful,” said Brent Scowcroft, a mentor and admirer of Mr. Gates.
But neither of these guys are advocating US withdrawal. Scowcroft made this clear last week. And Kissinger warns that withdrawal would yield catastrophic results that would inevitably draw us right back into the region:
HENRY KISSINGER: I think it’s a very unfortunate situation. But that doesn’t help us, I mean saying that doesn’t help us in the process of extricating ourselves, extricating is clearly a word I don’t like, or of finding a solution which does not make the situation in the region worse, and worse for all of us, that is the big challenge that we’re facing…
ANDREW MARR: Given that, what would you say to all those people who say well let’s bring all the troops home now? What’s the downside of a fast and total withdrawal, both by American and by British troops now?
HENRY KISSINGER: Well if we were to withdraw all the forces without any international understanding and without any even partial solution of some of the problems, the civil war in Iraq will take on even more violent forms and the chief dimensions that are probably exceeding those that brought us into Yugoslavia with military forces, all the surrounding countries especially those that have large Shia populations, will be in all likelihood destabilised.
So I think a dramatic collapse of Iraq, whatever we think of how the situation was created, would have disastrous consequences for which we would pay for many years, and which would bring us back in one way or another into the region.
None of this is really about the military front. It is about the political front. As always, most of the sharpest debates in Washington have turned on questions of geopolitical strategy, not military tactics.
Consider, for example, Kissinger’s prediction that “all the surrounding countries especially those that have large Shia populations, will be in all likelihood destabilised” by the collapse of Iraq.
Who is he talking about? Is he warning that Iran would be destabilised? Or is he talking about Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, and even Pakistan?
Today, most of the chatter that is ostensibly about Iraq is really about US policy toward Iran and Iran’s relation to the Gulf–even as Iran’s regional proxy, Hezbollah, flexes its muscles in Lebanon.
Here is Kissinger on Iran, from the BBC interview:
ANDREW MARR: What about the Iranians, Dr. Kissinger, do you envisage any likelihood of Washington opening a new dialogue with President Ahmadinejad given some of the things he’s been saying recently again about Israel?
HENRY KISSINGER: I think it would probably be better, first the answer to your question is yes, I believe America has to be in some dialogue with Iran.
But it seems to me the fundamental problem is, does Iran conduct itself as a crusade or as a nation? If Iran is a nation it should be possible to define a relationship in which Iran together with all interested parties contributes to stability in the region, and plays a respected role.
If Iran is a crusade that is trying to overthrow the international system as we know it, which is the way the Iranian president talks, then it will be extremely difficult to come to a negotiated solution.
Here, Kissinger is riffing on a theme he introduced in a July 31, 2006 Washington Post Op-Ed entitled, “Next Steps with Iran.”
A modern, strong, peaceful Iran could become a pillar of stability and progress in the region. This cannot happen unless Iran’s leaders decide whether they are representing a cause or a nation — whether their basic motivation is crusading or international cooperation. The goal of the diplomacy of the Six should be to oblige Iran to confront this choice.
Even if the Hezbollah raids from Lebanon into Israel and the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers were not planned in Tehran, they would not have occurred had their perpetrators thought them inconsistent with Iranian strategy. In short, Iran has not yet made the choice of the world it seeks — or it has made the wrong choice from the point of view of international stability.
The legacy of the hostage crisis, the decades of isolation and the messianic aspect of the Iranian regime represent huge obstacles to such a diplomacy. If Tehran insists on combining the Persian imperial tradition with contemporary Islamic fervor, then a collision with America — and, indeed, with its negotiating partners of the Six — is unavoidable. Iran simply cannot be permitted to fulfill a dream of imperial rule in a region of such importance to the rest of the world.
In light of this scenario, I think it seemss plausible to think that Kissinger’s BBC prediction that “all the surrounding countries especially those that have large Shia populations, will be in all likelihood destabilised” by the collapse of Iraq is not about the collapse of Iran but the threat Iran poses to Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Pakistan.
What is the US prepared to offer Iran in exchange for becoming “a pillar of stability and progress in the region”? How much of Iraq is on the table? Say, control of southern Iraq?
ANDREW MARR: And do you think there might be, it might be necessary to divide Iraq, for Iraq to come apart in two or three pieces?
HENRY KISSINGER: I think that might be an outcome, but it would be better not to organise it that way on a formal basis.
What happens if “engagement” with Iran fails?
Some Neocons are already sure such engagement is doomed and have their answer: “Bomb Iran.”
What is Kissinger prepared to do if Iran makes the “wrong” choices?
In the end, the United States must be prepared to vindicate its efforts to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapons program.
Is that Kissinger-speak for “Bomb Iran”?