- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 5, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Today’s Super Tuesday primaries in nearly two dozen states will move the presidential nomination process forward a great deal in both parties. The rest of the world follows this long process of choosing the president of the United States as though they were watching their own local elections, because what happens in the United States greatly impacts the global economy and politics. While the deficit approaches $3.5 trillion, talk of a recession in the United States is at every corner around the globe. Europe blames the Bush administration’s overspending for its volatile situation. Iraq continues to cost millions of dollars and has claimed thousands of American lives, and remains a central issue.

Last week’s Democratic presidential debate between Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama showed that to great effect. Iraq was mentioned 27 times, and the economy was mentioned 10. Iran, Afghanistan and nuclear weapons weren’t discussed nearly as much. In a previous debate in July, Mr. Obama said he would consider meeting with the Iranian leader. Mrs. Clinton, however, said she would “pursue a very vigorous diplomacy” but denied such high level meeting. Yet Iran is promising to become the central problem for the next president to deal with. Under this light, it will be wrong to pre-judge the Republicans for war and Democrats against the war.

Although the latest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) concluded with “high confidence” that “in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program,” the threat of a nuclear Iran remains. The full report makes clear that Iran continues trying to work out how to build a weapon. Yet the report’s rhetoric made it impossible for the Bush administration even to talk about any military solution to a nuclear Iran. It bought time, but it did not forever close the door on a military solution in the future — if the next president still wants to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

The NIE’s unexpected repercussion, however, could be its diplomatic impact on the region. Egypt’s public gesture to Iran, which fuels conversation about whether Cairo will resume diplomatic relations with Tehran after nearly 30 years — is significant. Other Arab countries, like Saudi Arabia, are also making gestures toward Iran. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has visited the Kingdom twice since he took office in 2005, and became the first Iranian president to be invited by Saudi Arabia to perform the annual Muslim pilgrimage. Turkey, a NATO ally, has not been shy in extending similar gestures to Iran — especially on energy cooperation. The question is whether Turkey has common understanding of strategic interests with the United States. A former senior U.S. official changed the question: What kind of National Security Council meeting would happen in Turkey the day after an Iranian announcement that it has acquired nuclear capability?

In the meantime, Tehran Times reported Sunday that the Iranian defense industry has “produced drone aircraft with the ability to fly for 15 hours continuously and cover a distance of 2000 kilometers.” Yesterday, Iranian News Agency (IRNA) reported that Iran launched its first space research unit. Some analysts argue that the technology used to put satellites into space could also be used for launching weapons.

On the other hand, Turks question why the United States has begun to share “actionable intelligence” and has allowed Turkey to militarily target PKK strongholds in Northern Iraq. The relationship between Iraqi Kurds and Iranians may be the reason. “Kurdish double dealing with Iran continues to the present,” wrote Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in a recent article, “Is Iraqi Kurdistan a Good Ally?” “On January 11, 2007, and on September 20, 2007, U.S. forces raided facilities in Erbil and Sulaymaniyah, detaining six Iranian intelligence operatives. In each case, Kurdish officials protested the arrests… U.S. policymakers no longer trust Iraqi Kurdish authorities not to reveal sensitive, operational information.” Mr. Rubin emphasized that the United States asked the Iraqi-Kurdish Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari for a full list of Iranian diplomats in Iraq — and it has not been provided. Yet those arrested Iranians were granted diplomatic visa a day after their arrest.

The next president will surely face new challenges — and whoever wins the election will not have an easier job. Issues like Iran and Afghanistan will surely be significant. A recent report warned that Afghanistan is at the verge of being a “failed state” — which would mean a NATO failure as well. Regional countries’ actions toward Iran may indicate the beginning of a transformational period, in which the U.S. may not be able to rally them around its cause. Other alliances are emerging, like increased influence in the energy and security sectors of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. Russia and China may pursue even more aggressive policies, challenging U.S. power in the region — and this time, they may find more allies than expected. The next round of the game in the region won’t be easy; nor can it promise a solution without military action.

Tulin Daloglu is a freelance writer.

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