Wednesday, July 29, 2015

How America ReStructured the Balance of Power in the Middle East. Hint - Neither Israel nor Saudi Arabia Came Out on Top

It was a strategic defeat when Washington failed to impose a "secular" government on Iraq and, instead, had to back off and watch a government representative of Iraq's long marginalized and brutally suppressed majority, the Shia, ascend to power with its public support. If Bush/Cheney didn't capitulate they were in for two endless unconventional wars - one with the Sunni army who were sent packing off home with the toppling of Saddam's government, the other with the Shiite militias. And so Nouri al Maliki came to power to run roughshod over a country that has never demonstrated itself capable of functioning as a state except at gunpoint.

Here's the thing. The Iraqis have never said they want to be Iraqi. They weren't Iraqis until Britain and France shook hands and drew some lines carving up what, until the end of WWI, had been Ottoman Empire territory. Voila, instant Iraq! It's probably fair to say the Iraqi people were simply living, breathing spoils of war. Without any voice in the matter they, Kurd/Sunni/Shiite were much akin to captives.

When Saddam was toppled, the Americans never consulted Iraq's ethnic constituencies to discover what they wanted. Judging by what has happened ever since that might have been a priceless lost opportunity.

The Kurds were upfront. They wanted an autonomous Kurdish state from Kirkuk to the Turkish border. They even had a constitution for such an independent state drawn up with the help of US foreign service staffer, Peter Galbraith, son on John Kenneth..

It's quite likely that Iraq's Sunni population would have been content with their own state nestled between the Kurds to the north and the Shia to the south and abutting Syria. That would have given them control of the as yet not well explored oilfields in the central area.

The Shia would have their own theocratic enclave in the south including Baghdad and the oilfields that generate most of Iraq's current wealth. They would have also had the backing of neighbouring Iran to guarantee they would never again succumb to Sunni domination.

I'm drawn back to Galbraith's observations in his 2008 book, "How Iraq Ends"

For the most part, Iraq's leaders are not personally stubborn or uncooperative. They find it impossible to reach agreement on the benchmarks because their constituents don't agree on any common vision for Iraq. The Shi'ites voted twice in 2005 for parties that seek to define Iraq as a Shi'ite state. By their boycotts and votes, the Sunni Arabs have almost unanimously rejected the Shi'ite vision of Iraq's future, including the new constitution. The Kurds envisage an Iraq that does not include them. In the 2005 parliamentary elections, 99% of them voted for Kurdish nationalist parties, and in the January 2005 referendum, 98% voted for an independent Kurdistan.

America's war in Iraq is lost. Of course, neither President Bush nor the war's intellectual architects are prepared to admit this. Nonetheless, the specter of defeat shapes their thinking in telling ways.

The case for the war is no longer defined by the benefits of winning - a stable Iraq, democracy on the march in the Middle East, the collapse of the evil Iranian and Syrian regimes - but by the consequences of defeat. As Bush put it, "The consequences of failure in Iraq would be death and destruction in the Middle East and here in America."

...Iraq after a US defeat will look very much like Iraq today - a land divided along ethnic lines into Arab and Kurdish states with a civil war being fought within its Arab part. Defeat is defined by America's failure to accomplish its objective of a self-sustaining, democratic and unified Iraq. And that failure has already taken place, along with the increase of Iranian power in the region.

The Americans will never deign to admit it but their defeat in Iraq has led to a curious rapprochement between Washington and Tehran as the once low-grade civil war between Shiite and Sunni Iraqis metastasized into today's war with ISIS.

Despite the best efforts of the United States, Iran is now the co-dominant power in the Middle East. And rising. (Washington remains the other half of that "co.")

Another quick plunge into largely forgotten history: the U.S. stumbled into the post-9/11 era with two invasions that neatly eliminated Iran's key enemies on its eastern and western borders - Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan. (The former is, of course, gone for good; the latter is doing better these days, though unlikely to threaten Iran for some time.) As those wars bled on without the promised victories, America's military weariness sapped the desire in the Bush administration for military strikes against Iran. Jump almost a decade ahead and Washington now quietly supports at least some of that country's military efforts in Iraq against the insurgent Islamic State. The Obama administration is seemingly at least half-resigned to looking the other way while Tehran ensures that it will have a puppet regime in Baghdad. In its serially failing strategies in Yemen, Lebanon, and Syria, Washington has all but begged the Iranians to assume a leading role in those places. They have.

And that only scratches the surface of the new Iranian ascendancy in the region. Despite the damage done by U.S.-led economic sanctions, Iran's real strength lies at home. It is probably the most stable Muslim nation in the Middle East. It has existed more or less within its current borders for thousands of years. It is almost completely ethnically, religiously, culturally, and linguistically homogeneous, with its minorities comparatively under control. While still governed in large part by its clerics, the country has nonetheless experienced a series of increasingly democratic electoral transitions since the 1979 revolution. Most significantly, unlike nearly every other nation in the Middle East, Iran's leaders do not rule in fear of an Islamic revolution. They already had one.

For all the bluster of America's Republicans, the nuclear deal with Iran could remove the last hurdle to the country's emergence as the powerhouse of the Middle East.

While diplomacy brought the United States and Iran to this point, cash is what will expand and sustain the relationship.

Iran, with the fourth-largest proven crude oil reserves and the second-largest natural gas reserves on the planet, is ready to start selling on world markets as soon as sanctions lift. Its young people reportedly yearn for greater engagement with the West. The lifting of sanctions will allow Iranian businesses access to global capital and outside businesses access to starved Iranian commercial markets.

Since November 2014, the Chinese, for example, have already doubled their investment in Iran. European companies, including Shell and Peugeot, are now holding talks with Iranian officials. Apple is contacting Iranian distributors. Germany sent a trade delegation to Tehran. Ads for European cars and luxury goods are starting to reappear in the Iranian capital. Hundreds of billions of dollars worth of foreign technology and expertise will need to be acquired if the country is to update its frayed oil and natural gas infrastructure. Many of its airliners are decades old and need replacement. Airlines in Dubai are fast adding new Iran routes to meet growing demand. The money will flow. After that, it will be very hard for the war hawks in Washington, Tel Aviv, or Riyadh to put the toothpaste back in the tube, which is why you hear such screaming and grinding of teeth now.

..No, what fundamentally worries the Israelis and the Saudis is that Iran will rejoin the community of nations as a diplomatic and trading partner of the United States, Asia, and Europe. Embarking on a diplomatic offensive in the wake of its nuclear deal, Iranian officials assured fellow Muslim countries in the region that they hoped the accord would pave the way for greater cooperation. American policy in the Persian Gulf, once reliably focused only on its own security and energy needs, may (finally) start to line up with an increasingly multifaceted Eurasian reality. A powerful Iran is indeed a threat to the status quo - hence the upset in Tel Aviv and Riyadh - just not a military one. Real power in the twenty-first century, short of total war, rests with money.

The July accord acknowledges the real-world power map of the Middle East. It does not make Iran and the United States friends. It does, however, open the door for the two biggest regional players to talk to each other and develop the kinds of financial and trade ties that will make conflict more impractical. After more than three decades of U.S.-Iranian hostility in the world's most volatile region, that is no small accomplishment.

And, so, America's defeat in Iraq was not a total loss for it became, quite unintentionally, the ice-breaker between Washington and Tehran.  As for Iraq, it will eventually have to sort itself out - probably through partition.  With Iran acting as defender of the Shiite south and America as guarantor of Kurdish independence, a new Sunni state expanding westward into Syria seems inevitable.

The Balance of Power  (TruthOut).


Toby said...

I don't think the Americans failed to restructure Iraq; they never intended to. Chaos was the intent. Essentially, mission accomplished.

We will probably see more of this sort of bullying because the disaster capitalists make a lot of money from chaos.

Anonymous said...

Anyong said.....The same old, same old. Techniques from the dark ages. This happens to be the 21st Century and these people are thinking as they are living in 1955.