US Policy in the Middle East – Possible Options

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American commanders happy over the success of the, “American way of war” in Afghanistan and Iraq perhaps did not consider that war was only a means to restructure these states and rid them of the despotic rule of Saddam Hussein, the Taliban and support to the Al Qaeda. Thus, nation building strategies were neglected which has seen the death of hundreds and thousands of Iraqis over 100,000 so far and many hundreds of Afghans.

A review of these policies is now being undertaken by the Americans. It is said that greater reliance on indigenous people and leaders is being resorted to under what is considered as a modification of the Powell doctrine, which had advocated that beyond a regime change, the transformation of Iraq per se should be carried out by the Iraqis. This view had been opposed by the Rumsfeld lobby, which called for complete destruction and replacement of cadres of the Ba’ath Party in Iraq and excluding them from the process of reconstruction. This provided fuel to the militancy, which has raged over the past three years.

The change in policy implies that leaders having grass roots support in Iraq such as Moqtada al Sadr are now considered as possible allies rather than adversaries. The fiery Shia cleric who has all grass roots support in Iraq particularly amongst the lower class Shia settled in Sadr city in Baghdad, Basra and other cities has thus emerged as a major opinion maker in Iraq.

The second American error is attributed to creation of an assembly with proportionate ethnic representation of the people. This move was allegedly made to restore balance in Iraq by providing the Shia population, which had been largely governed by the minority Sunni leadership a major say in the government. While empirically this decision could be said to be correct, it only added to the in built animosities in the Iraqi society with the Shia, Sunni and Kurds bitterly divided against each other.

The large number of militia and death squads that have been fostered by the parties in conflict over the past few years indicates the complexity of the situation. The killing fields of Iraq have thus been converted into a number of small battlefields in a civil war. There is also increased need felt by the Americans to check the rise of Iran in the Middle East, however it has limited options for the same, for this is now a foregone conclusion. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has been visiting Iran to arrive at a regional solution to the ongoing crisis in Iraq where hundreds continue to be killed in the daily mayhem of sectoral violence. This also indicates a shift in the US stand on the issue as it was earlier reluctant to provide a leading role to Iran given the sensitivity of the Sunnis in Iraq.

To avoid such a situation there are limited options for the Americans to leave Iraq before cutting their losses. America has thus now been forced to change its policy to transforming diplomacy based on creating democratic partnerships rather than paternalism. By taking into consideration the diversity of opinion from all sides in Iraq, United States has enhanced the scope of resolution of the complex political space, which has been in strife for almost a century now after the break up of the Ottoman Empire. (With inputs from the Newsweek and People’s Daily Online)

Rahul K. Bhonsle is a Strategic Risk and Knowledge Management Consultant and writer with specific focus on defence and security, especially in South Asia.