Jackson Diehl of the Washington Post was an early and ardent advocate of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, rhapsodizing as far back as 2002 that regime change in Iraq would have “the potential to catalyze a long-overdue liberalization of the Middle East.”
Such dreams we had back then, huh?
Eight years later, after the United States spent more than $700 billion and 4,000 lives, Diehl sees the potential for a much less positive outcome of the adventure he touted.
Iraq, he now warns, could become “a cleric-dominated satellite of Iran or a cauldron of sectarian conflict,” and he wants President Obama to do something to stop it.
Tellingly, Diehl offers not a single specific as to what that “something” might be, and for good reason. With U.S. forces drawing down as a result of a legal agreement with the Iraqi government, and with so much of our manpower being shifted to Afghanistan, our leverage over Iraq’s future is declining rapidly. We can cajole and threaten and promise, but our days of real control are long past.
(For that same reason, Vice President Biden was foolish to suggest two weeks ago that Iraq “could be one of the great achievements of this administration.” Whatever course Iraq takes, good or bad, the Bush administration will have had far more impact than the current administration.)
As Diehl points out, neighboring Iran is trying to manipulate Iraq’s March 7 parliamentary elections in hopes of gaining control over the government that emerges in Baghdad.
“To an alarming extent, the campaign is succeeding,” Diehl warns. “Tehran’s leading agent … is Ahmed Chalabi, a Shiite who in 2002 played a major role in persuading the Bush administration to go to war. Now he has managed to have hundreds of candidates eliminated from the election on the mostly bogus grounds that they were or are loyalists of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party. His targets are not just Sunni leaders but secular nationalists — the two most important banned candidates are leading members of cross-sectarian alliances.”
Ah yes, the resurrected Ahmed Chalabi, the dreamweaver who put the “con” in “neocon,” the man who seduced them into thinking that we would be greeted in Iraq with chocolates and roses. Once invited to the State of the Union by President Bush, he’s now Tehran’s biggest ally, and our enemy.
“(Chalabi and his allies) clearly are influenced by Iran,” Gen. Ray Odierno said a week ago. “We have direct intelligence that tells us that. They’ve had several meetings in Iran, meeting with a man named Mohandas … who was on the terrorist watch list for a bombing in Kuwait in the 1980s. They are tied to him. He sits at the right-hand side of the Quds Force commandant, Qassem Soleimani. And we believe they’re absolutely involved in influencing the outcome of the election.”
Odierno suggested that the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq might even be slowed if the security situation deteriorates after the election, but that seems unlikely. In fact, Defense Secretary Robert Gates quickly downplayed that possibility. “Before we would consider recommending anything like that, we would have to see a pretty considerable deterioration of the situation in Iraq,” Gates said. “And we don’t see that, certainly, at this point.”
After March 7, Iraq will begin the long and dangerous process of trying to form a new government. It’s likely to take months. As Diehl notes, the master manipulator Chalabi hopes to use that process “to become prime minister of the next government, which would be a disaster for Iraq and for Washington.”
Personally, I doubt Chalabi will succeed in that effort — from the beginning, the Americans have repeatedly overestimated his chances of taking power in Iraq, and I don’t see any evidence that’s changed.
I also doubt that Iraq will become “a cleric-dominated satellite of Iran,” as Diehl describes it. In the first place, the Iranian regime is a little too worried about trying to preserve its own power to intervene aggressively next door. But the larger reason is that Chalabi and others like him who are now fighting to control Iraq will have no wish to share that power.
Not with the Iranians. Not with the Americans.
And in time, probably not with their fellow Iraqis either.