Tehran can sit back and watch its tormentors sweat. But the US and Britain must start from diplomatic ground zero
Wednesday November 15, 2006
"I remember asking a western intelligence officer in Baghdad, six months after the American invasion, what he would advise the Iranians to do. "Wait," he said with a smile. Iran has done just that. If I were Tehran I would still wait. I would sit back, fold my arms and watch my tormentors sweat. I would watch the panic in Washington and London as body bags pile up, generals mutter mutiny, alliances fall apart and electors cut and run.
As we approach the beginning of the end in Iraq there will be much throat-clearing and breast-beating before reality replaces denial. For the moment, denial still rules. In America last week I was shocked at how unaware even anti-war Americans are (like many Britons) of the depth of the predicament in Iraq. They compare it with Vietnam or the Balkans - but it is not the same. It is total anarchy. All sentences beginning, "What we should now do in Iraq ... " are devoid of meaning. We are in no position to do anything. We have no potency; that is the definition of anarchy.
Next month's Baker/Hamilton inquiry - surely the strangest way an army has ever negotiated its own retreat - will call for a hastening of such "redeployment" away from centres of population to giant bases in the desert. They can stay there to save face as Iraq's factions and provinces reorder themselves messily in the towns and cities. Units can then slip quietly away to Qatar by the month.
Bush and Blair are men in a hurry, and such men lose wars. If there is a game plan in Tehran it will be to play Iraq long. Why stop the Great Satan when he is driving himself to hell in a handcart? If London and Washington really want help in this part of the world they must start from diplomatic ground zero. They will have to stop the holier-than-thou name-calling and the pretence that they hold any cards. They will have to realise that this war has lost them all leverage in the region. They can insult and sanction and threaten. But there is nothing left for them to "do" but leave. They are no longer the subject of that mighty verb, only its painful object."