The Arab world and Iraq: column & discussion

Here is my latest CSM column on the views that Arab analysts have of the situation in Iraq. (Also, here.)
Sometimes, as on this occasion, I find writing in the CSM-column format hugely challenging… primarily because of the intense constraints on word-length. My experience is that it is far more intellectually challenging to write a short piece– especially when I have so very much great material to be working with– than it is to write something much longer. (Such as I frequently write here on the blog.) Or to put it another way– when I write “composed” pieces, there are always numerous intellectual, organizational, and conceptual challenges involved… and generally, these don’t seem any easier to deal with when writing a short piece than when writing a long, long piece like some of my great long things in Boston Review. But what you end up with in a CSM column is just 850 tightly-considered words. It might not seem very substantial, but I can tell you it represents a huge amount of work.
This column was written about ten days ago, and has undergone various edits since then. I’m not as happy with the shape of it as I was with the “Four trends” one that preceded it. Moreover, this one raises many more queries than it actually answers.
For example, I report there (with, as you may imagine, my own implied approval) the judgment of my Iraqi friend that there’s a possibility that a fairly speedy US withdrawal from his country “would concentrate the minds of his countrymen on the need to find a workable reconciliation”… but “if the Americans stay, we can expect the situation to remain bad.” But I also note later on– with my own explicit endorsement, the judgment of another longtime friend and colleague, Hussein Agha, that, “for now, all of Iraq’s neighbors prefer that US troops stay tied down inside Iraq, rather than withdraw.” In addition, I express my own clear judgment that, “the broad deployment of US troops in Iraq has been transformed from an American asset in the region into a liability that erodes US power and standing.”
How, therefore, can all these widely varying interests in the remaining or leaving of the US troop presence in Iraq be reconciled? This is, clearly, a tricky diplomatic/strategic conundrum. (One regarding which, imho, the UN is the only body capable of orchestrating the search for a solution. And I approach that question in the full knowledge that the UN we have is the UN we have, if you get my meaning.)
Basically, what I come out of this whole analysis with is the conclusion that,

    (a) The Arab governments are all quite serious in their argument that US needs to find a way to deal straightforwardly and in a constructive way with Iran, rather than continuing to pursue destabilizing agendas of regime change or other forms of confrontation and escalation against Iran;
    (b) They are also quite serious about the need for real progress to be made on Arab-Israeli peacemaking; and
    (c) Regarding US-Iran relations, they do have a fear that the US and Iran might conclude a ‘grand bargain’ covering Iraq and various other issues without any input from them and in a way that might infringe seriously on their own interests.

Anyway, the regional dynamics in the Middle East right now are extremely interesting. One big additional factor that I didn’t adequately reflect in the column is that the US troop ‘surge’ is being notably unsuccessful… I conclude that this means that what I have called a ‘Tank’-driven US withdrawal from Iraq– that is, one that is driven on the US side primarily by the need of the military establishment to avoid complete logistical/organizational breakdown due to the overstretch in Iraq– will become more urgent than ever within the coming weeks…

5 thoughts on “The Arab world and Iraq: column & discussion”

  1. Your article reflects the conflicted feelings of so many of us, even the most informed and thoughtful. For my part, I am asking progressive Americans would be as passionate about setting a “deadline” for honest, creative diplomacy with the Iranians and the Palestians as we are for pulling out our troops. A pullout from Iraq is not much more than self-interest; the greater good would be better served by holding the administration (Condeleeza Rice, in particular) accountable not just for international visits but for honorable agreements with other countries.

  2. Anne, thanks so much for that very clear and helpful suggestion. As soon as I read it, I said, “Yes, you are completely right.”
    I would add just that the diplomacy we need should not only be honest [&] creative but also principled and results-focused.
    For 40 years now, US diplomacy on Palestine has been obfuscatory, biased, and essentially time-wasting. Including by focusing almost exclusively on “process” and on issues of ever smaller and only ever “interim” concern– and this has kept all the peoples most directly involved trapped for all these decades in a situation of continuing conflict, uncertainty, and fear…
    But what I like about what you wrote is that we should hold our government accountable for its diplomacy (as being the key way to resolve existing conflicts, prevent future ones, and improve the lives of all the people concerned)– just as much as for decisions of war and troop deployment. And thereby also to re-emphasize the centrality of strong diplomacy, as opposed to warfare.

  3. If anyone still needs convincing, Charlie Krauthammer’s column today explains fairly clearly (for him) that the Global War On Terror is about control of oil resources, not bringing terrorists to justice. Here is his little “thought experiment:”
    “Bring in a completely neutral observer — a Martian — and point out to him that the United States is involved in two hot wars against radical Islamic insurgents. One is in Afghanistan, a geographically marginal backwater with no resources and no industrial or technological infrastructure. The other is in Iraq, one of the three principal Arab states, with untold oil wealth, an educated population, an advanced military and technological infrastructure that, though suffering decay in the later years of Saddam Hussein’s rule, could easily be revived if it falls into the right (i.e., wrong) hands. Add to that the fact that its strategic location would give its rulers inordinate influence over the entire Persian Gulf region, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the Gulf states. Then ask your Martian: Which is the more important battle? He would not even understand why you are asking the question.”
    The hapless Democrats, according to Charlie, just don’t understand the strategic context. They want to pursue the actual 9/11 terrorists where they actually operate, out of some misguided notion of just war:
    “They would rather support the Afghan war because its origins are cleaner, the casus belli clearer, the moral texture of the enterprise more comfortable. Afghanistan is a war of righteous revenge and restitution, law enforcement on the grandest of scales.”
    But Charlie understands that “you do not decide where to fight on the basis of history; you decide on the basis of strategic realities [i.e., oil].”
    On the whole, a rather honest explanation of why we are at war in Iraq. Of course, he omits the fact that we’ve lost.

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