Wednesday, October 24, 2007

US Policy in the Middle East: Managing Iraq and Thereafter

US intervention to Iraq is just the first step toward new order in the Middle East, and this is not the end. Therefore, it is essential to discuss how to manage current Iraq, and think of post-Iraq policy in the Middle East. I hereby would like to talk about two events as shown below.

(1) “Is Keeping Troops in Iraq America’s Best Interests?” (video, PDF)
September 18, 2007
Host: Miller Center of Public Affairs, University of Virginia

Moderated by
Gerald Baliles; Director, Miller Center of Public Affairs
Margaret Warner; Senior Correspondent, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, PBS


Frederick W. Kagan; Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute
Reuel Marc Gerecht; Resident Fellow, American Enterprise Institute

Jessica Tuchman Mathews;
President, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Chas Freeman; Former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia

First, I mention the debate on current Iraq policy at the University of Virginia. Key issues at the panel were negative influences posed to Iraq by Al Qaeda and Iran. While proponents insist that continual US presence in Iraq is vial to defeat Al Qaeda and to curb Iranian threat, opponents say that further US involvement will provoke Al Qaeda activities and Iranian penetration in Iraq.

Frederick Kagan points out that Al Qaeda in Iraq is closely connected with Al Qaeda worldwide. He says “If we simply were to withdraw and allow the sectarian strife to continue in Iraq unabated, we would be furthering the objectives of the Al Qaida leaders who sue that terrorism both to pose as protectors of the Sunni population against Shia death squads, and also as a cover for their own violence against the Sunni. And this has been one of the things that we’ve seen most dramatically in the process of beginning a defeat of Al Qaida.”

Another proponent Reuel Gerecht says Al Qaeda and Iran will radicalize Sunnis and Shia groups in Iraq, if the United States loses this war. This will undermine US engagement elsewhere such as the Taiwan Strait.

On the other hand, Jessica Mathews insists that there is no military solution for ethnic and religious conflicts in Iraq, as witnessed in Algeria against France, in Chechnya against Russia, and in Palestine against Israel. There are only political solutions, she says.

Also, Chas Freeman argues that US intervention and the destruction of the Iraqi state have created opportunities for Iran and Al Qaeda to move in. He quotes poll results to tell that the majority of Iraqi people feel US presence there ruins their sovereignty. Freeman insists that once US forces withdraw from Iraq, then, people in Iraq will focus on curbing threats posed by Al Qaeda and Iran. This will be a substantial gain for the United States, he says.

Former Ambassador Freeman’s comment sounds rather pessimistic to US mission in Iraq, and too pacifist about the consequence of US withdrawal. I would agree with Frederick Kagan. He is well-known for a report to endorse surge, entitled “Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq” with the help of General Jack Kean. This report provided basic strategic ideas for the Bush administration to improve things in Iraq.

Frederick Kagan articulates the meaning of the strategic goal of promoting pro-American democracy. The key point is not whether they like George W. Bush, but whether Iraqis are allies to the United States in the war on terror. He says that the United States is the best ally for the Iraq Security Forces the Iraqi government, and local Sunni leaders in their struggle against Al Qaeda. Kagan is right to insist that early withdrawal will simply undermine American reputation in the Middle East. Remember, Professor Niall Ferguson of Harvard University mentions that terrorists had been acting in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait before the Iraq War, and they moved to Iraq in the post Saddam confusion.

Regarding dialogues with Iran, Frederick Kagan has no objection to it. But as he points out, it is no use just for US withdrawal from Iraq. He mentions Iranian connection with Al Qaeda in Iraq. Moreover, I would argue that current Shiite regime in Iran has a vital interest in prevailing their theocracy throughout the Middle East. A Chamberlainian approach to such a regime is fatally dangerous.

(2) “After Iraq: US Strategy in the Middle East after Troops Come Home” (video, PDF)
September 17, 2007
Host: Democracy: A Journal of Ideas
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Moderated by
Kenneth Baer; Co-Editor, Democracy: A Journal of Ideas

Jessica Tuchman Mathews;
President, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
William Marshall; President, Progressive Policy Institute
Ray Takeyh; Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations

Then, Let me talk about the event on post-Iraq US strategy in the Middle East. Iraq is not the end. It is just the beginning of Middle East reform to defeat terrorists and dangerous regimes, which pose grave threat to America and its allies. On September 17, “Democracy: A Journal of Ideas” and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace hosted a discussion after Iraq. “Democracy” is a progressive journal analogous to conservative counterparties such as “Commentary”, the “National Interest”, and the “Public Interest”. This event was a panel on US policy after retreating troops from Iraq, primarily through progressive (i.e., liberal. This word is used quite often these days.) viewpoints. Three key issues were discussed: nuclear non-proliferation, democracy promotion, and Iran.

Regarding nuclear non-proliferation, Jessica Mathews criticizes current double standard policy of standing tough against authoritarian regimes while dealing tolerantly with democratic nuclear powers like India. Also, she insists on close cooperation with Russia to denuclearize Iran and North Korea. There is no doubt that Iran is a key to US Middle East policy on Iraq and thereafter. However, I suspect that Vladimir Putin consider using Iran a strategic card against the West.

As to democracy promotion, William Marshall points out that it is necessary to tackle the problem of marginalized people in the Middle East under the global economy. Actually, a conservative policy analyst Reuel Marc Gerecht mentions similar points in “Selling out Moderate Islam”. This issue becomes increasingly important in the post Cold War era.

Finally, Ray Takeyh commented on Iran. He says that Iran and the United States common interests to reconstruct a stable and unified Iraq. Therefore, he argues that both countries talk on the future of Iraq. Certainly, this should not be ruled out. The problem is, Iran assists Shiite radicals, in order to have strong influence on Iraq, which is at odds with US led initiatives for Middle East reform.

Though three panelists are critical to the Bush administration’s Middle East policy, people should keep it in mind that progressives pursue common agenda of Middle East democratization. Moderate reform in key Western allies, like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, is no less important than progress of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Iraq is at a critical stage now. Success here is a vital step for the future in the Middle East. Also, it is time that US and European policymakers began to think of post Iraq strategy in the Greater Middle East. Regardless of ideological backgrounds, two events present invaluable insights for those having keen interests in US foreign policy and Middle East affairs.