Posted by lex, on March 20, 2007
Continuing yesterday’s discussion (if anybody is still paying attention):
Per Barnett, Iran cannot be marginalized – developing China and India need their oil too much to allow the international community to attach real consequences to their nuclearization program. Not entirely sure I agree – after all the world oil market is a single, integrated market: The PRC doesn’t buy “Iranian” oil so much as it buys oil from a common pool to which Iran has contributed. Certainly an embargo on Iranian exports including oil would bid up the spot market cost, although I would argue that, with prices fluctuating between $57-$70 per barrel over the last year the market has already tested the boundaries of this type of supply disruption. Too, our friends in the House of Saud have a vested interest in stymieing the larger Persian bid towards regional dominance.
Barnett says that Iran feels threatened with the forces of the Great Satan at pretty much all of its borders and occupying what they like think of as the “Persian” Gulf. To allay their concerns the region needs an “overhead security organization” which would perform a similar political and military function that NATO did after World War II. Waving aside for the moment the invidious moral comparison of Iranian security concerns and those of the West given the history of the last thirty years, this is still an interesting notion and it might be a way lowering the regional temperature by allaying Iranian security concerns.
But I would argue that Iran is much less concerned these days about their security than they really ought to be, believing that the US is over-engaged in Afghanistan and Iraq. Because while military security is one thing – and as I’ve mentioned before, we have significant “Leviathan” capacity sitting idle – economic security is quite another thing entirely, and Iran has no other industry to speak of besides oil. Exported oil is the cash cow that fuels not only their nuclear program and the money which goes to destabilize Lebanon and Palestine, but also the hopes and expectations of an entire generation of young Persians that grew up after the revolution and who have no personal knowledge of the depredations of the Shah’s regime. If Iran’s oil exports were for any length of time disrupted, the consequences would be grave to the world market, but fatal to the Iranian regime. The real question would be what straws they would clutch at as their power collapsed.
And a part of me says that incorporating Iran into this structure- and what would be the point otherwise? – would mean spreading fairy dust over a thousand years of Sunni/Shia and Arab/Persian enmity – an enabling assumption about the way other cultures inter-relate of the type that has grievously wounded us in the very recent past.
Many Arab countries in the GCC have sizeable Shia minorities, and others have majority Shia populations ruled by Sunni elites. There has always been a strain of grievance and victimization in Shia political thought that could have unpredictable consequences to regional stability once the Persian vampire – to place myself inside the worldview of at least some Sunnis – was allowed across the threshold.
On the other hand, the nations bound up in the EU and NATO structures post-war had been at it hammers and tongs more or less continuously since pre-Roman times. The security structure that the US helped impose on the wreckage of those war-weary states led to the longest peace and greatest prosperity that region had ever known. Of course, it didn’t hurt that an alien culture and political ideology was bristling just across the border, and in fact imposing itself on parts of Europe that had been more or less culturally integrated for hundreds of years. Who would fill the billet as a unifying enemy with an alien culture and political ideology for Arabia and Persia?
Yeah. Pretty much us.
Barnett says that the worst thing we could do would be to engage in military strikes against the Iranian nuclear program, that it is too well dispersed to permanently damage, that the intellectual elements of it are resistant to disruption and that an otherwise restive Iranian population would be unified under the regime. Which is a pretty good point, meaning pinpricks won’t do if it comes to blows.
He also points out that the military’s function in the Long War is to keep a lid on the jihadi threat for another 20 years or so, to buy time until the current crop of jihadis – those of them that survive, anyway – are in their 40’s, because, as he points out, “I’m forty years old, and I don’t do jihad.” OK, but this seems to be hoping that the philosophy of kinetic jihad doesn’t get passed down to the next generation. The Soviet Union got tangled up with Osama and his boys back during their Afghani adventure, and when those guys grew up they didn’t turn to gardening. Hope is not a strategy.
Barnett also says – going back to the original post on this – that modernization is inevitable, and that the conflict we are seeing is merely the result of that modernization, the friction responding to the force. Religious change to Islam will come from the US, where an American Muslim population that has empowered women will gradually co-opt traditional Middle Eastern cultural mores on gender roles, political change will come from Europe, where a vast Islamic Diaspora that has experienced increased political power – oh, really? – will send remittances to like-minded democrats, and economic changes will come from emerging Asia.
I hope he’s right. I just don’t see the evidence of it yet.
Tomorrow, the Rise of China. If anyone wants to hear the last bit.