[Arclist] The Russian Factor
melcher at nets.com
Wed Oct 3 07:50:52 MDT 2007
Again, from George Friedman at STRATFOR.COM, the view from another
angle, that of the strategic chessboard of global politics. Whether
we agree or disagree with Friedman's analysis, he always puts forth
the view that all of global politics are interrelated and intertwined
and that it is a mistake to focus only on one part of the puzzle,
even if that portion is as all consuming in our daily attentions as
the war in Iraq.
On another note, putting things in a visual perspective, check this out.
Running The Numbers: http://www.chrisjordan.com/
Sent to me some weeks ago by Angela W. and brought out more publicly
since with coverage in the Utne Reader and the major news magazines
as well as an interview with Bill Moyers on his Journal the week
RED OCTOBER: RUSSIA, IRAN AND IRAQ
By George Friedman
The course of the war in Iraq appears to be set for the next year. Of
the four options we laid out a few weeks ago, the Bush administration
essentially has selected a course between the first and second
options -- maintaining the current mission and force level or
retaining the mission but gradually reducing the force. The mission
-- creating a stable, pro-American government in Baghdad that can
assume the role of ensuring security -- remains intact. The strategy
is to use the maximum available force to provide security until the
Iraqis can assume the burden. The force will be reduced by the 30,000
troops who were surged into Iraq, though because that level of force
will be unavailable by spring, the reduction is not really a matter
of choice. The remaining force is the maximum available, and it will
be reduced as circumstances permit.
Top U.S. commander in Iraq Gen. David Petraeus and others have made
two broad arguments. First, while prior strategy indeed failed to
make progress, a new strategy that combines aggressive security
operations with recruiting political leaders on the subnational level
-- the Sunni sheikhs in Anbar province, for example -- has had a
positive impact, and could achieve the mission, given more time.
Therefore, having spent treasure and blood to this point, it would be
foolish for the United States not to pursue it for another year or two.
The second argument addresses the consequence of withdrawal. U.S.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice suammed it up in an interview
with NBC News. "And I would note that President [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad
said if the United States leaves Iraq, Iran is prepared to fill the
vacuum. That is what is at stake here," she said. We had suggested
that the best way to contain Iran would be to cede Iraq and defend
the Arabian Peninsula. One reason is that it would release troops for
operations elsewhere in the world, if needed. The administration has
chosen to try to keep Iraq -- any part of it -- out of Iranian hands.
If successful, this obviously benefits the United States. If it
fails, the United States can always choose a different option.
Within the region, this seems a reasonable choice, assuming the
political foundations in Washington can be maintained, foundations
that so far appear to be holding. The Achilles' heel of the strategy
is the fact that it includes the window of vulnerability that we
discussed a few weeks ago. The strategy and mission outlined by
Petraeus commits virtually all U.S. ground forces to Iraq, with
Afghanistan and South Korea soaking up the rest. It leaves air and
naval power available, but it does not allow the United States to
deal with any other crisis that involves the significant threat of
ground intervention. This has consequences.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki attended a meeting of the
Iranian-Russian Joint Economic Commission in Moscow over the weekend.
While in the Russian capital, Mottaki also met with Russian Atomic
Energy Chief Sergei Kiriyenko to discuss Russian assistance in
completing the Bushehr nuclear power plant. After the meeting,
Mottaki said Russian officials had assured him of their commitment to
complete the power plant. Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali
Larijani, said, "With regards to the Bushehr power plant, we have
reached good understanding with the Russians. In this understanding a
timetable for providing nuclear fuel on time and inaugurating this
power plant has been fixed." While the truth of Russian assurances is
questionable -- Moscow has been mere weeks away from making Bushehr
operational for the better part of the last three years, and is about
as excited about a nuclear-armed Iran as is Washington -- the fact
remains that Russian-Iranian cooperation continues to be substantial,
Mottaki also confirmed -- and this is significant -- that Russian
President Vladimir Putin would visit Tehran on Oct. 16. The occasion
is a meeting of the Caspian Sea littoral nations, a group that
comprises Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.
According to the Iranians, Putin agreed not only to attend the
conference, but also to use the visit to confer with top Iranian
This is about the last thing the United States wanted the Russians to
do -- and therefore the first thing the Russians did. The Russians
are quite pleased with the current situation in Iraq and Iran and do
not want anything to upset it. From the Russian point of view, the
Americans are tied down in an extended conflict that sucks up
resources and strategic bandwidth in Washington. There is a
similarity here with Vietnam. The more tied down U.S. forces were in
Vietnam, the more opportunities the Soviets had. Nowadays, Russia's
resources are much diminished compared with those of the Soviets --
while Russia has a much smaller range of interest. Moscow's primary
goal is to regain a sphere of influence within the former Soviet
Union. Whatever ambitions it may dream of, this is the starting
point. The Russians see the Americans as trying to thwart their
ambitions throughout their periphery, through support for anti-
Russian elements via U.S. intelligence.
If the United States plans to stay in Iraq until the end of the Bush
presidency, then the United States badly needs something from the
Russians -- that they not provide arms, particularly air-defense
systems, to the Syrians and especially the Iranians. The Americans
need the Russians not to provide fighter aircraft, modern command-and-
control systems or any of the other war-making systems that the
Russians have been developing. Above all else, they want the Russians
not to provide the Iranians any nuclear-linked technology.
Therefore, it is no accident that the Iranians claimed over the
weekend that the Russians told them they would do precisely that.
Obviously, the discussion was of a purely civilian nature, but the
United States is aware that the Russians have advanced military
nuclear technology and that the distinction between civilian and
military is subtle. In short, Russia has signaled the Americans that
it could very easily trigger their worst nightmare.
The Iranians, fairly isolated in the world, are being warned even by
the French that war is a real possibility. Obviously, then, they view
the meetings with the Russians as being of enormous value. The
Russians have no interest in seeing Iran devastated by the United
States. They want Iran to do just what it is doing -- tying down U.S.
forces in Iraq and providing a strategic quagmire for the Americans.
And they are aware that they have technologies that would make an
extended air campaign against Iran much more costly than it would be
otherwise. Indeed, without a U.S. ground force capable of exploiting
an air attack anyway, the Russians might be able to create a
situation in which suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD, the first
stage of a U.S. air campaign) would be costly, and in which the
second phase -- battle against infrastructure -- could become a war
of attrition. The United States might win, in the sense of ultimately
having command of the air, but it could not force a regime change --
and it would pay a high price.
It also should not be forgotten that the Russians have the second-
largest nuclear arsenal in the world. The Russians very
ostentatiously announced a few weeks ago that their Bear bombers were
returning to constant patrol. This amused some in the U.S. military,
who correctly regard the Bear as obsolete. They forget that the
Russians never really had a bomber force designed for massive
intercontinental delivery of nuclear devices. The announcement was a
gesture -- and reminder that Russian ICBMs could easily be pointed at
the United States.
Russia obviously doesn't plan a nuclear exchange with the United
States, although it likes forcing the Americans to consider the
possibility. Nor do the Russians want the Iranians to gain nuclear
weapons. What they do want is an extended conflict in Iraq, extended
tension between Iran and the United States, and they wouldn't much
mind if the United States went to war with Iran as well. The Russians
would happily supply the Iranians with whatever weapons systems they
could use in order to bleed the United States a bit more, as long as
they are reasonably confident that those systems would not be pointed
north any time soon.
The Russians are just as prepared to let the United States have a
free hand against Iran and not pose any challenges while U.S. forces
are tied down in Iraq. But there is a price and it will be high. The
Russians are aware that the window of opportunity is now and that
they could create nightmarish problems for the United States.
Therefore, the Russians will want the following:
In the Caucasus, they want the United States to withdraw support for
Georgia and force the Georgian government to reach an accommodation
with Moscow. Given Armenian hostility to Turkey and closeness to
Russia, this would allow the Russians to reclaim a sphere of
influence in the Caucasus, leaving Azerbaijan as a buffer with Iran.
In Ukraine and Belarus, the Russians will expect an end to all U.S.
support to nongovernmental organizations agitating for a pro-Western
In the Baltics, the Russians will expect the United States to curb
anti-Russian sentiment and to explicitly limit the Baltics' role in
NATO, excluding the presence of foreign troops, particularly Polish.
Regarding Serbia, they want an end to any discussion of an
The Russians also will want plans abandoned for an anti-ballistic-
missile system that deploys missiles in Poland.
In other words, the Russians will want the United States to get out
of the former Soviet Union -- and stay out. Alternatively, the
Russians are prepared, on Oct. 16, to reach agreements on nuclear
exchange and weapons transfers that will include weapons that the
Iranians can easily send into Iraq to kill U.S. troops. Should the
United States initiate an air campaign prior to any of this taking
effect, the Russians will increase the supply of weapons to Iran
dramatically, using means it used effectively in Vietnam: shipping
them in. If the United States strikes against Russian ships, the
Russians will then be free to strike directly against Georgia or the
Baltic states, countries that cannot defend themselves without
American support, and countries that the United States is in no
position to support.
It is increasingly clear that Putin intends to reverse in practice,
if not formally, the consequences of the fall of the Soviet Union. He
does not expect at this point to move back into Central Europe or
engage in a global competition with the United States. He knows that
is impossible. But he also understands three things: First, his armed
forces have improved dramatically since 2000. Second, the countries
he is dealing with are no match for his forces as long as the United
States stays out. Third, staying out or not really is not a choice
for the United States. As long as it maintains this posture in Iraq,
it is out.
This is Putin's moment and he can exploit it in one of two ways: He
can reach a quiet accommodation with the Americans, and leave the
Iranians hanging. Conversely, he can align with the Iranians and
place the United States in a far more complex situation than it
otherwise would be in. He could achieve this by supporting Syria,
arming militias in Lebanon or even causing significant problems in
Afghanistan, where Russia retains a degree of influence in the North.
The Russians are chess players and geopoliticians. In chess and
geopolitics, the game is routine and then, suddenly, there is an
opening. You seize the opening because you might never get another
one. The United States is inherently more powerful than Russia, save
at this particular moment. Because of a series of choices the United
States has made, it is weaker in the places that matter to Russia.
Russia will not be in this position in two or three years. It needs
to act now.
Therefore, Putin will go to Iran on Oct. 16 and will work to complete
Iran's civilian nuclear project. What agreements he might reach with
Iran could given the United States nightmares. If the United States
takes out Iran's nuclear weapons, the Russians will sympathize and
arm the Iranians even more intensely. If the Americans launch an
extended air campaign, the Russians will happily increase the supply
of weapons even more. Talk about carpet-bombing Iran is silly. It is
a big country and the United States doesn't have that much carpet.
The supplies would get through.
Or the United States can quietly give Putin the sphere of influence
he wants, letting down allies in the former Soviet Union, in return
for which the Russians will let the Iranians stand alone against the
Americans, not give arms to Middle Eastern countries, not ship Iran
weapons that will wind up with militias in Iraq. In effect, Putin is
giving the United States a month to let him know what it has in mind.
It should not be forgotten that Iran retains an option that could
upset Russian plans. Iran has no great trust of Russia, nor does it
have a desire to be trapped between American power and Russian
willingness to hold Iran's coat while it slugs things out with the
Americans. At a certain point, sooner rather than later, the Iranians
must examine whether they want to play the role of the Russian cape
to the American bull. The option for the Iranians remains the same --
negotiate the future of Iraq with the Americans. If the United States
is committed to remaining in Iraq, Iran can choose to undermine
Washington, at the cost of increasing its own dependence on the
Russians and the possibility of war with the Americans. Or it can
choose to cut a deal with the Americans that gives it influence in
Iraq without domination. Iran is delighted with Putin's visit. But
that visit also gives it negotiating leverage with the Americans.
This remains the wild card.
Petraeus' area of operations is Iraq. He may well have crafted a
viable plan for stabilizing Iraq over the next few years. But the
price to be paid for that is not in Iraq or even in Iran. It is in
leaving the door wide open in other areas of the world. We believe
the Russians are about to walk through one of those doors. The
question in the White House, therefore, must be: How much is Iraq
worth? Is it worth recreating the geopolitical foundations of the
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