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Iraq: Politics is no panacea


Those who are waiting for the November elections in the USA to make the Iraq mess disappear are going to be sorely disappointed. The problem was not due to partisan politics, and whatever John Kerry's other merits, he cannot offer a solution to the Iraq problem.

In a recent article in the Washington Post, Kerry discusses his approach to Iraq. He wants to forgive Iraqi debt. That's OK, but the Bush administration is already working on that. Kerry wants to get NATO involved in Iraq. Bush tried to involve NATO in Iraq. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that he offered some inducements, but the most he could get at the recent Ankara summit was a commitment to train Iraqi security personnel - in Europe. But Kerry has a better idea, that will supposedly get the NATO countries interested: he will offer them contracts in Iraq. Perhaps Mr. Kerry has not read the recent news from Iraq. If he had done his reading, he would know that it is not likely that the opportunity to have one's contractors kidnapped and beheaded, tempting as it is, will be alluring enough for France or Germany or any other European country to send their soldiers to be blown up in Iraq, or to risk terrorist blackmail at home, similar to the Madrid explosions that brought a government down and brought Spanish troops out of Iraq. Indeed, the "ransom" demanded for kidnapped contractors is that their country of origin must withdraw its troops from the coalition.

Another proposal of Kerry's is to hold a conference with Iraq's neighbors. The Iraqi government will reassure them that it is not targeting minorities, and they in turn will pledge not to help insurgents in Iraq. Writes Kerry:

As partners, we should convene a regional conference with Iraq's neighbors. Such a conference would have two goals. First, it should secure a pledge from Iraq's neighbors to respect Iraq's borders and not to interfere in its internal affairs. And second, it should commit Iraq's leaders to provide clear protection for minorities, thus removing a major justification for possible outside intervention.

What is John Kerry smoking? No country is interfering in Iraq to protect any minorities; there is no such issue. A neophyte in the Middle East understands that the promises that come out of such conferences are meaningless. Syria and Iran will promise not to interfere in Iraqi affairs, and will keep their promises as they have kept all their other promises. As members of the UN, they already promised to respect the sovereignty of other countries, but that doesn't prevent Syria from camping out in Lebanon. All the countries have also made countless declarations against terrorism, but that doesn't prevent Syria and Iran from sheltering and funding "resistance" fighters. The Iraqi government has already promissed to protect minorities. The threatened minorities in Iraq are primarily Kurds and Assyrians. Iraq has no neighbors who are anxious to intervene on behalf of the Kurds or the Assyrians as far as anyone knows. The only neighbors who might be meddling in Iraqi affairs are Iran, who would be helping the Shi'a majority, and Iran's ally Syria, who will help anyone who is likely to cause trouble for the US, another majority population in Iraq right now.

More troops will not help Iraq, even if someone would be willing to supply such troops. More troops, whether from NATO or USA or Britain or Arab countries, will only invite more retaliations and terror actions against the troops or against the home countries or against contractors who come from those countries.

What John Kerry didn't say, is that the problem of Iraq can only be solved by policies that are beyond the current capabilities of the US. These include development of a significant on-the-ground intelligence capability and the ability to carry out covert operations in the Middle East. Both are necessary not only to save Iraq from chaos, but also to fight the war on terror in other countries. Without such abilities, more troops will only cause more harm. There will be more incidents like the recent fiasco of the bombing in Falluja, where US missiles killed numerous civilians based on faulty intelligence of the Iraqi government, who believed that the target in question housed insurgents.

It will take many years for the US to develop on-the-ground intelligence and covert operations capabilities in the Middle East. It may come too late to save Iraq from chaos, but it is essential. It is really scary that neither of the men who are candidates for the US Presidency seem to be aware of the problem or interested in solving it. Changing administrations or political parties will not correct a flawed understanding of the Middle East, at all levels, that is common to all parties and all shades of political opinions.

It is frightening to think that as bad as the current administration might be, Kerry is exhibiting signs of greater ignorance and more disastrous policies than Bush. Depressingly, Kerry's major merit in foreign policy may yet prove to be that he shows us that Bush wasn't nearly as bad as we thought. Can't someone teach would-be American presidents the basic facts of life in the Middle East?

Ami Isseroff

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000276.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

by Moderator @ 05:35 PM CST [Link]


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Replies: 2 comments

Points well taken, I'm afraid.
In defense of our next president, I think Kerry's idea is to give the administration in Iraq an international character, that is, arrange things so that it is some international body which is trying to intervene to stabilize Iraq and turn it over to the Iraqi people as soon as that mission is accomplished.
Will it work? Almost certainly not, as Ami has capably argued.
Is there another option? I'd love to hear it.

Posted by khargushoghli @ 07/07/2004 01:49 AM CST

The point is, that Kerry has no other good options because the US hasn't got the capabilities to be a real player in the Middle East.
Without those capabilities, the US can only give money or send troops. The money will not help without stability, and US troops in the Middle East are more or less sitting ducks for the intelligence and covert ops and "liberation forces" operated by other players. The US should have learned this in Lebanon. It had no understanding of Lebanese politics, and no intelligence capability. The result was disaster. It seems that Kerry's answer is to send more troops, and that is not an answer if there is not a quantum jump in intelligence, counter-intelligence and covert-operations capabilities, as well as a much better understanding of what the Middle East is all about at the policy making level.

To give a concrete example in Iraq, there was a headline that must be beloved of anyone who appreciates irony in an AP report published in Jordan Times: " Syria will help Iraq restore stability - Brahimi" It is like "Germany will help Czechoslovakia restore stability - Chamberlain" Well suppose that the US withdraws its troops, and Syria goes ahead and tries to "restore stability?" through its very able covert ops people, as it did in Lebanon.
The US doesn't have a counter-intelligence answer.
Will the US put its troops back into Iraq to be targets of Syrian instigated terror? What good would that do? Will they invade Syria? No Way.

The quote from Brahimi also indicates the kind of "help" that the USA is likely to get from the UN in the best case.

At the policy level, the US hasn't a clue about the Middle East. Policy is governed by a series of moronic, shallow cliches, generated by biased Middle East professionals and ideologues:
"Freedom for Iraq"
"Islam is incompatible with Freedom"
"The problem in the Middle East is Israel"
"Islamism will evolve into democracy"

You can chose which set of cliches you like depending on your political orientation. This sort of BS doesn't take into account the intricacies and realities of power brokering and clan relations and culture.

Perhaps the most discouraging thing is that the current hearings on US intelligence failures fail to grasp the heart of the matter. The evaluation was lousy because there were no good sources of intelligence, because the US never developed an intelligence capability. People made guesses about whether or not Iraq had WMD. In the absence of information, the guesses were like tossing a coin to decide or divining entrails. The augurs decided that the omens were favorable for the attack, but in fact the attack was a fiasco. Now they are arguing about whether or not they misread the liver of the chicken.

They are so clueless that they don't even know that they are clueless.

Ami Isseroff

Posted by Moderator @ 07/14/2004 04:25 PM CST

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