Obama's Gift to Iran
by RALPH PETERS
October 25, 2011
At the strategic level, naivety can do more damage than outright malevolence. And President Obama came to the Oval Office with no knowledge of, and little interest in, foreign affairs and security. His core agenda was domestic, and, gushing self-confidence, he assumed that he could solve international problems in his spare time--challenges that had frustrated the best efforts of far-more-experienced men and women. A babe in a poisoned woodland thick with wolves and witches, he assumed that he could smile and persuade the wolves not to eat him and the witches to cast their spells in his support.
One grim result is his abandonment of Iraq to Iranian influence. The strategic consequences are potentially catastrophic. At best, he has made a mockery of 5,000 dead American troops and our tens of thousands of wounded. And the worst of it is that he didn’t even try to play this to our nation’s advantage. He didn’t even show up on the field. He simply threw the game to Iran by his absence: Our troops did their duty—and won. And their commander-in-chief went Absent Without Leave.
Before detailing the current administration’s myopia and ineptitude regarding Iraq—and Iran’s skillfulness—it’s essential to be fair: Obama has grown in the job, learning, painfully, that foreign leaders are not all susceptible to his ward-politician charm and self-congratulatory rhetoric. He still has a great deal to learn (including humility), but this borderline pacifist evolved to become the president who dramatically increased the use of drones to target terrorists; who green-lighted killing bin Laden and Awlaki; who didn’t close Gitmo—despite his campaign promise to do so; and who, after his customary dithering, ultimately backed the French and British in their determination to remove Qaddafi from power in Libya (despite diplomatic lies, the goal was always to get Qaddafi out). He even has shown signs of realizing that the Pakistanis are not our friends, that the Palestinians are not all oppressed innocents, and that China does not have our best interests at heart.
But he’s always had a blind spot regarding Iraq. And Iraq’s the big one. Everything that he’s gotten right over the past year is small change compared to our looming confrontation with Iran. And Obama just handed Iran an enormous strategic advantage by fleeing from Baghdad.
Why does Iraq matter? Location, location, location, for a start. It’s the geographical keystone at the head of the Persian Gulf, still the most-crucial oil-producing region in the world. And it borders Iran: Consider how useful even small US bases in Iraq would be, were we forced to take military action to derail Iran’s nuclear ambitions—action that would amount to serious warfare, not just surgical strikes. And Baghdad has enormous emotional resonance in the Arab world. Iraq’s also the fault-line state where Shia and Sunni Muslims collide on one of the most-volatile frontiers of religious culture.
And there’s more: A pro-Iranian regime in Baghdad outflanks our key regional partners (not allies, but partners with shared interests). Instead of providing a buffer for Kuwait, Qatar, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, a Shia-dominated, pro-Iranian government in Iraq becomes a threat to them. An Iraq subject to Iranian influence also facilitates Tehran’s support of the Assad regime in Syria and, by extension, Hezbollah and Hamas—it’s a lot easier to drive arms and assassins across Iraq than to ship them all the way through the Suez Canal.
Even a small remaining US presence in Iraq (about 20,000 troops would have been right) also would have continued to provide the much-needed fig leaf for Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Shia Arabs not to go at each other again. With our troops leaving, there’s at least an outside chance that Iraq will tumble back into civil war—and this time it would draw in other regional powers. At the very least, terrorists of various stripes will be empowered.
Obama sees none of it. He remains a prisoner of his own anti-Bush rhetoric. Iraq was Bush’s war and, therefore, bad. But the left needed to “prove” it was strong on security, too, so Afghanistan, a worthless land of pederasts and dung heaps, became our strategic priority that Bush “neglected.” The problem is that Iraq truly matters on multiple strategic counts, while investing in Afghanistan is about as smart as investing in cathode-ray-tube technology (or solar-panel manufacturers) in Silicon Valley. The sole reason to keep even a small US contingent in Afghanistan is to continue to kill terrorists across the border in Pakistan. Beyond that, everything we do there is wasted. But, thanks to Obama, we’re mired in Afghanistan and abandoning the strategic prize of Iraq to Iran.
And the mullahs and political leaders in Tehran have taken advantage of Obama’s blindness with breathtaking effectiveness. While pursuing nuclear weapons, backing Syria’s Assad with weapons, money and secret-police assassins, egging on Hezbollah and Hamas—and killing US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq--Iran has not had to pay a single meaningful price. Our government huffs and puffs, then does nothing at all. The Obama administration (and, to be fair, the Bush administration before it) has allowed the Iranians to run wild. Naturally, Tehran concludes that we’re weak-willed, exhausted and scared. Hence the recent plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the US right in Washington (not that I would have wept for His Excellency myself…).
The Iranians in 2011 have come to the same conclusion that al Qaeda did in 2001, in the wake of the cowardice of the Clinton administration: They’re convinced that, no matter what they do, we’ll simply cower and take it.
And they might be right.
I’ve long been fond of pointing out that, while we play diplomatic checkers, the Iranians play chess (the game was a Persian invention, after all). I have to admire the skill with which Tehran has manipulated both the Iraqi political scene and the Obama administration: The Iranians recognized that the issue of legal immunity from Iraqi law for US troops was the perfect lever to hoist us out of the country. First, we could never agree to allow our Soldiers and Marines to be hauled up on bogus charges and tried in kangaroo courts in the immature (to put it kindly) Iraqi judicial system. Second, the Iranians understood that this was an issue that would resonate with the Iraqi population, given our mindless employment of mercenary thugs from the former Blackwater and other “security” companies—some of whose employees appear to have used Iraqi civilians for target practice…then walked free. Iran’s agents made hay out of the bad behavior of the psychopaths who had been on the US payroll.
Working through their proxies in Baghdad—primarily, but not only, Moqtada al Sadr’s radical Shia block—the Iranians made it impossible for either side to back down. And “Poof!” The Americans, having deposed Saddam, paid in blood, and spent almost a trillion dollars on Iraqi freedom and reconstruction, are headed home, while Iran moves in. Tehran won without losing a single Iranian life. At most, the mullahs doled out a few minor bribes.
Obama simply quit—and was relieved to do so. He did it because he was blind to the looming consequences. He did it to please his restive base. And he did it because he had been too nearsighted, lazy and politically bigoted to develop personal relationships with Iraqi leaders who could have helped us through this “made in Iran” crisis. But it isn’t Obama who will pay the price. It’s our troops, if the region blows up. It’s Iraqis. It’s our regional partners. It’s consumers, if the deteriorating situation in the Persian-Gulf region leads to catastrophically higher oil prices. Ultimately, it’s you.
Obama’s real political ancestor is, ironically, the diehard segregationist Woodrow Wilson. Both men have pacifist roots, and both put us on the path to a major war (stay tuned for our coming confrontation with Iran). Both fit the mold of the idealist ungrounded in reality. Both were consumed by ambitions that far outstripped their abilities.
The only faint good news in Obama’s early holiday gift to Iran of Iraq’s integrity and freedom is that any Iran-Iraq strategic collusion will only last from the short-term through the mid-term. In the long-term, conflicting interests and, above all, Persian condescension toward Arabs will alienate most Iraqis. But the danger zone is that short-to-mid-term stretch, with Tehran rushing to develop a nuclear-weapons capability and Iraq’s internal rivalries and grudges unresolved. The best we can expect is continued low-level violence in Iraq. The worst ranges from a civil war that tears Iraq apart, to a violent, extended military confrontation with Iran that closes down Gulf oil production amid a widespread regional conflict.
Obama’s pigheaded determination to get our last troops out of Iraq and praise himself for doing so could be the worst American diplomatic blunder since Yalta. At the very least, it’s a wanton gift to our determined enemies.
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Family Security Matters Contributing Editor Ralph Peters is a retired Army intelligence officer who warned of the threat from terrorists long before 9/11. As a soldier, researcher, journalist and traveler, he has first-hand experience in more than seventy countries and has covered multiple conflicts. He is the author of 28 books, including the new Lines Of Fire (which went on sale last month), a collection of his most-influential work on strategy, security, terrorism and military affairs from the past two decades.