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. TheyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t at least partly responsible for the escalating violence and instability in Iraq. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m very much of the opinion that it is. What I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t accept is that this is a deliberate policy.)