A view from Israel: Mission not accomplished

The US has failed in its objective to create a stable, democratic and peaceful Iraq, leaving it split into three different parts controlled by Kurds, Shi'ites and Sunnis.

bush 521 (photo credit: REUTERS)
bush 521
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Last Friday, US President Barack Obama announced the full withdrawal of troops from Iraq by the end of 2011. The withdrawal would fulfill the terms of the Iraq-US bilateral agreement signed in 2008. Unfortunately for Israel, the implications of such a retreat spell almost certain disaster for regional stability as Islamist forces rise to power there and clericalization takes hold.
Iran would like to shift focus from its problems as it faces heavier international sanctions and growing hostility from the West, and probably seeks to stir up trouble in Iraq, but US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned, “No one, most particularly Iran, should miscalculate about our commitment...to the Iraqis.”
Misguided analysts have long believed a US exit from Iraq would come at a moment when Iraqi forces were capable of stemming terrorism and a new government could enforce democratic law.
But the West must assess new emerging leaders with care. In 1990, presidential candidate Bob Dole visited Saddam Hussein in Iraq and found him to be “reasonable, moderate and pragmatic.”
More recently, and more disturbingly, John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, believed Syrian President Bashar Assad to be “reformist.”
Back in 2003, one objective behind US interference in Iraq, known as Operation Iraqi Freedom, was to eradicate terror there and help build a democratic state.
In 2008, then-secretary of state Condoleezza Rice published an article in Foreign Affairs titled, “Rethinking the National Interest” in which she noted that, “As Iraq emerges from its difficulties, the impact of its transformation is being felt in the rest of the region. Ultimately, the states of the Middle East need to reform.”
Rice called for nation building in Iraq not through the military but rather through civilian institutions such as the civilian Response Corps.
“We must help weak and poorly functioning states strengthen and reform themselves,” she wrote, “and thereby prevent their failure in the first place.”
But ultimately, failure is exactly what has occurred. Internal sectarian fighting and tribal rivalries have dominated the political scene in Iraq since Saddam Hussein’s downfall.
Council on Foreign Relations fellow Ned Parker wrote last week that the US announcement to leave Iraq “was largely the result of Iraq’s internal politics and a failure of US policy to mend the rifts among the country’s political players.”
This is worrying for Israel because since the start of the US campaign, Israel has had a military ally over the hill in an, until then, hostile country.
Now that the US is withdrawing its troops, Iraq will likely become an even stronger magnet for terror groups, especially al-Qaida. Iraq will likely become another Iran-backed proxy as its current prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, maintains close ties with Iran.
In August, The New York Times emphasized how Iraq’s position in the Middle East has shifted toward an axis led by Iran.
Without a US military presence there, Israel likely faces a deepening threat from the East once again.
Some may have been tricked into thinking that the so-called “Arab Spring” would usher in an era of enlightenment and liberty, but so far this does not appear to be the case. Rather, we are witnessing what appears to be the spread of chaos and extremism in the Middle East.
The outcome of Tunisia’s elections is less than encouraging as Islamists there gain power. Changes in Egypt may also give Islamists more power and some of the public there has called for cancellation of the 1979 peace agreement with Israel.
The brutal murder of Muammar Gaddafi and the announcement by transitional government leader Mustafa Abdul-Jalil that the country would be run on the basis of Islamic law have only shown that rising powers in these countries show little interest in creating true, Western-style democratic governments.
With much to worry about on all sides, Israel surely desires a continued US presence in Iraq – though not at the expense of US casualties – and can only hope for eventual stability.
With a failing plan in Iraq, Israel can only hope that the war in Afghanistan ends on a more promising note. Unfortunately, the likelihood of this occurring is minimal. Terrorism is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future, and while invasions, wars and occupations in hostile countries can stem terror, there is no real, foolproof way to eradicate it completely.
The US is leaving behind an Iraq split into three parts. The Kurds control the North while the Shi’ites control the South. This leaves the middle region for Sunni Iraqis.
This is a very discouraging situation as continued sectarian violence has been one of the main causes behind Iraq’s slow transition from US military rule to stable self-government.
Sectarian division in Iraq, encouraged by neighboring Iran, will cause violence for years to come, and when countries such as Iraq and Iran have domestic trouble, the common scapegoat is, of course, Israel.
Ideally, with an absence of major US military presence in Iraq, an international force would be the obvious choice of replacement to ensure stability, but unfortunately there is no international body capable of enforcing quiet in volatile countries such as Iraq. The idea that the UN is one such capable body is simply laughable.
In his book Deliver Us From Evil, British journalist William Shawcross chronicles the failures of UN peacekeepers in maintaining stability.
For example, in Rwanda UN peacekeepers stood by as the Hutu slaughtered some 800,000 Tutsi. In Bosnia, the UN declared safe areas for Muslims but stood by as the Serbs slaughtered thousands in Srebrenica.
In 2007, General David Petraeus, at the time commanding general of the Multinational Force in Iraq, remarked, “There is no military solution to a problem like that in Iraq.”
And he was right. While it is possible to target terror networks and their leaders through surgical strikes such as the one that killed Osama bin Laden, terror must be fought with counter-terrorism tactics. Fight swords with swords and guns with guns, but terror must be countered with anti-terror tactics.
The battlefield is no longer of the conventional type, and Western powers are ill-prepared to handle today’s style of warfare.
The rise of radical Islamism in countries surrounding Israel will prove extremely detrimental to its security in the future as further incitement and radicalization take hold.