Bush’s plan for Iraq and the Middle East

Bush’s plan for Iraq and the Middle East

By Abid Mustafa

Over the past few months, the Bush administration in the backdrop of the
Iraq Study Group’s (ISG) report has announced its plan for Iraq—apart from
the Presidents refusal to formally engage Iran and Syria— the plan broadly
concurs with the recommendation laid out by the ISG. Furthermore, the US has
mobilised its surrogates in Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq and the
gulf countries to implement this plan and prepare the ground for the
emergence of a new middle east. What follows is a brief summary of what
America is planning to achieve in Palestine, Iraq and Iran.

Palestine.

The present US effort undertaken by US Secretary of State Dr. Rice to kick
start the peace process between the Palestinians and the Israelis—as
envisioned by the ISG—is for now, a mere symbolic gesture.

Olmert’s government is deeply unpopular and is engulfed in numerous
scandals. It is unlikely that Olmert will survive. Fresh elections will have
to be scheduled to form a new Israeli government—likely to be a coalition
government—this will delay the implementation of the road map. Despite
Olmert’s obvious weakness, his government like its predecessor has
sanctioned the construction of fresh settlements in West Bank— a move
intended to foil the US attempts to re-start the peace process. The proposal
elucidated by Israel’s Foreign Minister to advance negotiations between
Palestinians and Israelis, which includes psuedo final status termed
‘political horizon’ is meaningless unless Israel puts a halt to fresh
settlement activity and stops the excavation of Al-Aqsa mosque. The tactic
of supporting the peace-process and then simultaneously undermining it to
provoke the Palestinians into violence is an indelible feature of Israeli
politics.

On the Palestinian front, the US under Israeli pressure refused to negotiate
with Hamas and instead favoured Abbas to form a new unity government. It
must be remembered that it was Abbas’s government which Israel
systematically destroyed, and left the door ajar for Hamas to fill the
political void and emerge victorious in the parliamentary election held last
year. Olmert then proceeded to exploit Hamas’s militant credentials and its
repudiation of Israel to cut short Palestinian demands for peace and
continued unilaterally to redefine the road map.

Nevertheless, Israel’s defeat in Lebanon destroyed Olmert’s plan and
presented the US with another opportunity to move the peace process forward.
The US instructed Abbas to form a new government and told Egypt, Saudi
Arabia and Syria to reign in Hamas and forge a unity government with Fatah.
If the Mecca agreement between Fatah and Hamas fails to hold —the likelihood
is very high—then America will want Abbas to convene fresh elections to
consolidate the power of his Fatah party. Already the US, Israel and the EU
have offered Abbas aid to augment his security forces in order to offset
Hamas. The tussle between Hamas and Fatah will present Israel the pretext to
unilaterally shape the peace process in the absence of a viable Palestinian
partner. When Hamas and Fatah are not squabbling with one another, they will
be busy retaliating against Israeli aggression in the occupied territories.
This cycle of violence will pervade much of foreseeable future, stalling the
quartet’s efforts to make headway on the road map.

Even if the US succeeds in forming unity governments in both Israel and
Palestine, there is little the Bush and the Republican Party can do to
rejuvenate the road map. With the 2008 US general elections looming, the
Republican Party, as well as the Democratic Party requires the Jewish
lobby’s support to get elected. The castigation of Jimmy Carter’s new book
about Palestine, demonstrates the power of the Jewish lobby over US foreign
policy in Palestine. This means that it will be 2009 before the US is able
to mount enough pressure to coerce Israel to make necessary compromises with
the Palestinians, and bring an end to the protracted dispute.

Iraq

America’s plan is to carefully manage the disintegration of Iraq into three
distinct entities and retain almost 70,000 troops. These troops will be
stationed in bases scattered throughout Iraq and their function will be
supplement future wars against Turkey, Syria, Iran, Saudi-Arabia and the
much feared Caliphate. Whilst America controls the North and South of Iraq,
it is the centre of the country where the US lacks control and has struggled
to co-opt Sunni resistance fighters into a political process. Furthermore,
the Al-Sadr camp has also refused to endorse the dismemberment of Iraq and
poses a grave risk to US forces in Baghdad—Sadr City to be precise— and
Southern Iraq.

Bush’s troop surge plan is intended to curb the activities of the Sunni
resistance fighters, the Mahdi army and other Shia tribes opposed to Iraq’s
partition. The US military is determined to counter the Mahdi army which has
made Sadr City a mainstay of its operations in Baghdad. The bastion of Sunni
resistance such as Haifa Street in Baghdad and the Anbar province have been
earmarked for a Fallujah type of assault. Politically, the US has enlisted
Syrian and Iranian assistance via back door channels to encourage the
Baathists and the Sadris to lay down arms in exchange for political rewards.
In this way, the Bush administration hopes to pacify the centre and
establish a strong foundation for the eventual dissolution of Iraq. To help
the US accomplish this feat, an international conference will be convened
where regional countries like Turkey, Syria, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait and Saudi
Arabia will be given the responsibility to protect US interests in the three
new entities. Given the current magnitude and intensity of the resistance,
the probability of this plan bearing fruit is remote. The US National
Intelligence Estimate and the Council of Foreign Relations hold similar
views.
As a contingency the Bush administration plans on withdrawing some of its
troops and shifting blame onto the Iraqi government for its failure to keep
the unity of Iraq intact. If such a scenario were to unfold, Iraq’s
disintegration would favour future US policy makers, but the Bush
administration and his Republican Party would lose the support of US voters
in the US general election. A far greater blow will be the erosion of
America’s credibility internationally among friends and foe alike.

The current opposition to Bush’s troop surge plan in the US congress and the
senate is non-binding and has more to do with politicians repositioning
themselves for the forthcoming US general election in 2008.  This also
explains why the Baker-Hamilton report set 2008 as the year to bring a
significant proportion of US troops home. The Republican Party wants to
convey the impression to US voters—in particular the staunch Republican
constituencies— that Bush’s plan worked and that the GOP is best placed to
serve the country beyond 2008.

None of this should be seen as belittling America’s commitment to the Middle
East. The announcement by US defence secretary Gates that a further 92,000
troops are required in the next five years underlines the fact that the US
does not intend to leave Iraq or the Middle East for the foreseeable future.

Iran

Bush’s refusal to publicly engage Iran, his aggressive remarks against Iran
in the State of the Union address, the subsequent apprehension of Iranian
diplomats by US forces, the deployment of patriot batteries and the dispatch
of an additional aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf has increased
speculation that the US is about to launch an attack against Iran.
Nonetheless, the Bush administration has gone out of its way to reassure the
world that America has no plans to attack Iran. On Jan 29 2007 Bush said, “I
have no intent upon going into Iran… I don’t know how anybody can say,
well, protecting the troops means that we’re going to invade Iran… we will
protect our interests in Iraq. That’s what the American people expect us to
do…” On Feb 9 207 Gates said, “I don’t know how many times the president,
secretary [of state Condoleezza] Rice and I have had to repeat that we have
no intention of attacking Iran.”

Meanwhile, the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Seyed Mohammad Ali
Hosseini on Jan 28 2007 revealed that Iran had received an official letter
from the US but refused to divulge any details. Ostensibly, the Iranian
government despite being publicly derided by the Bush administration
continues to promote US interests in Iran, and neighbouring Afghanistan and
Iraq. The backlash against Ahmadinejad by sections of the conservative
leadership over his handling of the nuclear issue is just one such example.
In Iraq, Tehran continues to extend support to the leader of SCIRI,
ayatollah Hakim and the Badr Brigade who have become the lynchpin of US
plans for Southern Iraq. In Afghanistan, Iran runs extensive reconstruction
and training programmes in Kabul, Herat and Kandahar. Thus far, Iran has
successfully prevented the Pushtun resistance from spreading to Northern
Afghanistan. So how does one interpret the mixed signals emanating from
Washington over Iran?

In essence, the Bush administration is trying to accommodate two opposite
views that are competing to fashion America’s relations with Iran. The
Jewish lobby and the neoconservatives are advocating punitive measures
against Iran’s nuclear programme, whereas the realists represented by the
Baker-Hamilton study group are in the favour of engaging Iran. The
Baker-Hamilton group characterises the body of opinion held by the US
establishment that believes the Bush administration has exceeded its mandate
to the ‘Israel first’ agenda. It is evident that the Bush administration
fearful of the upcoming US general elections has succumb to some of the
demands of the Jewish lobby, hence a proportion of the suggestions outlined
by the Iraq Study Group have been deferred to be pursued via back-door
diplomatic channels.

It is unprecedented for the Jewish lobby to exercise so much influence on
the US government through the manipulation of the media, think tanks and the
congress. He executive director of the Jewish Institute for (Israeli)
National Security Affairs (JINSA), Thomas Neumann said a few months back:
“The administration today was stronger on Israel than any administration in
my lifetime.”  Hilary Clinton felt the immediate power of the lobby when she
was forced to retract her statement about engagement with Iran.
Nevertheless, it must be stated hear that the Jewish lobby’s influences is
restricted to certain issues pertaining to Israel’s security and nothing
more.

With the UNSC set to review Iran’s compliance of its demands to halt uranium
enrichment later this month, the struggle between the two camps has gained
momentum. At present, the realists have managed to reduce the chance of war
with Iran, and are manipulating the rhetoric and the military build-up to
coerce the Iranian leadership into implementing US demands. These demands
encompass Iran’s nuclear programme, and Iran’s involvement in Afghanistan,
Iraq and Lebanon. These issues and will be discussed publicly with Iran when
it is suitable for the US to do so—ultimately leading to the normalisation
of relations between the two countries. This also explains why the Iranian
leadership minus Ahmadinejad is undertaking actions that are in full
agreement with US policy goals for the region and beyond: America is using
Iran to achieve the following:-

1)  Stabilise Southern Iraq and help the US accentuate the sectarian violence
between Shias and Sunnis.
2)  Stabilise Northern and Western Afghanistan, and prevent the Pushtun
resistance from expanding its tentacles into these areas.
3)  Stabilise Lebanon and reduce the influence of European powers by using
Hizbollah
4)  Strike fear in the GCC countries about Shia Iran’s hegemonic ambitions
and tie them into a new security pact that places the security of oil
fields in American hands
5)  Galvanise Sunni states to formalise relations with Israel
6)  Use Iran’s nuclear threat to establish missile defence bases in Poland
and Czechoslovakia. In Eastern Europe, the Bush administration’s aim is to
shore up America’s ability to check Russian expansion westward. On 9 Feb
2007, Secretary of Russian National Security Council was critical of US
plans and said that there was no rationale for basing American antimissile
radars and interceptors in former Soviet satellite states that have now
joined the NATO alliance
7)  Perpetuate Shia-Sunni divisions across the region in preparation for the
emergence of a Shia Crescent.

Even if the Bush administration decides to undertake military action against
Iran, it will be limited and designed to appease the ‘Israel first
supporters’ as well as preserve Iran’s capability to ensure that Tehran can
accomplish the above goals. Besides, military strikes will strengthen the
Iranian regime and enable it to fuel Shia uprisings across the Middle
East—bringing the US a step closer to its penultimate goal of placing the
oil fields of Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries under Shia
control. The other goal is to use Iran as a bulwark against the future
Caliphate.

Syria

Officially the Bush administration depicts Syria as an international pariah
state and eschews all forms of public contact with Assad’s regime. The
administration argues that Syria’s support for Hizbollah and Palestinian
militants, its interference in Lebanon and its encouragement of militants in
Iraq is highly irresponsible and not conducive to regional peace and
stability. However, away from public scrutiny the US government wears a
different lens and views Syria as an important surrogate that is needed to
reduce insecurity in Iraq, and safeguard US interests in Lebanon and Israel.

Over the past two years the US has been secretly orchestrating talks between
Syria and Israel to settle the matter of Golan Heights. The Israeli paper
Ha’aretz said the meetings, held in Europe, began in September 2004
initiated by the Syrians. They involved Alon Liel, a former director general
of Israel’s foreign ministry, Geoffrey Aronson of the Foundation for Middle
East Peace in Washington, and Ibrahim Suleiman, a Syrian businessman living
in Washington who is from the same Alawite sect as the Syrian president,
Bashar Assad. The paper further states that a document was drawn up dated
August 2005, covering security, water, borders and normalisation of ties. It
called for a demilitarised zone on the Golan Heights and an early warning
post on Mount Hermon operated by the US, with military zones on each
country’s side. The paper also confirmed that US Vice President Dick Cheney
was kept abreast of the talks. President Assad of Syria has even tried to
convert the secret talks into a formal peace process with Israel but has
been rebuffed both by Tel Aviv and Washington. In many ways the Bush
administration’s approach mentioned above echoes some of the recommendation
put forward by the ISG. However, the need for Jewish votes in 2008 has made
it difficult for the Bush administration to designate the talks the official
status it deserves.

Over in Lebanon, the Syrian presence directly contributed to the protection
of US interests, since the Taif agreement in 1989. Nevertheless, the
insinuation of Syrian officials in the assassination of Rafiq Hariri and the
subsequent demands by EU, Israelis and Lebanese politicians for Syria to
withdraw its troops   presented fresh challenges to American interests in
Lebanon.  The EU succeeded in Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon and in
consultation with the US imposed UN resolutions that stipulate the handover
of senior Syrian officials—many of them close to Assad—
to be tried by a tribunal under the auspices of the UN. Furthermore, the
resolutions demand cessation of support to Hizbollah and for Syria to
respect Lebanon’s sovereignty. These resolutions and the assassinations of
prominent politicians have deeply divided Lebanon into pro-American and
pro-EU camps. The Lebanese President Emile Lahoud and Speaker of the
Parliament Nabih Berry have repeatedly thwarted Fouad Siniora’s attempts to
cast parliamentary votes to legalise the jurisdiction of the UN tribunal,
whereas the mass demonstration by Hizbollah have sought to embarrass
Siniora’s government internationally. At present the US is relying on
Hizbollah, pro-US Lebanese politicians and Syria to diminish the influence
of Europe (Britain and France) in Lebanon. It is unlikely for the US to
completely relinquish Syria’s control over Lebanon and its support for
Hizbollah until some sort of compromise is reached between the US and the EU
that protects Assad’s regime as well as US interests in Lebanon.

In Iraq, the public perception is that Syria is encouraging Islamic fighters
to cross over into Iraq to undermine the authority of the Iraqi government.
The reality is that Syria has played an active role in infiltrating such
Islamists and passing on valuable intelligence to the US led coalition.
Moreover, it is an acknowledged fact that Syria enjoys limited influence
over the Sunni resistance fighters operating in Iraq— a point emphasised by
the ISG report. Syria does have some influence over the Baathists. And after
Saddam’s execution, Damascus is working hard to drive a wedge between the
Baathists and the Sunni militants who have offered material assistance to
Baathists in exchange for their support for Islam. Added to this effort, the
Syrians have restored full diplomatic relations with Iraq after an absence
of 24 years. So behind the scenes, Syria has extended its cooperation to the
US in many ways. The US has gradually begun to engage Syria over the issue
of Iraqi refugees and it is expected that as the Bush plan in Iraq falters,
the contact between the two countries will expand to encompass most, if not
all the issues.

For over fifty-years the US has depended on the rulers and the resources of
the Muslims world to achieve its status as the world’s sole super power.
Indeed without the support of rulers and resources of the Muslim world,
America could not have won any of the gulf war or defeated the Soviets in
Afghanistan and won the cold war. Ironically, while America’s staunch allies
like Israel and Europe are putting out the knives for the US, the Muslims
rulers are pulling out all stops to preserve America’s hegemony over the
Muslim ummah. How long America’s primacy in the region continues on
life-support depends entirely upon how quickly the Muslim world
re-establishes the caliphate.


Abid Mustafa is a political commentator who specialises on Muslim affairs


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