It seems as though many folks have concluded that last week’s incursion by Iranian forces into Iraq, and onto an old oil well, was a minor, meaingless story.
A popular, benign, interpretation is that it was just a few, rogue Iranian forces foolishly hoisting a flag onto a well that wasn’t pumping oil, with absolutely no consequence whatsoever.
Not so say the independent geopolitics analysts at Stratfor.
Multiple sources have reported that Tehran ordered the incident. The Iranian government is aware that Washington has said the end of 2009 was to be the deadline for taking action against Iran over its nuclear program — and that according to a White House source, the United States could extend that deadline to Jan. 15, 2010.
That postponement makes an important point. The United States has treated the Iran crisis as something that will be handled on an American timeline. The way that the Obama administration handled the Afghanistan strategy review suggests it assumes that Washington controls the tempo of events sufficiently that it can make decisions carefully, deliberately and with due reflection. If true, that would mean that adversaries like Iran are purely on the defensive, and either have no counter to American moves or cannot counter the United States until after Washington makes its next move.
For Iran, just to accept that premise puts it at an obvious disadvantage. First, Tehran would have to demonstrate that the tempo of events is not simply in American or Israeli hands. Second, Tehran would have to remind the United States and Israel that Iran has options that it might use regardless of whether the United States chooses sanctions or war. Most important, Iran must show that whatever these options are, they can occur before the United States acts — that Iran has axes of its own, and may not wait for the U.S. axe to fall.
The incursion was shaped to make this point without forcing the United States into precipitous action. The location was politically ambiguous. The force was small. Casualties were avoided. At the same time, it was an action that snapped a lot of people to attention. Oil prices climbed. Baghdad and Washington scrambled to try to figure what was going on, and for a while Washington was clearly at a loss, driving home the fact that the United States doesn’t always respond quickly and efficiently to surprises initiated by the other side.
Between this incident and the mounting concerns over Greece (et. al.) it’s obvious that the conventional wisdom is that the dominant concerns of 2010 will involve sovereign risk and geopolitical risk.
Commercial real estate? That’s so autumn 2009.
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