Thursday, December 20, 2007

Brief Thoughts On Iraq

I was in a meeting today with an old friend who has spent many years in the Gulf and Washington. He is a private citizen, always has been, i.e., not part of the power structures in either place. But he knows and is privy to the thoughts of many of the power brokers. I have respected him as an individual and an analyst for many years, he is far less hot-headed than I am and is always deeply insightful.

He was asked by someone in the meeting his views on current state of Iraq. In a nutshell his view can be summarized as:
  • The Saudi-US relationship is badly soured, they have lost respect for the United States as a nation deeply in debt to China (i.e., squandering global influence to the rising new power), and for having deliberately harmed the Palestinians and now the Iraqis with the invasion that the Saudis openly warned them would be a disaster.
  • The Saudis want the US out of Iraq, they’re just making a mess of it, but they want the Americans out on their terms.
  • The Iranians feel almost exactly the same – they want the US out, but on their terms.
  • So the Saudis and Iranians have found common ground and have more or less struck a deal to help calm Iraq so that the Americans can “claim victory” and get out. The Saudis and Iranians are meeting regularly behind the scenes and closely coordinating their efforts.
  • So the Saudis are funneling huge support to anti-Al-Qaeda Sunni elements to tamp those hotheads down, and the Iranians have used their influence to calm down Sadr. So each side is calming down their respective sectors.
  • They are perfectly happy to let the Americans pretend the “surge” is what has caused the recent calming as it will let Americans feel good about themselves then skidaddle quicker.
  • Nobody in Washington has a clue what’s really going on on the ground. He thinks Petraeus and a few others likely do, but of course it serves their interests to pretend and let Washington think that they brought about the success instead of other actors beyond their control.

So, realist power politics in the Gulf, and yet more incompetence in Washington.

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