There is much talk these days about the possibility of the U.S. entering negotiations with Iran and Syria. The thinking goes that both regimes could be enticed into stabilizing post-Saddam Iraq as part of some "grand bargain." Foreign policy gurus ranging from those sitting on the much-heralded Baker-Hamilton Commission to Henry Kissinger to the incoming Secretary of Defense Robert Gates have argued for this course. Unfortunately, their advice is grounded in a dangerous ignorance of our terrorist enemies.
There is no better example of this ignorance, which cuts across party lines, than a paper co-authored by Zibigniew Brzezinski and Robert Gates in July 2004 for the Council on Foreign Relations titled, "Iran: Time for a New Approach."
Amazingly, despite a wealth of historical evidence to the contrary, the authors proclaim that "the official enmity between Washington and Tehran belies the convergence of their interests in specific areas." And although "the strategic imperatives of the United States and Iran are by no means identicalâ€¦they do intersect in significant ways, particularly with respect to the stabilization of Iraq and Afghanistan."
The authors come to this conclusion not through any rigorous analysis of Tehran's behavior, but instead simply through wishful thinking. In no way do Tehran's interests and American interests in Iraq, or anywhere else in the world, "converge." Below I have included two pointed examples of just how far off base this thinking is. The prospect for negotiations is not very high since our foreign policy establishment simply does not have a very good understanding of those they seek to negotiate with in the first place.
Myth #1: Iran and America both want "stability" in Iraq, therefore we have common interests.
The desire for negotiations with Iran (and Iran's terrorist ally, Syria) is driven by a false premise. America's foreign policy elites have concluded that since an unstable Iraq may have ripple effects throughout the region, then Iran wants to quell the violence in favor of long-term stability. The chaos plaguing post-Saddam Iraq is not good for either Tehran or America, the thinking goes, so we should be able to reach common ground in this regard.
This makes no sense for a variety of reasons.
First, Iran certainly wants long-term stability in Iraq, but only as long as the Iraqi Shiites are inculcated with the same virulent anti-Americanism as that espoused by Tehran's mullahs. That is, Tehran's vision of a "stable" Iraq is not consistent with U.S. interests.
Ever since the Khomeini Shiite cult rose to power in 1979, the Iranian regime has been aggressively exporting its anti-American attitude under an Islamist banner. There is a reason "Death to America" is chanted at every pro-Iranian rally. It would please Tehran to no end if the Iraqi Shiites, who account for as much as two-thirds of the Iraqi population, fell under their sway. Tehran's vision of a stable Iraq is one in which, at a minimum, the Iraqi Shiites rule and they are more sympathetic to Tehran's view of the world than America's. That is, Iran wants an Iraq that is in close agreement with the mullahs' "strategic imperatives," which even the authors of Iran: Time for a New Approach concede are not consistent with America's goals.
Thus, just because both nations have an interest in stability it does not mean that "stability" is defined in the same terms.
Second, Iran is directly fomenting short-term instability in Iraq and killing American-led forces as well as Iraqi civilians. Here, Brzezinski and Gates display a fundamental misunderstanding of the violence in Iraq. They write, "Iran's leadership is pursuing multiple avenues of influence and is exploiting Iraqi instability for its own political gain, Iran nevertheless could play a significant role in promoting a stable, pluralistic government in Baghdad." [Emphasis Added]
But Iran is not just "exploiting" the violence for its own gain; Khomeini's heirs are openly fomenting it. It is no secret that a substantial portion of the improvised explosive devices (IED's) killing our soldiers and Iraqi civilians are coming from Iran. The State Department finally conceded as much earlier this year. Many of the American casualties in Iraq today are caused by these very same IED's.
Iran is not only feeding the insurgency advanced IED technology, it is also supplying a steady stream of suicide bombers. According to one account in the Italian press earlier this year, the martyrs are even being recruited at the old American embassy in Tehran!
It is also not a secret that the Iranians are arming, funding, and training the Shiite militias that are the cause of so much havoc in the first place.
Why would anyone, therefore, assume that Iran wants "stability" in Iraq the same way America does? In fact, the more realistic view is that Iran is wagering short-term instability is enough to make American-led forces leave, thereby providing the mullahs with an opportunity to spread their influence and to create an Iraq under their sway.
Myth #2: Iran's relationship with al Qaeda needs clarification. Corollary Myth: The Shiites of Iran could not possibly work with the Sunnis of al Qaeda because of ideological differences.
Brzezinski and Gates write, "The United States should press Iran to clarify the status of al Qaeda operatives detained by Tehranâ€¦" In reality, there is no clarification needed. Iran and Iranian-backed terrorists aided al Qaeda's rise, trained bin Laden's suicide bombers, and have assisted al Qaeda in a variety of ways. The al Qaeda operatives in Iran are not "detained" in any meaningful sense, they are simply being sheltered.
It is widely believed that Iran and al Qaeda could not possibly cooperate due to ideological differences. The historical enmity between Shiites and Sunnis, we are told, is insurmountable. Therefore, Iran—the premiere state sponsor of terrorism for decades—and al Qaeda—the vanguard organization of Islamist terrorism—could not work together against their common enemies.
This misunderstanding has no doubt influenced the current calls for negotiations with Iran as well as the "analysis" on display in the Brzezinski and Gates paper. In reality, Iran and Iranian terrorist proxies, like Hezbollah, have had an ongoing relationship with the main constituencies of al Qaeda going back decades.
For example, both of the main Egyptian terrorist groups that have been folded into al Qaeda's ranks—Ayman al Zawahiri's Egyptian Islamic Jihad and the Islamic Group—have been tied to Iran since at least the early 1980's. The Egyptian Government has openly and repeatedly accused both Iran and bin Laden of sponsoring their activities inside Egypt.
Iran also played an instrumental role in managing al Qaeda's transition from an Afghani insurgency group to an international terrorist empire. Among others, the relationship between Iran and bin Laden was managed by Imad Mugniyah. Mugniyah, the head of Hezbollah's international terrorist wing, has been Tehran's chief terrorist since the early 1980's. He has orchestrated countless attacks against Americans, including the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marines barracks in Lebanon.
Bin Laden asked Mugniyah for help in modeling the new al Qaeda after Hezbollah in the early 1990's, during al Qaeda's sojourn in Sudan. Iran and Mugniyah obliged. Mugniyah oversaw the training of al Qaeda operatives in Sudan, Lebanon and Iran. It was Mugniyah that inspired al Qaeda to pursue simultaneous, coordinated suicide attacks against multiple targets.
In fact, Mugniyah and his lieutenants have been tied to a variety of al Qaeda attacks. According to Bob Baer in See No Evil, the CIA learned in 1995 that al Qaeda operatives have received assistance from Mugniyah en route to attacks. There is evidence that al Qaeda and Mugniyah's Hezbollah cooperated on the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing. The 1998 U.S. Embassy Bombings in Kenya and Tanzania were executed by terrorists trained by Hezbollah. And the 9-11 Commission even found that Mugniyah just happened to have traveled on the same flights as several of the so-called "muscle hijackers" just months prior to their day of terror. The 9-11 Commission also found that ideological differences did not preclude cooperation.
To tie this all back to the claim that Iran's detention of al Qaeda operatives requires clarification, it is important to note that one of the al Qaeda terrorists trained by Mugniyah was Saif al Adel. Al Adel is one of the top al Qaeda terrorists on the planet at this point. He has been tied to both the 1998 U.S. Embassy Bombings and the 9-11 attacks. It is has been reported that he even trained many of the 9-11 hijackers.
Al Adel currently resides somewhere in or around Tehran. He ordered up a round of attacks in Saudi Arabia in 2003 from his location there. Despite the fact that al Adel has worked with Iranian-backed terrorists for more than a decade and fled, along with dozens of his comrades, to Iran shortly after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, our foreign policy gurus think that his status in Iran needs further clarification.
Here is the bottom line: the Foreign Policy Establishment that is calling for negotiations with Iran does not have a good (or any?) understanding of Iranian behavior. This is particularly troubling because Iran is the foremost sponsor of terrorist enemies around the world. Is it reasonable to think that these folks could successfully carry on negotiations with the mullahs?
I wouldn't bet on it.