June 25, 2014

Secretary Kerry, please focus on American national interests, not Iraq's failed government

This will be short and to the point. Secretary Kerry needs to focus first and foremost on U.S. national interests, not Iraq's failed government.

Here is an June 24 article from CBS News, written by Dan Kedmey:

Kerry Says U.S. Air Strikes in Iraq Would Be ‘Act of Irresponsibility’
Top American diplomat warns against strikes in a power vacuum

Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday ruled out U.S. air strikes in Iraq so long as its government remains fractured along sectarian lines and incapable of combating extremist Sunni militants who are capturing towns in the country’s north.

Kerry told CBS News that the U.S. military was prepared to provide assistance to Iraqi troops, but launching air strikes at this moment would constitute “a complete and total act of responsibility.”

“There’s no government, there’s no backup, there’s no military, there’s nothing there that provides the capacity for success,” Kerry said.

His remarks appeared to walk back comments made the day before, when he suggested the progress by fighters from the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) could force U.S. action. Kerry is in Iraq this week meeting with the country’s leaders and urging them to form a more inclusive government.


Mr. Kerry, you were right several times in this article, but not in the right order.

Time is not on our side in this particular crisis. The notion that the three disparate factions of the Iraqi electorate are going to come together because you are here and imploring them to do so flies in the face of reality. I think you may have gotten a small dose of that reality when Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki publicly rebuffed your proposal today saying he would not seek to form a national unity government, claiming that the process you espouse is in contravention of the Iraqi constitution.

Yesterday (June 24), you met with the leadership of the Kurdish Regional Government in Irbil, the government of the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq. The Kurds see no future in maintaining the fiction of a coherent Iraqi government - there has been no such thing since the withdrawal of American forces in late 2011.

I know personally most of the senior Kurdish leadership, having worked closely with them years ago while serving in northern Iraq in the Saddam years. This may be their best chance at an independent Kurdish state. On a personal level, I hope they are successful, despite the complications this poses for your current mission.

After the removal of U.S. troops, al-Maliki felt relieved of any constraints to maintain the facade of a truly representative government. He replaced the competent (often Kurdish or Sunni Arab) leadership of military and government organizations with his Shi'a cronies. That resulted in the collapse of the Iraqi armed forces and security services when confronted with the threat from committed ISIS forces.

ISIS has taken most of the territory of western Iraq from the edge of the Kurdish area north of Mosul (al-Mawsil) to the southern border. Granted, much of that territory is vacant desert, and there are a few areas that are still contested, but for the most part, ISIS controls the Syrian-Iraqi border and may (there are conflicting reports) control the Jordanian-Iraqi border.

There are reports (accurate information is difficult to obtain) that ISIS has also moved across the area southwest of Baghdad along the Euphrates River. With the potential fall of Ba'qubah to the northeast of Baghdad, the already ISIS-occupied al-Fallujah to the west of Baghdad, and this possible move south of the city, ISIS is attempting to isolate the city from it's Shi'a base in the south of the country.

So, here is my paraphrase of your words as you should have said them - this fits the Middle East context in which we find ourselves.

"Progress by fighters from the militant group the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria could force U.S. action, because there’s no government, there’s no backup, there’s no military, there’s nothing there that provides the capacity for success. The United States military is prepared to provide assistance to Iraqi troops - launching air strikes at this moment may be required to prevent the collapse of the Iraqi state as we know it."

Yes, Mr. Secretary, it is that dire. The notion that there is enough time to hold a series of meetings to convince the Iraqis to form a more inclusive government - among groups that are unwilling to do so - is merely fooling yourself. Call me pessimistic, but I have spent a lot of time living and working in this region, and the animosities at this point in time present an insurmountable hurdle to the fictional government you are imposing as a precondition to American airstrikes.

The presence of a radical Islamist state - yes, a state with an organized government and a huge expanse of territory in what were parts of Syria and Iraq - presents a real threat to the United States. Think Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. They already have training camps in Syria, and have indicated the intention to strike American interests, if not the United States itself.

Do not underestimate these radical jihadis. They are true believers in their warped sense of Islam, committed to the cause of spreading their version of the Islamic revolution. We cannot allow them a pseudo-state in the heart of the Middle East.

We cannot afford to base our foreign policy on the actions of a failed Iraqi government - we need to take action based on American national interests. If that means conducting airstrikes without the establishment of some form of inclusive government in Baghdad, so be it.

We need to act in our national interests, not the Administration's view of Iraq's national interests.