The Iraq War and Iranian Power
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During the Richard M. Nixon administration, the United States implemented a formal policy of constructive engagement with the People’s Republic of China, reversing more than two decades of unrelenting hostility. Nixon and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger sought to exploit Mao Zedong’s fear of the Soviet Union and use China as a de facto ally against it. This was during the Vietnam War, and China’s assistance to the North Vietnamese could have inhibited dialogue. Although US intelligence officials knew that China was supporting America’s foe, Nixon and Kissinger calculated that its contribution was not critical enough to prohibit meaningful dialogue. They recognised the role China was playing and used it to America’s strategic advantage. Like Mao’s China, Iran is undermining an American war, but, this does not outweigh the benefits America would reap from accepting and trying to harness Iran’s influence in the region. Moreover, just like improved relations with China accompanied the US setback in Vietnam, improved US relations with Iran might make failure in Iraq less painful and momentous. Moreover, determined diplomatic pressure could lead Tehran to stem support of its terrorist allies.
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Other analysts dismiss the notion that Iran would be capable of disrupting the strait. They argue that blocking the strait would be a pyrrhic strategy, considerably damaging Iran’s own economy while having a negligible affect on the United States. They also argue that the size, readiness and capabilities of Tehran’s armed forces would be insufficient to block the strait. But the history of naval blockades shows that nations in similar situations have successfully endured the economic effects, and Iran could resort to an asymmetric naval tactic called ’dispersed swarming’. Hundreds of small armed boats attacking one or two at a time from various directions could conceivably overwhelm a US carrier battle group. This tactic would make it difficult for the US Navy to detect and repel Iranian naval forces, providing Tehran a means of circumventing the limitations of its inferior navy.
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According to US intelligence officials, Iran provides Shia militias in Iraq with shoulder-fired missiles, multiple rocket launchers and rocket-propelled grenades. Iran also supports the radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and his thousands of Mahdi Army loyalists, provides training and financial support to the Badr Brigade, and supports the country’s two largest Shia political parties, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Dawa Party.While Bush remains committed to Iraq, American military might may not be enough to compete with Tehran’s ‘hearts and minds’ campaign. Iran provides hospital treatment and surgery for wounded Iraqis, supplies Iraq with 2 million litres of kerosene a day, and provides 20% of Iraq’s cooking gas. Kenneth Katzman, a Middle East specialist for the Congressional Research Service, calls Iran’s wide-ranging leverage within Iraq ’strategic depth’, making the Iraqi government and populace acquiescent to Iranian interests.
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Experts agree that, originally, Tehran wanted nuclear weapons for prestige and to obtain political deference within the region. Now, its strategic ambitions are shaped by the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and Iran seems motivated to acquire nuclear weapons primarily to deter a conventional American military intervention. After being stigmatised as part of the ’axis of evil’ and seeing their fellow axis-member Iraq invaded and occupied, Iran’s rulers may well have concluded that their country would be next. Government officials of another ‘axis of evil’ nation that has pursued a nuclear programme, North Korea, told a US congressional delegation in June 2003 that their country was building nuclear weapons to avoid the same fate as Saddam Hussein.