Ensuring U. S. interests after Iraq

Ralph Peters, heretofore one of the staunchest supporters of the invasion of Iraq, has published in opinion piece in USA Today proclaiming the affair a disaster and implicitly urging withdrawal:

My disillusionment with our Iraq endeavor began last summer, when I was invited to a high-level discussion with administration officials. I went into the meeting with one firm goal, to convince my hosts that they’d better have Plan B in case Iraq continued to disintegrate. I left the session convinced that the administration still didn’t have Plan A, only a blur of meandering policies and blind hopes. After more than three years, it was still “An Evening at the Improv.”

Then, last month, as Iraq’s prime minister seconded al-Sadr’s demand that our troops free a death-squad mastermind they had captured, I knew a fateful page had turned. A week later, al-Maliki forbade additional U.S. military raids in Sadr City, the radical mullah’s Baghdad stronghold. On Tuesday, al-Maliki insisted that our troops remove roadblocks set up to help find a kidnapped U.S. soldier. Iraq’s prime minister has made his choice. We’re not it. It’s time to face reality. Only Iraqis can save Iraq now — and they appear intent on destroying it. Après nous, le deluge.

Iraq could have turned out differently. It didn’t. And we must be honest about it. We owe that much to our troops. They don’t face the mere forfeiture of a few congressional seats but the loss of their lives. Our military is now being employed for political purposes. It’s unworthy of our nation.

As Klausewitz noted all wars are fought for political purposes. Leaving that aside as hawks desert the ship this might be a good time to consider how we might plan to ensure U. S. interests in the region after a withdrawal from Iraq.

I think I’ll divide this subject into two pieces. In this post I’ll consider what our interests in the region are and in the next perhaps we’ll consider how those might be ensured.

Even if we were to withdraw our military from Iraq magically overnight, we would continue to have interests in the region and those interests would certainly be affected by the withdrawal.

There’s ensuring the flow of oil, of course. Like it or not we’re the guarantors of the free flow of oil from the region if only because we’re the only ones with the ability or inclination. This is sometimes trivialized as “It’s all about the oil!” but the petroleum that is processed into the gasoline that we use to commute to work is also used to lubricate farm equipment in Africa and processed into the components of livesaving medical equipment used in Japan. The commerce in oil is worth protecting.

I presume that the countries in the Gulf are at least marginally capable of protecting their wells and port facilities from sabotage and terrorist attack but those aren’t the only sources of vulnerability: there’s also the maintenance of the free flow of traffic in the Gulf and deterring piracy (one of the reasons for our enormous naval bases in the Gulf is the potential for disruption of shipping).

Israel, too, is a U. S. interest if only for domestic political reasons (note that I’m not asserting that’s the only reason only that it’s the reason of last resort).

We have a large number of bases in the region that will continue to need to be maintained even as our failure in Iraq will discourage cooperation in maintaining them.

We have commitments to other allies in the region. As the situation in Iraq deteriorates farther in our absence they will, no doubt, be agitated as Iraqi refugees head for their borders.

There are, presumably, hundreds if not thousands of U. S.-owned businesses that operate in the region. Frequent commenter Lounsbury could speak more authoritatively on this subject.

What other interests do we have in the region?

Some have suggested an interest in democracy in Iraqi Kurdistan and an obligation to those Iraqis who have supported us there.

It also bears mention that should we abandon Iraq we will be completely without a grand strategy in War on Terror but that’s a subject for another post.

11 comments… add one
  • JRM Link

    While preparing your analysis, please comment on a subject that seems to be universally ignored, but is the “elephant in the room”:

    One of the main (in my mind THE main) reasons for invading Iraq was to give the lie to the meme that the US is a paper tiger that will always cut and run the minute anything gets slightly difficult, as demonstrated by the Lebanon barracks bombing, Somalia, the First Gulf war, and any number of other cases. The Democrats, of course, are perfectly willing to prove that this meme is exactly correct. That is why they must lose. I am a little disappointed that some others, such as Ralph Peters, seem not to “get it”. As for world opinion on the subject, oderint dum metuant.

  • Well, yes, we would seem to have confirmed that view, wouldn’t we? I think there are a number of suggestive things to consider:

    – during the Israel-Hezbollah fight over the summer I read quite a few interviews with people in the region suggesting “we need our own Hezbollah”
    – we would have confirmed OBL’s assessment
    – those with a mind to in other parts of the Middle East might decide that if they made enough mischief they could get the U. S. (whether in the form of military or commercial interests) to leave

    I’ll poll a few folks with much more Middle East savvy than I have to get their views on this. That BTW was the unstated subtext of this post.

  • JRM:
    If we don’t want to confirm the notion that we don’t have the ability to win a land war how about we take the job a bit more seriously next time? George W. Bush is the Ken Lay of foreign policy. Don’t blame the Democrats because a Republican is incompetent.

    This series of posts you’re working on is the reason we pay you the big money. (Okay, we’re paying you nothing, but we’re grateful just the same.)

    The flow of oil has to be number one. Just a fact of life. Thirty years from now maybe not, but right now, yes.

    Israel follows because it is a pro-Western Democracy, and because of our collective guilt over the Holocaust, and because Israel does have a US constituency. Not coldly rational perhaps, but a fact of life.

    I don’t think our non-oil business interests will amount to enough to weigh very heavily. Take oil out of the equation and the economy of the Arab middle east probably doesn’t amount to a second Belgium.

    It’s an interesting question to ask whether if oil were magically subtracted from the equation we’d have any need to project force into the ME. My suspicion is that minus oil the ME might as well be central Africa for all we’d care.

    And I do think we have an obligation to the Kurds. We betrayed them once already. It’s not a serious geopolitical point to make but I think we’d be damned for eternity if we abandoned the Kurds.

  • Funny you should make that comparison, MT. I’ve heard the Middle East without oil described as “Rwanda with sand”.

  • Yep. And we saw how much we cared about Rwanda.

  • kilroy Link

    I think that the “redeployment” we may well do will be sectional in nature. The real change from this war is that we must find alternative energy.

    The debt is a huge issue. We chose to go to the moon in the 60’s. Give me the same dollars that we spent for the moon , and in ten years we won’t have to depend on the changed face of a culture that has existed for 5.000 years.

    For the moral imperative we must support this region as we wean ourselves from the fiscal reality.

    I’m old. I did not support this war. I respect the effort given. The moral imperitive ask’s why did’nt we spend this amount of lives and treasure on something of a moral non-oil value. Let’s say Bay of pigs or South Africa ?

    We’re there. We must attempt help this situation by helping, not doing (type A personality – lessons learned).

    It is about what this place could cost us. We must bear the costs ahead of us because of our commitment. That we are not dealing with why we are really there is the frightening part.

    Michael was all sorts of twisted because he felt betrayed by the incompetence of this administration. Picture yourself back in ’03, and if our current and future administrations don’t deal with our energy issues, the convenience to bitch about our abilty to impact other cultures may well be moot.

    Nuclear, wind, hydrogen whatever… we went to Iraq because we could. We went to the moon because we could. We can and must deal with the issue that allows us to do the things we can.

    Or we can’t.

  • You want out of the sandbox thinking, Dave? How about we swallow our Cold War hang-ups and decide to allow Russia to be the next oil-wealthy nation. It has the reserves and the US has the technology. Then its back to “Rwanda with sand” for the ME.

    (Go on, someone tell me why this won’t happen – it’s pretty obvious but gives the lie to the GWOT being the greatest threat to American interests.)

    Then, in 30 years or so, the U.S. has to decide whether it will let Canada be the new KSA or whether it will invade to preserve the idea that the oil under the ice-cap is international in flavor. Not to mention Canada will be the next Panama in terms of sea traffic by then…

    Regards, Cernig

  • Right now the only thing preventing closer economic ties between Russia and the United States is Russia. I don’t see any reluctance on the part of U. S. businesses. I think that Russia will have a raft of problems whatever we do over the next 50 years. Depopulation, agitation by people who aren’t ethnic Russians in the border areas (where most of their oil is), pressure from China in the east.

    Canada? Probably as likely that the Albertans will get fed up with the Ontarians and Quebecoises and federate with us as we would be to invade. More so.

  • I don’t think America’s primary interest in Iraq is oil, though it certainly is our primary regional interest. Other states in the Gulf region are (and have been) more than happy to make-up any shortfalls in Iraqi production to sate the world’s need and thirst. I think the most important strategic interest in Iraq now is ensuring that Iraq does not become another Afghanistan or otherwise a haven of support to AQ-style Islamic terrorism.

    It’s interesting you write this today, as I just finished a thesis for contigency planning the fall of the Iraqi government and the failure of our current policy. It’s up on my site now.

  • If we withdraw our forces from Iraq (as I believe will happen sooner rather than later at this point), whatever interests we have there will largely be moot. Based on the rhetoric we’ve heard for years now from those who’ve favored withdrawal from Iraq I expect that we’ll be sending more troops to Afghanistan (where they’ll shortly be bogged down in a situation that very much resembles the current situation in Iraq except that it’s in a country with no strategic value).

  • Rwanda with sand. Well, it does show you all know fuck all about the economies here, and otherwise are facile whankers in writing about MENA.

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