Wednesday, June 20, 2012






Today the Senate Foreign Relations Committee released [PDF format warning] "The Gulf Security Architecture: Partnership With The Gulf Co-Operation Council." On page v., Senator John Kerry, Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, notes, "Home to more than half of the world's oil reserves and over a third of its natural gas, the stability of the Persian Gulf is critical to the global economy."  Chair John Kerry has stated of the report, "The Gulf Region is strategically important to the United States economically, politically, and for security reasons.  This is a period of historic, but turbulent change in the Middle East. We need to be clear-eyed about what these interests are and how best to promote them.  This report provides a thoughtful set of recommendations designed to do exactly that."
The report may well map out that for many.  That's not what stood out to me. The takeaway for me is US troops remain in the region, right next to Iraq in Kuwait and the Committee's recommendation is that they remain present.  (For those who don't want to read the report in full or operating systems are not PDF friendly, click here for the Committee's one page explanation of the report.)
A series of challenges are listed early on and we'll note the fourth one.
Challenge 4: The United States must carefully shape its military presence so as not to creat a popular backlash, while retaining the capability to protect the free flow or critical natural resources and to provide a counterbalance to Iraq.
If that was a challenge there were hopes the US would meet, it's too late at present. As Arianna Huffington noted last week at The Huffington Post:
With the war there officially "ended" and most of our troops back home, Iraq isn't getting much ink these days. But the story is far from over. Indeed, according to Wadah Khanfar, former director general of Al Jazeera, Iraq is still the most important story in the Middle East -- with a far greater impact on the region's future than Syria. "Nobody's paying attention to Iraq anymore," he told me during dinner in London over the weekend, "but it's becoming a client state of Iran, with a giant amount of oil between them." This state of affairs is, of course, primarily our doing.
And yet, as our soldiers have left, so has our attention. "The war in Iraq will soon belong to history," proclaimed President Obama at Fort Bragg as he marked the occasion of bringing the last troops home. But while the military chapter of that disastrous undertaking might belong to history, its consequences belong very much to the present. A present in which the very same voices that rose to push us into war with Iraq are again rising to push us into war with Iran -- but without ever noting that it was their misadventure in Iraq that gave Iran a new and powerful ally.
If the goal/challenge was to keep Iran and Iraq from growing closer, you don't, as the current White House did, back Nouri al-Maliki for a second term. You note instead that his political slate came in second and demand he step aside so that Iraqiya can have a crack at forming a governmnet. Instead, the US chose to spit on the political process, the Iraqi Constitution, democracy and the will of the Iraqis who voted by backing second place Nouri for a second term as prime minister.
Now let's move to another challenge.
Challenge 7: Relations between the Gulf monarchies and Iraq remain cool. There has been a tendency of some Arab states to remain disengaged from Iraq, largely over its relations with Iran. Unfortunately, this tendency has had the effect of pushing Iraq closer to Iran.
Recommendation: The United States should promote the gradual political reintegration of Iraq into the Arab fold.
Again, the problem is Nouri. He can't stop accusing Arab states. Just last week, he was again insisting Saudi Arabia and Qatar were out to get him. He's paranoid and he's not trust worthy. How the US government ever thought Nouri al-Maliki would bring Iraq closer to the Arab states is a head scratcher. Someone really needs to answer to that question: The White House ensured that second place Nouri remained prime minister; how was this supposed to improve relations between Iraq and the Arab states?
Further into the report, we get the point AP' was emphasizing this morning. AP: "The United States is planning a significant military presence of 13,500 troops in Kuwait to give it the flexibility to respond to sudden conflicts in the region as Iraq adjusts to the withdrawal of American combat forces and the world nervously eyes Iran, according to a congressional report." Page nine of the report:
A residual American military presence in the Gulf and increased burden-sharing with GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] states are fundamental components of such a framework. However, the United States must also carefully shape its military footprint to protect the free-flow of critical natural resources and promote regional stability while not creating a popular backlash.
Page 12:
Kuwait is especially keen to maintain a significant U.S. military presence. In fact, the Kuwaiti public perception of the United States is more positive than any other Gulf country, dating back to the U.S.-led liberation of Kuwait in 1991. Kuwait paid over $16 billion to compensate coalition efforts for costs incurred during Desert Shield and Desert Storm and $350 million for Operation Southern Watch. In 2004, the Bush Administration designated Kuwait a major non-NATO ally.
* U.S. Military Presence: A U.S.-Kuwaiti defense agreement signed in 1991 and extended in 2001 provides a framework that guards the legal rights of American troops and promotes military cooperation. When U.S. troops departed Iraq at the end of 2011, Kuwait welcomed a more enduring American footprint. Currently, there are approximately 15,000 U.S. forces in Kuwait, but the number is likely to decrease to 13,500. Kuwaiti bases such as Camp Arifjan, Ali Al Salem Air Field, and Camp Buehring offer the United States major staging hubs, training rages, and logistical support for regional operations. U.S. forces also operate Patriot missile batteries in Kuwait, which are vital to theater missile defense.
On page 20, the report notes, "Amid relatively high sectarian tensions in the Middle East -- a consequence of violence in Iraq and, more recently, in Syria, and growing concerns about Iran -- the United States should encourage its partners, including in the Gulf region, to pursue nonsectarian policies." Again, that begs the question of why, in 2010, the White House backed Nouri al-Maliki for a second term? He's not about reconciliation, he's about demonization as we've seen repeatedly in the last months starting in the fall of 2011 when mass arrests began targeting Sunnis accused of being terrorists. They weren't terrorists. They were college professors, they were the elderly. Most importantly, they were Iraqis. At what point does Nouri cease trying to divide the fragile country and start uniting it?
Page 29:
Relations between Gulf monarchies and Iraq remain cool. There has been a tendency of some Arab states to remain disengaged from Iraq, largely over its relations with Iran. Unfortunately, this tendency has had the effect of pushing Iraq closer to Iran.
That's partly true but it's also true that what is seen as Nouri's targeting of Sunnis is not well received in Sunni-Arab countries. That shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. Again, this begs the questions why, when Iraqiya won the March 2010 elections, did the White House decide to back second place Nouri for a second term as prime minister?
That is the question that will haunt the Barack Obama administration throughout history.
Someone might want to start preparing some version of an answer.
Just as the report refuses to seriously note how Sunni-dominant countries see the current events in Iraq, it also wants to pretend the Arab League Summit meant something. First off, this is flat-out wrong: "In April, the annual Arab League summit was held in Iraq for the first time since . . ."
The Arab League Summit was March 29th. March 29th, grab a calendar if this confusing to you, is not in the month of April. Your first clue there is probably the "March" in "March 29th." From the March 29, 2012 snapshot:
The Arab League Summit was held today in Baghdad. It didn't change a thing because Nouri never learned how to charm. So instead of starting with it, let's start with the ongoing political crisis in Iraq. [. . .] Also telling was the turnout for today's Arab League Summit. Hamza Hendawi and Lara Jakes (AP) report, "Sunni Muslim rulers largely shunned an Arab League summit hosted by Shiite-led Iraq on Thursday, illustrating how powerfully the sectarian split and the rivalry with Iran define Middle Eastern politics in the era of the Arab Spring." It was not all that, to put it mildly. A friend who covered the summit deemed it, "Not so much a who's who as a who's that?" Who attended? Among others, the Oman Observer reports Talabani "received the credentials of Shaikh Mussalam bin Bakheet bin Zaidan al Bar'ami, Sultanate's Ambassador to Jordan, as the Sultanate's non-resident ambassador to Iraq" yesterday. Today Al Sabaah reports Awn Shawkat al-Khasawneh, prime minister of Jordan arrived, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman and the Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah. [. . .] Who were the notable no-shows? Hamza Hendawi and Lara Jakes (AP) report that the no-shows included rulers from "Saudi Arabia, Qatar and most other Gulf countries, as well as Morocco and Jordan -- all of them headed by Sunni monarchs who deeply distrust the close ties between Baghdad's Shiite-dominated government and their top regional rival, Iran."
The Belfast Telegraph notes, "The only ruler from the Gulf to attend was the Emir of Kuwait, Sheik Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah."
We could continue but I believe the point's been made. It was a one day summit. You can drop back to March 28th, the day before, for when various countries' foreign ministers met in Baghdad but that wasn't the Arab League Summit nor was that "April." The Senate Foreign Relations Committee sees the summit as a success. March 30th, the morning after, we graded it. It didn't look then and has looked since like a success. Here's some of the criteria we used to judge the summit on March 30th:
The Arab League Summit took place in Baghdad yesterday. Al Mada reports 15 ministers attended. There are 22 countries in the Arab League. Patrick Martin (Globe & Mail) observes, "That 12 of the 22 Arab League leaders did not show up and sent lower-level envoys instead did not go unnoticed [. . .]" Hamza Hendawi and Lara Jakes (AP) put the number of Arab League leaders who attended at 10 and they pointed out that Qatar, Saudi Arabi, Morocco and Jordan were among those who sent lower-level officials to the summit. Patrick Martin explains that Sheik Hamad Bin Jassem Bin Jabr Al Thani (Prime Minister of Qatar) declared on television that Qatar's "low level of representation" was meant to send "a 'message' to Iraq's majority Shiites to stop what he called the marginalization of its minority Sunnis." Al Mada noted yesterday morning that the Iraqi public and Parliament would be judging the summit a success or not based upon whether the leaders turned out for the summit. On that scale, it wasn't a success. In other words, attendence needs improvement and absences hinder progress.
In addition to snubs and rebukes,
Liz Sly, Aziz Alwan and Asaad Majeed (Washington Post) also note, "The blast at the Iranian Embassy undermined the government's boasts that it had managed to pull off the summit without incident, although it would have gone unheard in the conference room deep inside the vast palace. Zebari and Elaraby both seemed surprised when asked about it by a journalist." Not a success.Sam Dagher (Wall St. Journal) points out, "It spent almost $1 billion on preparations that included unprecedented security measures -- jamming cellphone networks and mobilizing 100,000 security-force members -- and rolling out a catered menu for dignitaries that featured a dessert of 24-carat-gold-laced dates." Not a success.
And that's just some of the criteria.
Where the report succeeds (possibly without intending to) is by making clear that the alleged withdrawal and returning home of the troops never happened. Basically, 15,000 US troops were marched out of Saks to Fendi. They didn't return home. Yes, they left Saks, they even crossed a few streets, all the way through West 53rd, but they're still on Fifth Avenue. Remember, the press and the White House sold it as "withdrawal." The Pentagon used the term "drawdown."