Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Iraq, Iran and what now

The dominant discourse as of late about Iraq has been the opportunity for those who opposed the Western intervention in Iraq to gloat, to repeat the largely vacuous claims that the war was "illegal" (when it was legally authorised by the governments concerned and to grant any legal status to the psychopathic Saddam Hussein regime is to abrogate any notion of needing law at all) and to blame the recent ISIS successes on Tony Blair and GW Bush.

The grain of truth in that is important, but it is not the key point at this stage

It is true that whilst the West was very capable, with aplomb even, in overthrowing the Hussein regime, and indeed few think that was bad in itself (although Saddam Hussein's chief sycophant George Galloway thinks so, but he has since gone on to lick the blood stained boots of Bashar Assad and Vladimir Putin), but was woeful in establishing a new order and constitutional framework on Iraq.  It was completely morally correct to overthrow the regime, which itself broke international law across many fields (international aggression, use and development of weapons of mass destruction and human rights) and was egregiously evil.   However, to expend over US$1 trillion in taxpayers' money and thousands of Western soldiers lives and not have an effective plan for a peaceful future (except for the relatively successful Kurdish region, which had spent over a decade effectively protected by a UNSC endorsed No Fly Zone), was grossly negligent.

It is for that, that Bush, Blair and the supporting leadership of those administrations deserve to be damned.

Let's be clear, had the bulk of Iraqis been imbued with the belief that all other Iraqis, regardless of what sect of Islam they followed (if any) or their background, deserved to live their lives in peace, then it would have been easy.





Indeed, had almost all Iraqis been willing to accept foreign troops maintaining law and order and instituting a new system of government based on individual rights, rule of law, respect for racial, political and religious plurality and using constitutional constraints and the ballot box to determine the role of government, then it would be have been easy.  Think of how Japan and (West) Germany were occupied after World War 2, when monumental efforts were made to turn aggressor states with psychopathic policies of genocide and race based enslavement of neighbouring nations into the friendly liberal democratic allies they are today.

Neither the military power, nor the strategy was in place to achieve anything like that.  Iraq's borders were not closed to infiltration of foreign arms and supporters of insurgency.  More importantly, the decision to absolutely purge anyone from the Ba'ath Party from involvement in Iraq's government made it desperately difficult to find competent administrators to organise, train and manage the basic maintenance of law and order.  So, as is so often the case in countries where dictatorial rule is stripped away, people revert to older affiliations, in this case the age old Sunni-Shia sectarian divide, which itself was fertilised by Saddam Hussein over the years (as he led a Sunni regime that was suspicious towards the Shia population).

The anti-war website Iraq Body Count's 140,000 civilian deaths is regularly claimed as representing the "cost" of the overthrow of the regime.  The implication being that most of those deaths, which were due to suicide bombers and other insurgents, some supported by Iran, some by other Islamic groups and regimes, can be blamed on the West.  That takes away the agency from those who saw the overthrow of Saddam as a chance to wage war on Iraqis more generally.  The West didn't cause most of those deaths, but it certainly failed to establish order and control to contain those who did.

and so here we are, with the "too radical for Al Qaeda" Sunni Islamist group ISIS now slaughtering their way around Iraq (having done so to some extent in Syria), with their clear goal being to take revenge for the bigoted Shia Iraqi government's discrimination against Sunni Iraqis.

It is rather easy to stand back and to declare a plague on all their houses.  After all, Iran's concern over ISIS is that if successful it will create a Sunni-led Islamist state on its borders.  Iran's Islamists aren't too keen on the infidel Muslims instituting a similar type of regime, which would be even more blood soaked than the regime they lead.  Iran has no more interest in instituting a regime that is supportive of even basic standards of freedom and tolerance than ISIS.  It is like saying that it is better to have Honecker over Ceausescu.

This all begs the question as to why anyone from the West should care?

Is it about oil? Well increasingly no.  Oil production has increased markedly in recent years in the United States, and while Iraqi oil is useful, it is jingoistic and simplistic to claim Iraq was about that.  The world can function quite well without Iraqi oil, indeed it did so for some years.

Is it about guilt and moral responsibility?  Partially yes.  When Iraq invaded Kuwait, the West gained UN Security Council support for no-fly zones to protect the Kurds in the north and the Shia in the south, and did so successfully. Iraqi Kurdistan is a success story and should be given air and ground support to be shielded from ISIS, so that it can operate, at least de facto, as a sovereign entity.  Both groups have been supportive of a more civilised and peaceful approach to the Middle East, and to let them be slaughtered after all that is unconscionable.  

It is really about naked self interest.  ISIS seek a pan Middle Eastern caliphate, ala Taliban style, but instead of sending a remote mountain country to the stone age and funding a Saudi based terrorist outfit called Al Qaeda, an ISIS led Iraq would have bountiful oil resources that it could sell to plenty of morally blind governments, to fund its expansionist aims.

Imagine such a regime in Baghdad, selling oil on international markets, directly and indirectly if there were sanctions, spreading its virulence into Syria and eventually south into the Gulf dictatorships, north into Turkey or west into Jordan, or moreover exporting its terror into the West.  The latter looking cowed and timid in recent years given the Obama Administration's dearth of testicular fortitude.  An ISIS led Iraq would threaten Arab states, Israel and the West.   It could change the balance of power in Syria to its interests, and then 

Does it mean working with Iran?  Yes it does, because the confluence of interests are clear and this may actually offer a backdoor towards influencing Iran for the better.  There is no interest in having Iraq as a vassal of Iran, but what better incentive could Iran have to develop nuclear weapons than a virulent ISIS regime running Baghdad acting aggressively.  Indeed, acting with Iran to avoid this may offer a path towards Iran's own hardliners being undermined, as the Great Satan ends up supporting Iran's interests.

So what to do?  Provide intelligence to support the Iraqi government on condition the Iraqi government deliberately works to be inclusive of Sunni communities, and to change the nature of its regime.  Work with the Kurdish administration to support its border defences, including providing air cover, and then provide air support to efforts to eradicate ISIS.  Provide air cover as required to internal ground efforts to attack ISIS.   Develop a common strategy with allies to support the elimination of ISIS.

For that is what is needed, indeed it is what the Free Syrian Army has been focused on in Syria, rather than the Syrian Government.

Iraq wont be remotely like the sort of government anyone who believed in individual rights would embrace, but this is about the interests of the West in stopping an aggressively pro-terrorist Islamist group taking over a regional power in the Middle East and using its oil revenues to launch aggressive campaigns against its allies.

President Obama might not like war, but he forgets few actually do and the imperative to act in Iraq is increasingly urgent.  It may indeed, have to include airstrikes in Syria against ISIS that directly benefit other sides.   Yes, Obama, Cameron and NATO will face the usual tiresome protests from far-left activists who are opposed to intervention - the same activists who never utter a peep against intervention undertaken by Iran or Russia.  They should be ignored.

There isn't a case for ground troops or anything like the intervention seen in Iraq previously, but there is a case to fight ISIS - it is a palpable enemy of liberty and individual rights that is spreading like a virus and attracting those willing to infect other parts of the world with its malignancy.

The question is does the West take a chance that this will all be sorted out, by Iran alone?  That it wont take over Iraq, develop a strong base and launch attacks on Israel and Turkey, fueling a new round of terrorism that takes in not just Syria, but Egypt, Jordan and into Europe?  That it wont fund and fuel allies in Pakistan and seek to take over that state with aggressive eliminationist goals towards those in its way with no fear of death?

1 comment:

Brendan McNeill said...

I have posted on this here:

http://brendanslongblog.blogspot.co.nz/2014/06/denial-of-reality-in-middle-east.html

but conclude by saying:

We are approaching the end of American global hegemony, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the Middle East. ‘Bombing the bad guys where ever we find them’ no longer sounds like a rational foreign policy. Nobody in the US Administration believes that conducting air strikes on the small but advancing ISIS army is going to resolve a thousand years of sectarian hostility between the Shiites and the Sunnis. At best, it would be a meaningless tactical gesture by a former super power that has demonstrably lost its way.

Admitting mistakes is never easy, but it is always preferable to repeating them under the pretext of denial. Only the people of the Middle East are able to resolve their differences. Their success or failure should be theirs to own.