Know When to Fold ‘Em

Posted by Cutler on November 21, 2006
Iran, Right Arabists, Right Zionists

“You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em,
Know when to walk away and know when to run.”

-Kenny Rogers, “The Gambler

All the “adults”–Kissinger, Baker, Brzezinski, Gates, Blair–are working from the same parenting handbook when approaching Bush administration policy toward the Gulf: use your words.

Not surprisingly, Right Zionist Reuel Marc Gerecht is dubious. In the latest missive from his perch at AEI–“Bartering with Nothing“–Gerecht poses some questions about dialogue with Iran.

What can be traded and bargained? What in the world can the United States give the Islamic Republic… that they do not have already?…

Beyond seeing Saddam go down, the most significant gain for the ruling clergy has been the radicalization of the Iraqi Shiite community. The greatest mid- to long-term threat in post-Saddam Iraq to Iran’s ruling mullahs had been the possible triumph of the moderate Shia, led by the Iranian-born Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who carries on a political tradition that Iran’s leading cleric, Ali Khamenei, detests. Clerics always think about other clerics; Iran’s political priesthood has always worried first about clerical dissent and religious threats to its power. Iraq’s turmoil has been very good for Khamenei and Iraq’s politicized young clergy, who want to upset the traditional, moderate clergy in the Iraqi holy city of Najaf. The chaos in Iraq–the sectarian strife–has nearly neutered Sistani, who tried mightily to prevent the unleashing of Shiite revenge against the Sunni insurgency’s attacks on his flock.

Emphasize “nearly.” If you were the Iranian mullahs, you would want this radicalization of the Iraqi Shia to keep going… With violence, Sistani and the moderate clergy will continue to collapse and the Americans will bleed…

So what does the United States have to offer the Iranian clergy that might tempt them to compromise their interests in Iraq? Well, there is the bomb… [A] true realpolitician would threaten the regime’s most cherished plans–its nuclear program. Yet in the Gates-Brzezinski colloquy on Iran, Gates conceded a nuclear weapon to the clergy. This is an odd position to take before even trying to enter into “negotiations.”…

To enter into a conference–assuming the Syrians and the Iranians would deign to participate–from a position of weakness is to guarantee that you exit weaker than when you went in.

I add only one note to this analysis: it is shared by at least one prominent Right Arabist, former Secretary of Defense Frank Carlucci.

In the 2004 Gates/Brzezinski report on Iran, Carlucci served as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations Task Force, but added a “dissenting view” in an appendix to the report. Carlucci sounds as sober about negotiations with Iran as Gerecht:

While I agree with the main thrust of the report I do not agree that the U.S.interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan may offer Iran new incentives to open a mutually beneficial dialogue. On the contrary, I believe Iran has few incentives for dialogue. They are convinced we intend to overthrow them, and they believe we are bogged down in Iraq and have lost what support we had in the Arab world. From their perspective, it is better to wait and let us stew in our own juice. Overtures on our part,under these circumstances, are likely to be interpreted as a sign of weakness and be rebuffed –Frank Carlucci

An interesting note of consensus between a leading Right Zionist and a leading Right Arabist.

Just to be clear, though: neither Carlucci nor Gerecht are likely to agree that it is time to fold ‘em, to walk away, or to run.

Gerecht, at least, has a suggestion:

If for some reason the president feels compelled to try to convene such a conference or bilateral talks with Syria or Iran on Iraq, he would do America’s diplomats a big favor by announcing first that 50,000 new troops are on their way to Mesopotamia and that we intend to slug this out until we win.

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