By Ted Belman *
The Iraq Study Group issued its report in late 2006 in which it recommended gradual withdrawal of US forces by 2008, engagement with Iran and Syria and a renewed focus on solving the Israel/Arab conflict which it believed was “inextricably” linked to Iraq.
Over the years, both Bush and Obama have pursued these recommendations to no avail. Whatever the USD is doing, it is not working. The Obama administration is still arguing that the Israel/Arab conflict must be resolved to make the ME more stable but there is no evidence that such resolution would change anything.. This conflict is not the cause of Iraq’s instability nor is it the motivating factor in Iran’s drive for the bomb or regional hegemony.
According to the Whitehouse. “Starting in September, the number of U.S. troops in Iraq will be 50,000 — almost a third of the total number there when Obama took office in January 2009, the White House says. There will be 96,000 U.S. troops on the ground in Afghanistan — more than three times the number there at the beginning of Obama’s term” .
Iraqis have not been able to form a government since the elections in March.. Al Qaeda is moving back in. Iran is seriously backing Shiite militants in Iraq. In the coming months, there is no question that Iran will significantly extend its influence to the point where it controls Iraq. America must decide whether to attempt to influence the outcome or to wash its hands of the matter.
In 2007, Hamas executed a coup and took over Gaza. The US and Israel allowed this to happen. They decided on a policy of isolation of Hamas with a blockade in order to bring Hamas down. Obama has changed this policy to one where he aids and abets Hamas in the hope of gaining influence over them. He recognizes that they are a huge obstacle to peace and a final settlement. He is hoping to get a Hudna ( a 10 year cease fire) from them that would enable the PA to agree to a final settlement with Israel. He ignores entirely that the PA is not about to do this let alone, Hamas.
Lebanon WAR II ended in the fall of ’06 with the passage of UNSC Res 1701 which barred Hezbollah from south of the Litani River, called for the disarmament of Hezbollah and for Lebanese control of all its territory. To assist, UNIFIL was established with a very limited mandate. Even so, the UN had trouble getting commitments from its members to man it to the required force level of 15,000.
In the aftermath of this agreement Lebanon sought to extend its authority and even to remove Hezbollah telecommunications network. In response to these decisions, mushrooming riots swept across Beirut resulting in heavy clashes between Hezbollah and the majority, afterwards Hezbollah militants invaded and took control of western Beirut. This was the first time after the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990) weapons were used by Hezbollah on the internal front.. The Arab League intervened and brokered the Doha Agreement in the spring of ’08. This agreement strengthened the Lebanese government by giving Hezbollah a greater role in it and even a veto power. Britain France and the US all supported the compromise. Until that time, America and France were doing their level best to limit the power of Hezbollah and to get Syria to withdraw from Lebanon. Effectively this agreement accepted Hezbollah as a partner in Lebanon and Syria’s influence in Lebanon through its proxy, Hezbollah. Both before and after the agreement the US has advanced hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to Lebanon. She disregarded the growing influence of Hezbollah in Lebanon until now. The US Congress has just put a hold on the last $100 million because of Hezbollah’s influence. Iran has stepped forward and offered to fill the breach. Obviously Iran knows that such funding doesn’t weaken Hezbollah but strengths it because Hezbollah controls the government.
Resolution 1701 has proved to be a total failure. Hezbollah is now armed to the teeth and occupying south Lebanon. UNIFIL is totally ineffective and has gone over to the other side.
After many years of trying, the US has finally got sanctions in place that are beginning to have some bite. Last week it was reported that both Iran and the US are entertaining talking again. Whether any of these activities will produce the desired result of preventing Iran from getting the bomb is highly doubtful.
Two weeks ago it was reported that Iran is pressuring Iraqi Shiites to support al Maliki in his attempts to form a government because he is better for Shiites. According to Gen. Ray Odierno, the top US military commander in Iraq, Iran is training and arming Shiite militants in Iraq to attack US forces as they leave, though in general Iran prefers to use soft power in Iran to achieve its ends.
According to Dr. Matthias Küntzel, a political scientist and expert on Iran, Iran’s intervention in Iraqi politics was not surprising. “Homeisim (Iran’s revolutionary ideology) is an expansionist ideology. Iran has no interest in stabilizing the region; on the contrary – it seeks to destabilize it and humiliate the Americans in the process.”
The last year has witnessed the accelerated Islamization of Turkey under PM Erdogan. Now Turkey openly supports Iran and its proxies Hezbollah and Hamas. It also has buried the hatchet with Syria with whom it was on the brink of war a few years ago. Turkey has also shown its Iranian bona fides by coming out strongly against its former ally, Israel, and backed the terrorist flotilla in its attempt to break the blockade of Gaza. Obama’s response has been to stand by Turkey and not Israel.
The Afghanistan War is lost. The US has lost the will or even the ability to win. It appears to have lost Pakistan also. WikiLeaks recently published the Afghan War Diary which unmasked the true situation and it doesn’t look good.
The Israeli/Arab peace process.
Pres Obama has been unable, so far, to get the PA to enter direct talks after a year and a half of trying. But even if such talks start, there is absolutely no prospect of a negotiated settlement. The PA will not compromise. Thus the only real option for Obama is to try to impose a solution. The people in Israel and America will not let him succeed. Nor will Hamas.
Obama started off his presidency by kissing up to Muslims and Arabs in particular, believing that that was what was need to make progress. He placed his first call to Abbas.and made the historic Cairo speech.. Not only did he not get even Saudi Arabia to help him by making the smallest of gestures, he couldn’t even get Abbas to restart direct talks.
A most recent poll in six Arab countries produced shocking results. “The percentage of Arabs with a positive view of the US has sunk since last summer from 45% to 20%, while the negative percentage has risen from 23% to 67%. Only 16% call themselves “hopeful” about US policy.”
The Guardian reports
“The pollsters did not ask why people changed their views so rapidly. But a clue of sorts is in one of its most remarkable findings. On Iran a majority were not convinced by Tehran’s denials of having a nuclear weapons programme. The Obama administration will presumably be pleased to learn that 57% think Iran is trying to make a bomb. What will be more troubling for the White House is the finding that only 20% think foreign countries are entitled to put pressure on Iran to stop its nuclear programme and, even more strikingly, that 57% believe it would be positive for the region for Iran to have the bomb.
“This is astonishing, at least for anybody who took at face value the Washington line that Iran is perceived as the biggest threat within the region. Bush and Cheney spent years trying to ally Arab states against Iran, including by attempting to make Shia/Sunni differences a major political issue. Iran is of course a Shia country. Obama continued the policy, but it has backfired. With the exception of Lebanon, the countries in the poll not only have huge Sunni majorities, they are the very countries on which Washington has spent most effort to build an anti-Iranian alliance. Their rulers may take the US line, but their people do not.”
Not a pretty picture. Continuing the same policies will not avail. Doubling down is not the answer. A reset is needed.
The US must debate whether it needs to be engaged in the Middle East or not. It has the option of withdrawing entirely and relying on the oil market to supply it with oil. In the worse case scenario if the ME cuts off oil supply to the US, it would be an act of war and the US would be justified in invading Saudi Arabia and occupying the oil fields. It should expel all Arab workers from the area so that there would be no insurgency and then bring in American workers. This could be problematic as it is rumored that the Saudis could blow up the oil fields and leave them contaminated.
If it prefers to retain a power base in the Middle East it could redesign its relationship with Israel and Kurdistan. Both can defend themselves with unequivocal American support. This support could go so far as to allow Israel to annex the territories, Gaza included, and expel the Arabs. It could allow the Kurds to fight to include parts of Turkey, Syria and Iran where the Kurds are in a large majority thereby, enlarging the country to the point where it has a population of close to 30 million.
As preposterous as these suggestions are, what are the alternatives?