ChrisWeigant.com

War Is Over. What Next?

[ Posted Monday, December 19th, 2011 – 17:20 PST ]

American troops are, finally, out of Iraq. The war is technically over. Our men and women in uniform will be home for the holidays. This is all good news, and is worth celebrating by a nation weary of decade-long wars.

As with everything to do with Iraq, the end of the war isn't without its own controversy. Voices from the left ominously warn that with thousands of security contractors remaining behind, the war isn't really over. Voices from the right ominously warn that the war is being "lost" even though most Americans are beyond caring how they're exactly defining a win or a loss at this advanced date.

I'm going to set these arguments to one side, however, since I don't think either one is immediately resolvable at this point (more time will be needed to see whose predictions come true, to put it another way). I'm also going to set aside the emotional question of whether Iraq was "worth it" or not (which is highly subjective, depending on how you personally define "worth it"). Instead, to mark the milestone of the last American troops to leave Iraq, I'd like to take a wider view and look at the entire region, post-Saddam and post-Arab Spring.

America has long struggled with what our foreign policy goals in the region should be. Oil is predominant in any calculation of goals, of course. In fact, it is so universal and continuous a goal that it can be discounted -- just take as a given that high on America's list of priorities when dealing with any country in the region is that they sell us cheap oil, if they happen to have it beneath their country. This goal is unchanging across all our dealings with the region, and so only needs to be mentioned in passing, since it is completely unaffected by the rest of this diplomatic calculation.

There are four or five main variables in the calculation of how America should treat each country in the region. America has no blanket policy for which of these should be highest on our list. This is why we're having problems figuring out the new era in not only Iraq but also such places as Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Bahrain, and Yemen (as well as all the other myriad countries in the neighborhood).

The first two of these variables have historically been the highest considerations for American foreign policy: loyalty and stability. Back in the Cold War, loyalty was paramount. Being on "our side" in the global struggle with the Soviet Union was the major consideration from World War II onward. This could mean a country which refused to sell oil to the Soviets, one who bought our weapons rather than Soviet weapons, one who agreed to base American troops, or one who would accept the state of Israel. With the Soviet Union gone, loyalty is still important, but has become a lesser factor to some extent as well.

Stability meant not causing regional wars with their neighbors -- unless we wanted them to. Stability also meant America would politely look the other way at dictators using brutality and all the tools of totalitarianism to keep their own population in check. Such things were the price everyone had to pay to keep the cheap oil flowing, after all. Call this the "he may be a bastard, but he's our bastard" school of diplomatic thinking.

Next down on the list of American diplomatic goals was promoting secular governments. The "separation of mosque and state" was something we encouraged, always pointing to Turkey as the model of governmental behavior in the region. But this was always a secondary concern, as evidenced with our great enduring friendship with probably the most "Islamist" country in the area -- Saudi Arabia. Even post-revolution Iran has less of a theocratic government than the Saudis. We simply don't care, because (1.) they are sitting on an absolute ocean of oil, and (2.) they've been staunch U.S. allies for so long.

Far below all three of these on our scale of diplomatic criteria were such frivolities as democracy and human rights. Such luxuries were not possible (ran this line of thinking), given the priorities of the main two diplomatic goals. Oh, sure, we'd occasionally give some lip service to high ideals and aspirations, but we certainly wouldn't lift a finger to help any of the oppressed people in the region.

That was all before the world changed on 9/11. When the United States invaded Iraq, George W. Bush made the case that the peoples of the region were ready for democracy (even if it had to be imposed by the barrel of a gun). To his credit, he repeated in several speeches that the concept that these people were "not ready" for democracy was no longer correct, and that democracy should be allowed to flourish in the region, with Iraq's new government to be the shining new example others could follow.

Nowadays, the same people who were cheering Bush on at the time are the ones darkly muttering about what's going on in Egypt and Libya -- how democracy could mean people they don't personally approve of gaining power. But if having an Islamist government is so bad, then one wonders why these same people are not out on the streets demonstrating in front of the Saudi embassy, over their system of Sharia law.

What's going on all over the region is a reshuffling of the criteria America considers important. Due to both Bush's invasion of Iraq and the Arab Spring, democracy has been bumped up the list of things America favors in its allies in the region. Loyalty is still very high up there, likely in first place among our priorities. But the concept of stability has changed. In the first place, stability now can be defined mostly as "not harboring or funding terrorism." Stability also now includes wishing for post-revolutionary stability in government in many countries in the region. While many countries are unstable now -- still in the process of writing new constitutions and setting up elections and the framework for new governmental structures -- they appear to be working towards some future stability. Some will succeed in this better than others, but while America can cheer such efforts on from the sidelines, until this stabilization happens we have forever changed our blind support for dictators simply because strongmen were easier to deal with than parliaments. Human rights, once virtually ignored in our dealings with the region, have also gained quite a bit more prominence as we deal with the shameful fact that we propped up a lot of the worst human rights abusers in the region for decades. It's a delicate subject, in other words, and one America is now being forced to pay a lot more than lip service towards.

Our real clash of diplomatic criteria, though, is now happening between the concept of promoting democracy and promoting secular government. To put this another way: which is more important -- a stable, representative democratic government, or a stable government that disrespects women's rights and runs the country as a theocracy?

While the answer to that question seems obvious -- we'd prefer the first, of course -- the reality we're going to have to deal with may not be to our liking. This is the nature of democracy. The people get to choose, and if they choose a theocratic form to govern themselves what, exactly, should we do about it? Remember Saudi Arabia, after all, proves that an ultra-Islamic government can indeed be a staunch ally (as we define "ally"). Iran is one extreme on the Islamist sliding scale, but Saudi Arabia is not Iran.

Which is what America may soon have to decide -- where along that scale is acceptable for our allies? We are first going to have to confront this problem in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen -- but that certainly won't be the end of it. This may be the real legacy of Iraq -- forever changing the face of the entire region.

Even Iraq is showing some warning signs that Bush's dream of a Jeffersonian democracy as a shining example in the region was too optimistic. One day after the last American troops left, Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki put out an arrest warrant for his Sunni vice president. This does not exactly bode well for Iraq's immediate future as a stable state. The other states setting up self-government have also had some serious stumbles along the way.

The Iraq War has complicated both the stability of the region and how America conducts its foreign policy there. There is no turning back from this -- the entire region is now a changed place. What happens next is anyone's guess. But America needs to get our own priorities straight if we're going to actively engage the region effectively in the future. So far, we have not adequately even begun this conversation. Iraq was a long war, but it seems we're just as unprepared to deal with the aftermath now as we were when we first went in.

-- Chris Weigant

 

Cross-posted at Business Insider
Cross-posted at The Huffington Post

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

 

13 Comments on “War Is Over. What Next?”

  1. [1] 
    Paula wrote:

    Interesting post, Chris!

    I agree that "we are just as unprepared to deal with the aftermath now as when we first went in".

    America has paid lip-service to democracy all over the world for years, as you stated, (as it is paying lip-service to democracy here at home as well, in some respects), so the question is whether that will change or when it will change. We also have so many powerful reactionary elements in this country that can barely stomach the notion of Islamic countries existing, that any rational leader here has his work cut out for him (or her).

    Furthermore, America, collectively, has to face-up squarely to its dependence on Oil and begin to deal with it constructively rather than creating wars to try to gain control over other people's oil.

    We'll see.

  2. [2] 
    Osborne Ink wrote:

    "a country which refused to sell oil to the Soviets" -- actually, the USSR had its own ocean of oil. One of the primary factors in the collapse of the Soviet system was the low, low price of oil in the mid to late '80s that reduced their income of hard foreign currency from oil exports. This made it harder to satisfy consumer demand for transistor radios and so forth at a time the USSR was devoting an extraordinary chunk of GDP to military demands.

    That's not to say oil access was not a concern, but in fact what scared Washington was not that Arabs might sell oil to Russia but that someone might give the USSR basing rights. One of the first things Reagan did was beef up American naval presence in the Persian Gulf to counteract their beefed-up naval presence, threatening our access to that ocean of oil.

    Link to a couple of very good books on the topic:

    http://www.hraugh.com/docs/guardiansofthegulf.html

    and

    http://www.amazon.com/Twin-Pillars-Desert-Storm-Americas/dp/0688112544

  3. [3] 
    Michale wrote:

    Furthermore, America, collectively, has to face-up squarely to its dependence on Oil and begin to deal with it constructively rather than creating wars to try to gain control over other people's oil.

    I am constrained to point out that the US has vast amounts of oil resources that would allow us to do just that..

    Michale
    255

  4. [4] 
    DerFarm wrote:

    I am constrained to point out that polluting the water of Wyoming, is kinda a downer for the shale oil/natural gas production hypothesis.

    Further, without shale oil, there are roughly 155BBL available (21BBl proven, 134BBL unproven but estimated). There are currently 8.5 years of reserves (proven) to production ration. Adding in the estimated but unproven gives roughly 50 years of CURRENT oil useage levels for the US.

    Not exactly oil independence. But then, you gotta have faith (Feith??).

  5. [5] 
    DerFarm wrote:

    PS: that 50 years, is NOT using only US oil, but is estimated using current levels of imported oil + the oil resources of the US.

    ie: We still gots to have the Arab oil. Or the oil from Venezuela. Or the oil from Columbia.

  6. [6] 
    Michale wrote:

    DF,

    I am constrained to point out that polluting the water of Wyoming, is kinda a downer for the shale oil/natural gas production hypothesis.

    Can't make an omelet without cracking a few eggs..

    You want to end the dependency on foreign oil..

    There'll have to be some sacrifices...

    ie: We still gots to have the Arab oil. Or the oil from Venezuela. Or the oil from Columbia.

    I guess we'll just have to hurry up and learn the secrets of antimatter power, eh???

    Where's Zefram Cochrane when ya need him! :D

    Michale
    264

  7. [7] 
    DerFarm wrote:

    So maybe at some time in the distant future we can be not dependant upon the Saudis. And all we have to do is sacrifice Colorado and Wyoming. Oh, and we'll have to give up on Los Angeles, El Paso (not loss there, I'll admit), Albuquerque, and Northern Arizona ... all of which use part of the water that will be required to either get the oil, or be destroyed because of the fracking.

    According to what I can find (which you didn't feel like looking up) it will be 8 - 10 years before production can be up to snuff ... IF it can be done. IF it is economically feasible (read: Can Shell make billions on it). IF the water wars don't make it impossible (all that water is currently going to cities full of actual voting people ... many of them Republicans).

  8. [8] 
    Michale wrote:

    Sacrificing Los Angeles???

    Is that REALLY a sacrifice??? :D

    But hay.. If you say the US has no oil, how could I possibly argue with that??

    Oh wait..

    Massive Oil Deposit Could Increase US reserves by 10x
    nextenergynews.com/news1/next-energy-news2.13s.html

    Of course, along with oil, there is plenty of natural gas..

    U.S. Should Drill for Oil and Gas in Arctic, Offshore
    redorbit.com/news/business/1424734/us_should_drill_for_oil_and_gas_in_arctic_offshore

    THEN.... Then there is the shale deposits that you are referring to. 50% of the entire world's shale oil supply is the central US..

    fossil.energy.gov/programs/reserves/publications/Pubs-NPR/40010-373.pdf

    But how could I possible think that the US has oil???

    So, why aren't we exploiting our resources??

    Oh that's right.. Left wing environmental activists.

    Michale

  9. [9] 
    DerFarm wrote:

    Yeah, that must be it.

    The Ogallala Aquifer, which is the source for 50% of the water used from North Dakota to Texas is not big deal to lose. Hell, we're already losing it to climate change. Let all those guys get along with only one bath a week.

    That 50% of the world's supply of shale oil you're talking about? If you'll read my post [4] carefully, it says EIGHT to TEN years before ANY significant oil resources ... IF it can be done.

    Oh, and by the way? One of the two sources quoted was libertarian. They were essentially quoting Shell Oil engineers. The Other One? The Green Conservative.

    Yup. Real leftwing loonies those are.

    Gotta hand it to ya Michale. Just can't get anything past you.

  10. [10] 
    dsws wrote:

    The amount of power potentially available from sunlight is several orders of magnitude greater than foreseeable human use. Collecting it is still too expensive for anything but peak-demand times, but it's getting cheaper fairly fast.

  11. [11] 
    Michale wrote:

    DF,

    The Ogallala Aquifer, which is the source for 50% of the water used from North Dakota to Texas is not big deal to lose. Hell, we're already losing it to climate change.

    Oh don't EVEN get me started on that galactic con of a lifetime..

    That 50% of the world's supply of shale oil you're talking about? If you'll read my post [4] carefully, it says EIGHT to TEN years before ANY significant oil resources ... IF it can be done.

    Yea?? How long til we have viable alternate energy sources??

    Decades?? Centuries???

    Oh, and by the way? One of the two sources quoted was libertarian. They were essentially quoting Shell Oil engineers. The Other One? The Green Conservative.

    Oh, so because they have a dog in the hunt, they are lying??

    The sources you quote are environmentalists.. And THEY have been shown to be the epitome of objectivity and logic, right??

    Seriously!!???

    Gotta hand it to ya Michale. Just can't get anything past you.

    No, you can't.. So don't even bother trying...

    :D

    At least we agree that sacrificing Los Angeles isn't such a big sacrifice.. :D

    Michale
    265

  12. [12] 
    Michale wrote:

    dsws,

    The amount of power potentially available from sunlight is several orders of magnitude greater than foreseeable human use. Collecting it is still too expensive for anything but peak-demand times, but it's getting cheaper fairly fast.

    Define "fairly fast"???

    Also, the major problem with solar energy is not collecting it, it's regulating it and storing it..

    Collection is easy compared to storage.

    I have said it before ad nasuem.. If we took all the billions and billions of dollars that have been spent TALKING about Human Caused Global Warming (Yet The Planet Is Cooling) and LOBBYING for Human Caused Global Warming (Yet The Planet Is Cooling) and put it into practical use, equipping homes with completely independent solar/wind power electrical systems, then our dependency on foreign oil would have taken a huge hit..

    The ONLY people making out with this huge galactic scam are the lawyers and the lobbyists and that sex poodle, Al Gore...

    Michale
    266

  13. [13] 
    Michale wrote:

    DF,

    The Ogallala Aquifer, which is the source for 50% of the water used from North Dakota to Texas is not big deal to lose. Hell, we're already losing it to climate change.

    Oh don't EVEN get me started on that galactic con of a lifetime..

    OK, let me clarify..

    If you mean "climate change" as in the earth's natural climactic rhythms, then disregard my response..

    If you mean "Climate Change" as in the hugely successful Galactic Con perpetrated by the men and women getting rich off of it, then my comment stands..

    Michale
    269

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