Haass Style

Posted by Cutler on October 17, 2006
Iran, Right Arabists

The Financial Times published a Richard Haass Op-Ed yesterday. It will also host an online discussion with Haass on Friday October 20, 2006. Post your questions now!

Haass runs the Council on Foreign Relations. He was James Baker’s top deputy on Iraq when the US opted to keep Saddam in power so he could crush the Shiite rebellion back in 1991. He continues to help define what it means to be a “realist” and a Right Arabist.

The Haass FT Op-Ed from October 16th is entitled “A Troubling Middle East Era Dawns.”

As Right Arabist doctrine, there isn’t much that is unexpected.

Gone is a Sunni-dominated Iraq, strong and motivated enough to balance Shia Iran

Iran will be one of the two most powerful states in the region. It is a classical imperial power, with ambitions to remake the region in its image and the potential to translate objectives into reality.

As I’ve argued in previous posts, Right Arabists fear Iranian regional power.

Contrast this with Right Zionists who don’t like the incumbent Iranian regime but yearn for Iranian regional power once the old US-Iranian alliance of the 1970s has been restored to its former glory.

Haass well understands that the demand for various routes to Right Zionist regime change in Iran all ultimately aim to increase Iranian regional power after the incumbent regime has been replaced with one aligned with Israel and the US.

Set aside, for the moment and for the sake of understanding the fears of Right Arabists, the “sanity” of these Right Zionist aims.

Haass–for all his antipathy toward the regional power of Shia Iran–rejects all ideas that center on regime change.

On a military strike on Iran:

To be sure, there are things that can be done. Avoiding an over-reliance on military force is one. Force is not terribly useful against loosely organised militias and terrorists who are well armed, accepted by the local population and prepared to die for their cause. Nor is there reason to be confident that carrying out a preventive strike on Iranian nuclear installations would do more good than harm. Military force should be a last resort here

Not endorsed. (Not ruled out, either).

On democratic regime change in Iran:

No one should count on the emergence of democracy to pacify the region. Creating mature democracies is no easy task. Those who grow up in democracies can still carry out terrorism; those who win elections can opt for war.

Ok, then. What’s left?

Diplomacy… One step that could only help would be to establish a regional forum for Iraq’s neighbours to help manage events there akin to that used for Afghanistan. This would require ending US diplomatic isolation of both Iran and Syria, which in any event is not working…

Surely, it is this kind of talk earns Haass the titles of “realist” and “pragmatist,” if not peacenik.

But the real impulse here is not Right Arabist pacifism. As Haass says himself, the real impulse is fear of the “imperial power” of Shia Iran and the threat a “Shia Crescent” would pose to Sunni Arab regional hegemony.

The “diplomacy” Haass has in mind is not for harmonious US relations with Iran. That is the Right Zionist game. The ideal of Haass diplomacy with Iran is the survival but containment of the incumbent Iranian regime.

All of this justifies great concern but not fatalism. There is a fundamental difference between a Middle Easthousing a powerful Iran and one dominated by Iran.

In the present context, Right Arabists are left defending efforts to contain “a powerful Iran” as a way of forestalling the formation of a Middle East “dominated by Iran.”

Haass talks peace with “official” Iran because his real war is with Right Zionists dreaming of “eternal Iran.”

[Update: The Haass Op-Ed discussed above is an abridged version of a longer essay published in the November/December 2006 issue of Foreign Affairs.

Highlights omitted from the Op-Ed:

It is true that mature democracies tend not to wage war on one another. Unfortunately, creating mature democracies is no easy task, and even if the effort ultimately succeeds, it takes decades. In the interim, the U.S. government must continue to work with many nondemocratic governments

Iran is a more difficult case. But since regime change in Tehran is not a near-term prospect, military strikes against nuclear sites in Iran would be dangerous, and deterrence is uncertain, diplomacy is the best option available to Washington. The U.S. government should open, without preconditions, comprehensive talks that address Iran’s nuclear program and its support of terrorism and foreign militias. Iran should be offered an array of economic, political, and security incentives. It could be allowed a highly limited uranium-enrichment pilot program so long as it accepted highly intrusive inspections. Such an offer would win broad international support, a prerequisite if the United States wants backing for imposing sanctions or escalating to other options should diplomacy fail.

The Middle East will remain a troubled and troubling part of the world for decades to come. It is all enough to make one nostalgic for the old Middle East.

I note, with great interest and humility (given my own prior reading of his FT Op-Ed, above), that Haass does not endorse containment or deterrance of Iran in the longer essay.  Instead, he endorses the incentive package most recently offered the Iranians…

1 Comment to Haass Style

  • Interesting article. Do you think Haas reflects the whole faction or that his ideas are his alone? Dealing with Iran is going to become more of an issue the more they are tied to what’s happening in Iraq.

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