The current summit on Iraq, which Tehran is currently hosting is another calculated event organized by HISH with the purpose of helping close ranks on the US presence in Iraq and their entire regional adventure. On the short run, however, HISH spin-doctors might make it appear as though the Alliance is actually taking a more proactive approach towards stabilizing the situation in Iraq thus helping establish a better negotiating position vis-à-vis the US.
But what is actually taking place is an attempt to hijack Iraq from the US, making US position there quite untenable by weakening its allies and uniting its detractors under a coalition affiliated with HISH. Pretty soon, the political scene in Iraq will be divided into two major currents, an embattled one made up of the last few pro-US statesmen and officials, and the a pro-HISH current made up of all parties opposed to US-presence in Iraq, a coalition that might actually grow to attract and accommodate many Sunnis, both Islamists and Baathists, in due course of time. (Initially though, the alliance of Islamists and Baathists might linger as a third current).
Both major currents will be multi-ethnic in essence, albeit the Shia will figure more prominently in them, by sheer force of demographics. Kurds might also figure prominently here, as many of them seem convinced of the need to plan a post-US strategy that could safeguard the gains that they have already made on the grounds. The US does indeed stand to lose its last major allies in Iraq, as it seems to have outlived its usefulness for them (which is in essence a favor returned. The Kurds do feel that were betrayed by the US and several western powers repeatedly before).
These moves will leave the US very little room to maneuver. As things stand right now, it is indeed up to HISH to grant the US a graceful way out, or not, depending on the price the US is willing to pay. And nothing less than everything is now acceptable to the HISHees. Good luck with engagement.
One option that the US has is to do some immedaite escalation of its own, both militarily and diplomatically. But this is more likely to backfire and prove equally as disastrous, unless its NATO allies are willing to back it, which they are not. None of them is willing to engage in all-out regional war, which is what the current HISHee brinkmanship is all about.
A less humiliating exit strategy might be to out-Baker the Iraq Study Group and withdraw without any talks with anyone, leaving the HISHees, among other regional and international powers, to handle the Iraqi mess. Should some prominent Iraqis indeed crossover to this HISH Alliance, the US position will receive some justifications, at least on the domestic front, seeing that such a move would be interpreted as a sign that Iraqis are willing to tackle their problems on their own by talking and reaching agreements with their trouble-making neighbors. Indeed, the Iraqis have already made an agreement to establish diplomatic relations with Syria, after more than 25 years of strained relations. Coming at this particular point in time, this is an interesting move indeed.
True, a withdrawal by the US forces at this stage will undermine, at least temporarily, the position of the March 14th coalition in Lebanon, as the Assads and Hezbollah will be encouraged to unleash their wrath even more wantonly they have done so far. And true, the move could hamper all regional efforts at reform and democratization for a certain period of time. But, seeing that the other options that the US has at this stage might still lead down this same path, the move may not be as defeatist, not to mention immoral to the eyes of some in the Bush Administration.
Indeed, if the Bush Administration should ever adopt the withdrawal option, this might be exactly how they would end up doing it. They will not talk to anyone, they will make any concessions.
This move will give the HISH Alliance another one of those pyrrhic yet divine victories they are so fond of, for they may or may not be able to help control the mess in Iraq, and this aside, they will still be vulnerable to all sort of international pressures with regard to issues such as the Hariri Investigation, Iran’s nuclear program, Hezbollah disarmament and the situation in Gaza.
Meanwhile, the US is bound to receive much blame for its policies, but it will be simultaneously courted by all and sundry in the region and Europe to return and help stabilize the situation. This will put the US back on top of things again, and will allow American officials to ask for serious cooperation from their regional and NATO allies in preparation for Round Two of the conflict. For there will of course be a Round Two. And a Round Three, and a Round Four if necessary. The HISHees will not lay quiet, and they will rather press their perceived advantage to the fullest.
For the HISH, armed with a heavy doze of hubris, will prove too unruly for most powers, and all would realize the need for breaking it, despite the legitimacy of some of its claims.
True, European interests may not coincide with those of the US in this. But Europe’s interests cannot be served by accommodating all of the HISHees, they can only accommodate Iran, a non-nuclear Iran to be specific. But Iranians leaders are too proud, and they are unlikely to concede to European demands on the nuclear issue. This is why Europe will ultimately have to turn back to the US for succor. Without a credible coalition and a credible threat, discussions with Iran will go nowhere. Yes, Iran will have to be acknowledged as a major regional power, they sacrificed a lot to get where they are today. But they have to do it without the nukes, and without this Alliance. Hezbollah will need to be disarmed, the Assads will need to go. Hamas will need to moderate its tone, so progress can be made in Gaza. To achieve this, Europe needs the US as much as it needs it.
As such the withdrawal that I am talking about here is merely tactical and will not serve as a major strategic shift in the thinking of the current administration. I don’t believe this administration is ready to review it entire strategy in the region, but they do urgently need to revise their tactics, so, I am throwing this entire idea in the fray for to generate debate on the two hot topics: what is really happening in the region at this stage? And should the US do about it on the short and long terms?
Addendum: The Somalia Link
The deeply flawed report by the UN on HISH arms sales to Somalia may not be off the mark all together. In reality, it is indeed in the interest of the Alliance to expand its scope, and Syria has for long had relations with Somalia even through these troubled times, this is why you find so many Somali bananas in the Syrian (and Lebanese) markets. For bananas are indeed the main trade item for the Somalis, and not Uranium. But banana sales can still bring enough returns to fund the low-tech warfare going on in Somalia, and now the Islamic Courts Union is in control of this trade. But, since my friends in Syria and Lebanon can still purchase Somali bananas, this new state of affairs does not seem to have had any negative impact on trade relations between Syria, Lebanon and Somalia. In due course of time, the ICU could indeed be recruited to join the HISH.
Is this an exaggeration? Well, just consider the ongoing security cooperation between Syria and the Sudan, and Iran and the Sudan, especially with regard to the situation in Darfur. Visits by Sudanese security officials to the capitals of Syria and Tehran are as regular as clockwork, and have been for a couple of years now. As all sides seem to have their troubles with the international community, and with the same main actors in it (mainly: the US, Britain, France), the emergence of such cooperation is indeed all too natural. Somalia and the Sudan are well-nigh members of the HISH, a fact that will become clearer in due course of time and should help sound alarm bells.
This article in the Wall Street Journal quotes me on the potential impact of the Iraqi Study Group report on the situation in the region, especially with regards to the Assads. Basically, I say that the Assads feel empowered by the mere possibility that the reports will recommend talks with them, and as such, they are more willing than ever to push their perceived advantage. By continuing to prove themselves as troublesome, the Assads hope they can project themselves as invincible and indispensable.