An Excellent Analysis of the Situation in the Middle East

April 25, 2007 at 9:38 am | Posted in American politics, Bush Administration, Iraq, Military, War, War on Terror | 3 Comments

Wow, it sure is hard to find such clear and level-headed analysis of the current situation in the Middle East. Hussein Agha writes for the Guardian, showing what each nation in the Middle East sees in America’s occupation of Iraq, and how they exploit it for their own purposes. Clearly no nation in the Middle East wishes for America to leave, but not because the powder keg will explode, but rather, because each nation won’t be able to use the Americans for their own political gains anymore. Mr. Agha writes:

For this there is a simple reason: while the US can no longer successfully manipulate regional actors to carry out its plans, regional actors have learned to use the US presence to promote their own objectives. Quietly and against the deeply held wishes of their populations, they have managed to keep the Americans engaged with the hope of some elusive victory.

The so-called axis of moderate Arab states – comprising Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan – dreads an early US withdrawal. First, because it would be widely interpreted as an American defeat, which would weaken these pro-American regimes while both energising and radicalising their populations.

Second, if the US leaves, the emergence of a Shia regime in Iraq – in itself an offensive prospect to them – would only be a matter of time. Facing Arab antipathy, this regime would be likely to look eastward and forge close ties with its Iranian co-religionists. In the view of most Arabs, this would present a formidable challenge, setting in motion a series of dangerous events – an Iranian-Iraqi alliance; political and material support from Arab countries being offered to disgruntled Iraqi Sunni groups; retaliation by Iraqi forces; and the threat of broader regional involvement.

Third, a US departure risks triggering Iraq’s partition. As some Arabs see it, the occupation is what holds the country together. So long as coalition forces are deployed, a full-blown breakup can be avoided.

In contrast, with the Americans gone, the odds of partition would increase dramatically, presenting a threat to the integrity and security of regional states. Exacerbating dormant, and in some cases not so dormant, secessionist tendencies would be one concern. Perhaps more worrying would be the ensuing challenge to the legitimacy of the fundamental tenets of nationhood, state, and national borders.

Clearly the “moderate” Arab states won’t like the change that might just take place within their own countries. Such reform would be bad for the oil business, after all.

Meanwhile, Syria and Iran certainly love having America stuck in Iraq, because, well, with America there, the chances of America entering Iran or Syria are highly diminished.

Paradoxically, the competing axis of so-called rogue states made up of Syria and Iran also wants the US to stay. So long as America remains mired in Iraq’s quicksand, they think, it will be difficult for it to embark on a similar adventure nearby. This is true not only politically – the quagmire standing as a stark reminder of the invasion’s failure – but also militarily: US capabilities will remain stretched for as long as the occupation continues.

Moreover, American forces in Iraq present relatively soft targets for retaliation in case Iran or Syria is attacked. In short, whether or not Syria and Iran are correct in their calculations, the occupation of Iraq is seen as the most effective insurance policy against a possible US attack against them.

Turkey wants America to stay because American presence in Iraq keeps the Kurds from declaring their own state, which is certainly not what Turkey wants:

For Turkey, America’s presence ensures that the national aspirations of Iraq’s Kurds will not metamorphose into a fully fledged independent state, a strict red line for Ankara, which has its own irredentist Kurdish problem. By containing Kurdish ambitions, the US diminishes the probability of a costly and uncertain Turkish military campaign to thwart them. Nor is Turkey attracted to the prospect of an Iraqi Shia state allied to Iran and tolerant of Kurdish aspirations – an outcome it hopes the occupation will make less likely.

Israel stands to lose the most, I think. But this comes more from their own stupid actions last summer, their bombardment of Lebanon, which was a mighty failure politically in the region. With that failure, and with America, the mighty Achilles taken down by mere cave dwellers, Israel loses its greatest deterrent: the illusion of invincibility.

For Israel too, an American withdrawal could spell disaster. Already, nothing has dented Israeli deterrence more than America’s performance in Iraq – an inspiration to Israel’s Arab foes that even the mightiest can be brought to heel. An early withdrawal, coming in the wake of last summer’s Lebanon war, could put Israel in a dangerous position, handing a victory to Iran – the latest putative threat to Israel’s existence – and providing a boost to Syria which may be considering military options to recover the Golan Heights.

At last someone speaks truthfully about who has benefited the most out of our occupation of Iraq: Al-Qaida of course!

Al-Qaida and its affiliates arguably benefit most from the occupation. They established themselves, brought in recruits, sustained operations against the Americans and expanded. The last thing they want is for the Americans to leave and deny them targets and motivation for new members. Other Sunni armed groups need the Americans for similar reasons and for protection against Shias. For Sunni politicians, the occupation prevents a total Shia takeover of state institutions and helps increase their influence.

I think Mr. Agha’s final paragraph says it best about America’s view:

In this grim picture, the Americans appear the least sure and most confused. With unattainable objectives, wobbly plans, changing tactics, shifting alliances and ever-increasing casualties, it is not clear any longer what they want or how they are going to achieve it. By setting themselves up to be manipulated, they give credence to an old Arab saying: the magic has taken over the magician.

Just what are we doing in Iraq?


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  1. Dan,

    I want to thank you for that great link. My wife has been looking for reasonably priced polyester blend mix-n-match coat-skirt-pant set.

  2. Yup, something went drastically wrong with that link, somehow…

  3. Oh my! I didn’t notice. I corrected a link on my family blog around the same time I was writing this and I guess I forgot to re-copy the link from Guardian.

    It is now corrected.

    Kurt, I’m glad I was able to help your wife find a good coat-skirt-pant set. 🙂

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