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America, Iran and the Costly Dance

America, Iran and the Costly Dance

Monday, 9 August, 2021 - 07:30
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

The countries bordering Afghanistan are preparing to coexist with a devastating civil war on its territory after the completion of the withdrawal of US forces, or with Afghanistan residing in the grip of the Taliban movement.

Nothing suggests that Kabul will be immune to the movement. President Joe Biden’s decision to send strategic bombers to disrupt the Taliban’s attacks on some provincial capitals will only delay the date of their collapse.

The tension experienced by the US-trained regime reflects its fear of letting things slip out of its control. The panic of translators trying to grasp the departing American planes indicates that the Taliban domination can be delayed for some time, but cannot be avoided.

Iran is lucky. The Taliban was in control of Afghanistan, and skirmishes occurred on the border between the two countries. Iran had no important cards. Any expansion of the clashes would have led to a Sunni-Shiite conflict that could have reached Pakistan. The 9/11 attacks were a gift to Tehran. The American army advanced and uprooted the anti-Tehran regime in Kabul. America went as far as granting Iran the gift of a lifetime. The US army moved to oust Saddam Hussein’s regime through a devastating war.

Despite the two gifts, Iran continued its policy aimed at expelling America, especially from the maps on which Tehran dreams of deploying and control. Here I recalled what late Iraqi President Jalal Talabani once told me.

He said: “Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki once told me in this house (Talabani’s residence): ‘Ask your friend, the American ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad - who was an ambassador in Baghdad at that time - what do the Americans want from us? We supported the liberation of Iraq from Saddam, the Governing Council and the election of the president of the republic, and we supported this new situation established by the Americans in Iraq. There is nothing the Americans did that we did not support. So ask your friend what do they want from us?’ I conveyed these words to Khalilzad, and he replied: ‘We want stability and security in Iraq.’”

Talabani added: “We tried to bring Khalilzad and Mottaki together, but we did not succeed. We had reached an agreement from both sides, then Condoleezza Rice went to Congress and hinted at this meeting, which was supposed to take place secretly, so the Iranians withdrew.”

Tehran wanted to avoid a direct clash with the American forces deployed near its borders with Iraq and Afghanistan. It was telling Talabani that if America showed the necessary level of realism, the Iranian regime would be ready to negotiate with Washington over files ranging from Afghanistan to Lebanon.

Iraq was an arena of a highly complex experiment between Iran and the United States. Former Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari recounted that the Americans spoke with Iranian officials in Geneva on a number of occasions before the war about practical technical issues, airspace and border files. He confirmed that these meetings continued after Saddam’s fall. The Americans eventually cut off this relationship, “and when we asked them why, they said that they were after a number of wanted men from Al-Qaeda, who they knew were in Iran, and the latter has refused to turn them over.”

Iran was using two languages and two styles. While Mottaki was asking what the Americans wanted from us more than we did, Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Quds Force, was waging a war against the US presence in Iraq under many aliases.

In response to a question about whether Iran contributed to the killing of Americans in Iraq, Zebari said: “Of course, but contrary to reports, it did not support Al-Qaeda. Rather, it backed some special groups, within the Mahdi Army. For example, there was a special group that was being trained and ordered to carry out operations. Syria certainly contributed to the killing of Americans and the bombing of cars. Syria launched an open war against us that practically led to the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqis.”

Iran was pretending to be ready to negotiate and was demanding that the United States pursue realistic policies, such as the “Great Satan” recognizing that it can be its biggest partner in the Middle East. But the other aspect of Iranian policy was based on seeking to undermine the American military presence and influence in both Iraq and Afghanistan. While such diplomatic statements were issued by Iran or its friends, Tehran was working on the ground inside maps by supporting organizations and forming others that chant slogans of “resistance” and “death to Israeli”

After two decades of tensions, maneuvering and strikes, it is no longer a secret that America is tired of its costly military interventions around the world. The real picture on the ground reveals that US policy lacked consistency and a clear vision, and fluctuated with the change of administrations and advisers.

The result is visible in several countries. Iran has a quasi-veto power over any decision taken by Iraqi authorities. It exercises this role through Iraqi proxies. Same applies to Lebanon. Iranian influence in Syria does not need any proof, since its militias helped save the regime. It is not possible to advance towards a ceasefire in Yemen without the approval of Tehran. Thus, President Ebrahim Raisi appears to be stronger in a number of countries than their declared presidents.

Has the US grown tired of the Iranian file and wants to revive the nuclear agreement under the pretext of dedicating itself to confronting the rise of China? Is the Biden administration preparing to present a new gift to Tehran, which, from time to time, boasts of its ability to ignite more than one front in the region and obstruct navigation in critical passages?

As the provincial capitals in Afghanistan are yielding to the Taliban, the people of the Middle East recall that long and costly dance between Iran and America, which witnessed quite a few gifts, blows and stabs. The American-Iranian dance was very expensive, especially for some Arab maps.

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