The Bush administration’s announcement to send more troops into Iraq is a disturbing sign that the war is about to escalate even further. Capital Hill is highly sceptical, the Iraqi government doesn’t even want the troop increase, US soldiers in Iraq are reportedly scared about the ramifications and history is being ignored, again. The US, ever keen to find a new enemy to target, has chosen Shia nationalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Memo to Bush: removing al-Sadr will in fact inflame the situation, not pacify it, but the more perceptive commentators have noted that this is Bush’s plan. A wider Middle East war has never been more likely.
Liberal Jew and Time writer Tony Karon explains:
Bush suggested that the Iraqi people had voted for united country at the polls, and seen their dreams dashed by the maneuvering of Iran and Syria and others. That’s a crock. Iran enthusiastically supported those elections, and why wouldn’t they? The Shiite majority voted overwhelmingly in favor of parties far closer to Tehran than they are to Washington. Moreover, while Bush implies that sectarianism was somehow a deviation from what the electorate had chosen, in fact the electorate had voted almost entirely on sectarian and ethnic lines. The sectarian principle is at the heart of the democratically elected government; it’s not some imposition by al-Qaeda or Iran.
His conclusions are frightening:
So, essentially we’re now being asked to believe that the Iraqi government, dominated by Iran-friendly Shiite religious parties, is going to act in concert with Bush’s plan — and even Bush admitted that their support is the critical factor — giving U.S. forces the green light to take control of Sadr City from the Sadrists and so on, even as Washington moves its assets into position for a military strike on Iran. It may be, of course, that Washington is posturing in order to sweat Tehran into believing that a military strike is coming in order to intimidate the Islamic Republic into backing down, but frankly I wouldn’t bet on the collective strategic wisdom of Cheney-Rice and Khamenei-Larijani-Ahmedinajad combining to avoid a confrontation. And if the U.S. is raising the stakes, you can reliably expect Iran to do the same, probably starting in Iraq.
Even within the narrow Iraqi context, no matter what Maliki has told Bush, I wouldn’t bet on him coming through for the U.S. when the battle for Sadr City starts in earnest, and Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, appalled by the violence, begins demanding that the U.S. go home.
Equally important, though, the new Bush moves give Iran no incentive to cooperate, and plenty of incentive to tie the U.S. up in an increasingly messy situation in Iraq. And my suspicion is that Tehran has hardly begun to exercise its ability to cause chaos in Iraq.
Again, the Bush Administration has failed to grasp the most basic lesson of his failures in Iraq and elsewhere — that military force has its limits, and that power is a more complex thing. Instead of recognizing what the likes of Baker and Scowcroft have emphasized all along — that the basic crisis in the region is political — Bush is going the Cheney lock-and-load route. Perhaps that’s why Bush warned Americans to expect another year of bloodletting. And stupendously reckless adventurism though it may be, I wouldn’t bet against him launching air strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities. And then he’ll have to learn the same lesson all over again, because the region will be no safer or any more stable. On the contrary, I’d say it’s a safe bet that by the time he leaves the White House, the U.S. position everywhere from Lebanon, Egypt and the Palestinian territories to Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan, will be considerably worse than it is now.
Karon doesn’t address the role of Saudi Arabia, however. As noted by Greg Palast, Riyadh desperately wants the US occupation to continue. Why? Over to Palast:
According to Nawaf Obaid, a Saudi who signals to the US government the commands and diktats of the House of Saud, the Saudis are concerned that a US pull-out will leave their Sunni brothers in Iraq to be slaughtered by Shia militias. More important, the Saudis will not tolerate a Shia-majority government in Iraq controlled by the Shia mullahs of Iran. A Shia combine would threaten Saudi Arabia’s hegemony in the OPEC oil cartel.
In other words, it’s about the oil.
So what’s the solution? What’s my plan? How do we get out of Iraq? Answer: the same way we got out of ‘Nam. In ships.
But can we just watch from the ship rail as Shia slaughter Sunnis in Baghdad, Sunnis murder Shia in Anbar, Kurds “cleanse” Kirkuk of Turkmen and so on in a sickening daisy-chain of ethnic atrocities?
Australia’s role in this mess is negligible, though telling. John Howard will support whatever actions are taken by Bush – no matter the consequences – and has effectively outsourced our foreign policy to the White House. Howard may duck and weave about his government’s role, but history has already chosen its verdict.
UPDATE: The unedited transcript of a recent conversation between John Howard and George Bush.