Bible Commentator

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Rabbi Moshe Reiss


One could say as a result of Bush administration’s foreign policy the Geopolitical Balance in the Persian Gulf and the Mid East is spinning out of control.

The major players in Persian Gulf include Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. (The Gulf States including Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have a population of only 10 million, but their GNP exceeds any of the Arab states.1 ) It has been an American objective since WWII to have regional hegemony in the Persian Gulf. 2

These three major players plus the Gulf States hold a major part of the world’s oil reserve that is exported to the West as well as of natural gas deposits. Iraq’s western border include Syria, Jordan  and Turkey. Iran’s eastern borders include Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as other central Asian countries. As a result the geopolitics of the Gulf cannot be easily separated from the geopolitics of the Mid East.

The current phase of geopolitical problem began with the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001 on the U.S.  The neighborhood and particularly Iran and Iraq have long even ancient conflicts but we will begin with the changes since 1979 when both the leadership of Iraq and Iran changed.

Iraq’s secular Ba’th sought the leadership of the Arab world. 3 Egypt after Anwar Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem in 1977 was suspended by the Arab League in Nov. 1978 at a meeting in Baghdad. On July 1979 Saddam Hussein became President of Iraq.

The victory of the Ayatollah Khomeini over the government of the Shah of Iran was anti-America and anti-West. Iran’s revolution, both Islamic and Shia seemed to create a threat to its neighbors.

Iraq has long been associated with the ‘Fertile Crescent’ and Arabism while  the Gulf and central Asia were influenced by Persia. In 1973 Tariq Aziz, the Foreign Minister of Iraq stated ‘the basic issue was whether Iraq was to be a gulf state or not.’ 4

Iraq-Iran War – 1980-1988:

The Iraq-Iran war was not religiously based but political. The U.S. backing the Shah of Iran was seen by Iraq as a ’surrogate of imperialism’. 5 Antecedents to the war included the 1974 Iran attempt to destabilize Iraq by encouraging Kurdish nationalists to break up the country, in response to Iraq's similar activities in Iran's Khuzestan province. In 1975, the United States allowed the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to attack Iraq over the Shatt al-Arab waterway, then under Iraqi control. As a result Iraq was forced to give up the waterway. Iraq’s invasion in 1980, if successful, would have made it the dominant power in the Persian Gulf region.

With a new Iranian government under the Ayatollah Khomeini Iraq expected a quick victory. This was not to be the case. Iraq encountered unexpected resistance. The people of Iran rallied around their new leadership and mounted stiff resistance. By the end of 1980 100,000 volunteers arrived at the front. The Iranian military was not nearly as depleted as Iraq had thought. By June of 1982, a successful Iranian counter-offensive had recovered the areas previously lost to Iraq.

Most of the fighting for the rest of the war occurred on Iraqi territory. The Iranians continued to employ human wave attacks (many children guaranteed by the Ayatollah the key to paradise – carrying an actual plastic key manufactured in Taiwan), while Iraqi soldiers remained, for the most part, in a defensive posture.

The U.S. backed Iraq from the beginning not least given Iran’s capturing and holding hostage the embassy staff for more than a year. The U. S. normalized its relation with Iraq (broken after the Six Day War) and provided it with intelligence, economic aid and weapons. President Reagan decided that the U.S. ‘could not afford to allow Iraq to lose the war to Iran’, and that the United States ‘would do whatever was necessary and legal to prevent Iraq from losing the war with Iran. 6

Iran war supplies were supplied primarily by North Korea and China while Iraq major supplier before and during the war was the U.S.S.R. Iraq was financially backed by the Arab Gulf states.

The war was disastrous for both countries costing Iran perhaps as many as one million casualties and $350 billion. Iraq had approximately 400,000 casualties and was left with serious debts to its former Arab backers, including US$14 billion loaned by Kuwait, a debt which contributed to Saddam's 1990 decision to invade.

Gulf War:

The war began with the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on August 2, 1990.  A coalition led by the U.S. including numerous Arab countries (but excluding Jordan) beginning in January 1991, resulting in a decisive victory for the coalition forces.

Iraq claimed its invasion of Kuwait was justified as it was a natural part of Iraq carved off by British imperialism. Iraq considered it an annexation of Kuwait as a step on the way to greater Arab Union.

Saddam Hussein stated that his invasion was fighting for the Arabs against Persian Iran, and the conquest of Kuwait was the payoff due him for being  the sword of the Arabs. He also related it to the first Intifada by the Palestinians and as such was backed by Arafat. Since most Arab states, including Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, were dependent on Western military alliances Hussein presented himself as the one Arab statesman willing to stand up to Israel and the United States.

Almost immediately after of the invasion, Kuwait and U.S. requested and had approved a resolution of the UN Security Council condemning the invasion,   demanded a withdrawal of Iraqi troops and placed economic sanctions on Iraq. The Arab League passed its own resolution demanding a withdrawal. The resolution also called for a solution to the conflict from within the Arab League, and warned against foreign intervention.

The decision by the West was a concern that Iraq would next invade Saudi Arabia, far more importance to it than Kuwait. The rapid success of the Iraqi army against Kuwait had brought Iraq’s army within easy striking distance of the Hama eastern oil fields, Saudi Arabia’s most valuable resources. The United States, Europe, and Japan saw such a potential as disastrous. Saudi Arabia would have found it difficult to quickly mobilize to meet the Iraqi division deployed in Southern Kuwait. Very likely Iraq would have gained control of the eastern oil fields.

The United States led coalition quickly overcame the Iraqi forces in Kuwait

and took over southern Iraq. The economic sanctions passed by the U.N. remained in force. A United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) on weapons was established, to monitor Iraq's compliance with restrictions on weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles. Iraq accepted some and refused other weapons inspections. The team found some evidence of biological weapons programs at one site and non-compliance at many other sites.

In 1997 Iraq expelled all U.S. members of the inspection team, alleging that the United States was using the inspections as a front for espionage; members of UNSCOM were in regular contact with various intelligence agencies to provide information on weapons sites back and forth. The team returned for an even more turbulent time period between 1997 and 1999. The team was replaced by UNMOVIC, which began inspections in 2002.

September 11:

Like the assault on Pearl Harbor the attacks on the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, will forever be seared in the memory of a generation of Americans.  It is now clear that the attacks on the American homeland and the responses to them have created a new paradigm of global affairs. The American declaration of a War on Terrorism - on Radical Islam - was seen by many as a war on the religion of Islam. Relations between the world's single superpower and the 1.4 billion Muslim believers can only be viewed as inexorably changed to the worse since 9/11. 7

The invasion of Afghanistan and the Taliban began the War on Terror. In the first major American foreign policy statement after 9/11 George Bush called Iraq, Iran and North Korea ‘an Axis of Evil’. While President Ronald Reagan had called the U.S.S.R. an ‘Evil Empire’ 8 it was clear he did not intent to declare war on them; it appeared that President Bush (II) considered it a ‘divine’ mission. 9 After destroying the Taliban and the armies of the government of Afghanistan Bush stated that ‘the Iraqi regime had plotted to develop chemical gas, biological and nuclear weapons for over a decade.’ A year later the U.S. attacked Iraq without proof that they had developed the WMD and shortly therefore it was clear that Iraq did not in fact have nerve gas, nor biological weapons nor was it developing nuclear weapons.

2003 invasion of Iraq:

As a result of the invasion of Iraq by the U.S. and its coalition partners in Iraq the geopolitics of the Gulf and the Mid East changed forever.

George F. Kennan the creator of the containment policy against the U.S.S.R. stated in 2002 that ‘if we went into Iraq, like the president would like us to do, you know where you begin. You never know where you are going to end’.  10

The objectives of the invasion into Iraq as stated by a National Security Directive (Aug.  2002) was ‘To conduct policy in a fashion that minimizes the chance of a WMD attack against the United States, US field forces, our allies and friends, to minimize the danger of regional instabilities, to deter Iran and Syria from helping Iraq and to minimize disruption in international oil markets.’

Another major objective according to the then Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was to make Iraq ‘the first Arab democracy. He envisioned a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq—secular, middle-class, urbanized, rich with oil.

The assumption was that the presence of a victorious American Army in Iraq would then serve as a powerful boost to moderate elements in neighboring Iran, hastening that critical country's evolution away from the clerics and toward a more moderate course. Such an evolution in Tehran would lead to a withdrawal of Iranian support for Hezbollah and other radical groups, thereby isolating Syria and reducing pressure on Israel. This undercutting of radicals on Israel's northern borders and within the West Bank and Gaza would lead eventually to a favorable solution of the Arab-Israeli problem’. 11 The Bush administration considered invading Iraq a target of opportunity for the reasons they stated.  

When the National Security Directive noted above was updated in March 2006 it stated that the war’s objective was to ‘secure a united, stable and democratic Iraq’.

The result was: Regional instability has increased, Arab democracy has failed 12, the moderates have left and the radicals on Israel’s northern borders and Gaza have improved their position. American intelligence agencies stated in April 2006 that ‘the Iraq jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives’ and that ‘the Iraq conflict has become the 'cause celebre' for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement’.13  As noted by Prof. Timothy Garton Ash the American coalition ‘transformed a totalitarian state into a state of anarchy. 14

Many people including former Secretary of State and retired Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff General Colin Powell who stated before the war ‘if you break it you own it’ now stated (CBS interview Dec. 17) that the anarchy is now a ‘sectarian civil war’. He also stated that ‘we are not winning, we are losing. . .  [and that] we are a little less safe’. Kenneth M. Pollack (Saban Center) who wrote in 2002 supporting an invasion of Iraq (‘The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq’) stated that ‘it is in a low level civil war’ and ‘was headed toward . . . be[ing] even worse off than it was under Saddam Hussein’. 15

The latest National Intelligence Estimate (Jan 2007) stated ‘The term “civil war” accurately describes key elements of the Iraqi conflict, including the hardening of ethno-sectarian identities, a sea change in the violence, ethnic-sectarian mobilization, and population displacements.’ The continuation of this will result according to the NIE in either partition, a Shia strongman or anarchy. 16

According to the Failed State Index published in cooperation with Foreign Policy Magazine Iraq is the fourth ranked Failed State ahead of Zimbabwe, Chad and Somalia. 17

Clearly the American post war objectives have failed.


The President of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad based on his public statements is rabidly anti-Jewish and anti-Israel. He seeks the destruction of ‘Zionist’ Israel, ‘wiping it off the map’. His objective is the genocide of Israelis. Ayatollah Khamenei the country’s spiritual guide added the U.S. stating ‘the source of all human torment and suffering is the 'liberal democracy' promoted by the West’

Iran has influence from Afghanistan and central Asia to the Mid East including Hamas in Palestine, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad and Moqtada al-Sadr and his Shi'a militia in Iraq. It is funding and arming the above organizations.

The defeat of the Saddam regime and the radicalization of the Iraqi Shiite community have been a significant gain for Iran’s ruling clergy. This is somewhat offset by the influence of the moderate Shia, led by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who carries on a political tradition opposite that of Iran's. Sistani carries on the Shia tradition of political neutrality versus the radical political theology of the late Ayatollah Khomeini. Moqtada’s Ayatollah father was less a believer in political neutrality than Sistani, although far from following Khomeini’s form of political activism. Whether even Sistani can control the Shia militia’s is problematical. The connection between these Shi’ite leaders is intertwined with the Qom-Teheran nexus, the Najaf connection and Iranian politics in very difficult ways for outsiders and perhaps even insiders to comprehend.

Iraq's turmoil has been very good for Khamenei and Iran's politicized clergy, who want to upset the traditional, moderate clergy in the Iraqi holy city of Najaf. The chaos in Iraq - the sectarian strife--has nearly neutralized Sistani, who tried to prevent the unleashing of Shiite revenge against the Sunni insurgency's attacks on his community. With continued violence, Sistani and the moderate clergy will continue to wither.

There are moderate voices in Tehran opposed to Ahmadinejad’s approach.

But moderates in Iran are a strange breed. Former President Mohammad Khatami  recently hailed Hizbollah as ‘a shining sun that illuminates and warms the hearts of all Muslims and supporters of freedom in the world’.

In a sermon another former Iranian president and ‘moderate’ Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (Nov. 17) argued that there was little reason for Iran to help the United States in Iraq: ‘They are gradually sinking in this swamp and now they cannot help themselves out. It would take us a lot of effort to tow them out of the bottom of the swamp.’ 18

Iran Nuclear Weapons:

The E.U.’s big three (Great Britain, France and Germany) have been negotiating with Iran for two years with American approval. Recently President Ahmadinejad wrote Bush suggesting direct the possibility of direct negotiation. It was a theological oriented letter (reminiscent of the Ayatollah Khomeini’s suggestion to Mikhail Gorbachev in 1989 that communism convert to Islam) but what else would one expect of him?

Several commentators have suggested America bomb the numerous nuclear sites.  Prof. Timothy Gartan Ash cited a conversation he had in Tehran in which a friend commented ‘I love George Bush but I would hate him if he bombed my country.’ Apparently the great majority of Iranians

believe they have the right to develop nuclear technology. Bombing of Iran would prove that the hardliners were right to be concerned about foreign western control.

Tom Friedman (N.Y. Times foreign affairs correspondent and author), a supporter of the War in Iraq said the only thing more frightening than Iran’s having nuclear weapons is America’s bombing Iran. That would raise the price of oil to over $100 a barrel. ‘We’re in a war on terrorism with people fueled and funded by our energy purchases.  We are funding both sides in the war on terrorism.  We’re funding the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps with our tax dollars; we’re funding Hamas, Islamic Jihad, al Qaeda, and all their brother and sister organizations and the charities that fund them with our energy purchases’.19  Both supporters of bombing

(Mark Steyn – City Journal, Spring issue) and opponents (Ash – Guardian, April 20, 2006) agree the result would be suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, New York, London, missile attacks on Haifa, Tel Aviv and U.S. targets and allies in the Gulf, destabilizing Lebanon and Iraq as well as unleashing Shia terrorists in Sunni lands where the U.S. has a presence.

Oddly enough while all of the major Democratic candidates for President currently oppose the war in Iraq, all appear to be more than willing to consider a war in Iran. Senator Hillary Clinton used the same formulation as Vice President Cheney - “no option can be taken off the table.” Similarly

Senator Obama said the same: the Iranian regime was “a threat to all of us,” and “we should take no option, including military action, off the table.” John Edwards has been even more categorical. In a January speech, he said, “Under no circumstances can Iran be allowed to have nuclear weapons.” And he added, “We need to keep all options on the table” (NYT March 25, 2007).

Iran appears to becoming a regional superpower partially as a result of America’s failure in Iraq. But not all data suggests this. Iran is not an economic or military regional power.

‘Without Western assistance, Iran's stated goal of doubling its oil output to 8 million barrels a day by 2020 will not be realized. Iran’s ability to pump oil, and hence its ability to hold its economy together, is contingent on reliable maintenance of its infrastructure and improved technological improvement. Iran is a net importer of refined oil products, including gasoline!’ 20 According to a Business Week review Iran oil exports could [without technological improvement] fall to zero within 10 years. 21

Economically Iran has serious problems; 50% of Iran's 70 million people are under the age of 25, 30% are unemployed. Iran must create almost one million new jobs every year in order to keep its unemployment rate at the present level. Inflation is high (almost 20%) and the infrastructure especially its oil technology is poor. The inflation rate, high interest rates and a weak Rial have resulted in capital investment being negative. The lowering of oil prices over this winter by almost 30% (largely as a result of Saudi Arabia pumping more oil possibly at the instigation of the U.S.) will have a significant negative effect.


In December the  U.N. Security Council approved limited nuclear based sanctions on Iran. Resolution 1737 has a deadline of February 21 when Iran must comply or face a Chapter VII resolution with more than benign sanctions.  In March the Security Council unanimously approved more strenuous sanctions. 22 On the other hand Iran which has a polycentric system of government (very different than Saddam’s Iraq) may be signaling a more moderate position as Ahmadinejad’s hardline (even apocalyptic) positions have been criticized recently. 23 It may be that the President’s failing economic policies – he ran on economic reform - and his largesse to Hizbollah and Hamas have backfired.

Iranian regime is not a totalitarian juggernaut; there are important splits within the leadership and there is an important faction that does not want Iran to be isolated. The Revolutionary Guard has evolved into something like a mafia organization, with extensive economic interests that lead both to corruption and potential vulnerability to sanctions imposed by the international community. But even moderates will defend the sovereignty of Iran.

Iraq Study Group – ISG:

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates conceded during his the Senate hearings on his appointment that the U.S., after almost four years was not winning the war. ‘My greatest worry if we mishandle the next year or two and leave Iraq in chaos is that a variety of regional powers will become involved in Iraq, and we will have a regional conflict on our hands’ (NYT Dec. 6). This contradicted President Bush statement one month earlier that

‘Absolutely, we're winning’ (Guardian Dec. 6).

On December 6 the ISG report led by former Secretary of State James Baker III and Lee J. Hamilton former leading member of the U.S. House of Representatives, issued their long waited report. In its first verse the report described the situation in Iraq was ‘grave and deteriorating’. Despite the report being rejected by President Bush it is worth reviewing for the issues it crystallized that the Bush administration had refused to consider before.

ISG Major Recommendations:

1. Begin removing American combat troops by first quarter of 2008, while increasing the number of training troops to the Iraqi army.

2. National Reconciliation among Iraqis.

3. Dialogue with neighbors especially Iran and Syria (without preconditions) and find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The recommendations recognize that there are two aspects to the problem; an internal ethnic/sectarian conflict which is fueling a civil war (recommendation 2) and a regional problem (recommendation 3). Richard Haass, President of the Council of Foreign Relations (CFR) has called the Iraq situation ‘part civil war, part failed state, and part regional conflict’. 24

Iran and Syria are acting in coordination in terms of Iraq and Lebanon; the question posed by the report is can their interests be separated? Do Iran and Syria gain by helping the U.S. exit Iraq or by continuing the violence and conflict? If as Lee Hamilton said in regards Iraq ‘We're perilously close to . . . a lost cause’ (Washington Post Dec. 8); why would Iran and Syria help?

What to offer Iran:

The Iranians had shared American hatred of Sunni Al Qaeda and Taliban, and they provided them with extensive assistance on intelligence, logistics, diplomacy and Afghan internal politics. After invading Saddam Hussein, the Iranians suggested that they would be willing to cooperate on that as well. It was in there own self interest. With the elimination of Saddam’s Iraq and the Taliban their major enemies were defeated by the U.S.

Today, large numbers of Iranian intelligence agents have infiltrated Iraq, where they seem to be providing money, weapons and other supplies to virtually all of Iraq’s Shiite militias. There are reports that Hezbollah is training Iraqi Shiite militiamen in Lebanon at Iran’s behest. And the Shiite all know that in an all-out civil war, Iran would be their only backer.

Ali Larijani, Iran’s National Security Advisor referring to a regional conference did not define a grand bargain but made the following pragmatic comments shaped by Tehran's view of current realities: Iran is up, America is down, and any post-Iraq settlement should reflect those facts. 25 Iran today is more aggressive and powerful than before the invasion into Iraq despite the twenty five years of American economic sanctions. 26

On the other hand Colin Powell has pointed in terms of his dealings with the Iranians "You can't negotiate when you tell the other side, 'Give us what a negotiation would produce before the negotiations start'." 27 He believes negotiations may produce positive results.

Even if Iran agreed to help can their help be decisive?  Iraqi’s as noted above are Arabs and Iranians are Persian’s; these cultures have been conflicting for millenniums. Iraqi’s Shia hold to a very different theology than Iranian Shia’s. In addition the insurgency may be by now splintered and largely indigenous.

With the capture of British sailors and Marines in March 23, Iran reacted to the further ratcheting up of the U.N. sanctions and the U.S. expanding its banking sanctions. Britain did respond with confrontation but with diplomacy; can we learn from that?

Containment rather than regime change may the best the U.S. can hope for in terms of Iran. In the longer term détente may be possible offering the pragmatists the opportunity to resume diplomatic and economic relations with the U.S. Only time (and lots of it) will determine whether that is in fact feasible.


What to offer Syria:

Would Syria make peace with Israel in return for the Golan Heights? Or is control of Lebanon more important to Syria and its economy than the Golan Heights?

Syria has claimed very recently a ‘real desire to reach agreement’ with Israel, according to its Foreign Minister Walid Moallem ‘without preconditions’. Israel would require Syria’s dropping ties to extremists – Hizbollah and Hamas - allowing Lebanon to be independent; Syria would probably demand economic aid from the U.S.

U.S. officials think that this approach is not valid, that Syria is less interested today in the Golan Heights than on winning back influence over Lebanon and terminating U.N. efforts to hold Syria to account for the assassination of Lebanese reformers. The Syrians gain by the turmoil in Iraq. Syria believes it is improving its position in Lebanon, the most important foreign-policy objective of the Assad regime, against America. Undoubtedly Assad believes that the chaos in Iraq has helped Syria's cause in Lebanon.

According to Clinton Bailey of the Truman Institute for Peace at the Hebrew University the governing Alawite tribe in Syria – an estranged Shia sect – would never give up Lebanon or Iran as it could then be subsumed by the Sunni majority in Syria. 28 This may be even more true if Syria were to make peace and recognize Israel. Iran has invested billions in investment and trade with Syria. Iran may be training Syria’s ‘Shia militias to compensate for Assad's sagging support in the [predominately Sunni] army and in the minority Alawite community’. 29

Abraham D. Sofaer of the conservative Hoover Institute and a Ronald Reagan advisor who negotiated with Iran in 1985-1990 disagrees. He believes that negotiations with both Iran and Syria can be successful due to their own self interest. 30

These two conflicting views are consistent with the Israeli government views; Mossad dismissed Bashar Assad’s peace offensive and the Military Intelligence accepting it as worth pursuing. The Prime Minister of Israel apparently agrees with Mossad while the Defense and Foreign Ministers apparently agree with MI. The weakness of the Israeli and Palestinian governments do not bode well for that part of the problem.

Syria and Iran may not share the same long-term aims. Syria does not have the same geopolitical, strategic and ideological influence as Tehran and it does not have the ambition of being the strongest regional power. It is likely that Syria, if the opportunity arises, will slacken its ties with Iran in exchange for U.S. recognition of its vital interests. Damascus does not have any ideological aversion against the United States, which contrasts with Iran, whose anti-Americanism was one of the pillars of Khomeinist ideology. Similarly Hizbollah and Syria connection may be more tactical than strategic; the formers connection with Iran is ideological.

George Bush’s original response to the report: ‘In Iraq, they support terrorists and death squads who are fomenting sectarian violence . . . . In Lebanon, they're supporting Hezbollah . . . . In Afghanistan, they're supporting remnants of the Taliban . . . . In the Palestinian territories, they are working to stop moderate leaders . . . . In each of these places, radicals and extremists are using terror to stop the spread of freedom. And they do so because they want to spread their ideologies -- their ideologies of hate -- and impose their rule on this vital part of the world.’ (Washington Post, Dec.10)

Bush’s strategic response stated on January 12 was to surge American troops by 20,000 31 (in opposition to the ISG Report) working with Army units and the Police. They are largely Shia with mixed loyalties; in large areas ethnic cleansing has already occurred. Despite the 132,000 American trained and equipped they have been ineffective against Shia militias and death squads. As the ISG report noted it is unclear ‘whether [these forces] will carry out missions on behalf of national goals instead of a sectarian agenda.’ It would require a cultural change in the government, the Army and the Police for that to change. The new strategy largely ignores the diplomatic front. Instead of dialoguing with Iran and Syria the President accused them of fostering the violence in Iraq, 32 some see this as a prelude to war.

This new Iraq strategy apparently is not favored by the Shia controlled government of Nuri al Maliki whose young patron is Moktada al-Sadr and his Shia militia, the Mahdi Army. As Edward Luttwak (CSIS and CFR) put it ‘In fact, in the run-up to the surge proposal, it is unlikely that there was any real two-sided bargaining before Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki was induced to issue promises — particularly in terms of government troops taking on Shiite militias — that he cannot possibly fulfill’ 33 The majority of American deaths are the result of Sunnis, not Shia terrorists.

The ‘surge’ policy has been opposed by most American politicians many from the President’s own party. Zbigniew Brzezinski has called the President’s new way forward  ‘of limited tactical significance and of no strategic benefit.’ 34  Many commentators and the public opinion apparently agreed with him.

The U.S. has accomplished all it can reasonably achieve in Iraq; the removal of Saddam, the end of the Ba’athist regime, the elimination of Iraq as a regional threat, the elimination of Iraq’s unrequited acquisition of WMD’s and the opening however small of a democratic government. Whatever of the remaining U.S. goals cannot be achieved by military means. The U.S. does not have sufficient control to insist of any further objectives. The U.S. empowered Iran as never before in the Gulf. Disengagement will enhance American powers on a global basis. Ss George F. Kennan noted in testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations committee (1996) ‘There is more respect to be seen in the opinion of this world to be won by a resolute and courageous liquidation of unsound positions than by the most stubborn pursuant of extravagant and unpromising objectives’. 35

Partition in Iraq is a real possibility and is included in the American backed constitution. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States would back a Sunni ethnic ‘region’ and Iran and Syria a Shia ‘region’ if created. 36 Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria are concerned that destabilization will result in refugees streaming over their borders – almost one million each have already flown into the latter two countries.

As noted by James Kurth Iraq among other Middle Eastern countries ‘are really small multinational empires’; 37 these are difficult to govern especially when insurgencies and terrorists run rampant. Zbigniew Brzezinski has recently referred to this region as the ‘Global Balkans’ suggesting a civil war mutating into a regional conflagration.

Foreign Minister Faisal succinctly summarized his country's concerns stating that if the Sunnis and Shia devolve into civil war, "it will cause so many conflicts in the region that it will bring the whole region into a turmoil that will be hard to resolve. The Iranians would enter the conflict because of the south, the Turks because of the Kurds, and the Arabs--because both these countries are going to enter--will be definitely dragged into the conflict. " 38

If so perhaps the preferred solution – an alternative strategy - is a soft partition a la Bosnia.


The Arab countries as well as America backed Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war for fear Iran would become the regional superpower. They joined the American coalition in the Gulf War including Saudi Arabia allowing the placing of ‘infidel’ troops into the land containing the holy cities of Mecca and Medina for fear that Iraq  would become the Gulf’s regional superpower.

How would the U.S. and the Sunni led countries (particularly Egypt and Saudi Arabia) react to Iran, a Shia country, developing nuclear weapons?

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia expressed to Vice President Dick Cheney at the end of November that should the U.S. troops leave Iraq his country will support the Sunnis and took strong opposition to diplomatic talks between the United States and Iran. They are concerned that the civil war will spill into Saudi Arabia as well as disenchanted Shia in the Gulf States. Seymour Hersh in a recent article has documented that the U.S. government has fostered the Shia Sunni conflict for its own obvious reasons. 39

This becomes the dream come true for  Al-Qaeda; a war between America and Iran. For the terrorists who attacked America on 9/11 and have been waging war against its troops in Iraq and Afghanistan ever since, a war between the United States and Iran would be a tremendous strategic victory since two of their most deadly enemies would bleed each other. The Sunni Arab jihadist community would kill two birds with one stone.

Sheik Musa bin Abdulaziz, editor of al Salafi magazine considered a ‘moderate’ stated ‘Iran has become more dangerous than Israel itself’ (International Herald Tribune, Dec. 22). 40 The ‘Shia-Sunni conflict has emerged as a major divide in Middle East politics’ between Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Lebanon according to Vali Nasr in his testimony to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations (Senior Fellow - CFR, Jan. 17). The leaders of many Arab states blame the American failure for exacerbating these sectarian divides. 41

The anti-Iranian alliance has been joined by Pakistan as President Pervez Musharraf journeyed to the Egyptian beach resort of Sharm el-Sheikh for talks with President Hosni Mubarak. This after a previous stop in Riyadh, Musharraf vowed to deepen defense and strategic ties with the Wahhabi kingdom. His trip, according to the Saudi-owned, Arabic-language news site Elaph, was intended to ‘expand the Sunni alliance which includes Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey to include Pakistan as well in order to face the growing Iranian influence in the region.’

Will Washington favor the democratic Shia majority in Iraq or join an anti-Iran pro-Sunni hegemony? Will alienate both sides of this divide? Where would Israel lie in this mix? Columbia Professor Gary G. Sick (a former NSC advisor) believes an informal alliance is developing between the U.S., Israel and the Sunni states as a Plan B to limit the failure in Iraq. 42 The February meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia between Fatah and Hamas to create a unity government, President Ahmadinejad meeting in Riyadh and the March multilateral (including the U.S.) meeting in Baghdad are the beginning of Plan B.

According to neoconservative Charles Krauthammer the Unipolar world began on November 9, 1989 (the fall of the Berlin Wall) and began to assert itself on 9/11. 43  With hindsight the later is also the beginning of the multi-polar world.

An increasingly multi-polar world requires an entirely different American foreign policy: far from being unilateralist, it necessitates a complex form of power-sharing on both a global and regional basis. This is not only the opposite to neoconservative unilateralism, it is also entirely different from the simplicities of rivalry in the bipolar world of the cold war. The ramifications of the Iraq invasion will surely influence US foreign policy for decades to come. 44

Does anyone believe that the balance of the Geopolitics in the Gulf (and the Mid East) has increased in favor of the U.S. since the invasion of Iraq? Lee Hamilton noted in the Press conference for the Iraq Study Group that Iran was ‘the single greatest impact in the region’ (Dec. 6); was that true before the Iraqi invasion?

Of the three ‘axis of evil’ stated by President Bush in 2002 North Korea now has nuclear weapons, Iraq is a recruiting ground for terrorism and Iran which may be close to attaining nuclear power is stronger.  One could argue that as a result of Bush administration’s unilateral foreign policy the Geopolitical Balance in the Persian Gulf and the Mid East is spinning out of control.

The latest proof of the American failure is not the Holocaust denying Ahmadinejad; his hardline position was clear even before the Iraqi invasion but the unfortunate reality that the most recent British hostage taking be it diplomacy, bilateral or multilateral, or the threat of force, there are no good options left. While some creative thinking may help, Western policy toward Iran in the coming days and weeks will be about choosing an option that minimizes damage as much as possible.


Victory as defined by the Bush administration is not longer possible, 45 stability, withdrawal and containment are the only choices. 46 It will probably require a new government in the U.S. who accept that Iraq is a failed state bordering on full scale civil war and develop a multipolar strategy to prevent an implosion in Iraq from expanding into a regional conflagration.

The result of the Iraqi invasion has created an existential crisis for all of the Middle Eastern countries. This bodes terribly for the United States. It is difficult to see this as not boding poorly for Israel!

1 Kechichian, J.A., editor, Iran, Iraq and the Arab Gulf States, (Palgrave, N.Y., 2001) pg. 351.

2 Hiro, Dilip, Neighbors, Not Friends: Iraq and Iran, (Routledge, London, 2001) pg. 292.

3 Souresrafil, Behrouz, The Iran-Iraq War, (C.C. Press, London, 1989) pg. 28.

4 Abdulghani, J.M., Iraq & Iran: The Years of Crisis, (Croom Helm, London,1984) pg. 79

5 Abdulghani, pg. 84.

6 National Security Decision Directive, June, 1982, John King,

7 Peter W. Singer, Current History, Dec. 2006.

8 Speech to the British House of Commons, June 8, 1982.

9 State of the Union address, January 29, 2002.

10 Albert Eisele, ‘George Kennan Speaks Out About Iraq,’ The Hill, September 26, 2002.

11 Prof. Mark Danner, N.Y. Review of Books, Dec. 21.

12 As Marina Ottaway (Foreign Policy, March/April 2007) referring to Saudi Arabia and Egypt quoted ‘Franklin D. Roosevelt might have put it in more frank language, they are still the same S.O.B.s, but they are once again "our S.O.B.s.”’

13 __Judgments.pdf.

14 Guardian, Dec. 14.

15 Interview with Council on Foreign Relations, Oct. 13.

16 Http://



18 To read more about Iran:

19 Tom Friedman, Foreign Policy Magazine, May-June 2006.

20 Gil Feiler, Iran and the West, BESA, March 7, 2006.

21 Business Week Dec. 11.

22 Russian which has significant commercial relations (including supplying approved nuclear facilities) with Iran as was expected to veto this resolution may have changed its strategy. The price of Russia’s compliance may be a deal on Kosovo’s independence and the Georgia breakaway ‘republics’ of Abkhazia and South Odessa (Dimitri Simes, Wall St. Journal, March 27).

23 Despite the President’s very public declarations of Holocaust denial the Islamic Republic did not vote against a resolution passed by the U.N. General Assembly in January condemning the denial of the Holocaust.

24 Testimony to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, January 17.

25  Interview with David Ignatius, Washington Post, Dec. 6

26 Washington Quarterly, December 2006, Larry Diamond, Michael McFaul and Abbas Milone, Hoover Institute, Stanford University.


28 New Republic, Dec. 19.

29 Ammar Abdulhamid, Guardian, Dec. 24.

30 Wall Street Journal Dec. 20

31 This is the third time American troops have been surged - December 2004 - May 2005 (155,000 peak); October 2005 - January 2006 (166,000 peak); and August 2006 - November 2006 (144,000 peak).

32 ‘We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We'll interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq’. (January 11 speech) The next day Bush sent the second carrier battle group and about two dozen F-16s to a Turkish base near Iran, as well as deploying Patriot anti-missile batteries in the Persian Gulf. He then appointed Admiral William Fallon as Central Commander of all troops in the Gulf, Middle East and Central Asia the first naval officer to command an essentially land based battle. However if bombing the Iranian nuclear facilities from battleship carriers (with a total of 50 ships) and protecting the Gulf where the objective he would be the appropriate leader.


34 See for example Philip Gordon, Kenneth Pollack, Martin Indyk and Sarah Binder of the Brookings Institute in ‘http:/’ or General (ret.) Charles Boyd, Stephen Biddle, Robert Looney, Amitai Etzioni and Dimitri Simes in


35 Steven Simon, After the Surge, The Case for U.S. Military Disengagement from Iraq, Feb. 2007

36 For other Iraqi partition studies see: Peter Galbraith in ‘The End of Iraq’ suggesting that Iraq has already been divided into two states – a Kurd in the North and a Shia in the south – and a war zone centered on Baghdad; Liam Anderson and Gareth Stansfield ‘The Future of Iraq: Dictatorship, Democracy or Division?’ stating that an ethno-sectarian solution is the only way for Iraq to survive and  Eric Herring and Glen Rangwala, in ‘Iraq in Fragments’ that the fragmentation is beyond repair.

37 Diplomacy and Statecraft, 15(4), pg. 826.

38 Quoted in The New Republic, ‘Good Neighbors, Rachel Bronson, April 3, 2007.

39 THE REDIRECTION, A STRATEGIC SHIFT, Seymour Hersh, Vanity Fair.

40 Remarkably even The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) had an article entitled ‘The Growing Wisdom of Saudi Arabia’ on January 29.

41 See comments by academics Khaled al-Dakhil, Najaf Ali Mirzai, Abdulahah al Shayji and Eyal Zisser quoted by Anthony Shadid dyn/content/article/2007/01/29/AR2007012902090_3.html.   


43 Charles Krauthammer, Keynote Address to Foreign Policy Research Institute, Nov. 14, 2006.

44 Martin Jacques research fellow at the Asia Research Centre, London School of Economics, Guardian Dec. 9.

45 Even the Wall Street Journal who continue to support the administration (Michael O’Hanlon) concede that (largely as a result of the Bush administration own incompetence) victory is no longer possible.

46 See The Brooking Institute, Carlos Pascual and Kenneth M. Pollack,