Don’t call it “Iraq.” That was never a country and certainly isn’t now. Sometimes it was Turkish; mostly it was Iranian, and so it will probably be in a few weeks. But Iran won’t enjoy its meal unless it gains the maturity to cut a fair deal with the minority Sunnis. Saudi Arabia and Israel will do everything in their power to prevent such a stabilization of the region in Iran’s favor. It is in the US national interest to work very hard to persuade Iran to offer moderate, secular Sunnis a deal they cannot refuse.
Washington needs to coordinate with Tehran to force Maliki out (unlikely) or persuade him essentially to create a multi-sect government of national unity. As long as the Shi’a of Mesopotamia insist on a Shi’i dictatorship that apes Saddam’s old Sunni dictatorship, they have no hope of anything but a Shi’i semi-autonomous province inside Greater Iran–facing constant threat from a crusading Salafi terrorist state extending from the middle of Syria to Fallujah. That is not good for the US, not good for the land of the Shi’i shrines, and not good for Iran. It is not even good for Saudi Arabia because a Salafi victory will certainly backfire on the Saudi state. Only al Qu’aida, some extremist Iranian IRGC generals, and the Zionist rightwing expansionists will benefit (and then perhaps only temporarily).
So Washington needs to cooperate with (not fall in love with, not trust, not bow down to…just work with) Tehran if possible and talk to Tehran every day, calmly and precisely, offering positive-sum deals because it is in the US national interest to do so.
Update: And the very next day the Wall St. Journal reported that the Obama Administration was signalling that Maliki was part of the problem and that an ethnically inclusive Iraqi regime was needed! Meanwhile, Sour Grapes Cheney, who still has of course not been given his day in court, snipes from the sidelines, trying to provoke a repeat of the 2003 disaster. Obama effectively pardoned Cheney, along with the rest of the Neo-Con war gang; the least he could do is admit his wrongdoing.
What follows is a simplification; after all, the future has yet to occur. It is, however, no fairy tale.
Enraged that Moscow would be so presumptive as to challenge Washington by encouraging ethnic Russian yearnings in Ukraine for the motherland, Washington talked its Euro buddies into embargoing the Russian natural gas that warms homes all over Western Europe. With tears of sorrow in his deep eyes, Putin announced he could not but respond by…turning off the faucets on his gas pipelines to the West. He then toured Mother Russia, rode several horses bareback (the horse) and bare-chested (the leader), and made private comments to a few thousand Russians (without the presence of foreign correspondents) promising to “keep Russians warm all winter.” He then announced for all the world to hear a new subsidy raising the wages of coal miners “including any in regions that may choose via democratic election to join Mother Russia,” thus earning the undying love and support of every man, woman, and child in the poor coal-mining region of the Donbass, known in the West as “eastern Ukraine.”
Thus fortified, en route through Siberia to speak further with Russian citizens, Putin slipped off to a local Chinese restaurant for a nice ethnic lunch in a smoke-filled back room, where he had a quiet chat with some other gentlemen, aficionados all of good Chinese cuisine, who had traveled up from a country to the south. Over a combination of vodka and plum wine, which loosened Putin’s tongue to the point of murmuring, apropos of nothing, that Russia had a cool half trillion or so of reserves just sitting around, they reached a common perspective. Lunch ended, and various Mercedes with dark windows went their respective ways.
The next day, Beijing sold one trillion dollars worth of U.S. treasuries.
Stunned by the rage of West Europeans terrified of freezing to death as winter approached and total chaos on Wall St. (which really cools the blood of the boys on the Potomac), Washington politicians started screaming at each other. This uproar so upset the mild-manner patriarch of world Shi’a, who was old enough so aspire to a quiet retirement, that he reluctantly intervened in the normal policy-making processes of government in Tehran and ordered that a “Nixon to China” breakthrough offer be made to Washington: Iran would provide the natural gas to save Europe. Choking but in a firm voice, the President of the United States personally made a few calls to key oil corporation friends, and the deal was done.
No one spoke about any Iranian quid pro quos. No one calculated the impact on global power relationships or any country’s future financial health.
Now, does this sound like a future that you would like to experience?
Readers interested in next steps may wish to look into the art of scenario analysis and other techniques for thinking about the future.
For many years close ties with arch-conservative and sometime Salafi terrorist Saudi Arabia have imperiled long-term U.S. interests even as they facilitated a variety of poorly conceived U.S. short-term goals. Now, amid press reports of Saudi disenchantment, is it time for the U.S. to move toward a healthier equidistance, e.g., between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and between Saudi Arabia and Turkey?
Press reports of Saudi disenchantment with the U.S. are timely: U.S. national interests are increasingly undermined by Saudi support for regional militarists, be they private Salafi groups or military dictatorships or Zionist expansionists. Washington would gain freedom of action and influence by declaring its independence and maneuvering as a friendly neutral willing to do business with moderate Turkey and whatever Shi’i or Sunni forces might be willing to curb their own particular violent impulses. Washington’s goal should be to guide Riyadh, Tehran, and Tel Aviv toward less threatening, more stabilizing domestic and foreign policies over the long term, even at the expense of obtaining tempting but very expensive little tactical favors that only further endanger long-range U.S. national security and push the U.S. into corners from which it cannot easily escape.
Gunboat diplomacy–whether conducted by Israeli aggression against Palestine and Lebanon, U.S. aggression against Iraq, or Saudi aggression against Yemen or Bahrain–at best achieves short-term gains in return for disproportionate long-term losses. Americans will pay heavily for supporting yet another Egyptian military dictatorship, for tolerating Saudi financing of a new Salafi rebel front in Syria, for refusing to see the many obvious opportunities to do useful business with Iran, for failing to give more enthusiastic support to Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu’s vision of a moderate Mideast, for allowing Zionists as conservative as the Saudi sheikhs to push Israel steadily toward militarism. It is time to tell Riyadh quietly that U.S. cooperation is not the same as U.S. kowtowing.
Disengagement from Saudi Arabia will not, however, be either safe or easy: in the context of an angry and desperate Pakistan whose domestic instability has been greatly worsened over the past decade of short-sighted U.S. drone attacks, the danger of a militant Sunni axis powered by Pakistani military power and Saudi money is all too real. This danger does not justify U.S. kowtowing to the Saudi sheikhs who now stand so clearly in the path of history, but it should serve as a caution for the U.S. to move carefully as it (one hopes) repositions itself to encourage the modernization of a Mideast far too dangerous to ignore.