While the global public is preoccupied with recent unrests in Libya, Syria, and Yemen, a reminder article on Iraq was released by Frederick Kagan, Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and Kimberly Kagan, President of the Institute for the Study of War (“Stand with Iraq”; Weekly Standard; April 18, 2011). On one hand, the Arab Spring is a great opportunity to advance democracy throughout the Middle East. But on the other hand, the collapse of the balance of power can provoke Iran’s ambition to expand its influence in the Gulf area and furthermore. Therefore, stable and strong democracy in Iraq is vital to lead Arab Spring movements to more favorable direction.
Both Kagans criticize a preoccupation with ending the war in Iraq and a notion that the US-Iraqi relations should focus on nonmilitary fields. Actually, the United States has not made meaningful progress in developing nonmilitary ties with Iraq, while Iran penetrates there through trade and investment businesses, many of which are tied to the Revolutionary Guard. Moreover, Iran deepens ties with Iraqi leaders drawing little attention from the United States. Both authors argue that the United States cannot develop bilateral partnership with Iraq by simply relying on soft power. They say that continuous presence of US peacekeeping forces will foster Arab-Kurd peace. Also, Iraqi security forces are still weak to curb Iranian-backed militias and Sunni insurgents including Al Qaeda. The United States played significant roles to manage such security challenges in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein. Therefore, I agree with them that the Obama administration be psychologically involved in Iraq to make continuous commitment to maintain security there. Furthermore, Max Boot, Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, says, “We are still in Kosovo, South Korea and other post-conflict zones that are far more stable. We need to be in Iraq too” (“It's in America's Interest to Stay in Iraq”; Real Clear World; April 18, 2011).
American political and military presence is the key to stop Iranian ambition in the Middle East and Central Asia. Particularly, Iran is keen to penetrate its influence into the Gulf area. Bahrain is a primary target, as populated by Shiite majority. Iran sponsors Hezbollah-led uprisings there, which intensifies tensions with Arab emirates and the United States (“Bahrain Sees Hezbollah Plot in Protest”; Wall Street Journal; April 25, 2011).
Radical Shiites like Hezbollah is not the only organization sponsored by Iran. Sunni networks, notably Al Qaeda, receive substantial assistance from Iran to pursue their destructive activities throughout the Middle East. Stephen F. Hayes, Senior Writer of the Weekly Standard, and Thomas Joscelyn, Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracy, talk of dreadful cases of Iran-Al Qaeda ties. In 2009, Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia told President Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser John Brennan that Iran hosted Saudis to agitate uprisings in his country. In 2007, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Eric Edelman and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan agreed Iran provided small fire weapons to Afghan insurgents. More importantly, CIA Director Michael Hayden said such support had been approved “at the highest levels” of the Iranian regime in 2008 (“The Iran Connection”; Weekly Standard; December 13, 2010).
Considering Iran’s ties with terrorists and radicals, stability in Iraq is interconnected with successful political transitions in the Middle East from Morocco to Pakistan. As terrorist networks are so widespread and so deeply connected with autocrats, it is utterly wrong to insist that we focus on Iraq and Afghanistan, while leaving Arab dictatorship like Libya and Syria as they are. American presence and leadership are essential to help the Arab Spring and defeat terrorists. The Obama administration’s excessive modest stance on Libya is counterproductive to the War on Terror in Iraq and Afghanistan. Therefore, I agree with Charles Krauthammer’s comment “Leading from behind is not leading” (“The Obama doctrine: Leading from behind”; Washington Post; April 29, 2011).
Meanwhile, Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told that Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki would announce how many US troops stay after December this year in several weeks. The challenge posed by a radical Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr is a key issue of US-Iraqi security talks before Maliki decides the status of US forces (“Iraq must decide in "weeks" on U.S. troops: Mullen”; Reuters; April 23, 2011). Don’t forget Iraq. Democracy promotion, along with the War on terror and nuclear nonproliferation in the Middle East started from here.