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Patrick Seale: "Ready for Resolution?

TO: Distinguished Recipients
FM: John Whitbeck
Transmitted below is a subtle analysis of attitudes toward the three
principal problems facing this region by Patrick Seale.
The /realpolitik/ attitudes toward the American war against Iraq which
he reports are reminiscent of the American attitude toward the Iran-Iraq
war of 1980-1988, during which American politicians were quite frank
about their satisfaction at watching Iraqis and Iranians slaughter each
other /ad infinitum/ and weighed in from time to time to assist
whichever side appeared at a disadvantage with a view to perpetuating
the bloodletting for as long as possible.
If certain political leaderships in the region are reluctant to see an
American withdrawal from Iraq, it is for all the wrong reasons and has
nothing to do with the best interests of either Iraqis or Americans.

*READY FOR RESOLUTION?*

/By Patrick Seale/

/The Saudi Gazette, March 3, 2007/

The Club de Monaco must be one of the most exclusive in the world
because its members – all heavyweights of international politics – meet
for just one weekend a year in the exquisite setting of the Hotel de
Paris at Monte Carlo.

The aim of the Club is to bring together government ministers,
secretaries-general of international organizations, European
Commissioners, ambassadors, foreign affairs pundits and similar men and
women of distinction to exchange views frankly and informally on the
great questions of the moment, especially as they refer to the Middle
East and the Mediterranean basin.

The rules of the Club do not allow me to name names or attribute views
to the various high-powered members who attend. So I propose instead to
take you behind the scenes of the recent meeting because, as is often
the case at such gatherings, what is said privately in the lobbies is
often as interesting as what is said in the conference room.

Inevitably, this year’s meeting was dominated by three main issues of
great topicality: should the United States stay in Iraq or withdraw;
should it talk to Iran or attack it; and what should be done to revive
the moribund Arab-Israeli peace process.

Almost immediately, I came up against a paradox. Most people would argue
that there can be no peace in Iraq until the United States admits defeat
and gets out. An American withdrawal would satisfy the main demand of
the insurgents, thereby removing one major strand from the complex
tissue of conflicts afflicting that country.

On this view, the Pentagon should announce a timetable for a phased
withdrawal, tied to progress in rebuilding Iraq’s army and police
forces. The fact that six American helicopters, vital for the movement
of troops, have been shot down in recent weeks suggests that the
insurgents are upgrading their weapons. A delay in pulling out can only
mean more casualties and still greater expenditure. An American
withdrawal would also force Iraq’s warring factions and its six
antagonistic neighbors to hammer out a compromise acceptable to all.
That, at least, is the theory. But when one probes deeper, one finds
that not many people actually want the Americans to leave – at least not
yet. For many, the time is not yet ripe.

Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States are worried that a precipitate US
withdrawal would lead to a massacre of Sunnis by Shiites, forcing them
to intervene, which they are understandably reluctant to do. No one is
keen to stick their finger into the Iraqi hornet’s nest. Syria may want
the Americans out of Iraq, but not if that will expose it to attack.

One would have the thought that Iran would be extremely glad to see the
Americans depart. That is what Iranian leaders have repeatedly said.
This has led many to fear the Tehran wishes to drive out the Americans
in order to replace America’s regional hegemony with its own. But this
is neither likely nor even possible.

It is often forgotten that the antipathy between Arabs and Persians is
centuries old and cannot easily be overcome. Even though Iraq’s present
leaders are mainly Shi’a, and even though several of them took refuge
for many years in Iran to escape Saddam Hussein’s repression, they are
not ready to submit to Iranian dictation. On both sides of the border
memories of the eight-year Iran-Iraq war are still too painful.

The last thing Iran wants is an Iraqi revival under a strong leader at
the head of a strong army. It would far rather the United States stayed
a while longer in Baghdad to keep the Iraqis down – or rather, if one is
cynical, to destroy the country further, and delay the day when a united
Iraq might again pose a threat.

When Saddam Hussein attacked Iran in 1980, he tore up the 1975 Algiers
Agreement whereby he conceded the Shah’s claim that the Thalweg, or
median line in the Shatt Al-Arab, become the common border between them.
Saddam later complained that he had been forced to accept the agreement
in order to put an end to Iran’s support for Mustafa Barzani’s Kurdish
insurgents, then waging a bitter war against Baghdad.

So much is history. But what is new and striking is that today’s Maliki
government in Baghdad also refuses to recognize the 1975 Algiers
Agreement! That is a small but significant indication that Iraq is not
about to surrender to Iran. In truth, there is not great enthusiasm
among Iraq’s neighbors for a rapid US withdrawal because each fears that
it may be to the other’s advantage. As for the myriad militias fighting
each other inside Iraq, they do not seem ready to put away their guns.
As the 15-year-long Lebanese civil war demonstrated, conflicts of this
sort have an inner dynamic which needs to run its course before a
settlement can be reached.

However tragic the Iraqi situation may be, and however great the human
misery, the conflict may not yet be “mature” enough for a settlement.
Factions and states inside and outside the country are still jockeying
for power. The prize is too great for these actors to give up the struggle.

It needs to be said, however, that in everyone’s mind is the fear that a
sectarian conflict between Shiites and Sunnis could spill over from Iraq
into the whole region, from Pakistan and Afghanistan to the Gulf States,
and to Lebanon. It is this terrible anxiety which may bring Iraq’s
neighbors and many other interested parties to accept Iraq’s invitation
to a conference in Baghdad later this month. It will at least have the
advantage of bringing the US face to face across the conference table
with Iran and Syria.

I observed another paradox at Monte Carlo. Everyone believes it would be
utter folly for the United States to attack Iran. It would set the whole
region on fire, disrupt the oil flow, plunge the industrial world into
recession, give an enormous boost to terrorism. So grave would be the
consequences that such a war is virtually impossible to imagine.

And yet, judging from conversations in the lobbies, the possibility of
war has by no means been ruled out. Some conferees, who had recently
been in Moscow, reported that President Vladimir Putin believes an
American attack on Iran is coming. His speech last month, harshly
critical of American policy, is believed to have been intended as a
warning to the US to draw back from the brink.

In his present desperate mood, President George W. Bush may believe that
to win in Iraq, he must first deal Iran a knock-out blow. He may be
ready to take such a gamble. Israel and its influential friends in
Washington are pressing him to attack Iran – much as they pressed him to
attack Iraq.

Washington’s pro-Israeli neo-conservatives are playing their last cards.
In thrall to a geopolitical fantasy conceived in the 1990s, they
imagined that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein would trigger a political
revolution across the Arab world, which would destroy Islamic
radicalism, Arab nationalism and Palestinian militancy, making the whole
region pro-American and pro-Israeli. Their dream has faded, but they
remain dangerous. Their influence on Bush should not be under-estimated.

As for a possible re-launch of the moribund Arab-Israeli peace process,
I must report that the mood in the lobbies was distinctly gloomy.
Serious doubts were expressed about whether US Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice had the personal authority or the backing in Washington
to bring Israel to the negotiating table. Her eight visits to the region
have yielded next to nothing.

The recent summit between Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas resulted in nothing but an
angry exchange. The Israelis scorn the long-term hudna or truce which
Hamas has offered. They still clamor for Hamas to recognize Israel’s
right to exist – although they themselves stubbornly refuse to recognize
the Palestinians’ right to an independent state. I was amazed to hear an
Israeli utter the old, shop-soiled complaint: “How can you negotiate
with someone who wants to kill you!” when it is the Israelis themselves
who are doing most of the killing.

On present form, there will be no shortage of problems for next year’s
Club de Monaco to debate.
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