Thursday, December 14, 2006

A Way Forward, a Look Back

I've said elsewhere that the current mess in the Middle East can be linked directly to a couple of pistol shots fired in Sarajevo in 1914. Robert Parry, in his wisdom, stops short of that and goes back about 25 years to the start of what might be called the "Modern Era" in the unraveling of the region, and offers a look at a possible way out. An interesting short history and perspective.

The abrupt resignation of the Saudi ambassador to the United States and the postponement of George W. Bush's new Iraq policy speech mark a troubling new chapter for a U.S. strategy for the Middle East that continues to spiral toward catastrophe.

Two weeks earlier, Saudi King Abdullah summoned Vice President Dick Cheney to Riyadh to express the kingdom's displeasure with developments in Iraq, as the pro-Iranian Shiite majority gains the upper hand over the Sunni minority that dominated the country under Saddam Hussein.

The oil-rich Saudis, who represent the heart of Sunni power and influence in the Middle East, had long viewed a Sunni-led Iraq as a crucial buffer against the Shiite fundamentalists who gained control of Iran in 1979 by overthrowing the pro-U.S. Shah of Iran.

The Saudi royal family feared that Iran's austere fundamentalism could spread across the Middle East, radicalizing the Shiite populations and threatening the pampered lifestyles of the Persian Gulf's sheiks and princes. Iraq, with what was then the Arab world's strongest army, was positioned to stop that.

So, in 1980, the Saudis privately conveyed to Saddam Hussein what they claimed was a "green light" from U.S. President Jimmy Carter for Hussein to attack Iran, according to a "top secret" document that then-Secretary of State Alexander Haig used to brief President Ronald Reagan in 1981.

During the war, the Reagan administration tilted back and forth, secretly supplying weapons to both sides. CIA Director William Casey and other Reagan hard-liners privately relished how the two-sided policy let the Iraqis and Iranians kill each other while generating profits for favored arms suppliers.

But the war also created instability in the region that continues to play out to this day. Because of Iraq's war debts and Kuwait's demands for repayment, Saddam Hussein lashed out at what he saw as the Kuwaiti royal family's ingratitude, leading to his invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and the U.S.-led liberation of Kuwait in 1991.

But the U.S. occupation of Iraq set off a string of unintended consequences that disrupted the power balance in the region.

Since Iran had long sheltered Iraqi Shiite leaders, Iran's Islamic fundamentalist government emerged as a big winner, extending its influence across a Shiite crescent from Tehran through Iraq and Syria to southern Lebanon.

The Saudis were counted among the big losers, seeing their buffer against Iran disintegrate and their Iraqi Sunni brethren face political marginalization and ethnic cleansing at the hands of the Shiite-dominated security forces. Resisting this stark reversal of fortune, the Sunnis fought back with a determined insurgency.

The Saudis also watched with alarm as the staunchly pro-Israeli neocons who dominated the Bush administration persuaded Bush to give the Israelis a free hand in dealing with the Palestinians, who are predominantly Sunni. The killing of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank increased.

In other words, Bush is now confronting a region-wide crisis that largely resulted from the neocon strategy that he embraced in 2001. Instead of dealing narrowly with bin Laden and his al-Qaeda terrorists after the 9/11 attacks, Bush chose to invade Iraq and shake up the entire region.

But it now appears that Iraq was only one piece of a regional Rubik's Cube that Bush has turned and twisted with growing frustration, getting no closer to a solution and indeed making matters worse.

Way to go, Junior. If it wasn't as easy to solve Rubik's Cube as you thought it should have been, fuck it up so bad that no one else can either. Dipshit.

So, given this unfolding disaster, what are the lessons that should be learned and what might a genuine new course forward look like?

First, the American people should hold accountable everyone who advocated or enabled the Iraq War in 2002-03 - Democrats, Republicans, pundits and journalists whether they promoted the policy or just went with the flow.

Second, the U.S. press and politicians should cool the heated rhetoric about "terrorism" - and start using the word more precisely and less ideologically. The definition should be confined to intentional violence against civilians to achieve a political goal. Plus, the word should be applied evenhandedly, not as a propaganda weapon.

Third, the United States must recognize that the best way to help Israel is not always doing what the Israeli government and its influential backers demand.

Amen to that! At this point Mr. Parry goes off into cloud-cuckoo-land a little, to my way of thinking anyway, but it might work if it could happen. Go read.

Overall, the goal of this way forward would be to wind down the tensions and the hatreds, rather than ratcheting them up.

Granted, the prospects for such a peace initiative do not seem bright. It is especially hard to envision President Bush canning his tough talk in favor of peace talks.

But just as the prospects of the gallows are said to focus one's mind, it should be equally true that the likelihood of a political-military cataclysm in the oil-rich Middle East should convince Washington's policymakers to engage, finally, in some fresh thinking.

So the Saudis will back the Sunnis, and Iran will back the Shiites. So what? I think we saw a lot of that during the Cold War where the U.S. would back one side and the Soviet Union would back the other side in a whole series of "proxy wars".

The Sunnis and Shia have wanted to have it out for 1300 years. Saddam kept the lid on it, but Bush, in his infinite stupidity, gave them the 'freedom' to kill each other to their hearts' content, which is what they are doing as we speak.

And our troops are smack-dab in the middle of it.

We either gotta come down on it like a big fuckin' hammer, or get the fuck out of the way.

Bush has squandered every resource we had, from the military to public opinion, to do the former. Invading Iraq was a bad idea to begin with, and then he fucked it all up from there.

That leaves my latter option. There is no possible end result that will be good for anybody, but it's going to happen sooner or later. Hell, it's happening now, thank you Junior. Let's get the Hell out of there and leave 'em to it. We can come back later and buy our oil from the winner.

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