Denial, the theme of Bob Woodward’s recent book, should not be limited to the Bush Administration’s view of Iraq. Denial is an equal opportunity state of mind and those who want a swift exit of U.S./U.K. forces from Iraq also choose to ignore reality.
It is uncontested that the Shia are well on their way to gaining control of the military and security apparatus of Iraq. Upon the departure of American and coalition forces within the next year or so, the Shia hierarchy, aided by well-armed militia and well-organized death squads, clearly would have the ability to dominate Iraqi political life and thus its economy.
The price for acquiescence of the Kurds has always been autonomy and sharing in control of the oil industry in the Kirkuk and Mosul areas. Already increasingly fearful, Turkey would view a new oil-endowed autonomous Kurdistan as a threat to its eastern reaches with an ethnically Kurdish population. Meanwhile for its own political reasons Iran would encourage the Kurds’ unilateralism and perhaps even establish an expanded diplomatic mission in Erbil, challenging the considerable American influence.
It is generally accepted in intelligence circles that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps would seek to infiltrate all levels of the Shia-dominated Iraqi Army with training cadre and advisors, along with eventually becoming a major supplier of arms and equipment. The modest coalition advisory group left behind in Iraq would devolve into a presence of limited political and military influence.
The largely Sunni Palestinian population of Jordan would react strongly against the disenfranchisement of their brethren in Iraq, placing the government of King Abdullah in the position of having to give support to the Sunni forces.
The Sunni monarchies of the Gulf would once again find themselves turning to the United States for protection, this time from the expansion of regional Shia power. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan as usual would have to tread carefully with its neighbor, Syria, with the Assad family leadership maintained by its Shia Alawite clan. The Hezbollah of Lebanon would naturally side with their Iranian mentors.
The United States could find it self in the ironic position of being asked to give covert military assistance to Iraqi Sunni resistance forces which already would have been receiving aid through the Jordanians paid for by the Saudis and other Gulf states.
If all this appears too complicated, one should refer back to the recent history of the Middle East where Iran was once a staunch American ally. That changed with the Iranian revolution in 1979 and soon Saddam became an American “friend” when we were willing to support him during the Iran/Iraq war. Then there was something about American TOW missiles to Iran? Of course the friendship with Baghdad disappeared again with Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, during which the Iranians kept out of the fray against what was a highly vulnerable old enemy, Iraq.
The Israelis have a simple foreign policy toward all their neighbors in the Middle East: have tenuous relations with some on the surface and extensive covert contacts with all whenever possible. Their aims are also quite simple: survival. The U.S. must be substantially involved in the Middle East on all levels; that’s the role of a super power.
The one thing we cannot afford to do is pretend that we can proceed in the Middle East without substantive, if guarded, participation. That sense of denial may work well in election campaigns where the demand for a return to the simplistic concept of “fortress America” still resonates, but not in the world of realpolitik — with or without a Henry Kissinger.
Denying reality has long been the pitfall of Westerners in the Middle East. This is best exemplified by the cautionary tale that has guided old hands of the region for many years:
An obliging but fearful frog agreed to carry a deadly scorpion on its back in order that the scorpion could cross the Nile. Nothing bad could happen, the frog thought. After all the scorpion would drown if it did anything to him. In the middle of the river the scorpion stung the frog ensuring the frog’s death and its own drowning. “Why did you do that?” asked the frog with his last dying breath. “Well,” said the scorpion about to go under, “this is the Middle East, you know!”
It would be well for Washington and the rest of the Western world to remember the frog.