The battle today between the Salafist al-Qaeda hydra and Shia Twelvers in Iraq became inevitable late November 2013 in Geneva, when America agreed to suspend some sanctions against Iran and allow billions of dollars to flow into the coffers of the clerics who rule Persia and pull the strings of Bashar al-Assad.
Some of that money appears to have found its way to Syria, or perhaps it’s merely coincidental that Damascus has recently turned the tide against Sunni rebels, forcing them to regroup.
Despite appearances, the real significance of Geneva may not be the opening of P5+1 nuclear negotiations with Hassan Rouhanni, but as a marker in history of the moment when Washington ceded Iraq to Tehran.
Transparently following Vladimir Putin’s Crimea playbook, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has now invited the head of the Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard Quds Force to oversee the defense of Baghdad and its Shia population, and welcomed Syrian warplane strikes inside Iraqi borders. America’s response has been to reinsert a small contingent of specialists into Iraq…in support of Iranian spymaster Major General Qasem Solaimani.
The sovereignty of Iraq has now been reduced to a useful fiction. Created with very little care in 1920 by the League of Nations, ruled by Ba’athists from Nixon until the fall of Saddam, Iraq is now being dissolved in all but name, which will doubtless be retained for a time primarily for proxy-vote purposes at Turtle Bay.
America began pulling Iraq’s claws in 2003 and a decade later abandoned it undefended, surrounded by hungry predators drawn to the great treasure that lies buried beneath Rumaila. Already the world’s fifth-largest oil exporter, Iraq is reportedly capable of exceeding Saudi output. With Washington having all but ensured Iran’s effective control of Iraq’s southern oil fields, Tehran can wield an enormous flow of wealth – enough to kick-start a Shia caliphate and erect a nuclear umbrella over it.
Geneva was a bitter disappointment for Israel and for Saudi Arabia, but it could not have been a surprise. It was preceded in late 2010 by a wave of rebellion that began to wash over much of the Arab world, followed in early 2011 by Washington unleashing Harrier jump-jets, A-10 Warthogs, F-15 and F-16 warplanes, and B-2 stealth bombers to take down Libya’s Moammar Gaddafi – no friend of either Syria or Iran.
Then, in June 2011, Washington legitimized a transfer of power to Salafi Brotherhood jihadists in Egypt, and late last August refrained from launching even a token strike against Assad after a release of poison gas inside Syria.
Washington has given good cause to both Israel and Saudi Arabia to reevaluate their relationships with the United States and look elsewhere for reliable assistance. Israel has few friends, but its most dangerous enemies also threaten Riyadh, where the House of Saud is currently fighting two simultaneous wars – the first against al-Qaeda Salafists who want control of the kingdom, and the second against Iran’s Shia ayatollahs.
Given the circumstances, an unconventional shadow alliance among Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Russia – perhaps involving arms and technology, oil, Gaza, and a modern Mediterranean naval base in Egypt for Moscow – is feasible. With some help from its new best friends, once mighty Egypt would be well-positioned again to become a dominant regional power and an effective counterbalance to radical Salafi and Shia mischief.
Just as Russia absorbed Crimea and China is now aggressively asserting ownership of the South China Sea, Iran is in the act of creating a contiguous bloc of allied Shia states stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf. Russia, China, and Iran are each unapologetically pursuing greater might, while Europe stirs only to preserve its comfy pensions and Washington continues its flirtation with nihilism.
A nation’s foreign policy can fairly be judged a failure if it consistently alienates its allies and strengthens its foes. America’s foreign policy is a failure, and it has a domestic policy doppelgänger.
We are in danger of becoming a nation of pampered narcissists, too self-absorbed to be concerned that real power players like Vladimir Putin, Ali Khamenei, and Xi Jinping are busy reshaping the world to their advantage while we obsess about sex, gender identity, race, income inequality, and the climate. The Putins of the world simply don’t give a damn if they make us uncomfortable or offend our tender politically correct sensibilities.
However, precisely because America’s downward spiral is self-inflicted, it can be reversed. There is and will continue to be a growing international market for energy that Russia and Iran would like to dominate. Poor nations need energy to encourage their middle classes to emerge and prosper. Wealthy nations need energy to remain rich.
America is fortunate to have large reserves of natural gas, oil, and coal. It turns out now that not only can the United States drill its way back to prosperity, but doing so may be our last, best chance to stabilize and then reverse our economic decline, rebuild American might, and insist that Russia, China, and Iran play nicer.