---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: ray close
Date: Mon, Sep 1, 2008 at 4:34 PM
Subject: Opposing Iran in Iraq
Dear Friends and Colleagues:
Over the past month or two, I have enjoyed extensive and lively exchanges of views with a variety of individual specialists on the general subject of Iraq, and in particular about the complex situation that has developed concerning the Sahwa (Awakening) movement. (This is a subject made much more urgent in recent days as a result of the mounting attacks upon Sunni leaders, erstwhile allies of the United States, by military forces commanded by Prime Minister Maliki's central government.)
My objective has been to update and sharpen my own opinion, formed several months ago, that the policy of building up a US-sponsored independent Sunni military force without the approval and support of the established central government of Iraq was a risky and potentially counterproductive strategy that might have significant short-term benefits (combating al-Qa'ida remnants, in particular), but which could produce several long-term negatives. These negatives, in my view, included the following points, among others --- (greatly abbreviated and over-simplified, because you all know very well the many complex ramifications of the situation):
1. It has appeared inevitable to me for many months that the US will be leaving Iraq without having achieved its original primary objective of creating a stable national government. That being the case, I saw serious risks to creating a separate Sunni military force that would inevitably pose a challenge to the central government and would thereby increase the probabilities of renewed sectarian rivalry and even civil war --- a conflict into which the US would carry sharply conflicting obligations of support to both sides, implicit as well as explicit. This would leave the next American administration to deal with yet another Catch-22 of our own making, dramatizing once again the futile and self-destructive consequences of US actions in Iraq that have been so evident to critics of the war since before it began.
2. American creation of an independent Sunni military force (one that is inherently opposed to Shi'a majority rule) would also work against the second most important US objective: it would make eventual reconciliation between the Sunni and Shi'a communities in Iraq MUCH more difficult, and (worst of all) inevitably persuade the hardline leadership in Iran that it must urgently exert all its influence to bring about the consolidation of its diverse (and competing) Shi'a allies and clients in Iraq in preparation for an eventual showdown with, and eradication of, this newly potent Sunni challenge. This development would have the certain result that Iranian influence, direct and indirect, would emerge dominant in the power vacuum created by US departure from Iraq --- a departure that will be coming sooner rather than later, it is now apparent.
3. That last judgment rests on the conviction that the US would not, and could not if it wanted to, engage Iran in a fullscale land war to prevent the Teheran regime from imposing its hegemony over the entire Mesopotamian region --- and that Iran will only be more defiant and determined to oppose American policies if it perceives every American initiative, such as the arming of Sunni surrogates in Iraq, as part of a broader strategy to frustrate all Iranian aspirations in the region.
4. The hard truth is this: If the United States cannot prevent Iran from dominating Iraq after the American withdrawal, what sense does it make to create a Sunni force that relies on American support initially, but which will INEVITABLY become embittered when America cannot protect the Sunni community as a whole from Iranian/Shi'a domination? How many times have we made this tragic and reprehensible mistake --- of encouraging clients to defy a stronger antagonist on the false (and deceitful) premise that we will support them and protect them when their cause faces defeat? Do I need to supply a list?)
That is just an abbreviated and simplified summary of what I saw as potential downside risks associated with the strategy of sponsoring a Sunni Awakening. (Which is NOT to say that I do not recognize the real benefits derived from the Sahwa's opposition to al-Qa'ida remnants in Iraq. I also recognize the fact that, absent the Sahwa, there would be very little basis for John McCain's politically self-serving claim that the "surge" has been an unqualified military triumph.)
Now, I want to share with you a response that I received a few days ago from an important and influential Israeli academic personality --- one who is a widely respected authority on Iraq throughout the scholarly communities and the intelligence agencies of Europe, North America and the Middle East. He really let me have it, right between the eyes. I was not particularly surprised at his attitude, and I suspect that most of you will not be, either. But put this in your pipe and smoke it, as the saying goes. I think it deserves thoughtful consideration.
My Israeli interlocutor says this:
The ONLY guarantee that Iraq will not become an Iranian satellite is SUNNI power in the Iraqi armed forces. If your administration fails to get this done, forget about Iraq. What to do? Stop ALL military aid to the Iraqi Government's armed forces IMMEDIATELY. Resume ONLY on condition of at least 50,000 Awakening (Sahwa) guys are absorbed into the army. If not, in a year Maliki will use the army you are building for him, including the M1 Abrams you are now selling him, to massacre the Sunnis. The British-built Iraqi army massacred the Assyrians in 1933 to the applause of Sunni and Shi'i Arabs. The same massacred tribal Shi'is in 1935-36. It massacred the Kurds in 1988, again to the applause of Sunni Arabs. The same massacred the Shi'is 1991, to the applause of Sunni Arabs. It will do it again, this time to the Sunnis, with pleasure too, to the applause of the Shi'is. This is Iraq, not New Jersey.
(The last barb is polite sarcasm; this old friend thinks I have gone wobbly because of my current immersion in the liberal academic atmosphere of Princeton University.)
To remind you: This is an ISRAELI academic speaking --- a respected representative of the intellectual community that so passionately advocated the military overthrow of Saddam Hussein --- while scornfully reproaching those in America and elsewhere who foresaw the tragic consequences of invading and occupying an Arab Muslim nation at the heart of the Middle East. The prospective protectors of Iraq and America (and Israel) against the existential threat to us all posed by Iran are now, in his view, the former principal supporters of the reviled Iraqi dictator. I think my Israeli friend believes that since the US doesn't seem to have either the means or the will to fight its own war against Iran, then the next best course would be for America to recruit Arab Sunni mercenaries to do the fighting for the rest of us. Sounds quite simple, don't you think?
CONCLUSION: It's high time we Americans stopped relying on Israelis (and their intellectual brothers, our own neocons) to tell us what our vital interests are in the Middle East. We must start thinking for ourselves.