A Few Iran Links From Ross Douthat And Middle East Perspectives

From Rick Francona at Middle East Perspectives: Fallout from the killing of Qods Force commander Qasem Soleimani

A. I have no doubt there will be reactions, both by Iraqi Shi’a groups/militias, and possibly even the Iranians directly. While in the past, we have seen the Iranians conducting their operations in the region via their Iraqi, Lebanese, even Afghan and Pakistani proxies, the U.S. killing of Qasem Soleimani may cause a direct Iranian response on an American target. I suspect it will be against an American target in the region, possibly the Persian Gulf.

A quick word on the killing of Soleimani. There has been speculation in some media that the intelligence used to support the decision to kill Soleimani and Kata’ib Hizballah leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was not as definitive as portrayed by U.S. Administration officials.

My response is that there has been sufficient cause for years to eliminate Soleimani. It was Soleimani who was behind proxy Iraqi Shi’a militias which caused the death of over 600 American troops, and the wounding of hundreds more. That alone, to me, is enough reason to kill him. Killing al-Muhandis? A bonus.

Ross Douthat at the NY Times applies some Walter Russell Mead American foreign policy thinking:

Douthat here:

‘The Iranian government is indeed our enemy, to an extent that the Hamiltonians in the Obama administration sometimes underestimated, and in that sense Trump’s hawkishness toward the mullahs fits with his Jacksonian approach. But the Tehran regime’s capacity and inclination to cause problems for America also reflect our regional presence, posture and alliances, which mostly exist to advance a kind of mixtape of Hamiltonian and Wilsonian grand strategies — access to Middle Eastern oil, the promotion of democracy and human rights, and regime change in Tehran itself.

As posted:

Both from The Federalist:

President Trump Can Still Avert A Catastrophe With Iran, And He Should

Panic Over War With Iran Is An Info Operation To Preserve The Iran Deal

My thoughts as a semi-informed citizen: I remember thinking that the Iranian regime (proxies, guns, terrorism) was the kind of regime with whom we couldn’t really do business (anti-American from the get-go), and that the deeper, populist ambitions of many Persians might support some kind of Iranian level-up to nuclear legitimacy, further destabilizing the region after a longer American strategic retreat.

Many signs pointed towards a conflict.

At the time, I didn’t much like the McCain campaign’s noises on Iran, potentially leading to a stand-off or even a much more difficult war than the Iraq campaign, without many of the Iraq war’s architects and supporting base having to examine their underlying assumptions.  This, given the many failure of America’s political and intellectual classes to properly consider what I see as many current American internal social, political and cultural divisions.

This process of decay and/or re-formation of our political and intellectual elite still seems to be ongoing. All in all, I remain highly skeptical.

Add to this the ‘our-deal-or-war’ peace rhetoric of the Obama administration and what seemed the amateurish quality of their foreign policy goals?

Here we are, I suppose.

Relevant key-word search on this site ‘Iran’: How’s That Iran Deal Going, Exactly?…

Repost-Henry Kissinger & George Schulz Via The WSJ: ‘The Iran Deal And Its Consequences’

Adam Garfinkle had a thoughtful piece on American political discourse and the Iran deal.

 

Repost-David Rohde At The NY Times: ‘Inside The Islamic Emirate’

Full article here.  (The second in a series)

Rohde was the NY Times reporter kidnapped for months inside Afghanistan and Pakistan.  He wrote a series of articles about his experiences.  Let this be a lesson to young journalists…risking your life can be worth it…

Also, as previously posted:

Walter Russell Mead: ‘Media Gives President A Pass Again

‘Obama should have been criticized over his smarmy and vacuous claims to have a solution for the problem back in 2008, but the press was more interested in crucifying Bush and wounding McCain than in offering the public a serious account of a genuine dilemma. What was clearly true back in 2008 was that the U.S. had won a difficult and shaky victory in Iraq after a war that should in hindsight not have been launched, while the smaller and more justifiable war in Afghanistan still offered no serious prospect of a happy ending.’

And it still doesn’t…Mead takes the NY Times to task.

Here’s a documentary on the Green Berets passed along by a reader, which has good footage of what American special forces are being asked to do in Afghanistan: The fierce fighting. The tribal, poor and divided loyalties of what come to be Afghan forces. The thuggish tactics of the Taliban:

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Related On This SiteFrom March 27th, 2009 At WhiteHouse.Gov: Remarks By The President On A New Strategy For Afghanistan And PakistanStephen Biddle At Foreign Affairs: ‘Running Out Of Time For Afghan Governance Reform’

Repost-From Michael Yon: ‘The Battle For Kandahar’Dexter Filkins Book On Afghanistan And Iraq: “The Forever War”Monday Quotations-Henry KissingerTom Ricks Via Foreign Policy: ‘American General Dies In Afghanistan; An American Lt. Col. Goes Off The Reservation

Pauline Baker At The American Interest: ‘Unraveling Afghanistan’

Also On This Site:  Dexter Filkins Book On Afghanistan And Iraq: “The Forever War”…Sarah Chayes On Afghanistan In The Boston Review: Days Of Lies And Roses

Dexter Filkins At The New Yorker-‘ISIS Vs. The Kurds: The Fight Of Their Lives’

Full piece here.

Arguably, there isn’t an American journalist observing Iraq like Filkins. This is writing that ought to be awarded.

The Kurds are clearly our strongest allies against ISIS, and have been the best of an Iraq/Syria situation that may see a long-term redrawing of boundaries. Independent Kurdistan would threaten the interests of what’s left of the idea of unified Iraq, as well as Turkish and Iranian interests among others (Obama’s still pinning hopes on that tentative p5 + 1 deal with Rouhani).

Filkins does a deeper dive on the Kurds:

‘Obama has spoken carefully in public, but it is plain that the Administration wants the Kurds to do two potentially incompatible things. The first is to serve as a crucial ally in the campaign to destroy ISIS, with all the military funding and equipment that such a role entails. The second is to resist seceding from the Iraqi state.’

The Obama administration went so far as to block the sale of Kurdish oil against what’s left of Baghdad’s control of oil resources. Check-out this New Republic piece of a few months ago.

As to ISIS, these are clearly people with whom we can’t do business:

‘Alhashimi estimated that Baghdadi has about ten thousand fighters under his command in Iraq and twelve thousand in Syria, with tens of thousands of active supporters in both countries. In Iraq, the advance force, called the House of Islam, is dominated by foreigners, including several hundred Europeans, Australians, and Americans. Many of them are suicide bombers. Alhashimi says that the group is increasingly well funded; he estimated that it takes in ten million dollars a month from kidnapping, and more than a hundred and fifty million dollars a month from smuggling oil into Turkey and other neighboring countries, often selling it at the bargain price of about a dollar a gallon.’

Previous VICE coverage of the Islamic State, which highlights just some of what we’re dealing with:

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Filkins finishes with:

‘At a lectern draped with a Kurdish flag, Barzani apologized for the heat and urged the fighters to hold on a little longer. “Be patient,” he said. “Our day is near.” 

There aren’t friends, only alliances, as they say, and this alliance would be based on the past mutual interest against Saddam and his Sunni Ba’ath thuggery, and now ISIS aligning with some of those disgruntled Sunnis, and a new, broad platform for terrorism.

A few Kurdish fighting families could become oligarchic petro-leaders should they achieve independence, but nowhere in the region do we have such alignment of interests at the moment, and do we find people who might align with our longer-term interests.

Now that missile strikes and American involvement are ramping-up against ISIS, it’s worth examining. The Iraq invasion achieved certain objectives, but at great cost, and upon many failed assumptions of what could be achieved. Now we’re cleaning-up from an ineptly managed withdrawal based on failing and I believe, a deeply flawed and oft failed set of assumptions.

Islamism, and this particularly radical brand of Islam, with its patchwork of local politics and guerilla ideological warriors, united under global and universalist claims to supremacy, will be around for a while.

It’s thriving amidst such chaos and anarchy, and if you were President, you’d be dealing with it too.

See Also:  Dexter Filkins ‘From Kurdistan To New York’

During Christopher Hitchens’ 2009 appearance on Australia’s Q & A, he wore a Kurdish flag pin in solidarity and fielded a question from a Kurd (starts at minute 1:30…mentioned as the rest of the debate may be worth your time):

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Independent Kurdistan-A Good Outcome For American Interests?

In his book Where The West Ends, Totten describes visiting Northern Iraq briefly as a tourist with a friend, and the general feeling of pro-Americanism in Kurdish Northern Iraq that generally one can only feel in Poland, parts of the former Yugoslavia etc.

Related On This Site: Longer odds, lots of risk: Adam Garfinkle At The American Interest’s Via Media: “The Rise Of Independent Kurdistan?”From Reuters: ‘Analysis: Syrian Kurds Sense Freedom, Power Struggle Awaits’

From Slate: ‘In Aleppo, Syria, Mohamed Atta Thought He Could Build The Ideal Islamic City’Lawrence Wright At The New Yorker: ‘The Man Behind Bin Laden’

Fareed Zakaria At Newsweek: ‘Terrorism’s Supermarket’Via Youtube: ‘Roger Scruton On Islam And The West’

Inside Everyone Is A Western Individual Waiting To Get Out?-Repost-Roger Sandall At The American Interest: ‘Tribal Realism’

Dexter Filkins Via HotAir: ‘Audio: Iraq War Critic Says Iraq Withdrawal May Have Been The Worst Strategic Mistake Of All’

Full piece with audio here.

Must be tough to have watched the whole Iraq war unfold, and been relatively powerless but to witness and try and put pieces together, but so it is:

‘Dexter Filkins has long been a skeptic and critic of the Iraq war, from his tenure at the New York Times to his current assignment at the New Yorker. Still, that hasn’t kept Filkins from reporting honestly on developments in the theater; in 2008, while at the NYT, he wrote extensively about the success of the surge just a few months before the presidential election. A month later, Filkins wrote again about the “literally unrecognizable” and peaceful Iraq produced by the surge. Six years later, Filkins was among the skeptics reminding people that the Iraqis’ insistence on negotiating the immunity clause for American troops was more of a welcome excuse for Obama to choose total withdrawal — and claim credit for it until this year — rather than the deal-breaker Obama now declares that it was.’

Related On This Site:   Dexter Filkins Book On Afghanistan And Iraq: “The Forever War”Repost-’Dexter Filkins In The NY Times: The Long Road To Chaos In Pakistan’

Dexter Filkins At The New Yorker: ‘What We Don’t Know About Drones’

From Foreign Affairs: ‘The Problem With Obama’s Decision To Leave Iraq’

Full post here.

‘The ostensible reason for America’s withdrawal is that the two sides could not agree on the legal terms for an ongoing U.S. military presence — specifically, whether American troops would be subject to local laws. Indeed, Obama was right to make immunity for U.S. troops a deal-breaker. Yet this impasse was probably surmountable.’

Possibly, but it would have been a lot of work, and Obama would have had to break his campaign promise.  He’s a politician, after all.  Iran looms large, however, and many, many problems remain.  Republicans haven’t been making a lot of good noise about foreign policy.

There’s this quoted statement from Obama’s speech on the White House Blog:

‘The United States is moving forward, from a position of strength. The long war in Iraq will come to an end by the end of this year. The transition in Afghanistan is moving forward, and our troops are finally coming home. As they do, fewer deployments and more time training will help keep our military the very best in the world. And as we welcome home our newest veterans, we’ll never stop working to give them and their families the care, the benefits, and the opportunities that they have earned.’

I give Obama credit for sticking to his plan, though it may have brokered away some other positions of strength.  It’s been a long road and a difficult position to inherit. Politically, he clearly needs to appeal to any center he can, the troops, and of course, try to expand his base which seems to be anyone expecting the government to be an intermediary in most aspects of American life (though perhaps necessary in the case of the VA and benefits to soldiers).  One of his best bumps occurred after taking out Bin Laden.

On this view, America would need to leverage the support of the people of the Middle East toward some shared ideals of freedom against the Al Assads, Gadhafis, and Mubaraks as well as other assorted nationalist autocrats of the region.  As for the ideals, in Western circles they are often humanitarian, human rights based, Left democratic including the Anne Marie Slaughter vision…and for Obama perhaps some liberation theology thrown in…out with Churchill, in with MLK).

Of course, in the Middle-East this may all mean something quite different.

Feel free to highlight my ignorance.

Related On This Site: David Ignatius At Foreign Policy: ‘What Happens When the Arab Spring Turns to Summer?’

Related On This Site: Walter Russell Mead At The American Interest Online: ‘Obama’s War’Walter Russell Mead At The American Interest: ‘French Secularism Dies In the Middle East’From The New Yorker: ‘Obama And Israel’…The Hamas Charter is pretty scary:  Repost: A Few Thoughts On The Current Israeli Military Operation Into Gaza: A Shift In U.S. Attitudes?

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