The Least, First

Monte Asbury's blog

A brief history of Iran-US relations, part 3: Understanding US withdrawal from Iraq

with 8 comments

Cole Juan with captionOn February 27, my wife Lori and I were privileged to hear Juan Cole, the University of Michigan’s distinguished expert on Middle Eastern affairs, at a luncheon of the Iowa City Foreign Relations Council. It occurred to me that notes from Prof. Cole’s brief lecture, with a few supporting resources, could provide a valuable structure for understanding the back-stories that make today’s crises add up.

Part 1 of this thread sketched Prof. Cole’s list of the foundational events of Iran-US relations during the 20th century. Part 2 outlined the rise of Ahmedinejad, Iranian weapons in Iraq, and Iran’s nuclear ambitions. This Part 3 is his response to audience questions.

By all means, check out his Informed Comment: Thoughts on the Middle East, History, and Religion for reflection on news events as they happen.

* * *

ENORMOUS CHANGES IN THE OIL INDUSTRY: OPEC, which began in an era of oil-engendered prosperity, now faces the eventual end of its oil supplies. “We are now playing a game of musical chairs. The Washington power elite looked at the Gulf and said, ‘We could be the ones without a chair at the end.’ One thing you can do – take out a pistol… wave the other players into a corner, and sit on all the chairs you want.”

“WE ARE NOT NEUTRAL” Here Cole described the Coalition invasion of Iraq as a crushing of Sunni authority. “We made an ethnic revolution. What if Eisenhower had done to the whites in Johannesburg [in the apartheid years] what Bush did to the Sunnis? Sunnis were the Harvard MBAs. [Now:] ‘We’re going to be the janitors?’ [The purpose of] the surge is to crush them further…. ”

“The [current] Iraqi government largely won’t talk to them. Our troops are being used by Shi’ites to help crush Sunnis. We are not neutral. But we haven’t crushed them. I don’t think there is any likelihood [that we will]. [Meanwhile,] the Shi’ites refuse to compromise knowing that the Marines will take care of it. …The closest friends of the Bush Administration are also the ones tightest with Iran.”


1. A “negotiated” retreat: “We won’t be there much longer [the American public won’t stand for it], but we really need to pay attention to getting out the right way. [The right way] is not like the Israelis left Gaza, failing to negotiate a structure of security. We need a negotiated retreat that leaves structures that have a hope of negotiating with the Sunnis. If the civil war [continues, Americans might] expect $20 a gallon gasoline – we’re on the unemployment line.”

2. Get regional help: “We could get Iran’s help with the Shi’ites, and could get the Saudis to pressure the Sunnis.”

3. New elections: [We need to encourage the election] “of Sunnis, even if they are ‘dirty’ [from association with the past regime], to get lines of communication opened [between the government and] the guerrilla groups.”

Related posts:

A brief history of Iran-US relations, part 1: Constitution to Khatami
A brief history of Iran-US relations, part 2: Ahmedinejad, nukes, and weapons
Take Care of Our Children
America’s most decorated Marine speaks against war
Religious Leaders to Iran
Iran, the weapons, and how the US gets into wars
Think Muslims support terror? Check this out.
Time to pay up
A President on criticizing the President

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Written by Monte

March 23, 2007 at 9:19 pm

Posted in Iran, Iraq, Politics, Terrorism

8 Responses

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  1. This may help a little too:


    March 24, 2007 at 12:26 pm

  2. Hi Monte, there is a comment on my post that I thhink is shedding some light on the nature of this Sunni-Shiite rift.

    Arab nations have for long suppressed their shiite minorities. Shiism started as a form of dissidence against post-Mohammad version of Islam, that according to shiites, was diverging from Mohammad’s ways and falling back onto Omayedian trends.

    In Iran, the shiism is considered to be Persians national resistance to Arab influence. (keep in mind that Persia was not conquered during teh life of Mohammad, but during the second Khalif, Omar). And Iran is the stronghold of shiism, thanks to Safavid dynasty that declared it the national religion. Nevertheless, Iraq is the mecca of shiites. Next week, PBS will air a program about devout Iranian shiite who make the pilgrimage to holy shiite sites in Iraq, in spite of the dangers of the civil war.

    So the war between Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq goes a few centuries back. But more contemporarily, the shiites of Iraq have been the underdogs during Saddam (and even before). Many of these people (of Iranian origin) were expelled from Iraq a few decades back. The current civil war, to a large extent, is account settling! And this is exacerbated by America’s support of Shiites, who were instrumental in defeating Saddam, but who also had CLOSE ties with Iran! and this if fueling a lot of Arab sentiments against Iran, as they hold Iran responsible for overthrowing of the Ba’th party!

    The Ba’th party and Iranians were sworn enemies, as evidenced by 8 years of bloody war between them.


    March 24, 2007 at 12:14 pm

  3. Naj – help me understand something here. It looks from here that the civil war and the Sunni-Shiite rift are almost the same thing. I think you’re suggesting they’re not. I’d welcome your insights.


    March 24, 2007 at 11:22 am

  4. Thanks, Ann! I envy your bright, cheerful, and effective style – and have learned much from you!


    March 24, 2007 at 11:23 am

  5. Oil’s ending; Gas’s shooting up! I have a fresh post about it and about what’s America’s notion of “solution”:

    This whole Sunni-Shiite rift is an American fabrication, intent on capitalizing on parochialism in an atmoshphre confused by CIVIL WAR!


    March 24, 2007 at 9:58 am

  6. A terrific series from your notes on this lecture, thanks very much for sharing


    March 24, 2007 at 8:43 am

  7. Today I came across the following:
    A very disturbing article about Iraq.


    March 24, 2007 at 4:18 am

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