Because democracies are vulnerable to public opinion, they have overwhelming difficulties fighting terrorism. Some argue that a democracy, in order to fight terrorism, is forced to copy its methods and thus become oppressive itself. This assertion suggests that the adoption of repressive measures is inevitable in dealing with the growing dangers of terrorism. The fact that the United States has thus far failed to achieve its objectives in Iraq is an inevitable consequence of this phenomenon.
America’s opponents seem to be well aware of this vulnerability and have already taken advantage of it to make trouble for the United States. This has so far caused the defeat of the Republicans in the US Congress and may pave the path for Democrats to conquer the White House in the next presidential elections.
The US president’s so-called "new strategy" appears to be conscious of this reality and is trying to place more responsibility on the shoulders of Iraqis themselves on the assumption that, despite their lack of appropriate training and equipment, they will be in a better position to counter violence in their country. Those who criticize the new plan as ambiguous should read the hidden intentions behind it. In fact, the new strategy is a simple agenda focusing more on peripheral aspects of Iraq’s turmoil than the crisis itself and viewing Iran and Syria as major sources of trouble that should be contained at all costs.
From an etymological point of view, the new policy is not a change in strategy but merely a readjustment of military tactics to respond to new operational requirements generated by overall American strategic objectives in Iraq and the Middle East. As regards the Iraqi crisis, this entails removing all factors inhibiting the success of combined forces in their formation, deployment and engagement against terrorist activities.
No doubt the Americans had some kind of assessment of potential and actual foreign intervention in Iraq’s internal affairs before they went in. But at the beginning they preferred not to exaggerate the matter, fearing this might encourage US opponents to further aggravate the situation. Thus, the United States initially chose the diplomacy of tolerance and restraint in order to persuade Iraq’s two important neighbors, Iran and Syria, to engage in dialogue for the attenuation of ethnic and religious violence. But this approach failed and in some instances proved counter-productive. This in turn led to growing public discontent over increasing American casualties in Iraq, which finally caused the Republican defeat in the US Congress.
Hence the Republican US president had to do something to rescue his legacy and the long-term credibility of his party on the one hand, and to respond to the public demand to disengage from the Iraq quagmire on the other. But the Baker-Hamilton document offered a set of bipartisan policy recommendations that could not wholly satisfy both objectives, while the new Democrat Congress could hardly place itself at the service of Republican success.
The American president’s authority as commander-in-chief exceeds congressional authority: he can decide any strategy deemed to promote American national interests. Thus, Bush and his new team decided to set out new strategic guidelines:
- Sending an additional 21,500 troops to Iraq in support of this new policy.
- Authorizing commanders in the field to confront Iran’s growing threat to destabilize Iraq.
- Pursuing foreign agents throughout Iraq and blocking border infiltration.
- Initiating a naval build-up in the Persian Gulf region and a show of force to increase pressure on Iran.
- Forming a coalition of regional Arab states against the growing threat emanating from Iran’s nuclear ambitions and aggressive strategy.
- Putting additional pressure on Iran through a UN Security Council sanctions resolution under Article 41 of Chapter VII of the Charter.
- Containing the growth of fundamentalism and searching for ways to deal with the Islamic regime without inflicting systemic harm on the fragile regional and international security order.
Despite the ongoing rhetoric of Iran’s controversial president, the overall reaction of the Iranian leadership to the new American strategy has been rather cautious and restrained. Caught in a critical dilemma, the Islamic regime now seems to be alert to the hidden intentions of the new US policy and is trying to distance itself from Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad’s pompous slogans that could cost it its very survival. Public opinion, including right wing fundamentalist supporters, is increasingly discontent, restless and critical of the government’s performance in domestic and foreign affairs.
Iran, itself a victim of an aggressive war with extensive human and material losses, feels extremely vulnerable in a hostile environment virtually encircled by the United States. The US interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan would have been even more alarming had the Americans succeeded quickly in Iraq and not encountered a serious challenge by insurgents. But the Americans failed to assess the consequences of their Iraq intervention and now seem to be embarking on yet another venture that has already caused widespread alarm within the US. The American public is worried about a potential new entanglement in Iran whose outcome is not clear.
The continued turmoil and insurgency in Iraq, which initially offered some benefits for Iran, is now liable to become very costly for the Islamic regime and to endanger its very existence. Given that Iran has a lot of common interests with the newly established Shi’ite majority in Iraq, rationally it should do everything in its power to attenuate the ethnic, religious, sectarian and tribal conflicts there since it is itself very vulnerable on these matters. This proposition is especially true with respect to Iran’s controversial nuclear activities; UN Security Council scrutiny may yet produce even harsher resolutions.
Iranian leaders, while continuing to deny any interference in Iraq, are seeking to attenuate the hostile atmosphere through friends of the US and other intermediaries. They now seem quite aware of the unyielding American position with respect to the nuclear issue and are taking US "regime change" policy very seriously. Active Iranian diplomacy in recent weeks seeks to demonstrate the capacity and political will to communicate and if necessary negotiate with the United States in order to avoid a confrontation and hostilities.
The success of Bush’s new agenda in Iraq and the wider Middle East depends on whether it can be realized without necessarily engaging in another war with Iran or Syria. Otherwise we should expect a further increase of terrorist activity and thus a significant decline in American status and prestige in the world.