Day By Day

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The New Middle East

Some thoughts on Iraq:

What is striking in the current debate over Iraq is the assumption on all sides that a nation of 300 million people, with the most effective military in the history of the world, cannot sustain the loss of three thousand troops in four years of combat. Now lets put that within a broader context. When you think about it we haven’t been able to prosecute a major military action to a satisfactory conclusion since WWII. Korea was a frustrating stalemate, Vietnam an out and out defeat, the first Gulf War was bellus interruptus, and now this. Through the long Cold War we never engaged our major adversary, the Soviet Union, directly on the battlefield. Yet consider this — during the more than half a century in which we have been subjected to repeated military frustration, avoidance, and even defeat, American power, wealth, and influence has grown dramatically to the point where we have become, in Chirac’s term, the global hegemon. This raises the question of whether military “success” as traditionally defined, is all that important any more. People complain that we aren’t fighting to win. Well, maybe “winning” in military terms isn’t the most desirable outcome.

Already I am seeing analyses that say that the new middle-east lineup of Sunni states against Iran is vastly preferable to what existed before the Iraq invasion. Suddenly the Sunni regimes are scared and need us to protect them from Iran. Our influence with them has never been greater. The New Republic thinks Bush just blundered into this favorable outcome, but others think that our diplomacy in the region has been aimed all along at dividing the region along sectarian and ethnic lines. Such a division undercuts pan-Islamist movements like al-Qaeda and the Iranian mullahs’ offensive, takes pressure off Israel, creates a broad Arab alliance supporting Lebanese independence, insures that OPEC won’t be agreeing on much of anything in the near future, counters Iran’s attempts to build an anti-American network of oil-producers, and gives the US [as opposed to the EU or China, neither of which can project a credible military force into the region] unprecedented leverage to influence regional development for decades to come. And don’t forget, Iraq will not be much of a threat to anyone anytime soon.

If we think of Iran, not al Qaeda, as the biggest regional threat in the future, and remember that ever since 1978 the “Islamic Republic” has been trying to forge an Islamist, anti-western, regional bloc that can use oil as an economic weapon, then the Iraq adventure makes one hell of a lot of sense. It is time to stop thinking about Iraq as a “war” to be “won” or “lost” and instead recognize that it is an essential part of a broader effort to remake the political, military, and economic map of the Middle East. It is this broader initiative, not the immediate military situation in Iraq, that really matters.

This is by no means a new idea, or one that is original with me. It was very much a part of the rationale for going into Iraq during the runup to the invasion. Leading neo-con thinkers like Paul Wolfowitz talked about it extensively, and so did President Bush. Vice President Cheney talked frequently about the need “drain the swamp.” Iran was always part of the “Axis of Evil” that we were confronting.

Major elements of the military and intelligence communities, however, were never able to grasp this larger contextual argument. To them Iraq was just another traditional war. This blinkered thinking persists today. Journalists, too, have been slow to catch on. Some people at the State Department have understood what is going on, but many of these have felt that military activity was an impediment to, rather than a necessary element in the transformation. All of these have raised strong and persistent objections to administration policies and have been avidly listened to by a journalistic establishment that sees itself as an adversarial arm of government and by political partisans who have to tear down Bush in order to succeed.
Some journalists are finally beginning to recognize what has been right in front of their faces for years.

Laura Rozen has a “smarter than your average journalist” piece in Thursday’s National Journal where she marvels that Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are now united in an alliance to oppose Iran. She writes:

The emerging Washington-Saudi-Sunni-Israeli alliance to counter Iran “makes perfect sense,” says Kenneth Katzman, a veteran Iran and Iraq analyst at the Congressional Research Service. “It is something that is evolving based on commonality of interests of the Saudis and Israel and other Gulf states to counter Iranian triumphalism. The Saudis are facing Iran in Iraq and in the Gulf states. Israel is facing Iranian-backed Hezbollah on its northern border with Lebanon. The Saudis are interested in their long-standing client in Lebanon, the Hariri family.”

She also notes that much of the intelligence community is still actively trying to obstruct these positive developments and suggests that the anti-Iran regional initiative is a recent thing. I agree that the intelligence community has been obstructive, but disagree that this is all new stuff. This broad diplomatic/military initiative has been in the works for years and is just now beginning to come to fruition. Things are finally falling into place in the Middle East. Too bad, though, that they are starting to fall apart here at home.

You can read her whole piece here.

Just something to think about.

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