December 15, 2005
The Balance of Terror in the Middle EastBy Tom Milstein
The Iraqi people are once again voting in a free election, this time to choose their next government. This momentous event will empower the formerly disenfranchised and oppressed 60% of the Iraqi people who are Shi'a for the first time in their country's modern history.
Elections are no less struggles for power than revolutions, coups, and wars. In all such struggles there are winners and losers. This time the losers will be the Sunni Moslems of Iraq, who traditionally have ruled the Shi'a with an iron fist. They will lose no matter whether they participate in the election or not, because either way, their dispossession as the ruling elite of Iraq will be confirmed. Needless to say, the Sunni are unhappy at this turn of events.
To appease them, various concessions and compromises have been made in both the Iraqi constitution and other areas of society, the new army, and the government. The sum total of this appeasement has come close to completely vitiating the representative and democratic character of the new republic, by granting this former ruling class minority privileges and powers normally considered incompatible with democratic principles.
Why have these concessions and compromises been made? The official explanation is to prevent a civil war from tearing Iraqi society apart. We shall see whether this tactic works, in the statistics of insurgent terrorist acts to be compiled in the post—election future. Certainly we can see that it has failed up to now, as 30,000 dead Iraqis mutely testify, but perhaps the success of the election will usher in a new spirit of peaceful participation. One hopes so.
So far, the Iraqi Insurgency has largely been a Sunni affair, aimed at inflicting as much carnage as possible on the Shi'a population. In truth, the Shi'a have largely replaced the American military as the target of choice for terrorist attacks. Sunni violence against Shi'a, whether carried out by former Ba'athist secular cadres or Al Qaeda Islamofascists, has in fact become 'the war within the war' in Iraq. The media likes to publicize the comparatively sparse instances of Shi'a violence against Sunni, whether carried out by militias or by Iraqi government agencies, in order to establish some sort of false equivalency. The fact is that the volume and sheer horror of the Sunni attacks on innocent Shi'a civilians, mosque worshippers, police and army trainees, and shoppers, far outweighs counterpart Shi'a atrocities.
The insurgent focus on blowing up Shi'a appears on the face of it a rather odd tactic, if the objective of the insurgency is to drive American forces out of Iraq. A true 'national liberation front' strategy would seek to unite Sunni and Shi'a against the American occupation. Instead, the effect has been to place Iraq's Shi'a under the somewhat half—hearted protection of the U.S. Army.
Most Americans, and that likely includes many American soldiers, sense no vital stake in the Sunni—Shi'a struggle. 'Let 'em go on killing each other off' would be a fair characterization of this attitude, particularly if it means less ordnance being expended against our troops. Nevertheless, given the President's commitment to establishing a democratic government in Iraq, our Army has been tasked to prevent terror attacks and this means, in the current Iraq reality, protecting Shi'a against Sunni. Indeed, in the larger sense this mission ties in directly with the President's aim of creating a legitimate, representative government in Baghdad, for the previous Saddam government was simply the institutionalization of minority Sunni terror against the Shi'a majority.
The Shi'a population's humiliating dependence on American protection against the Sunni minority is supposed to end with the creation of a representative government through free elections. The theory — or the hope — is that such a government will make it impossible for a Saddam—style regime to ever return to Baghdad. But this theory begs the question of how such a government could have arisen in the first place, given the radical disproportion between Sunni and Shi'a numbers in the demography of Iraq.
And this question needs to be asked, and answered, not drowned out in 'Strategy for Victory' speeches, or the President may well find himself returned to the same predicament in which he found himself after the 'Mission accomplished' celebration with the sailors of the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003.
The Sunni have a ready answer to this question. They regard, and treat, the Shi'a as an effeminate nation of slaves, lacking in the manly Islamic virtues, and therefore easy to oppress because they can't or won't defend themselves. This characterization is, of course, propaganda, designed like most such propaganda to hide the real dynamics of Sunni dominion over Iraq. Sunni Moslems were able to dominate the Shi'a of Iraq notwithstanding the latter's numerical preponderance not because Shi'a are girly—boys, but because exterior factors came into play: Saddam's Sunni thugs were clients of Saudi Arabia, which provided the indispensable financial and political clout he needed to compensate for Sunni inferior numbers in Iraq. This relationship became quite clear during the Iraq—Iran War, when with America's help, Iraq was essentially converted into a buffer state for Saudi Arabia to gas the Shi'a Revolution launched by the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran.
Things change. Saddam decided that if he was destined to play Praetorian Guard for the Saudi Oil Patch, he might as well assume the landlord role as well, and, following his idol Hitler's time—tested strategy, tried to bite off Kuwait as a dress rehearsal for later adventures against the Saudi degenerates whose bossy dominion he resented. George Bush 41 was not about to exchange the House of Saud, with whom he and his friends had maintained cozy and lucrative relations for generations, for the unknown of a hypothetical House of Saddam. 'Soddum' was duly expelled from Kuwait — but left in place in Baghdad to continue his buffer role against the Shi'a of Iraq and Iran. Better he than us, reasoned Bush the elder.
Bush Sr.'s pusillanimity was duly noted by the Saudis, so things changed again — on 9/11/01. After all, if Saddam could survive defeat in Kuwait, could not the cowardly Americans be relied upon to forgive and forget a direct strike on their homeland by the Saudis themselves? Would not the son show even more of the family appeasing spirit than the supposedly granite—like father ('This shall not stand!'), particularly if the attack were audacious, giving Americans a taste of their own 'Shock and Awe' medicine? It was time for the Saudis to accomplish what Saddam had tried and failed to achieve — a great turning of the tables. Saudi Arabia had hitherto managed the Oil Cartel as a client of America. Now America would have to learn how to become a junior partner of the Oil Cartel and its Islamic masters.
This is the inner meaning of 9/11. It was a daring adventure, but not a terribly risky one. Even if it failed — and it did, for George W. Bush turned out to be made of different stuff than his father — they thought that the example of Saddam demonstrated that an America incapable of replacing Saddam would certainly never bite the hand that fed it. The Saudis and their Cartel might have to undergo some difficult moments, but when the dust of 9/11 settled, they figured that America would try to restore the status quo ante World Trade Center. America's economic stake in the Cartel could be trusted to outweigh all other considerations, and the House of Saud would emerge unscathed.
And this gets us back to Iraq. The 'status quo ante World Trade Center' will never be restored, because it cannot be. If America leaves the Saudi Oil Cartel intact, there will be future 9/11's. This is the diplomatic circle that cannot be squared. The enemy is not terror. The enemy is not Islam. The enemy is the financial and economic foundation of Islamic terror, the Saudi Oil Cartel. No one point of this triad can be defeated unless all three are attacked. This is the lesson Lincoln had to learn during our own Civil War, as he fought his way forward toward an understanding that it was the institution of Slavery, not the abstraction of 'disunion,' or the geographic region of 'the South,' that he had to defeat. It is the same type of understanding that awaits our President too, in Iraq. Merely establishing a representative government in Baghdad will not insure against its subversion by a return of Sunni domination, a new Saddam, and a resulting rebirth of Arab—Islamic triumphalism absolutely guaranteed to produce more 9/11's, unless something is done to permanently neutralize the Saudi role in Iraq.
Shall America then permanently occupy Iraq to prevent Saudi influence from bringing about this counterrevolution? That would be both awkward and untenable.
America needs to find a countervailing regional force able to balance Saudi influence in Iraq and provide the Shi'a with an exterior base of support equivalent to that provided by the Saudis to the Iraqi Sunnis. Such a force can only be supplied by Iran. And Iran would be more than willing to play this role, were it not for one inconvenient power reality in the Middle East: the Shi'a have no nuclear deterrent, while the Sunni do.
Pakistan now possesses scores of nuclear bombs, as well as delivery systems capable of placing them in Teheran and all other Iran cities. And not just Pakistan. According to a little—noticed but highly credible report from Arnaud de Borchgrave, writing in the Oct. 22, 2003 Washington Times,
It is this nuclear imbalance that explains Iran's drive for nuclear parity, not any ambition to erase Israel from the map. It is quite possible that Iran's saber—rattling toward Israel is disinformation to cover the real strategic motivation for the pending acquisition of nuclear weapons. The worldwide uproar over Iran's ambition seems designed more to preserve the Sunni nuclear monopoly rather than to deter Iranian extremism. How else to explain the awkward silence that envelopes the issue of Pakistan—Saudi nuclear weaponry? The Sunni Bomb effectively inhibits Iran from playing a balancing role in the Middle East, and particularly in Iraq, against Saudi Arabia. And in the absence of such a role, America willy—nilly ends up having to perform it instead.
No demand that Iran drop its quest for nuclear weapons will be credible unless it is accompanied by the regional quid pro quo of disarming Pakistan and Saudi Arabia of similar weapons. In the absence of such an arrangement, the acquisition of deterrence by Iran is, as strange as it might seem, a prerequisite to the success of George W. Bush's Strategy for Victory in Iraq. For unless Iran is freed from the Pakistani—Saudi nuclear sword of Damocles that hangs over Teheran, it cannot rescue the program of democratic self—government from the same tragic debacle that overtook the identical program in South Vietnam over 30 years ago.
Israel will have to weigh the risk of a nuclear—armed Iran — and it would be foolish to deny that the risk is real — against the regional and global benefits of a neutralized Saudi Arabia. This is a calculation for Israelis to make, not Americans. It will be made on the basis of Israel's national security, not in the interests of the Oil Cartel and its various beneficiaries. On that ground alone, Israel may conclude that the risk is worth taking, for deterrence is still deterrence, and Israel's capacity for retaliation is overwhelming. Against those who contend that the Iranian Mullahs are mad and that therefore Mutual Assured Destruction cannot be trusted to maintain deterrence, one can only point out they are no madder than the Pakistanis (who created the Taliban of Afghanistan) and the Wahaabi fanatics of Saudi Arabia. The Middle East is a dangerous place, in which survival means taking risks.
For these and other reasons, Israel will not attack Iran, American will not attack Iran, and Iran will announce to the world that it possesses a nuclear deterrent. The Bush Administration will outwardly denounce and inwardly smile . So will Israel. So should we all.
Tom Milstein is executive director of a New York property management firm.