The attempted coup in Venezuela looks like it might be the brainchild of Zalmay Khalilzad, now back in the American jihad driver’s seat. ZKh’s counterinsurgency thoughts in The Envoy about Iran fit the bill.

Stick with soft power

“Washington,” he writes boldly, “had a contradictory policy on Iran. It spoke loudly against Iran, and it refused to talk with Iranians.” He was frustrated as ambassador to Iraq 2004-7, alert to the instability that the US occupation had caused, the horrendous deaths from the defection to the rebels of fired Iraqi army soldiers/ officers.

The humiliated soldiers were pushed into the hands of the hastily founded Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) by the US after disbanding the Iraqi Army. There had been no al-Qaeda before the invasion. The US created it, whether by bungling (or to play the devil, Israeli-style).

Iran was willing to negotiate to help quell the chaos, and was spurned. It was the same during and after 9/11, when both Iran and Russia reached out to the US and offered full cooperation. Russia was fine, at least for the moment. (It was vital to get US forces through Russia to invade Afghanistan, and bases in the ex-Soviet ‘stans’.)

But, again, Iran’s (very valuable) offer of help was snubbed. One thing ZKh is not, is stupid. He knows his life in Iraq and the future of Iraq would have been far better with Iran’s cooperation. Ditto Afghanistan. He kept asking in both places and was ignored. Good for you, Zal.

In Iraq, Iran wielded/ wields much more power than the US ever will, whether or not the US makes friends. But ZKh also knows Iran is very very eager for an end to sanctions and normalization of relations.

The US embassy in Tehran lies empty apart from some fabulous anti-imperialist murals. Rather than it remaining as a museum of the revolution, the US has a win-win: get its embassy back, and close a pilgrimage site honouring the Iranian revolution. Its return to the embassy would be welcomed by almost all.

Talks would offer the prospect of influencing Iran, as opposed to now, when the US forces Iran to dig in its heels in the face of Venezuela-coup-style economic war, complete with MEK taking the role of the coup-makers in Caracas.

In 2006, ZKh writes,

I repeatedly asked for the authority to engage the Iranians in Iraq, just as I had done with Iranian officials while in Afghanistan. They ignored my requests. I raised the issue with President Bush at an NSC meeting. He authorized me to engage the Iranians.

[SCIRI leader] Hakim then traveled to Iran and met with Ayatollah Khamenei. He convinced the ayatollah that a dialogue between the US and Iran was in the interest of Iraq, Iraqi Shia, and Iran itself. Khamenei wanted to talk about all the issues dividing the US and Iran. … For reasons unclear to me, Washington did an about-face.

Khamenei was needlessly insulted and concluded the US could not be trusted. ZKh was not amused. So he took things into his own hands, Afghan-style:

General Casey and I decided to target Iranian Quds Force officers when they traveled to Iraq.

They  arrested one at Hakim’s residence and took him in for interrogation. Hakim was furious, but ZKh told Hakim he was a powerful political leader.

You are no longer an opposition leader in need of Iranian support for your existence and for your political survival in the face of Saddam’s brutality...Since the Iranians were here on diplomatic business, you must have a diplomatic note.

Yes, massah.

When he criticized the Iraqi president Talabani for meeting at the border with al-Quds Commander Suleimani himself, Talabani explained that Soleimani did not want to come to Baghdad because he was afraid that he might be arrested.

But the US bully had made his point. ZKh writes,

I am convinced that if we had combined diplomatic engagement with forcible actions we could have shaped Iran’s meddling decisively. If we were not going to engage the Iranians, I felt that we should have used other means, including force, to thwart their strategy.

Sounds grim, but ZKh just gave the Iranians a slap. Schoolyard bullies don’t usually kill.

First stop Venezuela

Our Afghan Dr Strangelove is a Great Game chess player. He knows how to get to the dimwit president. I can see him with Trump and Pompeo, talking about using force. “Hey, why don’t we get our man in Caracas, what’s his name, Guaido to declare he’s the real president, and we’ll get Canada and the gang to recognize him.

“We’ll make sure there’s a big popular demo. Remember Cairo in 2013? That will scare the bejesus out of Maduro. Maybe he’ll wimp out like Yanukovych in Kiev, and, oh yah, Milosevic in Belgrade. It’s a win:win. Guaido gets a free pass to take over, or we just keep up the pressure til Maduro is, by chance, assassinated. Keep our hands clean.”

Nex stop?

My reading of The Envoy suggests to me that Mr Chameleon won’t changed his colour on Iran. His 2008 UN sanctions are now even tighter. Bolton and Israel would love an invasion but ZKh knows it won’t work. Maybe he got the ear of Trump, who is also a chameleon, and on impulse, decided to put the Afghan wunderkind once again at the heart of the empire.

The bluster by Bolton and Pompeo about MEK overthrowing the Iranian government is just schoolyard name-calling. Maybe even ZKh’s idea. It’s to scare Iran and get it to give up aiding Hezbollah and Gaza, keep out of Iraq. Trump is reckless and loves gambling.

It ain’t gonna happen. But Iran is helpless until Trump reinstates the nuclear deal and ends sanctions. Just like the crisis over the US budget. Trump in the wrong on both counts. Is there another corner Trump can back himself into? Can he admit he’s wrong?

2019 marks the 40th anniversary of the revolution. Ahh. So easy and beautiful, it was in 1979. Then 40 years of war, subversion and isolation. For Iran, 2019 is the equivalent of the Soviet Union in 1957, which is when the Russian revolution really blossomed, once the US had got used to it.

How ironic, even though the Russians, the communists, were the Cold War enemy, they still had it easier than Islamic Iran has then and now. True, the Soviet Union had nukes. The US just assumes that Iran wants them too. Bully think.

But they’ve survived four decades without them and made it clear they’re not interested in nukes. What more does Trump want? Why do Trump and Zal fear Islam so much?

That just makes me think you may be on to something, Zal. You look kind of evil, so it’s a bit like I should be holding a Quran to ward you off.

Happy anniversary, Iran.

Postscript: For what it’s worth ZKh was not a fan of executing Saddam Hussein (or maybe he was?). He told Maliki It’s your decision.’ i.e., pass on any blame and create more chaos.

The hanging took place amid macabre jeering by Iraqi security personnel, who appeared to be Sadrists. It was all captured on a handheld video recording. The graphic nature of the sectarian scene reverberated throughout the Muslim world. Casey and I made sure to show requisite respect by transporting Saddam’s body on a US helicopter to Saddam’s relatives in Tikrit.

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Canadian Eric Walberg is known worldwide as a journalist specializing in the Middle East, Central Asia and Russia. A graduate of University of Toronto and Cambridge in economics, he has been writing on East-West relations since the 1980s.

He has lived in both the Soviet Union and Russia, and then Uzbekistan, as a UN adviser, writer, translator and lecturer. Presently a writer for the foremost Cairo newspaper, Al Ahram, he is also a regular contributor to Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, Global Research, Al-Jazeerah and Turkish Weekly, and is a commentator on Voice of the Cape radio.

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