Partially driven by my desire to protect the innocent, I’ll describe Iraqi Prime Minister Noriel al-Maliki’s current existential problem with ISIS by telling a semi-fictional story.
I knew this Guy who opened a restaurant with the help of some People from Brooklyn. A disagreement resulted in the Guy asking the People from Brooklyn to leave the business venture, and the People complied. Later, the Guy encountered business troubles, and the People offered to help – under the condition that the Guy leaves the restaurant. And NEVER return. The Guy left the establishment while apparently not investing much time to consider his options. “Under new management” became the official version of events. A closer examination of the story shows that while The People were clearly interested in the restaurant’s economic potential, their ultimate interest was trained on the building and neighborhood surrounding the business. After all, The People was really competing with these Other People for control of the area.
Folks, you’re witnessing Goodfellas, the Global Chapter.
My crystal ball for what could happen next requires a brief walk through history.
Before Gulf War 2, Officials from Bush the Second’s administration were reportedly meeting with oil companies to decide how Iraq’s fossil fuel booty will be divided after the invasion.
I know, the charge is outrageous and Bush Jr’s men naturally denied the claims, but I think reading this 1998 speech from US Vice President Dick Cheney – then CEO of Haliburton – will give you an idea of what he thought about oil and the Middle East prior to his Beltway tour of duty. And of course you have to read this May 2001 report by the James Baker Institute at Rice University, prepared for officials in Bush Jr‘s administration (pdf). Here’s a snippet from page 40:
Iraq remains a destabilizing influence to U.S. allies in the Middle East, as well as to regional and global order, and to the flow of oil to international markets from the Middle East. Saddam Hussein has also demonstrated a willingness to threaten to use the oil weapon and to use his own export program to manipulate oil markets.
On the same page and subsequent paragraph, The Institute drops this bomb:
The United States should conduct an immediate policy review towards Iraq, including military, energy, economic and political/diplomatic assessments.
And of course we have the words of Bush the Second’s Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, during a National Security Council meeting on February 1, 2001: “Imagine what the region would look like without Saddam and with a regime that’s aligned with U.S. interests…It would change everything in the region and beyond. It would demonstrate what U.S. policy is all about.”
Now that the “Iraq has Weapons of Mass Destruction” meme has been discredited once again, let’s fast-forward to the invasion, and American viceroy Paul Bremer’s establishment of a interim Iraqi government through his Coalition Provisional Authority that resulted in the curious disappearance of billions of dollars from the Iraqi treasury. Maliki wasn’t apparently down for parlaying this version of international corporate welfare into Yankee oil pipelines, or be the host to colonial-style military agreements, since he requested a withdrawal of US troops from Iraq in 2011. Maliki being friendlier to US nemesis Iran didn’t help matters. And there’s this.
So…the US left.
And…things went badly for Maliki’s country. The same ISIS terrorists who’ve been throwing down in Syria – with indirect assistance from the US and a checkbook from Saudi Arabia – are now bum-rushing Iraq. It’s impossible to believe the brand-new terrorist craze that’s sweeping the region caught the US by surprise (pdf).
In any case, Maliki needs help.
Back to my crystal ball. The US could provide help, but it will cost Maliki something.
My personal axiom plays in a loop here: your sense for danger should be on fire when both American Democrats and Republicans publicly agree on the same thing. In this case, I’m talking about a bipartisan desire for Maliki to leave office while referencing his incitement of sectarian tensions in their reasoning. I’m pretty convinced that Maliki would receive America’s support to hang around if he hated Iran.
Do you see the squeeze play taking shape? More on this in a moment.
Maliki is not completely innocent here, but blaming him for all the sectarian evils in Iraq is not only disingenuous, but the allegation also discounts how decades of Western foreign policy helped to drive the current situation.
I’ll remind you that much of the sectarian violence you see in the Middle East today can be traced to the close of World War I, after the British Empire supported the Arab world’s revolt against Ottoman rule. The British and the French gave the Arabs a lasting gift for displaying such bravery: division of the newly-liberated Arab land into Anglo or French colonies. The Middle East’s country boundaries resulting from the Brit-French agreement, virtually unchanged to this day, were constructed without any rational or noble regard for tribes or sects, thus forcing these diverse groups to live with each other within arguably unnatural boundaries. The subsequent sectarian-biased favoritism by the West became a deadly divide-and-conquer strategy that has resulted in cycles of sectarian violence. More specifically, America’s role in supporting sectarian conflict in Iraq is no secret.
My crystal ball doesn’t see an ISIS invasion of Iraq. I don’t think these guys are as dumb as some of you may think. I also don’t think we should expect a major American presence in fighting (Sunni) ISIS – yet. Who knows, we may see a President Clinton style airstrike against a tent or something, but I think some policymakers are interested in watching the Middle East fall apart along sectarian lines while figuring out how to capitalize on a runaway train. I also don’t believe America views Maliki’s removal as the prize, but dreams of Iran’s downfall as a near jackpot.
With (Shiite) Maliki out of the way, a united Iraq becomes even less viable, which helps the US in its undeclared war against (Shiite) Iran. Keep in mind that one of America’s Middle East Allies, Saudi Arabia, doesn’t want America to intervene in Iraq. That’s no surprise since having ISIS around can help the Syrian Sunnis with the removal of Syria’s President Assad in that country’s civil war, which goes back to crippling (Shiite) Iran. Meanwhile, Iraq’s Kurdistan is relatively peaceful at the moment, and the Kurds may feel bold enough to continue its expansion, so they can sign additional large oil deals like the one with Exxon, to the dismay of Baghdad. I’m sure that the growing Kurd influence is also stressing Turkey out. All these events will happen under the increasing risk of sectarian civil war across the region.
And as a bonus, American war hawks will have
al-Qaeda ISIS to thank for pitches to increase the defense budget!
On a more serious note, The Middle East would be a super-quiet place if drones and cruise missiles were the answers.
Given America’s shortsighted diplomatic and military bets across the Middle East, almost any option the country chooses at this point will yield an immediate and ugly outcome.
Just like most rackets…
song currently stuck in my head: “do right” – tyrone washington