The megalomaniacs of the Washington power elite actually think they can mold the Middle East to their specifications. No calamity resulting from their clumsy machinations ever causes them to rethink this preposterous conceit.
Look at some of their more recent handiwork. In 2003, on the basis of shoddy intelligence if not conscious lies, President George W. Bush had the U.S. military overthrow Iraqi dictator (and former ally) Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Muslim whose secular regime discriminated against the Shia majority. With Saddam gone and his Ba’ath party dispersed, the Shiites inevitably assumed power, assisted by American forces that put down a Sunni insurgency and enabled Shiite militias to ethnically cleanse most of the capital, Baghdad. Millions were killed, injured, and displaced.
Next door, of course, is the Shiite Islamic Republic of Iran, which has been America’s bête noir since 1979, when a revolution overthrew the U.S.-backed autocratic shah and militants held American hostages, 26 years after the CIA helped to oust a prime minister and restore the shah to power. Iraq under Saddam had also been Iran’s enemy; he launched an eight-year war of aggression against the Islamic Republic in the 1980s, aided by the United States. (Among other assistance, US satellite intelligence helped Saddam wage chemical warfare against the Iranians.) In balance-of-power terms, Saddam was the counterforce that checked Iranian influence. But now Saddam’s regime was gone.
One did not need to be an expert to know that Iran would benefit. Iraq’s sectarian Shiite prime minister from 2006 to 2014, Nouri al-Maliki, was favored by Iran, as is his successor, Haider al-Abadi. Even Bush administration’s original pick to lead post-Saddam Iraq, Ahmed Chalabi, had long been close to Iran.
So despite some 30 years of America’s cold, covert, cyber, and proxy war against Iran, the Bush administration was indispensable in helping Iran gain greater influence in the Middle East.
This influence has grown even greater now with the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, which was a predictable consequence of Saddam’s overthrow and sectarian Shiite rule, before which there was no Sunni al-Qaeda in Iraq, much less ISIS, its even more virulent offshoot. The Obama administration has assumed the lead in the effort to “degrade and destroy” ISIS, which is officially regarded as a “threat to the homeland,” but Obama’s method is largely confined to airpower, with only a small force on the ground. Most analysts believe that airpower alone will not suffice. The fight on the ground in Iraq is being handled by that country’s Shiite army and an assortment of vengeful Shiite militias, making the Sunnis fearful of sectarian violence and even accepting of the brutal and intolerant ISIS. Who advises these forces? None other than Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani of the Iranian Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution and commander of the Quds Force, a division of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Soleimani reportedly is playing a major role in the current effort to retake Takrit, Saddam’s hometown, from ISIS.
This objectively places the United States on the same side as Iran, but the Obama administration cannot acknowledge this without granting Iran prestige. Indeed, American and Israeli officials worry that the price of defeating ISIS will be a Middle East dominated by Iran as never before.
Of course, ISIS also controls territory in next-door Syria, which is ruled by Iran’s ally Bashar al-Assad, a member of a minority Shiite sect whose regime is embroiled in a civil war. Obama has called for Assad’s departure, but Assad is also fighting ISIS (as well as Syria’s al-Qaeda franchise), putting him, too, objectively on America’s side.
The question arising from this tangled tale is: What were the American and Israeli advocates of war with Iraq thinking back in 2003? Was their plan to build up Iranian influence in order to justify war and regime change? That would explain why advocates of the Iraq policy are trying to torpedo multilateral talks with Iran over its nonexistent nuclear weapons program. But war with Iran, which is much larger and more populous Iraq, would be a catastrophe.
In light of all this, should Americans trust their lives and well-being to the arrogant Washington power elite?
Sheldon Richman is a Research Fellow at The Independent Institute, which is based in Oakland, California.