Washington Begins to Rethink the US Role in the Gulf

On top of the Iraq conflict and the war on terror, the Pentagon has had its hands full with preparing the biggest navy and air force exercise the United States has ever staged in the Persian Gulf. Initial thoughts of co-opting America’s regional allies like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman – and even token Iraqi units – were dropped after the big Iranian maneuver last month.

The Islamic Republic then exhibited a whole array of spanking new weaponry – a submarine, naval missiles and drones, as well as a demonstration of Revolutionary Guards fighting power and their ability to strike at Persian Gulf oil shipping in the Persian Gulf and block the Straits of Hormuz, through which 60 percent of the world’s oil traffic passes.

After the Islamic Republic’s brash display of might, the Bush administration is reported by DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources as having decided it was vital to reply with a firm, resolute rejoinder in four main spheres:

1. By going it alone – and deploying 7 times as much stringth as the Iranians – the United States navy, air force and marines would show Tehran that, even though heavily committed militarily in Iraq and other trouble spots around the world, American might is still able to outface Iran.

2. To demonstrate as its main objective that the United States was willing and able to defend the Hormuz Strait against attack and keep it open to the world’s oil shipping – should Iran follow through on the threat implicit in its war game.

3. To display the novel weapons systems wielded by navy and air units taking part in the exercise and showing up Iran’s hardware as either inferior or redundant.

4. To combat the Iranian propaganda boasts taking hold in Iraq and the Gulf that America’s unchallenged sway in the region is history.

This line of psychological warfare emanating from Tehran is unrelenting.

Wednesday, May 3, Iran’s interior minister Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi said:

“The Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman are the hunting ground for the armed forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran. If any [foreign] force with any military might tries to maneuver in this region, it will not be out of range of our armed forces and weaponry.”

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards war-games in the Persian Gulf in April were said to have served as a warning to the US and Israel – “The Persian Gulf is no longer a safe place for our enemies.”

Pour-Mohammadi went on to say: “Our enemies cannot tolerate this situation. Less than three years into the occupation of Iraq, not only has the Iraqi nation rejected them, but has also said that they will choose a political model of the [US.’s] enemy. They have chosen the same path that the Iranian people have gone down.”

However, Washington’s decision to demonstrate resolve against the Iranian bluster has begun to falter in the light of of three fresh developments.


One: A US ultimatum to Iraqi politicians to deliver


On Wednesday, May 4, defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he expects recommendations from US commanders in Iraq on possible troop cuts some time after Iraq has a government, whose formation is expected in the space of weeks.

Addressing reporters with secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, after briefing US lawmakers on Iraq, Rumsfeld said he expected the 133,000-strong American army in Iraq to be reduced, but did not specify numbers of dates.

The two senior officials visited Baghdad together last week and met with the Shiite prime minister designate Jawad al-Maliki, as well as the US commander in Iraq Gen. George Casey and US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad.

The Rumsfeld statement was the first giveaway of the content of the discussion he and Rice held in the Iraqi capital.

According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in Washington and Baghdad, what they did essentially was to post Iraq’s political leaders with an ultimatum: their failure to establish a stable government without delay will result in the immediate withdrawal of US troops from Iraq – or, in other words, America was preparing to wash its hands of Iraq unless a government was dished up on the double – a threat Washington had never before laid on the table.


Two: Tehran holds the key


The ultimatum was partly effective.

Iraqi parties got together to designate al-Maliki as their agreed prime minister and agreed that professionals would fill the disputed posts of defense and interior ministers in the new government, rather than party or sectarian representatives.

But that’s as far as they went. The process has stalled again at this point as we write these lines.

Rumsfeld made a point of informing al-Maliki that he had 30 days to build a cabinet, and the counting had started on April 22. This told the Iraqi leader that the American ultimatum was still in force and the clock ticking away.

The only trouble about this is that President George W. Bush, as well as Rumsfeld, Rice and al-Maliki know that the key to a stable government rising in Baghdad rests in the hands of the theocrats next door in Tehran. Iran’s grip on Iraq’s political machinery is so powerful that it gives the ayatollahs the final word on whether or not the designated prime minister succeeds.

By the same token, Tehran also holds the key to the fate of Washington’s ultimatum. By preventing the formation of a government in Baghdad, Iran has the power to precipitate the partial exit of American forces from Iraq.


Three: Powerful arguments for the US to disengage from the Gulf


Influential voices are being raised in Washington urging a reassessment of the need for an American presence in the Persian Gulf region.

They come from experts on US-Iranian relations – some of them members of the National Security Council and others employed in various think tanks.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Washington sources encapsulate their arguments in the following questions?

What is the point of America sinking enormous economic and military resources in defending the Persian Gulf when most of the region’s oil exports are destined for industrialized China, Japan and India, the United States’ leading trade and industrial competitors?

Where is the sense in America committing a vast investment to the Gulf, when it thereby saps its own strength and vitalizes its rivals?

When Iran threatens to bottle up the Strait of Hormuz, why should the American navy and air forces be responsible for keeping it open? Responsibility for keeping this oil route free and open should rest with the Chinese, Japanese and Indian navies, whose economies would be mortally affected by a blockade.

Our American sources report that this line of argument is gaining ground in many of the US capital’s decision-making circles.

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