By Mike Whitney
“If the United States continues to be bogged down in a protracted, bloody involvement in Iraq , the final destination on this downhill track is likely to be a head-on conflict with Iran and with much of the world of Islam at large.” – Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security advisor to President Jimmy Carter
No one has done more to expand Iran’s power in the region than George Bush. He routed the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001 and then toppled Saddam and the Ba’athist Party in 2003. Both of these were the traditional enemies of the Islamic Republic. Now Bush has installed Iranian-backed warlords in the Green Zone and delivered the country to the Shiites.
Was that what Bush had intended; to expand Iranian power and influence throughout the Middle East? Or is it merely the unintended consequence of a deeply flawed policy that is destabilizing the region and irreparably damaging American interests?
Iraq is not Vietnam. America cannot simply pick up and leave Iraq. By 2020 60% of the world’s remaining oil will come from the Middle East. The world’s 4 largest oil fields (including the massive Ghawar oil field in Saudi Arabia) are in a permanent state of decline. Unless the American people are prepared to abandon their SUVs on the side of the freeway and pedal to work on their bicycles, some accommodation must be reached in Iraq.
The war was unnecessary. Saddam was always willing to sell his oil on the open market and he even offered to make oil-leasing concessions to the American oil giants just before the war broke out. But there were other factors involved as well, including Israel’s aspirations for regional hegemony and the confused, revolutionary ideology of the neocons (“preemption”, “creative destruction”) which drove the country to war.
All the same, “we are where we are” and we need to understand why “staying the course” will push us deeper into the quicksand of defeat while conferring ever-greater power to Iran.
Bush’s new “security strategy” does nothing to promote American interests in Iraq; it benefits Iran alone. The “surge” is a tactic not a strategy. It does not consider the overall objectives of US involvement in Iraq, but continues to pursue the narrow aim of eliminating one enemy over another. This is hopelessly counterproductive and will end in disaster. By focusing all of his military resources on defeating the Sunni-led resistance, Bush has made a “devil’s bargain” with the Iranian-backed Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, the biggest gangster in all of Baghdad, who is instigating much of the sectarian violence. Al-Hakim spent 20 years in Iran prior to the fall of Saddam and is clearly allied to the Mullahs. His militia, the Badr Brigade, was trained by the Iranian Republican Guards (as well as the CIA) and is perhaps the most feared death squad in all of Iraq. Al-Hakim’s militia operates out of the Iraqi Interior Ministry and is deeply engaged in the purging of Sunnis from Baghdad.
What does Bush gain by defeating the Sunnis-led resistance but elevating the agents of Iran? How long will it be, after the last Sunni is driven out of Baghdad, before the Badr Brigade turns their guns on Bush and the American troops?
Bush is just substituting one adversary for another while exhausting his forces at the same time.
If we can understand what is meant by the “surge” then we can see why it is bound to fail and why it will further strengthen Iran’s power in Iraq.
The “surge” is not a plan for security as it is touted to be; that’s merely a public relations smokescreen. No one in their right mind believes that 21,500 troops are sufficient to provide security to a city of 6 million Iraqis. Rather, the surge is designed to drive the Sunnis from Baghdad so that the platforms of support for the Iraqi resistance will be effectively removed. (“Drain the swamp”) No one has shown a better grasp of what the “surge” really means than military analyst and historian, William Lind. In a recent article in counterpunch, Lind summarized the policy like this:
“The Americans will drive out the Sunni insurgents, leaving Sunni neighborhoods defenseless. As the American troops move on, they will be replaced by Iraqi soldiers and police, mostly Shiite militiamen, WHO WILL ETHNICALLY CLEANSE THE AREA OF SUNNIS …The Americans will have fulfilled their allotted function, fighting the Sunnis on behalf of the Shiites”. (William S. Lind “The Real Game in Iraq” counterpunch.org)
That’s it in a nutshell; the surge is ethnic cleansing.
Lind’s predictions are, in fact, taking place right now in the Haifa district as well as other Sunni-dominated neighborhoods throughout the capital. As A.K. Gupta reports in this month’s Z Magazine “At least 10 mixed neighborhoods in Baghdad have already been turned exclusively Shia at gunpoint.” (“Bush’s Iraq Strategy for 2007” AK Gupta, Z Magazine, Feb 2007)
The surge illustrates the Bush administration’s basic misunderstanding of the war in which we are engaged. Iraq is not the type of conflict where one can simply draw up a checklist and eliminate enemies one by one. All of the main groups are lined-up against the occupation; some are merely waiting for the US military to crush their traditional rivals before they act. (We saw this unfold in thee recent massacre outside of Najaf this week) Increasing the violence at this point only strengthens future adversaries and undermines the prospects for a political solution.
Lt. General WILLIAM E. ODOM clarified this point in a recent article, “Strategic Errors of Monumental Proportions,” where he states:
“The war has served primarily the interests of Iran and al Qaeda, not American interests….WE CANNOT REVERSE THIS OUTCOME BY MORE USE OF MILITARY FORCE IN IRAQ …Our democratization policy has installed Shiite majorities and pro-Iranians groups in power in Baghdad, especially in the ministries of interior and defense. Moreover, our counterinsurgency operations are, as unintended (but easily foreseeable) consequences, first, greater Shiite openness to Iranian influence and second, al Qaeda’s entry into Iraq and rooting itself in some elements of Iraqi society.”
Odom’s comments are similar to those of veteran journalist, Tom Lasseter, whose recent article “Surge Might Only Help al-Sadr” confirms much of what Odom says: “The US military drive to train and equip Iraq’s security forces has unwittingly strengthened Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia, which has been battling to take over the capital as American forces are trying to secure it…
“They wave at us during the day, and shoot at us at night,” said 1st Lieutenant Dan Quinn. ..”People in America think its bad, but they believe that we control the city. That’s not the way it is. They control it, and they let us drive around. It’s hostile territory.” Quinn added, “Honestly, within 6 months of us leaving, the way Iranian clerics run the country behind the scenes, it’ll be the same way here with al-Sadr. He already runs our side of the river.”
These comments show why Bush’s plan to eliminate his enemies one by one will not succeed, but will only further strengthen Iranian interests while weakening America’s already-tenuous position. There is no alternative to political solution, and yet, the Bush administration has proved that it is as incapable of negotiation as it is of thinking strategically.
The administration’s rejection of political dialogue is rooted in an ideological belief that “force alone” can produce political results. Perhaps this theory emerges from the Israeli-model where “no solution” is considered desirable. The occupation of Palestine depends on a permanent state of “no settlement”; a process which requires constantly moving the goalposts so that final status negotiations can never be realistically be held.
In Israel it is essential to sustain hostilities so that the expropriation of land can continue apace, but that model that won’t work in Iraq . This is not a territorial conflict, but a war for resources. The objectives are to establish political stability not to maintain a low-level war into perpetuity.
General William Odom suggests that the current “no plan” of the Bush administration should be reevaluated in terms of America ’s long term goals:
“Any new strategy that does not realistically promise to achieve regional stability at a cost we can prudently bear, and does not regain the confidence and support of our allies, is doomed to failure. To date, I have seen no awareness that any political leader has gone beyond tactical proposals to offer a different strategic approach to limiting the damage in a war that is turning out to be the greatest strategic disaster in our history.”
Time is running out for the Bush administration. The American public no longer supports the war and the congress is taking a progressively more assertive role in the shaping the extent of US involvement. The National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) which was presented to Bush on Friday “outlines an increasingly perilous situation in which there is a strong possibility of further deterioration”. ( Washington Post) The NIE suggests that there is no chance for near-term reconciliation and that the violence over the next 18 months is likely to intensify.
The Bush administration’s response to the NIE has been entirely predictable. They are planning to forge ahead with their plan for ethnic cleansing (via the surge) which will only add to “the hell that is Iraq ”. (Saddam’s last words”)
The ceaseless violence is creating the greatest humanitarian catastrophe of our time, already 3 million Iraqi have been displaced within the country or have been forced into nearby Syria , Jordan and Egypt . So far, the Bush administration has admitted less than 500 Iraqi refugees into the US although the crisis was triggered by its unprovoked aggression against a defenseless state.
Across Iraq , there has been a steady up-tick in the violence which goes unreported in the western press. In Albasrah.net (“An Appeal on Behalf of the Iraqi People”) we can read of the ongoing attack on Sunni cities like Haditha, “a city which has suffered repeated attacks from US forces during 2006 and has been under a medieval siege for more than 2 months, with food, water, electricity and fuel being cut off and movement in the city has been restricted….The US military tactics of collective punishment have been used repeatedly on neighboring cities of Fallujah, Tel Afar, Ramadi, Hussabaiya etc.” Reports from the Sunni heartland are completely blacked-out in the mainstream media. Two years later, and Americans still have not seen the vast devastation from the military’s Dresden-like bombardment of Fallujah.
Also, according to the conservative Jerusalem Post, “The pro-Iranian Mahdi Army is waging a war to eliminate the entire population Palestinian population in Iraq …. Palestinian leaders and activists are describing a ‘systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing’. Thousands of Palestinian families have been forced to flee Iraq since the downfall of Saddam Hussein, but have no place to go.” (“Palestinians ‘Ethnic Cleansing” in Iraq”)
The deliberate attack on Iraqi intellectuals and academics has also gone largely unreported in the western media. In a heart-wrenching article by Layla Anwar, “ A Stroll Down Haifa Street ”, the author details the assault on a university professor, Ahmed Kamal Nabil. Nabil tells how teachers and students have been targeted as “the last line of resistance against political manipulation and terror in the new Iraq . Academics are targeted because they cannot be ideologically controlled…or sucked into the role of mouth piece for the occupation and its puppets…And academics are targeted because the new Iraq has become one big looting field run by mercenaries, thugs, politically corrupt opportunists, sectarian agitators, fanatical dark minds, and barbarians.
And they want it to remain that way. They want to make sure that Iraq will never raise its head again. So they drain it of its intellectuals.
In the New Iraq, there is no place for knowledge. Knowledge is the enemy.”
Nabil is right, of course; knowledge is the enemy in a country that is rapidly tilting towards religious extremism.
No one has shown a better grasp of the heavy price that America has paid for its misguided war in Iraq than Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security advisor to Jimmy Carter. In testimony last week before the Senate subcommittee Brzezinski said:
"The war in Iraq is a historic, strategic, and moral calamity. Undertaken under false assumptions, it is undermining America’s global legitimacy. Its collateral civilians casualties as well as some abuses are tarnishing America’s moral credentials…The result is growing political isolation of, and pervasive popular antagonism toward, the U.S. global posture."
Brzezinski then added that Bush’s present “stay the course” policy will inevitably lead to a larger regional conflict:
“My horror scenario is that we simply stay put, this will continue, and then the dynamic of the conflict will produce an escalating situation, in which Iraqi failure to meet the benchmarks will be blamed on the Iranians. There will be some clashes, collisions, and the war expands.”
Brzezinski is right; “staying put” will lead inexorably to escalation. The emphasis now needs to be on “regional stability” not the suppression of sectarian violence or the ongoing fight against the armed resistance. It is up to the congress to see that we avert the impending catastrophe by quickly changing course. Bush’s strategy has strengthened Iranian influence in Iraq and now it threatens to consume the entire Middle East in a region-wide conflagration. As Brzezinski said:
“If the United States continues to be bogged down in a protracted, bloody involvement in Iraq , the final destination on this downhill track is likely to be a head-on conflict with Iran and with much of the world of Islam at large.”
Congress is duty-bound to stop this tragedy from unfolding.
-Mike Whitney is a regular contributor to PalestineChronicle.com