Introduction: The U.S. government’s incomprehensible handling of Iran could be best described as clueless, overconfident and counterproductive; not a good recipe for dealing with a sophisticated and determined adversary.
A disturbing account by Frederick Starr, chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at Johns Hopkins SAIS, questions the U.S. direct funding of Iran by choosing to transport goods to and from Afghanistan through the Iranian Persian Gulf port of Bandar Abbas. This became such a lucrative business that Iran has opened another port on the Gulf of Oman at Chabahar to further facilitate transshipment through Iran.
These shipments were initially planned to go through Pakistan, which since 1948 has received some $75-80 billion in U.S. civilian and military aid. However, unwilling to confront Pakistan’s firm objection to allow the transfer, the U.S. chose to ignore its own sanctions on Iran, thus helping the Mullahs. (Item 1, below)
At the same time, the U.S. have been dragging its feet, delaying the deployment of the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS). Former CIA employee Chet Nagle, argues that without JLENS we are sunk (possibly literally) in dealing with Iran in a real battle for control of the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz. If the U.S. wargame Nagle describes doesn’t frighten you, nothing else will. (Item 2, below).
The foundation of such self-defeating strategies could be the absence of minimal understanding of Iran. Dr. Harold Rhode, who worked as an advisor at the Office of the Secretary of Defense, as an advisor on Islamic affairs on the Pentagon’s policy planning staff, and at Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment, has documented how “critical elements of Iranian culture that have been systematically ignored by policymakers for decades.” Yet, he argues, “It is a precise understanding of these cultural cues that should guide policy objectives toward the Iranian government. His paper on “The Sources of Iranian Negotiating Behavior,” is a real eye-opener (Item 3, below)—
It’s a veritable international mystery: How did Washington end up funding its adversaries in Tehran?
By Frederick Starr
U.S. President Barack Obama has often spoken of the ever-tightening ring of sanctions against Iran. The hope is that the sanctions will eventually bring the Islamic Republic to the bargaining table, if not to its knees. The effort, however, would be more effective if these sanctions did not go hand in hand with a longstanding and lucrative annual bonus to Iran from Washington. That’s right: The United States is effectively funding its adversary.
This bonus takes the form of a subsidy that arises from the United States and NATO’s tacit support for Iran’s ports on the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.
The United States has largely failed to open any alternative route connecting Afghanistan and the great sea lanes that traverse the Arabian Sea, or between Afghanistan’s northern neighbors in Central Asia and those same warm-water corridors of trade. Thanks to this failure, shippers from China, Russia, India, and Europe have no alternative but to use the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, from which some 90 million tons of goods annually are transported by rail to Turkey, the Mediterranean world, Europe, and Russia. Business at that old entrepôt on the Persian Gulf has boomed to such an extent that Iran, with help from India and Russia, has built an even more convenient port and free trade zone on the Gulf of Oman, at the city of Chabahar, from which goods will proceed overland by road and rail to Afghanistan.
Many goods from Afghanistan and further north traverse Afghanistan to get to the Iranian ports, deepening Afghanistan’s dependence on Iran. Meanwhile, new rail routes that run northward from Chabahar across Iran will cause most cargo shipped by land from India to bypass Afghanistan entirely on its way to Central Asia, Russia, or Europe. Again, Iran wins, while Afghanistan and the United States lose. For a full decade, the United States has turned a blind eye to this bizarre situation.
This is not for lack of a viable alternative. The Pakistani port of Karachi and its newer rival, the new port of Gwadar, less that 125 miles east of Chabahar, both feed directly to Afghanistan. Both provide a shorter and more effective land link between India and Southeast Asia, on the one hand, and Europe, the Mediterranean, and Russia, on the other. Karachi and its ports are directly connected by road and railroad to routes that traverse Afghanistan. Up until now, Gwadar has lacked facilities to handle large-scale shipments and been plagued by silting, but the Chinese firm that took over its development and management last week promises to address these shortcomings promptly.
These ports present the United States with a potential win-win situation: Using them would weaken Iran, while simultaneously boosting America’s Afghan partners. Instead of subsidizing Iran, these ports could put substantial sums into Kabul’s coffers in the form of tariffs and duties. The land routes across Afghanistan from Pakistan could also create thousands of jobs for Afghans in such fields as freight forwarding, storage, logistics, insurance, and transport services.
But the United States has failed to push for the opening of these natural land routes from the Arabian Sea to the north across Afghanistan. True, it provided solid support during the preparation of the Afghanistan Pakistan Transport and Trade Agreement, which goes far toward resolving the problems that have kept these land routes blocked. But this pact remains a dead letter, largely due to half-hearted and ineffective advocacy from Washington since the treaty was signed.
This situation is all the more bizarre because on this issue, the interests of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the United States converge. Everyone benefits by opening Pakistan ports to large-scale transit across Afghanistan — except Iran, of course. Afghanistan will emerge as a major transit hub, and thousands of Afghans will find lucrative alternatives to fighting and drug trafficking; the Afghan government will gain a desperately needed income stream; and Pakistan’s powerful freight forwarders will gain lucrative new contracts to replace those with the U.S. military, which will dry up after the NATO pullout in 2014. The opening of the new routes across Pakistan and Afghanistan will also be immensely attractive to Indian shippers, providing a powerful stimulus for Pakistan and India to move beyond their current stalemate on trade links.
Skeptics could reasonably point out that this isn’t the first time Pakistan seems not to recognize and advance its own interests. But until Washington makes a more convincing case for it to take this obvious step — and until Washington indicates that it is committed to the opening of these continental trade routes for the long term — the United States is playing into the hands of the do-nothing forces in Islamabad.
The same failure of U.S. leadership that has channeled so much land transport to Iranian ports also threatens to place the transport of Central Asian gas to Pakistan and India into Iran’s hands. The proposed pipeline to bypass Iran, which would carry gas from Turkmenistan across Afghanistan to Pakistan and India, has always depended on a coalition of unlikely allies. Back in the 1990s, both the Northern Alliance and the Taliban agreed that this was an important national priority and agreed to support it — even as they fought each other. Later, India joined Pakistan in supporting the project — a rare example of cooperation between those two fractious states.
But neither Obama nor the National Security Council has championed TAPI, as the pipeline is known, and without top-level commitment and leadership this crucial energy corridor cannot be built. Instead, they have left it in the hands of Foggy Bottom bureaucrats and slow-moving international financial institutions, who have allowed it to drift aimlessly. Both Chevron and Exxon Mobil tried to push TAPI forward, but without strong backing from the White House, their efforts have flagged. Meanwhile, Iran proposes to move ahead with a speedy alternative, sending its own gas to Pakistan and India by a route that completely bypasses Afghanistan. With no breakthrough on TAPI, and given their urgent need for gas, both India and Pakistan are ready to move on this, and are restrained only by the U.S. embargo on Iran. If Washington can offer no alternative, how long will that embargo hold?
If the United States is serious about its embargo on Iran, and if wants to make good on its rhetoric about strengthening the Afghan economy, it will move at once on both these land and gas corridor projects. But can the United States afford to pursue this when it is grappling with a $16 trillion national debt?
The answer is yes. What is needed from Washington to resolve this problem is effective leadership, not money. Many donor countries and institutions will lend their support to these initiatives if they sense that Washington is serious about them. Private investors in many countries will also climb aboard once they see that these new channels of continental transport can become a reality.
But as of now, none is convinced that the United States has the commitment or leadership ability to make them happen. They note that both the White House and the National Security Council have sat on their hands on these crucial issues, waiting for someone else to take the initiative. If such passivity continues, Washington should not be surprised when someone else steps forward on both projects — and brings them about in ways that serves the purposes of America’s enemies.
Frederick Starr, chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, is author of The New Silk Roads: Transport and Trade in Greater Central Asia and numerous articles on the reestablishment of trade corridors through Central Asia and Afghanistan.(*Reposted with permission. Originally published in Foreign Policy).
2. The Army, the Congress and the Mullahs
By Chet Nagle
While Republican members of Congress arm-wrestle the White House, battling over sequestration and debt limits, the mother of all sea-battles is brewing in the Persian Gulf. Whoever wins the budget struggle, it is likely the U.S. Navy will lose the fight to keep the Strait of Hormuz open, should Iran decide to close it.
There are awesome American naval forces in the Gulf that include carrier strike groups, cruisers, destroyers, guided missile frigates, submarines and other warships. These large targets are crammed into a very busy, shallow body of water with one entrance: the Strait of Hormuz, which is 21 miles wide at its narrowest point.
Iran promises that if it suffers intolerable sanctions or a direct attack on its nuclear weapons program, it will close Hormuz, choking off 35% of the world’s oil traded by sea. The U.S. Navy vows to keep the vital waterway open. What, then, will happen if all of the mullahs’ naval, land and air weaponry is thrown against our fleet in the Gulf? We’ve known the answer for 11 years.
In 2002, the Pentagon held the largest war game in history: Millennium Challenge. Costing $250 million and using hundreds of computers together with aircraft, ships and 13,000 troops, the virtual battle closely mirrored reality. The Blue Force was a U.S. fleet entering the Gulf, led by senior admirals. The opposing Red Force, representing Iran, was commanded by retired Marine Lieutenant General Paul Van Riper. His only naval assets were speedboats, some loaded with explosives for suicide attacks, and vintage anti-ship cruise missiles. With such a meager force, Van Riper had to be clever. He decided on swarms of speedboats to attack Blue ships from all directions with missiles, rockets, mines and a cloud of anti-ship cruise missiles.
These multi-dimensional attacks were so quick and in such numbers they overwhelmed the Blue Force, leaving its commanders with no time to analyze and counter the multitude of threats. It was over on the first day. Blue Force lost 16 major warships – including the aircraft carrier.
Then, instead of learning from the embarrassing lesson, the Pentagon did its usual thing. The exercise paused, rules were changed and Blue Force won.
But the mullahs learned, and they know about asymmetrical warfare. Their naval forces now have anti-ship cruise missiles much more powerful than the one that crippled the USS Stark in 1987. They have a growing fleet of speedboats that includes Bladerunners, which are capable of reaching speeds in excess of 80 miles per hour. They have a fleet of submarines. Their drones are explosive-laden kamikazes. And they practice. They plan to create a 9/11 scenario, complete with a burning, sinking American super-carrier.
But that can be avoided. If Millennium Challenge Blue Force was defended by JLENS, it could have survived.
What is JLENS? It’s a defense system with the ungainly name of “Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System,” but it should be called a combat commander’s “eyes in the sky.”
JLENS operates 24/7 for 30 days at a time, and sees the entire spectrum of threats: cruise missiles, aircraft, boats, vehicles and even people planting roadside mines. During development, the system shot down cruise missiles at the Utah Test and Firing Range, and last June it tracked swarming speedboats on the Great Salt Lake. JLENS’ range of 340 miles gives an admiral in the Gulf long minutes instead of seconds to see, analyze and defeat missiles and swarming boats before they reach his flagship. Combine JLENS with a B-2 bomber, and that admiral also has 200 SDB-II homing bombs that can hit speedboats, day or night.
During the $2 billion development program, Congress steadfastly supported JLENS as an essential defense system despite Army delays. JLENS was to be tested in CENTCOM, near the Strait of Hormuz. Congress appropriated money, but the Army dithered. If the Army had acted, JLENS would be there today, watching the Gulf and looking deep inside Iran. But instead, the Army announced the final JLENS field test would be at Maryland’s Aberdeen Proving Grounds, and would not be completed until 2014.
Even JLENS cannot cover Hormuz from Maryland. Regardless, Congress must come to the rescue again and reprogram $30 million (money already appropriated) to get JLENS tested, produced and sent to defend our troops in hot spots around the world. With speedy implementation, tests can be completed this year – if Congress will refuse to be slow-rolled by the Army.
Congress could start by asking the Army to deliver test plans instead of holding feel-good town hall meetings with the grateful citizens of Aberdeen.
*Chet Nagle is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, a former CIA agent and the author of Iran Covenant. (*Reposted by permission of the author. Originally published by the Daily Calle)
By Harold Rhode*
- This analysis identifies patterns exhibited by the Iranian government and the Iranian people since ancient times. Most importantly, it identifies critical elements of Iranian culture that have been systematically ignored by policymakers for decades. It is a precise understanding of these cultural cues that should guide policy objectives toward the Iranian government.
- Iranians expect a ruler to demonstrate resolve and strength, and do whatever it takes to remain in power. The Western concept of demanding that a leader subscribe to a moral and ethical code does not resonate with Iranians. Telling Iranians that their ruler is cruel will not convince the public that they need a new leader. To the contrary, this will reinforce the idea that their ruler is strong. It is only when Iranians become convinced that either their rulers lack the resolve to do what is necessary to remain in power or that a stronger power will protect them against their current tyrannical rulers, that they will speak out and try to overthrow leaders.
- Compromise (as we in the West understand this concept) is seen as a sign of submission and weakness. For Iranians, it actually brings shame on those (and on the families of those) who concede. By contrast, one who forces others to compromise increases his honor and stature, and is likely to continue forcing others to submit in the future. Iranians do not consider weakness a reason to engage an adversary in compromise, but rather as an opportunity to destroy them. It is for this reason that good-will and confidence-building measures should be avoided at all costs.
- What Iranians really believe, they usually keep to themselves. Instead, they tell those with power what they think their leaders want to hear. This is the concept of ketman, or dissimulation. Iranians do not consider ketman (taqiyah in Arabic) to be lying. And they have developed it into a fine art, which they view as a positive form of self- protection.
- Western cultural biases regarding, and demanding, honesty make it easy to misunderstand Iranians. Iranians have learned to cope with adverse situations by being warm, gracious, polite, and obsequious. Westerners, especially Americans who place a high value on candor, straightforwardness, and honesty, are often bamboozled by Iranians who know that those in the West are easily taken in by their effusively friendly, kind, generous, and engaging behavior.
- Negotiations are opportunities to best others, to demonstrate power, and to make sure opponents know who is the boss. In politics, Iranians negotiate only after defeating their enemies. During these negotiations, the victor magnanimously dictates to the vanquished how things will be conducted thereafter. Signaling a desire to talk before being victorious is, in Iranian eyes, a sign of weakness or lack of will to win.
- When the West establishes itself as the most powerful force and shows strength and resolve, Iranians will most likely come on board. They do not want to be on the losing side. If military action is eventually required, the targeting of national symbols and leadership strongholds may be enough to demonstrate that the balance of power in Iran is quickly shifting. By applying this principle, the West may not need to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities or launch a large-scale invasion to bring down Iran’s rulers and stop the nuclear program.
- Iranians look around them and see that others in their neighborhood such as Russia, Israel, Pakistan, India, and China all have the bomb. To say that Iran shouldn’t have the bomb is considered an affront to Iranian patriotism. Using a little ingenuity, we could drive a wedge between the Iranian government and the Iranian people. We should make clear that we are not opposed to Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. We are only opposed to the current government having a nuclear arsenal because it is the largest state-sponsor of terrorism in the world and does its utmost to undermine its neighbors and remove U.S. influence in the region. If the current government acquires nuclear weapons, it might very well use them.
- If the West is to succeed, Iranians must be convinced, in terms they understand, that America is prepared to establish itself as a powerful force and help the Iranian population liberate themselves from the tyranny under which they live.
Clearly, in many aspects, Iran’s ancient culture is very different from the West. It is, therefore, not surprising that we are often perplexed by how Iranians act. Unfortunately, all too often we have insisted on employing mirror-imaging, or seeing Iranians as we see ourselves. This has enabled Iran to continually outsmart the West.
Iranians may be skilled chess players, but the West has produced many more world-class chess players than has Iran. With a little ingenuity and gamesmanship, the West should be able to outfox the Iranians at their own game.
Using the ideas presented above, Western leaders might consider meeting publicly with opposition leaders, supporting Iranians who want to liberate their homeland from tyranny, and numerous other measures which could weaken the current regime’s control and eventually bring it to its knees.
But if the West is to succeed, Iranians must be convinced, in terms they understand, that America is prepared to establish itself as a powerful force and help the Iranian population liberate themselves from the tyranny under which they live.
In short, if the West will step back and consider how best to understand and use Iranian culture in order to accomplish policy goals, there is a good chance of devising policies that will benefit the West, the Iranian people, and the world.
*Dr. Harold Rhode studied in Iran at Ferdowsi University in Mashhad in 1978 at the early stages of the Islamic Revolution. In 1979, he received his Ph.D. from Columbia University in Islamic history. He joined the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense in 1982 as an advisor on Turkey, Iraq, and Iran. Since then he has served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and as advisor on Islamic affairs on the Pentagon’s policy planning staff. From 1994 until his recent retirement, Dr. Rhode served in the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment. He is currently a Senior Advisor at the Hudson Institute, New York. (Originally published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Perspectives Series.)