Peace in the Middle East is an objective need both, and above all, for the peoples living in this region, and for all responsible subjects of world politics. The motives for finding solutions that bring this long-awaited event closer can be very diverse: from religious beliefs to the desire to perpetuate our role in world history, from universal values to the desire to consolidate our leading role based on the principles of “political realism”. As a rule, there is a combination of various factors and incentives, but, as they say in such cases, the most important result.
Having come to power, Obama made two strategic decisions. First, instead of ordering an immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq, he adopted the Bush administration’s policy of gradual withdrawal of troops related to achieving political stabilization and developing Iraqi security forces. Although he changed the withdrawal schedule somewhat, the basic strategy remained unchanged. Moreover, he left Bush Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in place to control his exit from Iraq.
Obama called the course of the past US administration towards Iraq a “catastrophe of foreign policy.”
The military-political situation in the Persian Gulf over the past ten years has been aggravated all the time. Interstate, interethnic and interfaith contradictions, internal political tensions in a number of states, the militarization of the region, the active work of Islamic fundamentalists, various extremist organizations and groups created an atmosphere of increased conflict.
For a long time, the United States conducted a variety of political, diplomatic, economic, military, informational and other events in order to establish its control over Iraq and neighboring countries.
US interest in Iraq was due to its energy resources. According to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), as of mid-March 2003, Iraq had the second largest crude oil reserves in the world, second only to Saudi Arabia. Iraq’s oil reserves were estimated at 112.5 billion barrels, while Saudi Arabia amounted to 261 billion barrels. In addition, Iraq has significant deposits of gas, sulfur and phosphates.
Iraq is attractive for its geopolitical position. Through its territory pass international land and air routes connecting Europe with the countries of the Middle East and South Asia.
Iraq has long claimed leadership in the Arab world and, until recently, had a significant influence on the formation and development of the military-political situation in the Persian Gulf region.
The existence of an authoritarian regime, repression against the internal opposition, along with torture to implement plans for military expansion against neighboring states, the presence of chemical weapons that were used against their own people in the late 80s, attempts to create other types of weapons of mass destruction proved to be a convenient excuse for the United States to overthrow Saddam Hussein.
At the same time, control over Iraq opened up additional opportunities for the United States to eliminate unwanted regimes in neighboring countries. The elimination of Hussein would make it possible to establish in the future US-friendly regimes in Syria and Iran.
The United States has been pursuing a policy of double standards with respect to Iraq since 1979. The reason was the Islamic revolution in a neighboring country – Iran, after which the United States became enemy No. 1 for the new government and the US embassy was immediately occupied. Then the White House needed allies to fight. The role of one of them was ideally suited by Iraq and its president. The Pentagon supplied Saddam Hussein with weapons, intelligence data on the location of Iranian troops, satellite images. Thus, Saddam came to the conclusion that the United States would never destroy it, but, in the worst case, they would push it into a more “safe zone” or make a series of bombing raids.
The first item on Obama’s agenda is the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, which he repeatedly voiced in his election campaign. In theory, the withdrawal process itself should be completed at the end of 2009, having gone through several stages. Part of the troops, obviously, will be redeployed to Afghanistan to strengthen the NATO military contingent, which so far has been waging a struggle against the Taliban without much success. However, everything can change – if military conflicts erupt again in Iraq, for example, between Arabs and Kurds, then the withdrawal of American troops can be postponed. Moreover, if Robert Gates remains the US Secretary of Defense, the troops may linger in Iraq for a rather indefinite period. Of course, one should also consider whether Obama will be able to cope with the efforts of lobbyists from companies representing the oil industry and the military-industrial complex, which are interested in the United States continuing military operations in the Middle East.
Recently, the events in Iraq have practically disappeared from the frontlines of leading American newspapers (giving way to Afghanistan, Iran, China, etc.). This is a good sign: the news coming from this country is quite optimistic. If the United States is truly capable of withdrawing its troops during the 19-month period promised by the president, this will be an unprecedented success for the Obama administration
Obama’s policy in Iraq should not be limited to the withdrawal of troops, former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger insists in an article for The Washington Post. The vacuum of power in strategically important Mesopotamia is by no means in America’s interests, he explains. The outcome of the events in Iraq will also affect the psychological balance of power in the conflict of the West with radical jihadism. However, in Washington, the topic of Iraq has now almost disappeared from political debate, an authoritative expert notes.
According to Kissinger, before the war, the main geopolitical reality of the region was the parity of Iraq and Iran. Now, when Shiites dominate the leadership of Iraq, there is a risk that Shiite radicals will prevail and become allies of Shiite Tehran, which will deeply affect Saudi Arabia, other Gulf states, as well as other Gulf states and Lebanon. “Therefore, it is very important for the United States that Iraq’s domestic and foreign policies develop in a moderate manner,” the author writes, urging Washington to declare its political obligations to the region.
Some experts in the field of defense and foreign policy are of the opinion that US President Barack Obama will have to show flexibility in the issue of the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.
A departure from the data during the struggle for the presidency of promises could discredit Obama in the eyes of the anti-war movement that actively supported him. At the center of these promises and Obama’s entire plan for Iraq was a call to return all combat units home within 16 months after he took office.
Obama has quite successfully gained a reputation as a politician holding anti-war positions, but at the same time he advocates maintaining a sufficient contingent of American troops in Iraq for an indefinite period, as well as an escalation of hostilities in Afghanistan.
Obama faced a difficult choice: to refuse to fulfill his main election promise to leave Iraq or to enter into open conflict with the US high military command, fraught with unpredictable consequences for his own security.
The US military has entered into an open confrontation with President Barack Obama on the Iraqi issue. The ex-commander of US forces in Iraq, and now the chief of staff of the American army, General John Casey, said that Obama’s promise to withdraw troops from Iraq by the end of 2011 is impossible to fulfill. The general, the newspaper writes, believes that the Americans should remain in the country for at least another ten years, otherwise “the US army will be brought to its knees.” At a press conference convened in Washington, the general warned that a big battle was brewing in the “Greater Middle East” (from “Israel” to Pakistan), so in no case should US troops be withdrawn from Iraq.
According to the US administration, the Iraqi government is not able to independently maintain order. 50 thousand American soldiers should remain in Iraq, he said. The long-overdue conflict between Barack Obama and the highest military leadership of the United States first burst to the surface. Most United States citizens supported Obama in the presidential election last year because he more convincingly than others promised “to immediately withdraw troops from Iraq.” According to the military command, the literal fulfillment of this promise is fraught for America with the loss of control not only over Iraq itself, but also over the Middle East as a whole.
In his election speeches, Barack Obama as president of the United States repeatedly promised to adhere to his plan to withdraw all combat units of American troops from Iraq by mid-2010.
On February 27, 2009, US President Barack Obama officially unveiled his Iraq strategy. Speaking to military personnel at the Camp Lejeune Marine Corps training base in North Carolina, he said that the withdrawal of the combat units of the 146,000th US troops would end before August 31, 2010. This is three months later than he promised during his campaign. In addition, according to Obama, from 35 to 50 thousand American troops will remain in Iraq who will be engaged in the fight against terrorism, the training of Iraqi security forces, and the protection of American citizens and American interests. In a word, with regard to Iraq, the course of the new White House team, in fact, remains the same as that of the George W. Bush administration.
The first step in continuing the policy of George W. Bush, regarding Iraq, was the fact that Obama left the Pentagon at the head of the Robert Gates, who stood at the origins of the Iraq war.
Obama’s promises during the election period do not fit in with the current state of the Iraq problem. We can conclude that formally the war will be over, but a certain US military presence will remain in Iraq, so to speak, for peacekeeping purposes. Even during the election campaign, Obama’s national security adviser Richard Danzig cited the same figures – in Iraq, after the withdrawal of the bulk of US troops, 30 to 55 thousand troops will remain.
Obama himself, on December 1, 2008, introducing members of his new administration responsible for national security, said: “I promised that I would withdraw military units within 16 months, while realizing that it would be necessary, maybe even more than necessary, to maintain a military presence to train the Iraqi security forces, maintain the material and technical base and protect American citizens. ” The more Obama takes root in the role of the US president, the more “balanced” his approach to the Iraqi issue becomes. There are objective circumstances that need to be taken into account at all costs, an ordinary routine begins, which gradually replaces the political will of the candidate who once called for change.
Decision to extend the withdrawal period and on the preservation of part of the military contingent in Iraq, Barack Obama accepted after numerous consultations with Pentagon representatives. They managed to convince the president that this was necessary in order to consolidate the successes achieved in recent years in ensuring security, to support the functioning of still weak political institutions and to keep the country from falling back into the chaos of the civil war.
It is difficult to say how much a three-month delay will help strengthen the state institutions and the security of Iraq as a whole. In any case, the US-Iraqi agreement on the withdrawal of forces reached under George W. Bush by the end of 2011 does not cancel Obama’s new initiative. If something goes wrong, the White House will have time to meet the deadlines set by Bush. Moreover, with the mutual consent of the parties, the contract can be changed, and the terms are postponed even further.
Another thing is interesting, even when the agreement was being developed, the Bush administration subjected the Iraqi government to outright blackmail, saying that if Iraq does not sign it, the United States will stop all military and material assistance, which will lead to a sharp destabilization of the situation, increased chaos and violence. Thus, despite all the differences, Bush and Obama are united in one thing: Iraq will die without the United States, which means that we will not have to wait for changes in the issue of politics in Iraq from Barack Obama. Those 35-50 thousand people who, according to the Obama plan, will remain in Iraq, will continue to fight terrorism, that is, they will do the same thing as the current contingent.
Many observers agree that if the United States finally leaves Iraq, there will be a vacuum of power that will lead to civil war between religious and ethnic groups – Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds – and even to the collapse of the state. Iran will try to take advantage of the situation, which may even begin an armed invasion to protect its Shia co-religionists, but then Saudi Arabia, which has long considered Iran the main threat to its leadership in the region, will be drawn into the conflict on the side of Iraqi Sunnis. The Kurds will begin the struggle for their own independent state, into which Turkey willy-nilly will be drawn. A large-scale war will begin, which, given the role of the Persian Gulf oil fields, could turn into World War III.
Note that after the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Bush administration was divided into two camps. The first included so-called “pragmatists,” including Foreign Minister Colin Powell and General Jay Garner. They advocated removing Saddam Hussein and his inner circle from power, providing access to Iraqi oil, creating military bases, but leaving the entire structure of Iraqi society and the state without major changes, and entrusting the International Monetary Fund with market reforms. The second camp included representatives of the neoconservatives Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz. They were supporters of the concept of “zero year”, which was supposed to destroy everything, and then rebuild everything.
The second won. At the same time, it is paradoxical that the Bush administration neither during the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 nor during the invasion of Iraq existed the concept of “state building” – that is, subsequent state building, which, of course, involved huge investments. As a result, the worst-case scenario was realized: a complete failure in the post-war reconstruction and, as a result, a prolonged military occupation, which only restrains chaos. With Obama’s arrival at the White House, the situation has not essentially changed.
It is unclear what achievements in the matter of ensuring security the American generals speak, who persuaded Obama to extend the withdrawal of troops for another three months in order to strengthen and maintain these achievements. Of course, at every opportunity, statistics on the decrease in the number of terrorist attacks are given, and the successful experiment of General David Petraeus in Anbar Province is cited in all ways – Petraeus armed the Sunni militia, which became the main force in the fight against al-Qaeda.
But this is still not enough. In six years, nothing like a viable administration has been created in Iraq. The number of attacks decreased, but they did not stop at all. The Shiite and Sunni areas of Baghdad were divided by concrete walls to exclude inter-confessional clashes, but they occur in other places, in particular in Kirkuk – Arabs, Turkmens and Kurds fiercely fight among themselves. The state of the Iraqi army and police leaves much to be desired. Own air forces, which could strike at militants or rebels, in principle, no.
The country lives in an ethnic and inter-religious division, and each faction has its own officials in the administration, its generals in the army, its own militias, ready to take up arms. Out of 28 million people, 5 million orphans, 1 million widows. 70 percent of the country’s population is unemployed, while there are 3.3 million retirees in Iraq who need to pay pensions. About 2 million Iraqis do not have a permanent residence, 4 million live as refugees in neighboring countries. To this should be added 6 million Kurds in northern Iraq, who are not averse to secession at all. During the years of occupation, according to rough estimates, more than 940 thousand people were killed.
The restoration of the country under the tutelage of the United States is slow, and this causes natural discontent, despite the fact that the Iraqis have something to compare. After the first Gulf War, Iraq’s infrastructure also lay in ruins. However, under the regime of Saddam Hussein, thanks to efficiently organized efforts, the uninterrupted supply of electricity throughout the country was restored within a few weeks. For three months, telephone service was established. All engineers, including nuclear engineers, were seconded for restoration work. Today, six years after the American invasion, electricity is still intermittently supplied, the population mainly uses fuel oil generators, and utilities and road services do not actually work.
Most Iraqis still want the Americans, who are sometimes called “barbarians” in Iraq, to leave as soon as possible. In particular, Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki, citing Obama’s campaign promises to withdraw troops in 16 months, openly declared in January that it would be desirable to expedite the withdrawal of troops.
A real alternative to the policy pursued by Obama’s predecessor could be the restoration of the country with the help of regional states and the international community, a kind of Marshall plan, but for Iraq. Only by restoring the existing state structures can part of the concerns be transferred to them and, accordingly, without any fears for possible destabilization of the situation, the military presence can be reduced.
But Barack Obama says almost nothing about mobilizing efforts to rebuild Iraq. In the current financial and economic crisis, this seems problematic. However, it is possible that politically and economically independent Iraq, which does not depend on a permanent American military presence, Obama, like Bush, is, in principle, not needed.
Currently, among the Arab countries there is a differentiated approach to the Iranian problem, many of them consider the possible US military action against Iran as a problem, no less than the potential nuclear threat of Iran. Some are trying to expand ties and contacts, some are playing on US concerns in order to strengthen their own authoritarian regimes and delay the necessary internal reforms. In addition, along with the US-imposed confrontation between Sunnis and Shiites, moderates and radicals, Arabs and Persians, for the Arab allies, the picture has always been more multidimensional – rulers against society, the Levant against the Gulf, hashemites against Saudis, etc.
We can conclude that the Obama administration needs a new, post-Iraqi paradigm that takes into account local problems and balances the Iranian challenge with other US tasks. So far, it has come down to arms transfers to regional allies, economic sanctions and financial pressure, as well as attempts to create a diplomatic coalition of “moderate partners” – the Gulf countries plus Egypt, Jordan, and possibly Iraq.