After a postponement due to Iraq’s airports being closed in the aftermath of the bombings last week, Iraq’s President, Jalal Talabani, has now been able to visit Iran. Today he met Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. As Supreme Leader, Khamenei is the real power when it comes to Iranian foreign policy.

So what did the Ayatollah say about the insecurity in Iraq? Reuters reports that Iranian state television quoted him telling Talibani that:

The first step to resolve the insecurity in Iraq is the withdrawal of the occupiers and handing over the security issues to the Iraqi government, which is backed by the people.

Some U.S. agents in the region are the middle men for implementing American policies and creating an insecure Iraq … Supporting terrorist groups in Iraq and igniting insecurity … will be very dangerous for America’s agents and also the region.

Oh dear. This doesn’t bode well for those advocating engagement with the Iranians to persuade them to help the coalition in Iraq.
Khamenei is essentially claiming that the U.S. government is deliberately fuelling the violence and instability in Iraq as part of a policy to split that country into small powerless mini-states. These weak mini-states, so the theory goes, are desirable to Washington because they would not be able to pose a significant threat to Israel or the West. It is claimed that this has been the objective of the occupation from the beginning. This is, as Middle East watchers will know, a hugely widespread meme inside Iraq and in the wider region. Many Shiite Iraqis, for example, believe that the attack on the shrine in Samarra back in February was the work of “U.S. agents” attempting to destabilise the country.

Sitting comfortably in front of my computer in my pyjamas in a room which will certainly not be bombed, mortared, raided by U.S. troops looking for insurgents or attacked from the air in an attempt to destroy a nuclear weapons programme which may or may not exist, the theory doesn’t make much sense.

First of all, there’s the oil. Those who dismiss the idea that the invasion was ever about oil often use the word “fungible” and also the words “barking leftist moonbats”. Unfortunately for those taking that view, the man himself has explicitly referenced Iraq’s oil as part of his motivation. The great game has always been about who controls and who profits from the world’s natural resources and this is no different. Opening up Iraq’s oil sector to Western companies (a nationalised industry under Saddam and subject to sanctions) was always part of the plan. The insecurity plaguing Iraq today has put a bloody great spanner in those works. This wasn’t supposed to happen.

And then there’s the politics. You could look at the statements made by Bush and his supporters on their desire to preserve Iraq as a unified political entity or at the hiding the Republicans received in the mid-term elections but there’s a simpler way. Two words: Mission Accomplished. That speech and that banner were wholly inconsistent with a policy which was intended to deliberately foment violence, instability and the disintegration of Iraq. What has happened since Bush’s Top Gun moment just wasn’t the plan. If it had been, you can be sure that Karl Rove would not have allowed the President to stand in front of that now excruciatingly embarrassing banner.

The plan really was to create western friendly government in the Middle East which would act as a beacon of freedom in the region and to enable Western companies to access Iraq’s oil in order to exploit the largest known undeveloped deposits of oil in the world. It isn’t going to well.

From the point of view of Iran’s Supreme leader, or indeed the average Iraqi in the street, it is easy to see why this is difficult to believe. Even before all this began, the United States was obviously not the most trusted of entities in the Middle East. Specific to Iraq, Bush senior’s decision to leave the Shiites hanging out to dry after calling on them to rise up against Saddam was not something easily forgotten. Likewise, the sanctions which destroyed Iraq’s economy throughout the Nineties provoked much anti-American feeling. Bush Senior decided not to remove Saddam in 1991 in large part because he had been advised that what would follow would most likely be worse. American troops, he knew, would not be welcomed with sweets and flowers. The idea that Bush Junior, after the first Gulf War and years of sanctions had exacerbated these tensions, expected the occupation to be a marvel of sweetness and light is extremely difficult to believe. Surely the President of the most powerful country in the world could not be so ignorant to the realities of the situation? Well, yes, it appears that he was. But it’s not difficult to see why people have a problem accepting this.

Perhaps more importantly, the invasion was justified by a tissue of misrepresentations and outright lies. Any Muslim living in the Middle East would have immediately appreciated that an alliance between Saddam and al-Qaeda was an inherently ridiculous notion. The Bush administration’s constant implication that such an alliance existed did great damage to any shred of credibility which Bush might still have maintained.

And then there’s the fabled Weapons of Mass Destruction. Whether you believe that the claims made before the war were lies knowingly told or not is almost irrelevant in this context.

(For the record, the Bush administration claimed to know for sure that Saddam had WMD. “We know where they are. They’re in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat” was Rumsfeld’s memorable phrase. At the time, I remember wondering why he hadn’t told the U.N. inspectors if he knew where the WMD were and concluding that he was full of shit. Unsurprisingly, I haven’t changed my opinion in the intervening period.)

What is important is that this justification for the invasion did not ultimately hold water. Bush supporters may be prepare to give him the benefit of the doubt as far as the reasons for this but very many people, myself included, are not. How many of those living in Iraq or Iran would? And how many have concluded that he’s an unscrupulous liar?

In such a circumstance, it is easy to see why so many people simply do not believe Bush when he says he wants a peaceful, stable democratic Iraq. In the Middle East, George Bush’s administration is seen by many as the least trustworthy, least honest, most Machiavellian and most militarily belligerent American government ever to meddle in the affairs of the region. And that is quite an achievement.

The enormous distrust which Bush’s Iraq misadventure has created will permeate international relations for a very long time to come. That, rather than the tragic mess which Iraq has become, may yet be the most serious implication of this sorry affair.

(None of the above, by the way, is meant to suggest that the continuing presence of coalition troops isn’t at least partly responsible for the escalating violence and instability in Iraq. I’m very much of the opinion that it is. What I don’t accept is that this is a deliberate policy.)

  1. Abdul-Rahim said:

    This article is all over the place, not well organised and I was waiting for when you would get to concise and sensible answers as to why it is dumb to think the U.S. wants a bunch of mini-states. I’m not saying I think that’s what the U.S. wants, but you didn’t do a very good job refuting it. Just offering some criticism.

  2. Mayor Quimby said:

    I think you misunderstand the notion of Bush having a plan. Their interest is in the process of war. The Cheney-Bush junta and their corporate supporters all benefit from the military spending and high oil prices created by sustained conflict. Big Military and Big Oil backed up by Big Media. They started the crapfest and seemingly have no desire to stop it.

  3. Garry said:

    Abdul-Rahim, this maybe isn’t the best post I ever wrote but “all over the place” might be a bit harsh. Perhaps I should have gone into the politics of it in a bit more detail. Still, that’s what the comments are for. If I’d made a totally convincing case, there wouldn’t be anything to talk about (he wriggled).

    The Bush regime misunderstands a lot of things but they do understand the American psyche and when it comes to war, the very last thing the American public wants is to become involved in anything which looks like it might be another Vietnam. The scars from this conflict remain very deep; the fear of being trapped in another quagmire is still a powerful one.

    By all accounts, it was the feeling that Iraq had become another unwinnable quagmire which caused the Republicans to lose control of both Houses. For these people, power is everything; their whole raison d’etre is to remain in power. As such, it seems extraordinarily unlikely that they would seek to deliberately create the conditions which would provoke the “Iraq is the new Vietnam” sentiment. Not only has this sentiment lost them votes, it has also severely restricted the ability of the President to conduct further military actions. In fact, it is fuelling demands for an isolationist approach to foreign policy, something Bush and co. do not want to happen.

    On the international front too, it is very difficult to believe that the Bush government would intentionally create the conditions we now see in Iraq. The message is that the United States, for all its military might, is weak and unable to “complete the mission”. That is not a message any state wants to send but especially not the world’s only hyper-power.

    And militarily, briefly, the U.S. is short of manpower. Right now, they want to be threatening Iran (perhaps not taking action but definitely threatening it). They are unable to do so because they’re tied up in Iraq.

    This doesn’t directly address the question as to whether they want to break Iraq up into mini-states. I believe it does, however, make it extremely unlikely that they are provoking the instability in order to try to bring it about. The costs of following such a policy are simply too great.

  4. Garry said:

    Mayor Quimby, I don’t agree that the Bush regime benefits from higher oil prices. Their corporate friends do but that’s not quite the same.

    Americans are famously sensitive to high fuel prices. High prices are a big vote loser. And pushing up oil prices is a risky business for the economy as a whole. As in my comment above, what the Republicans want more than anything is to stay in power. I just don’t see them taking these risks deliberately.

    Before the war, I remember reading some neo-con economist predict that oil would be at $20 per barrel six months after the invasion. He as much as said “and cheap oil is big vote winner and we clever war supporters will get the credit for that come election time”.

  5. Dunc said:

    I think you may be making an error when considering whether they’re deliberately fuelling the conflict or not by assuming that they’re making a rational analysis. You assume that if the desire is to achieve political stability, then they wouldn’t be so stupid as to deliberately stir up sectarian tensions and so forth.

    However, I suspect that their actual intent is to achieve political stability by stirring up sectarian conflict. I know that doesn’t appear to make any sense, but it’s a pattern you see in almost all US military intervetions since Vietnam. Split the country into factions, and then try and make sure one of the factions you’re backing wins. The fact that it never works doesn’t seem to penetrate.

    At this stage, I’m not sure that they can even conceive of acheiving a foreign policy goal by any means other than violence.

  6. Mayor Quimby said:

    Garry, at the risk of sounding like a paranoid moonbat, if rationality cannot provide one with an answer (and there is no obvious rationale to the neocons actions in the Middle East) then one should look for answers underneath. Try googling Bush’s membership of the secret Skull & Bones fraternity and their belief in the Hegelian concept of Constructive Chaos.

    Yes I am a fruitcake who forgot to take his meds.

  7. It’s true this isn’t the best post you ever wrote, but that has more to do with your bulging back-catalogue of excellent posts, than there being anything wrong with this one. It’s a good point, perfectly well made.

  8. Katherine said:

    Off topic slightly, but I thought I should respond to your statement about “wondering why he hadn’t told the U.N. inspectors if he knew where the WMD were”. I heard from Hans Blix’s own lips last weekend that the CIA did give the UN Inspectors a big list of sites that they thought were host to WMD. The Inspectors went and looked at (a representative selection of) them and found, erm, not very much. They then told the UN Security Council what they hadn’t found. Within those hallowed walls there was no criticism of the methodology of the Inspectors. In the press, they were taken to the cleaners.

    I spent a lot of time thinking that the US and UK governments really did believe that there were WMD and were so convinced that they were unwilling to listen to any contrary evidence, no matter how strong it was.

    And now, well, I have to conclude that they were indeed mindbogglingly, wilfully blinding themselves to the real state of things, or were mindboggling, fraudulently dishonest about it. I’m not sure which one is worse.