US Persian Policy Realigned

The past six months have made us think that the foreign policy action in 2009 will be seen along the Russia-Georgia border, in Gaza, or off the coast of Somalia. Yet it is Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan where we should see the biggest issues tackled and the biggest changes coming. Elections in Iran and Afghanistan are scheduled that could have a major impact on policy. Other events are already in motion that will make change inevitable. Here’s what we’re seeing.

Obama has reached out to the former axis of evil with warm words about talking. For his part, hardline President Ahmadinejad has refused to deal with the US yet, and talked about the need for a US apology for past wrongs before there is any progress.

But now there is movement in Iran as we head into the June presidential election. Mohammad Khatami, Iran’s former reformist president, just announced he would stand as a candidate to try and deprive Ahmadinejad of a second term. Khatami, a 65-year-old reformist cleric, whose served two-terms from 1997 to 2005, retired from politics after he stepped down but saw no one step in to head the reformist faction. There is potential for real change, but any movement seems unlikely before the critical issue of who runs the country is decided. That means waiting another 5 months before anything happens — but expect changes after the election, on both the US and Iranian side.

Last February, when Joe Biden was a senator who had lost a primary run very badly, was visiting Afghanistan, he queried President Karzai in Afghanistan on the corruption, which Karzai brushed off and which led Biden to storm out of the room.

Today, Biden is the US vice president on a world tour speaking about how the new administration will run foreign policy, Obama has spoken of Karzai as unreliable and ineffective, Secretary of State Clinton said called Afghanistan a narco-state, and the Americans are bypassing Karzai to deal directly with the governors in the countryside. Karzai is unpopular at home, with polls suggesting that 85% of voters want to vote for “the other guy” — and there is an alection scheduled for August.

Pakistan is identified as the top priority for the new administration as a nuclear-armed country hurtling towards chaos, namely:

The security situation in Pakistan seems to deteriorate daily. Last week’s headlines, for instance, included: a bombing of a religious procession in the central town of Dera Ghazi Khan, which claimed at least 27 lives; government helicopter gunship attacks that killed 52 militants in the Khyber area of the tribal region; the kidnapping of a senior UN official by gunmen; and the beheading of a Polish engineer who was abducted five months ago. A videotape of the execution was released last night by his captors.

A year ago democracy was restored after eight years of military rule but many believe the government is in a state of paralysis, as an unwieldy coalition and a cabinet of about 70 ministers jockey for position – ever wary of the army, which has ruled Pakistan for most of its existence. Government decision-making is concentrated in the hands of President Asif Zardari, creating a log-jam, critics say.

But behind the new democratic government, the cause of the Taliban uprising and its backing is opaque. Some blame the Indian intelligence agency (RAW) while others accuse Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence Agency ISI. Some even blame the CIA. And India wants questions answered also.

About Curzon

Lord George Nathaniel Curzon (1859 - 1925) entered the British House of Commons as a Conservative MP in 1886, where he served as undersecretary of India and Foreign Affairs. He was appointed Viceroy of India at the turn of the 20th century where he delineated the North West Frontier Province, ordered a military expedition to Tibet, and unsuccessfully tried to partition the province of Bengal during his six-year tenure. Curzon served as Leader of the House of Lords in Prime Minister Lloyd George's War Cabinet and became Foreign Secretary in January 1919, where his most famous act was the drawing of the Curzon Line between a new Polish state and Russia. His publications include Russia in Central Asia (1889) and Persia and the Persian Question (1892). In real life, "Curzon" is a US citizen from the East Coast who has been a financial analyst, freelance translator, and university professor; he is currently on assignment in Tokyo.
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5 Responses to US Persian Policy Realigned

  1. On Iran – electing a new president and figuring out who is running the country are not necessarily the same thing. Some Iran experts suggest that it is Khameini, while others insist that Ahmadinejad is running the show. I tend to think that it’s some combination of that, with many more power factions involved than is at first evident. So maybe a new president won’t really make that much difference after all….

  2. Armchair Analyst says:

    I think the Indian intelligence agency is called RAW not RAQ…and who is blaming them for Pakistan’s instability? Who is blaming the Indian intelligence for the Taliban uprising? Who is blaming the CIA?

  3. Jay says:

    I’d be curious to know which Iran experts are insisting Ahmadinejad is running the show.

  4. Curzon says:

    AA, when confronted by Western leaders, ISI and other Pakistani figures are blaming RAW (corrected).

    Ahmadinejad is of course not THE only person in power in Iran, but he is the most visible figure and a major figure. The president is one of three major power centers in the Iranian executive hierarchy, and he plays a major role in setting the tone of foreign relations.

  5. Armchair Analyst says:

    The notion that RAW would support the Taliban is laughable. India supports the Northern Alliance, ANP, and maybe, just maybe some Baluch groups (though I suspect that is mostly smoke from the ISI). Its about time for us to tell the ISI to cut the crap and change its tune or they can kiss their F-16′s goodbye…