When they’re good they’re really good and when they’re bad they’re really bad

This week I intend to illuminate one of the Western political world’s most blatant double standards when it comes to geo-political issues. The issue in question is the relationships that Western nations have with theocratic governments around the world. When I say Theocracy of course, I assume that many readers who happen to live in “Western” nations, through ceaseless discussion in the media and in political spheres, have come to understand Iran as an encapsulating the notion of a theocracy, but how we view several other Middle Eastern nations with almost identical governments is a little more questionable. In the process of discussing how the current state of affairs came to be I will inevitably dip into the history of how theocracy in its current form came to be a popular movement in the world and will doubtless come to speculate on the dangers posed by all theocracies in the near future.

The history of theocracy as we understand it, certainly in the middle east, began during the earliest phases of the Cold War in Iran. The year was 1951 and the starting gun that sounded which began theocratic movements was the policy of the then Iranian Prime Minister, Mohammed Mossadegh, to nationalise Iranian oil production, in the process depriving British oil companies of funds they felt they were entitled to.

After Mossadegh’s movement towards nationalising the countries oil resources was initially ratified in the Hague as a legal action, a clandestine movement began to overthrow Mossadegh and re-instate the Shah (the traditional leader of the country) in a supreme position of power. The clandestine movement to overthrow the democratically elected government of Iran was, you’ve guessed it, initiated by an organisation who’s raison d’être was seemingly the planning of hair-brained coups, the CIA. In a bizarre twist however to the usual story of CIA ineptitude, the coup was actually a success and in place of Mossadegh now sat the dictatorial Shah Reza Pahlavi. What followed was a prolonged attempt by a western backed secular dictator to modernise Iran along Western lines which proved highly unpopular with many aspects of Iranian society. Whether the reason for the unpopularity of the modernisation programme was the break neck pace at which the Shah’s reforms were due to take place or whether it was the repressive way in which the Shah dealt with any who dissented against his rule, from both left and right of the political spectrum, we will never know exactly and will simply have to remain content to know that generally speaking the regimes movements were highly unpopular. After 25 years on the throne, the damn finally burst and a massive wave of protest, headed to some degree by religious movements as one of the most repressed social group under the Shah’s secular rule, deposed the Shah and seized control of Iran. After the revolution had successfully disposed of the former government, a vote was held and Iran officially became an Islamic republic and the worlds first theocracy as we currently understand the term. It is important that I point out here that the action which started this whole chain of events was not some innate love on the part of Iranians or by further extension, Muslims for governments based on their religion of choice, it was the imperialistic actions of dying empire trying to ensure that it could first of all, continue to plunder mineral wealth from the developing world and secondly, to prevent a government that had its own peoples interests at heart “going over” to communism. It was these two rationales that informed the British and American decision to re-impose an unpopular leader on the Iranian people who eventually coalesced around religion in defiance of the Shah. Politicians here can offer endless platitudes about the “evil” that the Iranian clerics and Hezbollah represent all they want, but they must never be allowed to forget that it was the West’s meddling hands that directly created the environments in which such movements and peoples developed.

The story however did not end there. After the Iranian revolution had successfully purged itself of the last vestiges of the Shah’s regime, genuine fears were expressed throughout the west that much like the French revolution before it that the revolution would spread and overthrow more Western allies in the process. Adding to these concerns, in the immediate aftermath of the overthrow of the Shah a crisis of sorts developed between the USA and Iran as armed groups stormed the American embassy in Tehran in search of documents which proved that the CIA had been directly involved in the overthrow of Mossadegh in the 1953 coup. It as this point in time that the seeds of mutual distrust and discord were sowed in both the USA and Iran and goes some way towards explaining how relationships between the two nations have remained so poor over the years. Further adding to the strained relationship between the West and Iran was a period, where during a protracted mutual antagonism between Iran and Iraq, many Western nations flooded neighbouring Iraq with weapons to prevent the spread of an Iranian style theocracy to another critical nation in the chain of oil supply.  This flow of weapons and support for Saddam Hussein likely lengthened the conflict much past the initial battles, to the point where in the end the war between Iran and Iraq lasted 8 long years with thousands butchered mindlessly for no major gain to either country. Alongside arming the neighbouring dictator, the Western world also engaged in a more subtle form of conflict with Iran in the form of economic blockades in an attempt to get Iran to play along with Western economic interests, economic blockades which have pretty much been a constant reality of life in Iran ever since with sanctions taking the place of the blockade in recent years. While the West intended through both of the above measures to subject Iran and principally the Iranian clerics to a position of economic and political inferiority, arguably both measures helped to cement the religio-nationalist movement in its position of power which it continues to hold unto this day.

During the same time period, events were afoot in neighbouring Afghanistan which eventually lead to the foundation of a theocratic government there. At this time, Afghanistan had recently undergone a revolution of its own, which unlike the Iranian one moved away from religion and towards a far more socialist approach to government. As the Saur revolution swept to power it became closely linked with the Soviet Union, who of course were happy to have another state on their Christmas card list, which only extended really to nations who cited Marx as a basis for their constitutions. Anyway, from the moment that a socialism-inclined government came to power and developed ties with Moscow, the loving care bear peace president of the United States Jimmy Carter signed directives to begin covert support for anti-government movements in Kabul. Eventually things came to a head when American and Pakistani backed Islamist militants, who were angry with government attempts to secularize the country, attempted to overthrow the Afghan government, which precipitated a greater period of instability throughout the country. Eventually the Soviet Union intervened in the conflict in an attempt to prop up the socialist government against a broad insurgency which among other elements had a strong religious backing. Anyone with a basic grounding in history knows what happened next now that the Soviet Union had become involved in the conflict, in the usual petty tit for tat that both superpowers waged throughout the Cold War, the USA started giving masses of military and financial aid to a plethora of insurgent groups which did eventually push the Soviet Union out of the country but in the process massively destabilised the country setting the stage for a hard-line religious government to capitalise on the anarchy that was widespread across the whole country at this point in time .

At this point in time I would take care to point out that in both the cases of Iran and Afghanistan prior to the coming to power of theocratic governments, what we can see is western political ideologies creating a vacuum which in both cases a reactionary religious movement has filled. In the case of Iran, to ensure the continuing supply of oil for the Western consumer markets, such market minded capitalism lead to a staged coup which ousted a democratically elected leader and replaced him with a widely hated monarch who however was willing to continue to perpetuate Iran’s economic subservience to Western nations. In Afghanistan we saw a European style socialist government attempt to modernise and secularize the country along the same lines as had been done by the Soviet Union and other Eastern Bloc nations which led to much popular resentment of the government among the people of the country and later, when the USA and USSR we saw later day imperialism ruin the country and create a lawless state where the rule of the strong would be the only thing capable of maintaining order. These facts demonstrate a clear line of causation between the actions of the West, that is both schools of Western thought – capitalism and communism, and the type of governments that later formed there. The racist rhetoric of the media who assume that somehow that there is an innate love of religious government amongst Muslims is nonsensical and we would do well to begin viewing the situation as it really is with religious governments simply being just one possible option that people who find themselves in desperate situations can turn towards to lead them.

While these two rather well known cases of theocracies were developing however, other nations in the world were also steadily moving towards a theocratic government of sorts under the radar and continue to do so. The countries in question are Israel and the Gulf Arab nations, with the main example being Saudi Arabia. It is true that neither of the two nations I have just named are true theocracies in the dictionary sense of the word defining a theocracy as a “system of government in which priests rule in the name of God or a god.” The above being true though, does not change the fact that both of the nations I mentioned above are nations were God is taken as the ultimate source of the constitution and the laws by which citizens live their lives. Saudi Arabia’s monarchy rule over a nation which is a theocracy in all but name and has been since the day it was first formed from the remnant states left after the Ottoman retreat in the First World War 1. The kingdom is not only a theocracy, but it is a theocracy of the type that gives atheists and secularists nightmares, with many of its laws based upon the most literal translation of thousands of year old texts which advocate many things which of course upset modern sensibilities. The problem with this as a practice, in my opinion at least, is that the laws were never defined by a wide political consensus but based upon the interpretations of holy texts by Religious and Political elites who naturally are inclined towards only creating laws that maintain their elite positions within society. I’m sure for example a majority of Saudi’s would likely feel less offended by adultery or women driving, than the clerics who enforce such laws which have been used to effectively terrorise the people into a miserable state of submission to the state. Of course were the truth of the matter that a wide array of Saudi’s had agreed upon the inclusion of such laws in their constitution then while it would admittedly still gall me then at least democracy had been practised but the theocratic practices of the Saudi monarchy are enforced from the top down with religion not only being a means of finding spiritual peace, as intended, but also a means for the elite to utilise in controlling the people, surely never the intention of any prophet.

In the case of Israel , we have a state which on the surface is even less of a theocracy than any of the three nations I have mentioned above and yet there are many unresolved issues with the country, several of which revolve around the place of religion in society. Central amongst the issues for both religious Zionists and for Palestinian Muslims and Christians that live within the borders of Israel proper is that Israel does not have a written constitution. The problem with a presumptive constitution is that it will inevitably lead to calls for the drafting and creation of a written constitution in the name of simplicity, and it is this drive by many for a written constitution to codify the laws that would govern the state of Israel that is the problem as the question is pondered as to whether the state of Israel is the state of all those within its borders or whether it is Jewish state exclusively for it’s Jewish citizens. This perhaps seems less repugnant to many in the West for example by comparison to the mandatory wearing of a headscarf but when we really get down to pondering the implications of the Israeli state defining itself as a Jewish state then they are just as horrifying. Dying with cancer and in urgent need of treatment to prevent death ? Wait your a Palestinian of the Shia branch of Islam, Sorry no space for you. Nearest school for you children to attend is just a mile down the road ? Sorry, if your a Palestinian Christian then the nearest school for your kids is ten miles away in a run down area of town. Want to keep your business open all day Saturday ? Sorry, Saturday is a holy day that all must observe whether they are religious or not. All of the above scenarios might seem a little far fetched but Israel already has a pitiably poor record when it comes to minority rights and it is entirely possible that, if the state of Israel was officially codified in writing as a Jewish state for its Jewish citizens, it would take this definition of itself to its logical conclusion by depriving anyone not of Jewish ancestry of valuable services and facilities.

When we look at countries where religion does play such a fundamental part as the basis of the laws by which society lives it is notable that the West has a very chequered record on this issue with certain theocracies being bad yet others being critical allies. On reflection, I feel Iran was simply unlucky when it became the first true theocracy in the current era in that it came to represent a powerful new political idea that to some degree helped a faltering nation in regaining much pride in itself by standing up to those who would have seen it subjected to their own political and economic interests and priorities. The success and totality with which the Iranian revolution overturned the existing natural order in one of the Middle East’s largest and arguably at the time most powerful nations undoubtedly scared many in the West whose economic and industrial and even cultural strengths to some degree were based almost entirely on access to cheap oil by which to export their goods to world markets and import the raw materials. Oil that is, that primarily came from other Middle Eastern countries  were now the West was worried similar revolutions might sweep to power and give rise to more nations that were willing to stand up to the neo-imperialist economic subjugation of their countries.

And this, as almost no ever says, is were it all went wrong. In true Western style, the nations of the West fed on a diet of poor quality intelligence and their own racist paranoia decided to embrace several other countries who were equally theocratic in nature and turn a blind eye to their barbarity which certainly in the cases of Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan was as bad if not worse that of Iran. In signing this compact with devil the West demonstrated its blatant double standards on moral issues when profits are concerned and must have further reduced its own standing as an entity in the eyes of those that found themselves in countries were their rights were now being abused by corrupt elites in the name of a fundamentalist interpretation of their religion.

If the reader was left unsure by arguments offered above then I simply would ask them to consider the case of Syria, were the West is openly engaged currently in verbally antagonising a secular regime, which has always strived to negate sectarian conflict in its ethnically diverse territotry, and materially supporting some seriously unsavoury characters in their war with the Syrian Army. The reason for this you ask ? Well, the Syrian government is supported by the main bad theocracy, Iran, which we want to replace with a group of extremists who will likely replicate the hell hole that was southern Afghanistan under the Taliban, and the reason we support these groups ? Simply because they represent the interests of and are supported by the good theocracies as exampled by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

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Ten years on

By the time I post this ten years will have passed since the governments of both the USA and my government here in the UK together conspired to drag the middle-eastern nation of Iraq kicking and screaming into the loving embrace of  western”democracy”. Studying the historical record I believe that it will back up my assertion that on almost all counts the armies of the west utterly failed in their quest to bring Iraq towards their vision of a safer Middle East. In this post I will discuss the reasons that war was waged against the nation of Iraq, moving on to looking at the ways in which the invasion spectacularly backfired and then concluding by observing the situation in both Iraq and the wider Middle East as it currently stands.

Before I begin examining in any great depth the specific reasons for war that were offered by the Bush and Blair administrations I would like to contextualise the wider political situation the USA found itself in when the prophets of war started banging their drums in 2002-2003. On September the 11th 2001 a group of terrorists, primarily from the Gulf Arab states lead by Egyptian Mohamed Atta crashed passenger aeroplanes into the World Trade Centre buildings, the Pentagon and into a field in Pennsylvania with intended target being the US Capitol in Washington DC (the nationalities of the high-jackers is important for points made later in the conclusion of this post). In doing so the 19 terrorists were directly responsible for the deaths of 2996 people and for the injury of over 6000 individuals.

The attack was the greatest lost of civilian life in American history and to do this day holds the record for the greatest number of people ever killed in a single terrorist attack. The hijackers involved were financed by  and affiliated with a terrorist group Al-Qaeda which, unlike most other groups which subscribe to similarly extremist interpretations of Islam who focus on fighting the “near enemies” such as Israel, India and Russia, focussed its attacks on the far enemy in the form of the United States. Prior to the attacks on that day the nominal figure head of Al-Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden had made public his list of grievances with the USA, chief among them was the posting of American soldiers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia after the 1991 Desert Storm campaign against Iraq and also continuing American support for Israel (these grievances also are important to remember when reading the conclusion of this post). Alongside publishing fatwa’s against the wonderfully titled Crusader and Jewish alliance throughout the 1990s Al-Qaeda also engaged in several terrorist bombing attacks against US interests and property in the wider world. Despite this rather public campaign of violence and hate speech against the afore mentioned alliance, on the whole both the FBI and CIA as the main protectors of the American people failed to identify the coming storm even though voices within each organisation warned of a coming attack for many months leading towards that fateful day.

In the political climate that followed the attacks against America a great deal of soul searching took place within branches of the American government and it is my contention that it is in this context that in response to the worst terrorist attacks ever to take place that some of the USA’s worst ever foreign policy decisions were made leading ultimately the events of the 20th of March 2003. In the weeks after September 11th the whole world was recast in light of the events as being either supportive of America or antagonistic to it and ultimately it is this dichotomy that lead to the invasion of Iraq being as there was no middle ground for Middle Eastern dictators any more.

Or so the US government at the time would have had us believe.

Or so the US government at the time would have had us believe.

In the hyper-emotional environment that emerged post 9/11 , The US government perhaps abandoned the cold logic of previous crises and allowed itself to be lead by fears of terrorist collusions with regimes that were antagonistic to Washington rather than being guided by concrete facts. This leading of the blind by the one eyed man was partly the fault of the intelligence communities who started the fatally flawed process of feeding the government data and opinions that supported the dominant political currents of the time rather than clashing with them. It was this process that ultimately lead the US administration to focus its sights on the regime of Saddam Hussein as a major potential supporter of terrorism and the drawing up of a list of reasons that were then widely discussed in both political forums and the media. Below I list the main reasons that were offered for an attack against Saddam:

  • The first and most critical of the reasons offered for military intervention in Iraq was the Saddam Hussein was in possession of chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction that he would have been able to mobilise at a moments notice and threatened “the national security of the United States and international peace and security in the Persian Gulf region”  according to the 2002 Iraq War Resolution. The reasoning behind this objection to Iraq is ultimately grounded in reality even if the threat itself turned out to be no more than smoke and mirrors which Hussein himself allegedly admitted was simply a ruse to warn off his regional enemies in the form of Tel Aviv and Tehran. In his 8 year war with Iran and during the regional uprisings of Kurds in the north of Iraq, Saddam’s forces used these weapons to devastating effect and so there was room for genuine concern that he was still in possession of such equipment. However of course in the lead up to the 2003 war not a great deal of discussion was heard on how Saddam had acquired such weapons in the first place, for example by buddying up with former conservative US administrations.
Turns out the most dangerous hardware that Saddam possessed was Women Scorned.

Turns out that the most dangerous hardware that Saddam possessed was Women Scorned.

  • The next critical rationale that was used to justify the invasion was that Iraq harboured and actively aided terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda. In the dark days after September the 11th during the period of soul searching that many of the arms of the American government inevitably went through, such a climate perhaps lead to the acceptance of frankly schizoid paranoia that all of the USA’s enemies were in league with each other in spite of facts that disproved such notions.  That such fears were expressed suggests a fatal disregard for the hard work of some American intelligence officials who had highlighted the existence and growth of autonomous networks of terrorists throughout the nineties that were not tied to states, and instead perhaps a willingness in a time of crisis, for senior government officials who belonged in a different era, to rely on older models of political thought where it was often the case that enemies of the USA were in some way being supported by the regimes in Moscow or Beijing. Such assurances that Hussein was supportive of international terrorists were made even though Bin Laden had repeatedly denounced him as an infidel and even offered during Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait to use Al-Qaeda fighters as a foot army to defend Saudi Arabia. As well as this rather specific evidence of the antipathy between both men, there was also Saddam’s long record, similar to that of many Western backed dictators in the region, of cracking down violently against any religious groups that threatened their power and the stability of their respective states.
  • Less critical but also equally used as justification for the 2003 war was Saddam Hussein’s history of repressing human rights within Iraq. Again this, much like the concerns over weapons of mass destruction, was based on historical facts that all sides agreed on. However the use of this rationale to justify war against Iraq is troubling as taken to its logical conclusion it would also justify war against every nation in the Middle East, friend or foe of America and so its selective use speaks more about western double standards rather than the incredibly repressive nature of Saddam’s Baathist regime. Another similarity that this rationale shares with the concerns over weapons of mass destruction is that when reported both by the government and the media, not a great deal was done to really assess the ways in which American support had allowed Saddam to so vigorously repress human rights or created the need for such acts. The prime example in my mind is the uprisings in both the south and the north of Iraq in the weeks following  Desert Storm which were to a large degree motivated by US calls to rise against Saddam that were broadcast over radio frequencies. When the Shiites in the south and the Kurds in the north heeded the call to rise up against Saddam the uprisings received no material support from the US despite suggestions that this would have been the reward for helping to oust Saddam. Of course though such a narrative in the media or government dialogue would have been far too complicated and would ultimately have served to de-legitimize the calls for war.

Now that I have assessed the intentions for the war as being A) to rid Saddam of his WMDs, B) to prevent support by Iraq for Al-Qaeda and C) to stop violations of human rights in Iraq I will now discuss the end results of the invasion and occupation of Iraq to see firstly if the coalition achieved its main aims and secondly to observe what the wider effects of the war were on the country.

The first rationale, to rid Saddam of his WMDs found itself confronted by one particularly unfortunate problem. Ten years on, not a single weapon of mass destruction has ever been found on Iraqi soil, and further to this, Saddam’s factories for producing this type of equipment were also nowhere to be found, putting the lie to the most feverish imaginings of the CIA, MI6 and other intelligence agencies. With the whole weapons of mass destruction line of reasoning turning out to be based on absolutely no concrete facts, the danger of faulty intelligence is being proved on a daily basis as Iraq sits (relatively) peacefully meanwhile in neighbouring Syria we are watching  the state fall apart knowing that either A) a regime with a fondness for brutal repression or B) a variety of Al-Qaeda affiliated terrorist groups could at any moment get their hands on some actual real life functioning weapons of mass destruction. I’m a cautious soul and in options A and B are two hands that I would not like to see armed with WMDs, ever.

Based on a true story ....

Based on a true story ….

The next stated aim of the invasion that was discussed above was the aim to destroy the terrorist connections between the Iraqi state and Al-Qaeda type groups and prevent the further development of such ties between Iraqi nationals and groups that the United States was at war with. As mentioned above also, the existence of such links was tenuous at best, non-existent at worst. Saddam had a long and some would say proud history of repressing ANY religious movement that he felt threatened him, and ultimately when you idolise and model your behaviour on dictator numero uno Joseph Stalin there’s a tendency to see threats everywhere.

Not the ideal role model for anyone's children.

Not the ideal role model for anyone’s children.

Despite the proven factual record of repression against the Badr organization and the Sadrist movement during his reign, it is likely that the post 9/11 climate of suspicion lead worriers within intelligence agencies to connect these two dots. Anyway, in the event of the invasion of Iraq no concrete links were ever discovered to prove any form of alliance, formal or informal between Saddam and the scions of militant Islam. The closest  that coalition troops ever came to fighting anything that minutely resembled the foot soldiers of Al-Qaeda was in fighting with Saddam’s Fedayeen brigades which were far closer to irregular personal militias than they were to terrorists. However all this being said, the coalition presence in Iraq didn’t take long to fulfil the prophecies of Iraq as a safe haven for terrorists and within weeks amongst the insurgency who fought specifically to free Iraq from occupation were more sinister elements who have gone on to wage a brutal campaign of bombings and intimidation against their sectarian enemies and brought the country to the brink of a civil war. Eventually the already low levels of support that such movements garnered from the Iraqi people dried up as they could see that such indiscriminate methods were harming their own communities as well as those of different faiths, creeds and ethnicities.

A gift I'm sure many Iraqis will thank America for in years to come

A gift I’m sure many Iraqis will thank America for in years to come.

The third and most slapdash of reasons that was offered to justify the 2oo3 invasion was to protect the human rights of the Iraqi people from the iron fists of Saddam’s regime.  Despite the cognitive problems caused  by the notion of preventing suffering by creating massive human suffering that this ideal caused this was arguably the most successful of the coalition forces missions as strictly speaking they did through military intervention (questionable legality of such acts aside) free the people of Iraq from the 24 year long reign of Saddam Hussein. On the other hand though the invasion opened up the Iraqi people to a whole variety of new ways in which their rights could be abused by the powers that be and so the question genuinely must be pondered as to whether the rule of Saddam or the coalition authority was worse as both in their respective time spans ruled over an orgy of suffering.

A diagram showing the number of both internally and externally displaced people.

A diagram showing the number of both internally and externally displaced people in Iraq

Take for example the number of people who were displaced by the conflict, are they likely to thank the USA lead coalition for the war effort which destroyed both worldly possessions and family ? Probably not and by the very same token neither are the stillborn or deformed victims of depleted uranium who were not even guilty, having not been born before the war, of the crime of being Iraq in Iraq during the war against Iraq. Much the same as these two groups are unlikely to thank the armed forces for freeing them from bondage under Saddam due to the methods used, also equally unlikely to believe that the western armies were deserving of thanks are the countless victims of sectarian warfare that were killed simply by accident of believing in the wrong interpretation of scripture. Another group that I imagine feel little but contempt was the former soldiers of the Iraqi army who were imprisoned and tortured, again purely for the crime of having served in an army which as a result of the politics of international diplomacy was cast as an enemy of the USA.

An image that the whole Arab world will not and further more should not ever forget.

An image burned into the collective psyche of the whole Arab world as a demonstration of American power which will not and, further more, should not, ever be forgotten.

In assessing the war to see if it achieved these three key aims it is plain to see for anyone who leans towards pessimism that the war was very little short of a complete disaster for the USA as more and more of the justifications that were offered for its waging fell to nothing, discrediting the USA greatly in the process. Alongside these three key failings a host of other developments in Iraq took place as a direct result of the war which I will discuss now to demonstrate how despite, if the record is to be taken literally, the best of intentions the war has had massive lasting impacts on the country which only serve to undo any good work that was intended.

  • The first major upshot of the 2003 invasion is the rebalancing of power within Iraq that on paper would lend the impression that Iraq has become a more democratic society. The main indicator of such a rebalancing of power is the significant increase in the inclusion of Iraq’s majority Shia population in the political process. On the surface this is one of the few positive results of the invasion from the point of view of Iraq’s once repressed majority who suffered tremendously as a result of repression under Saddam and disproportionately as a result of sanctions against Iraq. While the increased inclusion of Iraq’s Shia in the political structure is a sign of progression this is not to say that such an increase in inclusion has not had effects which many people would argue are negative on the wider country. For example, with the increase in the number of Shia in elected government, there was a concomitant increase in the number of Shia civil servants which lead to charges of nepotism being levelled against Shia politicians responsible for hiring them which served to disrupt the transition of power and further polarise Iraqi society. As well as the increase in government positions held by Shia Iraqis, another side effect of their increased involvement in politics was a rise in militia type groups that supported certain politicians which threaten stability in an already unstable country. The prime example of a political movement that gained tremendous ground in post Saddam Iraq would be the Sadrist movement lead by Muqtada al-Sadr which did a great deal towards ending the occupation, but since has had a destabilizing effect on the wider political environment and could continue to do so many years into the future.
As well as being the nominal leader or a private army which at its height consisted of 60,000 men, many view Al-Sadr as  a kingmaker in Iraqi politics for years to come.

As well as being the nominal leader or a private army which at its height consisted of 60,000 men, many view al-Sadr as the key king maker in Iraqi politics for years to come.

  • Another result of the war that many had not predicted or planned for was that Iraq would develop much closer ties with Iran. The western hopes for Iraq in a post Saddam world were very much of a peaceful country with a strong quasi-dictatorial ruler that would align themselves much more than Saddam had with the Gulf Arab petro-kingdoms, and therefore would stay very much a friend of the USA and within the American sphere of influence regionally. With Saddam gone, Iraq’s relationship with its neighbour Iran has significantly thawed to the point where many argue that Iran now has a dangerous amount of influence over Iraq. For example, many Shia politicians who during Saddam’s reign languished in exile in Iran have  been able since the end of the war to return to Iraq and perhaps as a thank you towards their beneficent neighbour have increased ties with Iran, politically, culturally and economically and generally speaking many view the partner wearing the trousers in this relationship as being Iran.   The Iranian influence over Iraqi politics has by many sources even been argued to affect the higher levels of government with al-Maliki viewed as dangerously under Iran’s spell, with Iran having exerted a great deal of its influence in the country to support al-Maliki’s government and help in the reconstruction process. Many commentators are also worried that in the current political climate that Iraq will aid Iran in subverting sanctions by transporting banned goods across their respective borders, in the process propping up the regime in Tehran which American would dearly like to see collapse as a result of its economic blockade.

    Many worry that the man on the right rules Iraq through his puppet on the left.

    Many worry that the man on the right rules Iraq through his puppet on the left.

  • Another result of the war that is an unusually positive one that few predicted is the continued growth and success of the Kurdish regions of Iraq. Perhaps it is a side effect of the autonomy that these regions already enjoyed but whatever the reason, the northern regions of Iraq where Kurds are the majority have managed to steer their regions towards economic prosperity and away from the sectarian chaos that has blighted the rest of the country. Like many success stories throughout the Middle East the boom in the Kurdish regions of Iraq is built on oil money so may not be sustainable in the long term but for the time being it offers a welcome alternative to the comparative stagnation that affects the other regions of Iraq.  The continuing success of Iraqi Kurdistan also is dangerously tied to the success of peace deals between Kurds and the Turkish government in neighbouring Turkey which have in the past proved to be shaky and volatile agreements. If peace breaks down between the Mr Erdogan’s government and the Turkish Kurds and the porous border with Iraqi Kurdistan is used as a safe haven then the Iraqi Kurds may suffer at the hands of Turkish armed forces who often violate Iraqi territorial sovereignty in pursuit of their Turkish enemies.

At this juncture the reader can see that the many implications of the 2003 invasion are still visible throughout Iraq today and worst of all, it is not entirely clear whether or not the invasion can be seen as having changed things for the better overall in the country. Iraq today stands on a precipice with the chance to succeed greatly in coming years if its current luck holds, but also equally likely is that one event could tip the balance and Iraq would find itself in a more chaotic state than it ever did before, during or after the war. The wider Middle East is currently in flux and no-one can be sure what the end results of such change will be. In neighbouring Syria, civil war is raging and it is difficult to tell whether Bashar Al-Assad will survive the conflict or if the loose coalition of Syrian rebels and foreign Jihadist groups will succeed in toppling him. Whatever happens in Syria though, it is already having a knock on effect in Iraq with Sunni groups emboldened by the example being set next door. If Syria were to fall then I imagine there is a significant chance of Iraq suffering as a result of a safe haven for Islamic extremist groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda being set up on its door step. Alongside this potential nightmare which holds the most concern for Iraq’s Shia population another concern that would affect the whole country equally is the Israeli and American intentions regarding Iran. I would guess that if the American government was stupid enough to be dragged into conflict once more purely to protect Israel that this too would have a massively destabilizing effect on Iraq with the conflict easily capable of spilling across the border into Iraq.

When we look at the how America has exercised its influence in the Middle East, the overall picture is troubling, not because of the massive violations of international law and customs although these might be equally applicable. The reason that American foreign policy in the Middle East is so troubling is the arbitrary and ever changing ways in which it is enforced. Take for example America’s view on dictators, Dictators in the last ten years have not been acceptable in Iran and Iraq, yet maintaining close and even amicable ties with the dictatorial rulers of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates is perfectly palatable. Another prime example of the double standard is the issue of nuclear weapons where the USA has repeatedly threatened Iran in no uncertain terms over its supposed hopes to gain nuclear weapons yet Israel has never once received condemnation over its own nuclear programme. Want another example just to convince you that US foreign policy really is so arbitrary in its enforcement ? Terrorism is another great example, perhaps the best example with the USA actively engaged in extra judicial assassinations of Yemeni nationals guilty of association with Al-Qaeda yet in Syria the current US administration wants to arm rebels who have openly committed war crimes and are affiliated with Al-Qaeda. My observation of the problem is thus – while the US continues to so arbitrarily enforce its foreign policy against bit part players in the region such as Saddam’s Iraq, Bashar’s Syria and Saleh’s Yemen and ignore the real grievances of the Arab people who suffer so much as a result of much US foreign policy then there will always be terrorist groups willing to wage war against the USA. While America invaded Iraq to protect the human rights of its people it failed to end its uncritical support of Israel which breeds resentment as the rights of Palestinians are daily violated. While members of the US administration advocate for intervention in Syria to prevent WMDs falling into the “wrong” hands they chose to ignore the very real problems of what some might argue is endemic support for movements such as Al-Qaeda in the Gulf Arab nations such as Saudi Arabia and UAE as we can see in the nationality of the 9/11 bombers. Ultimately then my argument is this, that Iraq has taught us a lesson that military intervention is a useless means to change things for the better and that if the USA and its allies are serious about making the world a safer place then they would do far better to solve issues such as chronic unemployment and restlessness for youths in the Gulf Arab countries which drives so much support and money towards terrorist groups. Such issues can be solved peacefully and the reward reaped in terms of saved lives would be significant enough to justify such policies as opposed to firing many millions worth of dollars in missiles at problems hoping the end result will be different to last time.

Realistic re-assessments of US Realpolitik or How I learnt to stop bank rolling Zionists and love the Iranian bomb

The following article aims to clarify several issues that the writer believes to be worthy of consideration in a reappraisal of US foreign policy in the greater Middle East region. It does not purport to be a policy draft that should be followed, or that was leaked by disgruntled employees of the state department or CIA, the simple aim of what follows is to suggest that perhaps a significantly more lucrative position could be adopted in the US approach to the Middle East. This speculative approach has the twin benefits of seeing the US’s position of power improve for the best, or for the worst, depending on the reader’s perspective and further more it would see the US stand on the side of what could be considered morally right for arguably the first time in its illustrious history when it comes to the Middle East.

Upon scrutinizing US foreign policy practically since the culmination of the Second World War, one thing above all others is noticeable as a constant, the incredible level of support that the economic, military and cultural superpower that is the USA has offered a single small Mediterranean state called Israel. Arguably the level of financial support offered to Israel by successive US administrations far surpasses any gains that they could ever receive in return for such unquestioning aid. Furthermore I would argue that this level of support by its very nature causes a greater number of issues in the long term for the US than it could ever solve. This being the case as many countries in the region define themselves by their very opposition to Israel or pride themselves on their tradition of political and military resistance to the Israeli State. What follows is an elucidation of just some of the issues that support for Israel creates for the US and following on from this, an appeal for a drastic shift in US foreign policy that I believe would see the US benefit greatly from while embracing a peaceful relationship with a long time enemy in the region.

The first issue that I would raise to demonstrate that Israel is a liability to America is its continued disregard for international law and its regular ignorance of the human rights firstly of the Palestinians but also increasingly of its African populations. There is a long record of Israel’s selective acknowledging and following of UN Security Council Rulings, take for example UN Security Council Resolution 242, arguably the most infamous resolution that this body ever passed. This resolution affirmed “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and the need to work for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East in which every State in the area can live in security”. Despite the Israeli authorities paying lip service to the acknowledging of this resolution, it was not until 2005 that Israel disengaged from Gaza, one of the territories acquired in the 6 Day War of 1967, and to this day there are Israeli military installations on Palestinian land in the West Bank, the other area of land that Israel seized after the conflict. So there you have, I would argue, a flagrant violation of an international law that has been ongoing for over 45 years. That this particular ruling is viewed by many parties, if not the majority of those involved, as being the fundamental basis for a fair and just resolution to the conflict surely encapsulates Israel’s attitude to international law.

Another deep-seated set of values that the Israeli administration seems determined to selectively apply is the concept of human rights. The Israeli military approach to the Palestinians and Lebanese peoples it has repetitively fought against is well documented with many tactics employed declared illegal by neutral parties such as the targeting of combatants in areas where the injury of civilians cannot be ruled out and the use of weaponry that is illegal such as white phosphorus and cluster munitions.  Furthermore the Israeli wilful ignorance of universal human rights extends into peace time with behaviours such as arbitrary arrest and detention and lack of access to legal aid enabling fair trials for many Palestinians and Israeli Arabs.  When looking at Israel’s attitude to international law and human rights we can see that at best Israel can be said to cherry pick the aspects of law that it feels it needs to follow, at worst it repeatedly disregards the rights of others and the rules of international law.  This type of ally is surely a far greater liability than it ever is an asset to the United States? Is it any wonder that when the US comes to push its agenda of human rights in the developing world that some people just don’t seem to want to listen to the same old broken record.

Amongst the greatest of the issues created by continued American support for Israel is  that very state’s conduct in dealing with it’s neighbours and certainly the native Palestinian population. The manner in which Israel has behaved towards all four countries it borders with and its treatment of Palestinians is such that any American support for Israel, whether intended or not serves to alienate America’s Muslim allies all over the world. Need proof ? how about the words of world terrorist number 1, Osama Bin Laden when discussing the American led war against Iraq in the early 1990s in his 1998 fatwa – “if the Americans’ aims behind these wars are religious and economic, the aim is also to serve the Jews’ petty state and divert attention from its occupation of Jerusalem and murder of Muslims there”. Here we have the head honcho of a pretty sinister terrorist gang arguing that america went to war, a war that is that cost them 61 billion dollars, purely to divert attention from Israel’s own crimes in the region. Granted the anti-Zionist stance was a relatively late addition to Bin Laden’s rhetoric however the fact that is mentioned at all within his fatwas says a great deal about how American support for Israel is conceived by those whose co-religionists suffer daily at Israeli hands.

There is on the other hand a way in which America could arguably remedy this issue. Pure power politics suggests that Israel should be abandoned in favour of a more numerical ally. Using the UN Geoscheme as our definition of the middle east we can see that the region consists of 14 predominantly Muslim nations, even 3 predominantly Christian ones too but only 1 Jewish state. It simply doesn’t make logical sense to choose to support one nation when that comes at the expense of maintaining better relations with 14 other countries. I understand that the US claims to support Israel as it fears for the safety of the Jewish state if it were to withdraw that support in the face of four powerful and, arguably after years of mistreatment by Israeli hands, pissed off neighbours but where then is the same unquestioning level of support for the Kurds? The Kurd’s aren’t reviled in the same way Israel is for its treatment of refugees, neither do they hold one of Islam’s holiest shrines in their hand and deny Arabs access to it and correct me if i’m wrong, but the Kurd’s haven’t gotten themselves mixed up in acts of ethnic cleansing recently as opposed to Israel’s daily forcible relocation of West Bank Palestinians to make way for illegal settlements.

Other than buying Israeli support in continuing the US backed blockade of Cuba www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=43482&Cr=cuba#.UO33vG8fJ2A  ,  the reader should stop to question what the estimated $114 billion given in aid  has ever bought the US. That is, other than a headache and a minority group of American voters who consistently exaggerate their own importance within the American political system and an ally that is willing to interfere in its bankers affairs to try and further its own nefarious ends such as when Mr Netanyahu stuck his oar in during the latest american election by declaring overt support for Mitt Romney www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/reality-bites-for-benjamin-netanyahu-after-he-threw-his-solid-support-behind-mitt-romney-8294432.html   only, in a delectable demonstration of karma in action, to wake up to another four years of Obama. All jokes aside America really should assess the value of an ally that try’s and often succeeds to be the driving force behind all US foreign policy decisions when there are significantly bigger China shaped fish to fry further east. The Israeli interference is never a great thing but I would suggest it is most harmful when the Obama administration is attempting, wisely many would argue, to complete the pivot east. News reports keep surfacing that suggest china is up to something www.forbes.com/sites/gordonchang/2012/01/29/why-are-the-chinese-buying-record-quantities-of-gold/  and thediplomat.com/china-power/a-frightening-prospect-war-in-the-east-china-sea/, and all indicators combined seem to suggest that whatever they’re planning, it’s going to be big.

Another factor that drives American foreign policy in the Middle East is oil supply. When reflecting upon this it again seems paradoxical that instead of cosying up to the big regional oil producers who have the worlds largest supplies of proven black gold reserves sitting under their soil that America chooses instead to support Israeli ambitions for Palestinian land . It would be one thing if only one of the countries in the region had such large reserves as America could still support Israel and look elsewhere for oil having only alienated one of it’s suppliers. Instead what we have is America still supporting Israel whose only assets include a measly 95th place in the world proven reserves of oil rankings and some real estate in the West Bank and Gaza of very questionable legality. This support seems odd in and of itself but when you compare that to the fact that the support for Israel comes over showing greater levels of support for 6 other nations in the region who all place in the top 10 countries for proven oil reserves www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2178rank.html. Furthermore, not only do these countries hold some of the worlds largest reserves of the commodity which arguably drives the American economy but they also form a cartel called OPEC which has the ability to manipulate prices in its own favour and has been known to do so for political motives in the past www.opec.org/opec_web/en/about_us/24.htm . That America has chosen to maintain its current levels support for Israel despite its reliance on Israel’s regional enemies and their exports must surely rank as nearly suicidal.

After cosndiering the many issues that support for Israel creates for America we can see that it would be no exaggeration to say that this support represents a sword of Damocles dangling above the neck of American power. But this doesn’t always have to be the case. Instead what could be done is to revise all understanding of American policy in the region, shock horror, back away from the racist pariah state and embrace one of the regions powerhouses,

Iran.

My argument here is that by embracing Iran, America would reap many significant benefits while still maintaining many of the hallmarks of its traditional regional policy meaning that no great overhaul of thinking would be necessary. It would be business as usual for all intents and purposes, just with different bedfellows.

First and most important of my rather drastic suggestions is that rather than continue to pander to Zionists in try to ensure that the Iranians never develop nuclear weapons that America should  instead actively give Iran a couple of nuclear weapons. By doing so I believe that America would accrue so many benefits that is frankly surprising that it hasn’t handed over some of its stockpile to Tehran already. The first benefit would be no more sleepless nights spent wondering whether Iran has or hasn’t got its own nuclear weapons and not only would you know that Iran had the weapons but you would also know exactly how many, how powerful and the exact range, exactly the type of information that America is currently spending billions on discovering with its drone program. The other main benefit that could be reaped by a nuclear armed Iran is the neutralising of several other nuclear powers in the region. This idea is based on the political realists assumption that the only actual use of a nuclear weapon in the current day is as a deterrent to other nuclear powers in the same region. First on the list of bully-boy states that a nuclear armed Iran could neutralise is the old ally Israel, and Yahweh/Jesus/Allah (delete as appropriate) knows if there’s something the Middle East needs, it’s someone who can keep a better hold of Israel’s leash. Another country that Nuclear Iran could neutralise is, according to this ridiculous fake map msnbcmedia2.msn.com/i/msnbc/Components/Interactives/News/International/Mideast/Iran_ballistic_missiles.jpg, India. Why would the US seek the neutralisation of India you ask ? ever heard of the Naxalite movement, well if not its an incredibly popular communist movement in India which is active throughout large swathes of Indian territory ( more on them here http://www.carnegieendowment.org/2012/11/14/naxalite-insurgency-in-india/eds5 ) now just imagine if they get their hands on some of India’s stockpile of nuclear weapons. Need another country on that list before you’ll consider arming Iran with nuclear bombs ? How about the biggest problem nation in the entire region , Pakistan. Now here we have a state that is even closer to the precipice of become a failed state that is also armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons and makes a habit of harbouring terrorists.  Just from these countries we can see how a nuclear Iran might actually be a boon to world peace rather than insecurity as journalists and Israelis often suggest. Another reason that allowing Iran to gain nuclear capacity is a great idea is that it would effectively allow America to use an ally who happens to be a member of the OPEC cartel to bully these countries into maintaining prices you like better. And we know America likes nothing better than to use a power state to do its regional dirty work.

Talking of dirty work,  another reason that America might as well support Iran because if news coming from US sources is to be believed then Iran runs every terrorist organisation that operates in the middle east and wider Muslim world, Hezbollah, Hamas, Al – Qaeda, The Medhi Army, the Taliban, all these organisations have one thing in common, that at some point in the past an ill-informed journalist has claimed Iran bankrolls them. Assuming this is true and its not a case of America allowing wilful misrepresentations of Iran in the press then if America is friendly with Iran then by default it is friendly with the whole middle east. Except Israel, but based on earlier arguments we don’t like them any more, do we.

That America likes to support a minority cannot be doubted, although as I pointed out earlier support for too small a minority is pointless as it cannot have any meaningful effect on the world around it. Persians are a minority within the wider middle east region, They’re not the same as Arabs despite what piss-poor journalists may tell you, only a couple of thousands of years of differing history between them. Also most Persians are Shi’ite Muslims making them a minority within Islam. So in Iran we have a minority group who face very real and very nasty discrimination from its neighbours but there are enough of the minority group to justify aid checks as large as the ones America has been giving to Israel all these years.

And finally if you really must make it a defining feature of your foreign policy, then Iran also has a very questionable relationship with human rights and democracy, just like America’s current best friend in the region, Israel. Just ask Mir-Hussein Moussavi about it.