This week George Friedman discusses Iran's strategic situation. Iran is attempting to assert itself as the dominant regional power, but is constrained to some degree by the United States, Russia, Turkey and the Sunni Gulf State's led by Saudi Arabia.
With the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, Iran has opportunities, but the deteriorating situation in Syria could still work against them. Friedman also wonders if their nuclear program isn't more like North Korea's -- that is the ongoing program is a threat enough without a deliverable warhead that might trigger a lot more robust response.
I tend to think Friedman overestimates Iran (although a nuclearized Iran is a very alarming thought). For example, early on he tended to undersell the dangers chaos in Syria presented to Iran, and particularly to her support of Hezbollah, her proxy in the Sunni world.
Beyond terrorism, and whatever inroads it can make into Shiite Iraq (which is potentially a two-edged sword as ideas leak across its borders as well), because of logistics shortcomings, Iran really can't project power easily. For that reason I think Iran is doing more than playing games with their nuclear program. I think they do want deliverable weapons.
Still, from our viewpoint Iran is a bad boy in the neighborhood. I've excerpted the beginning of Friedman's article below, and you can follow a link to the full article at the end of the excerpt.
For the article's Hot Stratfor Babe I turned to Iranian cinema and after my usual exhaustive search I decided that Mitra Hajjar deserved the award.
Ms. Hajjar is a well established and popular Iranian actress, having been in movies since 1998. Recently she spent time on the stage in Paris, and there is talk of her going to the U.S. to do movies, however her latest films (2012) are Iranian and in Farsi so that may have fallen through for her.
By George Friedman, April 10, 2012
For centuries, the dilemma facing Iran (and before it, Persia) has been guaranteeing national survival and autonomy in the face of stronger regional powers like Ottoman Turkey and the Russian Empire. Though always weaker than these larger empires, Iran survived for three reasons: geography, resources and diplomacy. Iran's size and mountainous terrain made military forays into the country difficult and dangerous. Iran also was able to field sufficient force to deter attacks while permitting occasional assertions of power. At the same time, Tehran engaged in clever diplomatic efforts, playing threatening powers off each other.
The intrusion of European imperial powers into the region compounded Iran's difficulties in the 19th century, along with the lodging of British power to Iran's west in Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula following the end of World War I. This coincided with a transformation of the global economy to an oil-based system. Then as now, the region was a major source of global oil. Where the British once had interests in the region, the emergence of oil as the foundation of industrial and military power made these interests urgent. Following World War II, the Americans and the Soviets became the outside powers with the ability and desire to influence the region, but Tehran's basic strategic reality persisted. Iran faced both regional and global threats that it had to deflect or align with. And because of oil, the global power could not lose interest while the regional powers did not have the option of losing interest.
Whether ruled by shah or ayatollah, Iran's strategy remained the same: deter by geography, protect with defensive forces, and engage in complex diplomatic maneuvers. But underneath this reality, another vision of Iran's role always lurked.
Iran as Regional Power
A vision of Iran -- a country with an essentially defensive posture -- as a regional power remained. The shah competed with Saudi Arabia over Oman and dreamed of nuclear weapons. Ahmadinejad duels with Saudi Arabia over Bahrain, and also dreams of nuclear weapons. When we look beyond the rhetoric -- something we always should do when studying foreign policy, since the rhetoric is intended to intimidate, seduce and confuse foreign powers and the public -- we see substantial continuity in Iran's strategy since World War II. Iran dreams of achieving regional dominance by breaking free from its constraints and the threats posed by nearby powers.
Since World War II, Iran has had to deal with regional dangers like Iraq, with which it fought a brutal war lasting nearly a decade and costing Iran about 1 million casualties. It also has had to deal with the United States, whose power ultimately defined patterns in the region. So long as the United States had an overriding interest in the region, Iran had no choice but to define its policies in terms of the United States. For the shah, that meant submitting to the United States while subtly trying to control American actions. For the Islamic republic, it meant opposing the United States while trying to manipulate it into taking actions in the interests of Iran. Both acted within the traditions of Iranian strategic subtlety.
The Islamic republic proved more successful than the shah. It conducted a sophisticated disinformation campaign prior to the 2003 Iraq war to convince the United States that invading Iraq would be militarily easy and that Iraqis would welcome the Americans with open arms. This fed the existing U.S. desire to invade Iraq, becoming one factor among many that made the invasion seem doable. In a second phase, the Iranians helped many factions in Iraq resist the Americans, turning the occupation -- and plans for reconstructing Iraq according to American blueprints -- into a nightmare. In a third and final phase, Iran used its influence in Iraq to divide and paralyze the country after the Americans withdrew.
As a result of this maneuvering, Iran achieved two goals. First, the Americans disposed of Iran's archenemy, Saddam Hussein, turning Iraq into a strategic cripple. Second, Iran helped force the United States out of Iraq, creating a vacuum in Iraq and undermining U.S. credibility in the region -- and sapping any U.S. appetite for further military adventures in the Middle East. I want to emphasize that all of this was not an Iranian plot: Many other factors contributed to this sequence of events. At the same time, Iranian maneuvering was no minor factor in the process; Iran skillfully exploited events that it helped shape.
There was a defensive point to this. Iran had seen the United States invade the countries surrounding it, Iraq to its west and Afghanistan to its east. It viewed the United States as extremely powerful and unpredictable to the point of irrationality, though also able to be manipulated. Tehran therefore could not dismiss the possibility that the United States would choose war with Iran. Expelling the United States from Iraq, however, limited American military options in the region.
This strategy also had an offensive dimension. The U.S. withdrawal from Iraq positioned Iran to fill the vacuum. Critically, the geopolitics of the region had created an opening for Iran probably for the first time in centuries. First, the collapse of the Soviet Union released pressure from the north. Coming on top of the Ottoman collapse after World War I, Iran now no longer faced a regional power that could challenge it. Second, with the drawdown of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan, the global power had limited military options and even more limited political options for acting against Iran.
Iran now had the opportunity to consider emerging as a regional power rather than solely pursuing complex maneuvers to protect Iranian autonomy and the regime. The Iranians understood that the moods of global powers shifted unpredictably, the United States more than most. Therefore it knew that the more aggressive it became, the more the United States may militarily commit itself to containing Iran. At the same time, the United States might do so even without Iranian action. Accordingly, Iran searched for a strategy that might solidify its regional influence while not triggering U.S. retaliation.
Anyone studying the United States understands its concern with nuclear weapons. Throughout the Cold War it lived in the shadow of a Soviet first strike. The Bush administration used the possibility of an Iraqi nuclear program to rally domestic support for the invasion. When the Soviets and the Chinese attained nuclear weapons, the American response bordered on panic. The United States simultaneously became more cautious in its approach to those countries
Read more: Iran's Strategy | Stratfor