Nur al-Cubicle

A blog on the current crises in the Middle East and news accounts unpublished by the US press. Daily timeline of events in Iraq as collected from stories and dispatches in the French and Italian media: Le Monde (Paris), Il Corriere della Sera (Milan), La Repubblica (Rome), L'Orient-Le Jour (Beirut) and occasionally from El Mundo (Madrid).

Friday, February 18, 2005

Outlook for US Aims in Iraq

The Limits of Washington’s Oriental Dream
LE MONDE | 18.02.05 | 14h23

Any analysis of the Middle East starts with an analysis of the situation in Iraq in the aftermath of the 30 January elections--there is going to be no radical transformation in the short term due to the sparse turnout among the Sunni population.

More ambitious than the British, who in 1920 relied on the Sunni minority to control events, the Americans believed they could import a Western-style régime into Iraq. Driven by messianic vision, Washington dreamt of installing a democracy in Baghdad which would transform the whole region. In launching the Greater Middle East Initiative it had hoped to transcend the difficulties with which it met on the ground.

The policy of the British was to impose a dictatorship. From then on, they enjoyed a great deal of latitude in manipulating a succession of régimes in Baghdad. But will the American adventure in Iraq produce a stable, pro-American régime? This is certainly the goal of the United States. But so far they have not found a way to avoid Shi’ite domination. And clearly the objective of the supporters of Ayatollah al-Sistani is to send the Americans packing as soon as possible.

As things stand, Washington is now committed to a long-term presence to prevent the outbreak of civil war. Originally estimated to number only a few thousand partisans, the insurgency is now counted in the tens of thousands. US troops are frightened--their behavior is becoming more and more distrustful, even displaying outright hostility towards the population. Despite what is said, those who want to import “international terrorism” are few. The insurrection comes from within the country and it is heterogeneous.

In theory, two solutions are available. One is a massive build-up in the US military presence to approximately 500,000 troops. But the Pentagon is already struggling to maintain the current 150,000. The other, which corresponds to the current strategy, is to reduce troop presence by accelerating the training of Iraqi security forces using US advisors. But time is running out and the insurgents are concentrating precisely on demoralizing these forces in the embryo.

Some voices inside the United State are arguing for a military pullout pure and simple. But sooner or later a request will come from the Iraqi government itself insisting on a US pullout. The unanswered question is what the fundamental attitude of this government will be towards the United States.

America’s difficulties in Iraq haven’t softened the rhetoric directed against the régime of mullahs in Iran. Nothing indicates that Washington has given up on toppling this régime, which in fact is ailing and unpopular. But if the United States or Israel give into the temptation to attack Iran, then it is very likely that the immediate consequence will be a nation unified against America.

By refusing dialog with Teheran, Washington diminishes the capacity of Iran to influence events inside Iraq. Due to the multiplicity and the nuance of its ancient ties to Iraq, Iran has the potential of making things very much worse inside Iraq. Whatever the case, any recent visitor to Teheran or Qom cannot help but notice that the results of the 30 January election are considered to be an immense success for Iran.

It is undeniable that in the medium term the Islamic republic must carry out wide-ranging economic and political reforms. But it is in no danger of imminent collapse. Neither is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which is being sorely tested. Incidentally, there has been a warming of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, despite their deep rivalry, driven by a mutual instinct for survival.

The best chance for progressive institutional change in the Middle East is to take up the dossiers of the most challenging yet neglected issues, beginning with Israel-Palestine. The first steps taken by Mahmoud Abbas have been bold; getting Hamas to participate in the peace talks seems increasingly likely. The ceasefire to which Israel and Palestine agreed on 8 February in Sharm al Sheikh holds new hope. Forthcoming events – especially the Palestinian parliamentary elections in July coinciding with the Gaza pullout – will be crucial. The path to a final settlement remains long although the terms, even concerning the thorniest of issues such as the status of Jerusalem, the Israeli settlements or the Palestinina refugees, are already known. The right of return, as we know, is no longer an insurmountable obstacle.

In diplomacy, it is rare that the contents of formulas are more malleable than the formulas themselves. When a problem appears intractable, said the father of a united Europe, Jean Monnet (1888-1979), change the problem. Therein lies the art of negotiation. And the moment is ripe to begin.

The best way to get Syria to withdraw from Lebanon in compliance with UN Resolution 1559 of 2 September 2004 is to begin negotiations with Israel on a withdraw from the Golan Heights. But Washington has imposed sanctions on Damascus and allows doubt to swirl around its intentions concerning the régime of Bashir al-Assad. Surely it knows that if al-Assad is toppled, chaos will ensue.

Within the framework of a return to diplomacy, as President Bush has advocated, a time and place must be found for the opening up of a dialog with Iran. If the successor to President Khatami (elections will be held in June) is a powerful and experienced man, like Hojjat ol-Islam Hashemi Rafsanjani, it is conceivable that the Islamic Republic will recognized Israel and agree to observe the provisions of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, two Western demands, in exchange for acceptance of its legitimate role in regional security and economic concessions.

The positive aspect of the more or less aborted Greater Middle East Initiative is that certain régimes have become more aware of the necessity of reform. Saudi Arabia has taken a few steps in that direction. We all know Tocqueville’s Law: The moment in which a country initiates reforms is the moment in which a moldering régime risks collapse. It’s not always good for the population and the environment when a régime, even moldering, collapses. If Western countries can create a minimum amount of confidence in which to work, then they can assist their Middle Eastern partners in dialog in making incremental reforms which will gradually open up a space for enduring cooperation.

Such ideas may appear utopian but I believe that they are not. To implement grand designs, you need generous vision in the planning coupled with realism in the execution. And by their very nature, grand designs seem improbable at the outset.

Thierry de Montbrial


Blogger Traveller said...

Oh boy! As someone who used to try to spread a little truth by translating pieces of Le Monde and El Pais and Corriere, etc., and passing them along, I much appreciate the work you're doing here. Invaluable.

A small thank-you present here, in case you haven't come across it. The eerie review of Mackinder's work has changed my world-view since first reading it almost two years ago. Enjoy.

If the NYRB doesn't let you into that file, let me know and I'll email it to you.

9:37 AM  
Blogger Nur-al-Cubicle said...

Ah! You speak French, Italian and Spanish too? ~soulmates~

Thanks for the link...will check it out now.

10:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just followed your link from Daily Kos. I am so happy to have found your blog!

My personal listserve has a French partcipant. She translates her articles the best she can, but sometimes just sends us links for articles in French. So many of us just parse out the general meaning with our limited foreign language skills.

I sent your blog link to them.. and I know we will be regular visitors.

Thank you.


12:30 PM  
Blogger Nur-al-Cubicle said...

Why thank you, Zapata28! I really appreciate that. Please have someone drop by and leave me a contact e-mail. I'd like to do some participatory translation. The Monde has been churning these pieces out and many analysts really *nail* the issues facing us.

1:21 PM  
Blogger Traveller said...

If you go to Google News and type in the query "Chalabi," you'll see that there are a growing number of references during the past hours to Chalabi's likelihood of leading the new Iraqi government. Thoughts on this? Any news on this popping up elswhere?

4:34 PM  
Blogger Nur-al-Cubicle said...

propaganda. a fraudster wanted by the neighboring state, jordan? i don't think so.

5:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chalabi is no stranger to political triangulation.

He did so in Lebanon, Embezzling from banks recieving USA foreign aids and helping underwirte construction projects for Osama at the same time.

He had dealings in israel as well along the same channels, getting investment banking via foreign aid.

Ditto Syria and Jordan.

He was the middle man for Iraq's oil for food, and most likely the chief negotiator in Iran hostage arms deals, each side of the Iran-Iraq war.

Thus he knows Negroponte well (Iran half of iran-contra and Iraq CPA front man). Expect him to funnel back some covert money.

Afghanistan has a record smack crop, so much that Rush is going there. Time to funnel the goods out that make countries go subversive.

Russia is a big target, Putin will play that game, but in large scope it will subvert him- see also 80s era Watts.

India and China have expanding young demographics in a boom era. Not unlike the early 80s bonds market and Hollywood's cable expansion days.

Chalabi is going to play Israel/Lebanon/Iraq on Syria and Iran/Israel.

The same way he played Iran/Iraq and Syria/Lebanon/Israel before.

He just changed one country to each pardaigm, and in one instance has four countires within the same crucible.

All the while going past legal parameters, using drug war money, covert clearance, and conflicting social and cultural mores.

Think of the codified fundie language Bush endorses over the top. Then apply that in oblique manor, to fundamental overtones that are deeply ingrained across continents and demographics.

That's Ahmed Chalabi behind the scenes. He was the source of media rumors (Iran-Syria connection) and the Syria-Lebanon blame game.

Who wants to bet he's onto the entire depth of the Plame game as well? Think about it. It gets worse.

8:53 PM  
Blogger Traveller said...

Yes indeed. When I posted my comment on Chalabi, it was a sneaky way of edging into a leetle conversation about Chalabi whom I believe to have strong ties to our leadership in ways they would just as soon we don't know. Thus the "distancing." Don't see mentions at Juan Cole's.

The anonymous Mr. Murder and I seem to have the same mindset. The growth of opium production is also interesting (and was predicted).

Rush? Let's see. Rush captured by Taliban. Rush demolished as a huge alien religious artifact...

4:58 AM  
Blogger Traveller said...

Here we go.

9:09 AM  
Blogger Nur-al-Cubicle said...

Chalabi = Commander Zero.

10:33 AM  
Blogger madtom said...

Hey, I did not even know you had a blog. I have added you to my list.

4:36 PM  

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