Posted Nov 16, 2006
by Dr. Robert D. Crane
On November 15th, a brilliant position paper was released by Scott Ritter, who everyone in his Alternet audience knows as the man who used his expertise as the chief U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq during almost the entire decade of the 1990s to counter the NeoCon rationale in 2002-2003 for invading Iraq. This paper, entitled “Democrats Must Offer a New Blueprint for Iraq," bears an uncanny resemblance to the probable conclusions of the Baker/Hamilton Iraq Study Group now advising President Bush and the new Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, which seem to have been carefully leaked in advance to selected interest groups.
His rationale for addressing a core Democratic constituency in what seems to be an advance position paper or “trial balloon” is political. He writes: “It is imperative that the Democratic Party stake out a position on Iraq before the Iraq Study Group publicly announces its findings and recommendations.”
Ritter’s seemingly convoluted strategy to serve all of America’s interests in the Middle East is based first of all on the need to preserve Iraq as a single state in order to avoid escalating conflict, but with recognition that three autonomous regions in Iraq should be accepted in order to bring the currently warring parties into a consensus on a common future. He seems to suggest that regional autonomy should exist more in fiction than in fact. He strongly opposes independence for Kurdistan not merely because it would provoke an attack from Turkey, but because without a central authority in Iraq the three warring parties among the Kurds (the KDP and PUK in Iraq and the PKK in Turkey) would restart a Kurdish civil war that could spread to Iran and Syria.
His second major premise is that the future of Iraq should be determined not by the residents of the three autonomous regions but by outside parties, namely, by Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan, and Iran. The inclusion of Iran is crucial to this proposal, because Iranian influence is needed to influence the warring parties among the Shi’a, who differ, among other things, on what influence Iran should have on their future. For this purpose, the United States must enlist Iran as a friend in the orchestration of global power rather than as an enemy. This, of course, though he does not mention it as an objective, might also deter Iran from producing weapons of mass destruction in defense against a hostile America.
The third basic premise of Scott Ritter’s position paper is that the only way to overcome the influence of Al Qa’ida is to restore the Sunnis to a greater position of power in a reconstituted Iraq. This would be one purpose of enlisting the influence of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Syria.
Now come the two most imaginative planks in this innovative political platform. The first is to “empower those elements that are truly reflective of the will of the Iraqi people.” The two most influential he says are the secular Batthists among the Sunnis and the radical Shi’a in the nationalistic Mahdi Army. He concludes, “Such a Sunni-Shi’a union ... would enable a strong central government in Baghdad to realistically exist, and exert its influence and control over the Kurds in the north, the pro-Iranian militias of the south, and the anarchy that exists in the Sunni Anbar province of western Iraq.”
Now comes the clincher. His fifth premise and ultimate goal is the absolute necessity to overthrow the current government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, which the U.S. government took such pains to create. Ritter writes, “The removal of Nouri al-Maliki can be achieved with little or no problems, ... but will require a major shift in policy direction on the the part of the United States.”
Since one goal of the future post-Maliki government must be to rein in the most powerful Shi’a political grouping, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which is considered to be pro-Iranian, the United states must bargain with Iran to convince it that stability under a new Iraqi government is more in its interest than continued instability. Iran might also be enlisted to oppose Kurdish pretensions to real autonomy or even to independence.The goal of American policy toward Iran therefore must be not to change the Iranian regime but to change its policies.
Once this master plan is successfully underway, then the U.S. troop presence in Iraq could be reduced to special forces protecting a limited number of American bases, which he identifies, in a “post-occupation Iraq.”
Finally, this bold new master plan for America’s role in the Middle East necessarily assumes and proposes a striking premise as follows: “We must accept as a basic premise to any discussion about American-Israeli relations the notion that there are circumstances involving the Middle East in which American interests and Israeli interests diverge, and that America is right in pursuing policies that are best for the national security of the United States, even if Israel disagrees. ... Peace in Iraq, and stability in the Middle East is a cause worth embracing, and fighting for, regardless of who might oppose it.”
This position paper would require another equally detailed position paper in critique, and no doubt many have already been written in opposition to individual parts of it.
The most serious critique might be advanced by those who would regard this entire position paper as Machiavellian and totally without principle. Of course, it is that, but it touches all the necessary bases. If this approach is adopted in all its details, which would be the key to its implementation, then the missing dimension or ingredient of justice must be added.
Given the Machiavellian background of this proposal, co-opting the term justice might be counter-productive without any real policy changes to spell it out. One key element of taking justice seriously would be to decentralize political power in Iraq through the devolution of economic power from the state to the voting public. This could be accomplished by privatizing all the oil ownership in Iraq through equal shares of inalienable stock to every citizen of the three autonomous regions, northern, southern and central. The rationales and mechanisms to do this have been spelled out in great detail by various position papers, including one by the RAND Corporation published in the Wall Street Journal and a very detailed one presented immediately after the invasion of Iraq on the web page,
The greatest weakness of what appears to be a well-articulated, advance leak of at least one version of the Baker/Hamilton proposal is that enlisting the regional neighbors of Iraq to dethrone any government is probably a non-starter, particularly if it is part of an American plan. Enlisting the support of autocratic governments to support the privatization of oil to the individual residents of Iraq, rather than to a local Iraqi mafia possibly in league with the big oil multinationals, is not even thinkable.
Iran might very well agree to such an oil privatization policy as a matter of juristic principle, but this would pit it against the other regional countries, in each of which the oil is owned by a private elite, just as it was in Iraq under Saddam Hussein.
Since economic justice must be central to any political solutions for the instability in Iraq, an American decision to eliminate the present government with the support of its allies and in opposition to Iran without addressing the issue of economic justice would fail.
Economic justice must be initiated by the current government as a means to regain legitimacy, even though this would fly in the face of everything that certain special interests in America most want to achieve. If the U.S. government, however, is willing to trade influence for stability, since it has little influence left anyway, the major change in U.S. policy should be to pursue justice as its highest goal, not stability through power. Justice would do more for stability than all the Machiavellian manipulations that the think-tank community can dream up in Washington.
The success of U.S. policy in removing threats to Israel will depend on the support of justice not only by Israel in the Holy Land but by U.S. support of justice throughout the region, even though superficially this would appear to reduce the power of America in the Middle East vs. a vs. every other power. Since American power in the Middle East is eroding so rapidly anyway, the pursuit of justice would be the only way to maintain what little power it has left.
The pursuit of justice would call for America very fundamentally to change from empowering itself to empowering others who seek stability as much as we do but who do so within a different framework where peace comes only through justice both in word and deed. We need not only a change in strategy but a change in both paradigm and purpose. The orchestration of tactics without a coherent purpose is a recipe for failure, but so is the adoption of a coherent purpose without meaningful, realistic, and courageous policies.
If the Democrats come up with a “new blueprint for Iraq,” the Republicans should come up with a better one. So far, neither party has gone much beyond the two options of “stay the course” and “cut and run.” Together in a bi-partisan effort, they might pull the Iraqi chestnut out of the Middle East fire and grow a real chestnut tree.