Iraq was the frontline state against Iran under Saddam Hussein, who became the hero of the Arab world during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War. But he brought disaster on himself when he invaded his ally Kuwait in 1990.
The two countries with the strongest military potentials in the Persian Gulf region are Iran and Iraq. Washington needs a friendly regime in either Tehran or Baghdad. Whatever the proximate cause cited for the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the real strategic objective was to replace Saddam with a new government with which the US could cooperate against Iran.
First of all, as long as they were keeping each other in check, who cares if they both are hostile to us, as well?
Second of all, as far as that strategic objective was concerned, we had already demonstrated our tremendous military superiority, and had those countries intimidated. Saddam was not going to push us too far, and Iran saw what had happened to Iraq.
So, Bush throws both of those cards away, and draws to a quagmire.
Not to mention which, it's the Saudi Wahhabi elites that are radicalizing the Sunni Islamic world, which is far bigger than the Shia world; it's the Saudi Wahhabi-inspired Sunnis who hit us on 9/11.
But, Bush will not double-cross his friends in Riyadh... will he?
The objective needs to be, and should have been all along, to deal with Saudi Arabia. Do that, and Iran will have less need to be belligerent, and will in any case have greater reason to think twice about starting trouble.
As it is now, Iran is spoiling for a fight that they know we can't finish, as tied up in Iraq as we are, and with unfinished business in Afghanistan, and Al Qaeda in Pakistan.
But Iraq is still in turmoil, with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Shi'ite-dominated government in crisis. American commanders have made considerable progress in winning the respect of Sunni tribal leaders and turning them against al-Qaeda. But a key part of this improved relationship is a pledge to protect the Sunnis from genocidal attacks by radical Shi'ite death squads and Iranian-backed militias.
Without trying to take anything away from the efforts of our military commanders and our troops, I think if you look into things some, you will discover that al-Qaeda made considerable progress in turning Sunni tribal leaders away from al-Qaeda, too. Heh.
Recent attacks on Maliki by US senators, including presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton, have again raised the question of whether the prime minister is an Iraqi nationalist serious about leading a national-unity government or merely a Shi'ite partisan. Though born and educated in Iraq, Maliki went into exile in Iran and Syria during Saddam's crackdown after the 1991 Gulf War. He was deputy leader of the De-Ba'athification Commission in the post-invasion interim government, which many charge became a witchhunt against Sunnis.
On August 22, Maliki lashed out at his American critics on his return from a three-day trip to Syria, saying, "We will pay no attention. We care for our people and our constitution and can find friends elsewhere." The danger is that he only defines his "people" as Shi'ites, and "elsewhere" is Iran.
Saddam was a brutal dictator, etc., etc., but at least he was a counterweight to Iranian influence, without being a Saudi puppet.
Now we have another guy, who is already alleged to be oppressing Iraqis (the Sunnis this time), only who, at the drop of a hat, will align himself with Iran.
Bought and paid for with US money and US and Allied lives, no less!
On August 9, the Christian Science Monitor headlined a story on how Shi'ite-controlled media in Iraq have been trying to "shift attention from Iran to its Sunni neighbors" by running stories hostile to Saudi Arabia for is support of the Sunni insurgency in Iraq.
As British prime minister Henry Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston famously explained foreign policy in 1848, "We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow."
The US sympathized with the Iraqi Shi'ites when they were being oppressed by a hostile Saddam Hussein, but continuing to support them if they fall under hostile Iranian influence does not coincide with America's "perpetual" interests.
US forces are again engaged, as they have been during several prior phases of the Iraq campaign, in beating down the pro-Iranian Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr, who also heads a powerful Shi'ite bloc in Iraq's legislative assembly. It is not clear who will win the power struggle within the Shi'ite majority in Iraq, so it is only prudent to strengthen the next line of defense, either to support a unified Iraq or to sustain anti-Iranian forces in a fragmented Iraq.
As long as we're talking Realpolitik, I have an idea....
How's about let the Saudi Wahhabis and the Iranian Shiites battle it out, and then, if need be, we go in and stomp the winner?
Saudi Arabia and the smaller Gulf states do not have the manpower to combat Iran, so they need superior weapons that are interoperable with those of the United States. Cooperation in the areas of missile defense, maritime patrol, counter-terrorism and energy security is moving ahead with US-led joint exercises. American trainers, advisers and support personnel will also have to accompany the new weapons systems.
The Saudis et al. don't have the numbers to fight Iran.... well, Saudi jihadis sure seem to cause us enough trouble in Iraq!
Why is it these guys only know how to fight when they're on the wrong side?
Though a minority in Iraq, the Sunnis are a majority in the Muslim world. In addition to providing material and diplomatic support for what is called by the State Department the "six plus two coalition" (the GCC plus Egypt and Jordan), a tilt toward the Sunnis would also help Turkey, whose governing Justice and Development Party has caused concerns about the possible future orientation of the country towards Islam. But the Turks have long been at odds with the minority Alawi sect of Shi'ites that rules Syria, whose people are majority Sunni.
I wonder if helping Turkey is such a good idea....
At least the American Turkish Council should be happy, and, after all, they pay our bribes!
There is congressional opposition to the Saudi-GCC weapons deal. On August 2, 114 members of the US House of Representatives (96 Democrats, 18 Republicans) rushed a letter to President Bush declaring their intention to vote against any sale of advanced weapons to Saudi Arabia.
Finally, somebody with a clue!
The letter was organized by New York Democratic Congressmen Anthony Weiner and Jerrold Nadler, who staged a protest outside the Saudi Consulate in New York on July 29. The argument in the letter was similar to that made by Shi'ite leaders in Iraq, that Saudi Arabia had been uncooperative in the "war on terror".
"Saudi Arabia had been uncooperative in the 'war on terror'."
Now, that's got to be the understatement of the year!
What the letter really represented was recognition by those in the anti-war movement that there is, indeed, a regional conflict beyond Iraq, and they do not want the United States engaged in any of it. Weiner and Nadler have been in the forefront of the "cut and run" caucus on Iraq. Those who signed their letter don't just want out of Iraq, they want to withdraw completely from everywhere "east of Suez".
Maybe they don't have such a clue after all.
For Congress to block the arms sales would undermine what trust there is between Washington and the Sunni world. It would also fuel the propaganda of both al-Qaeda and Tehran that alleges the US is at war with all of Islam, when in fact US security interests are in line with those of a majority of Muslims regarding the rising threat from the Iranian regime.
Trust between Washington and the Sunni world?
Try collaboration between Bush and the Saudis.
It is very unlikely that congressional opponents of the arms sales can muster the veto-proof majorities in both houses needed to block the deal. So whatever resolutions and statements may come out of Congress on withdrawals or redeployments from Iraq, the larger regional conflict will continue to build, and the United States will continue to be in the thick of it.
Even if Congress does muster a veto-proof majority, I suspect King George will just find a way to do his arms deal anyway.
Thanks to Asia Times Online, the international dateline, and Bush's policy of rendering all possible aid and assistance to so many de facto enemies, it can truly be said that
Tomorrow Never Dies!