Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Why the Arab states won't get involved

Abdullah Khalifa Al-Shayji, a political science professor at Kuwait University and a former adviser to the speaker of the Kuwaiti parliament, yesterday summed up the nub of Gulf-region thinking on the question of Iraq, where Condi today is urging more "support" for the Maliki government.

(Others have pointed out that there are many reasons to smile and do nothing, including: (1) Lack of security argues against re-opening embassies, considering there isn't such a thing as a tradition of martyrdom in the diplomatic community; (2) the fact Iraq is "the most corrupt nation on the planet" (Abdulbari Atwan) argues against debt-relief as long as this regime is in power; (3) the fact Bush invaded Iraq against the advise of Gulf leaders argues against rushing in to help him out now that he is trying to slough off responsibility onto others.)

But Shayji focuses on one core point:
It does not appear that the Arab neighbors of Iraq, particularly Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, are desirous of getting involved in the affairs of Iraq, or of supporting the Maliki government, as long as it isn't more representative, for instance it supports some political blocs while Sunni and Shia blocs boycott it, and there are accusations of sectarianism from Iraqi groups and Arab countries.

We do not want to be the party that bears the repercussions of a bitter war that began five years ago or to plunge into the dangerous swamp at this late date....And there is no use talking about opening embassies and sending ambassadors in the absence of a clear political movement towards preparation for anchoring the national interest and reconstruction. There's no sense in drawing up ambitious road-maps for prosperity and stability and security, while the fires are still raging in Iraq. The American researcher Suzanne Maloney spells out the repercussions and the result of the American war on Iraq: "The disastrous Bush policies fostered a sectarian Iraq that has helped empower Iranian hardliners. Rather than serving as an anchor for a new era of stability and American pre-eminence in the Persian Gulf, the new Iraq represents a strategic black hole, bleeding Washington of military resources and political influence while extending Iran's primacy among its neighbors." (Her Brookings report here)

Shayji concludes by talking about the other parts of the region where Iran and the anti-American forces have influence, by way of stressing what a great danger it would be to get involved via Iraq.

But while his discussion, like that of many other Arab commentators, includes the question of Iranian regional influence, and even ends up focusing on it, the point with respect to Iraq is that an occupation that began five years ago with sectarianism, has fostered a government that is still sectarian, and as long as it is sectarian, any intervention "in support of the Maliki administration" would itself have sectarian implications, and that is something the Gulf states very naturally do not want to do.

The Arab commentators are probably too polite to put it this way at least in print, but what this comes down to is the following: Would it really be a good idea for the already-unpopular Arab regimes to support a government that invites US warplanes to carry out airstrikes against its own most densely-populated residential areas? Would this be a genuine feather in their caps and a manifestation of true pan-Arab solidarity?

American commentators, by and large, prefer to draw a veil over the American involvement in current fighting in Iraq--there are no major reports recently on the continuing airstrikes on Sadr City, for instance--and this reflects what seems to be now a bipartisan view: America is basically a mere bystander, trying to help bring quarreling parties together. That being the case, why on earth won't our Arab allies in the region pitch in and do their part, unless it is because of the nefarious Iranian influence. That way the war for continued sectarianism and continued occupation is left out of the picture.


Blogger rmwarnick said...

Why support a foreign occupation of an Arab country? No reason to be surprised there are no Arab embassies in Baghdad. I guess nobody in Washington is listening.

12:35 PM  
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