(…from a decade of misguided policy)

The further rapid disintegration of the Iraqi nation-state leaves the US with very few viable options. Given the way things are evolving on the ground, by the time any so-called diplomatic efforts are put together to do something, it may well all be moot…Iraq will have fissioned apart…ISIS will have consolidated its position…and Iran will be the main beneficiary of the situation.

It’s obvious that the Maliki government is a government in name only. There is no percentage in trying to shore it up. None of the primary political interests in Iraq have any faith in it (certainly not among any of its so-called national army troops). The Sunni alienation is too far gone now to ever be brought back, while the Kurds see no benefit of being part of such a losing entity, especially since they’ve managed to secure their own de facto independence without anyone’s help but their own, and are taking advantage of the situation to further secure their hold on the northern oil resources besides.

From the day after we arrived in Baghdad, almost twelve years ago, America’s policy of trying to re-establish a centralized government structure there was a series of “nation building” errors. First, by failing to start the process at the Provincial level rather than from the top down as we did. The second, by insisting on trying to reconcile Sunni-Shia sectarian divisions, which are even more insanely rigid as those between the Israelis and Palestinians. Lastly, by allowing domestic politics at home to over ride military common sense on the ground (by publicly announcing a specific withdrawal schedule, and then insisting on leaving only a token 3000 instead of what was actually necessary, just for the political purpose of being able to claim campaign promises of withdrawal had been met).

In short, a decade of misguide policy has brought us to this sorry state of affairs. American lives were squandered, and a couple of Trillion dollars were pissed away…all for nothing.

But this is not the time to argue about all of that. We have a narrow window of opportunity to salvage something from such a policy debacle, and it may not remain open for very long. Given the actual situation on the ground, and its day-to-day fluidity, if we’re going to try such a salvage effort we need to make a quick radical policy pivot about Iraq’s viability as a nation state. To be blunt about it…it hasn’t any. That being so, we then have to ask ourselves what part of it, if any, might still be worth such an effort, and the most likely candidate for that are the Kurds, who may be the only fail-safe option left to salvage something from a decade of misguided policy.

To that end let us ask the following questions about what such an option might require and achieve:

I-Q: Why would an immediate and serious effort on our part to resolve Turkish-Kurd contentions be more likely to succeed than trying to fix the Sunni-Shia conflict? A: 1) In the face of today’s situation both now have a stronger incentive to do so, for their mutual security. 2) Since they both have an existing economic relationship (oil) that provides a firm foundation for developing a stronger relationship. 3) Both reject Islamist extremism, seeing it as a threat to the stability of their respective societies. 4) Since Turkey and the US are already allies, if the US were part of a three-way association, both would be more ready to accommodate to the other, for their mutual advantage. 5) For the Kurds that would mean greater security, and, as part of a US-Turk alliance, strengthen the possibility of their achieving future formal recognition as a nation – state. 6) For the Turks, it would mean converting an inherent enemy into an ally, strengthening the cover of their southern flanks against either Iranian or Arab pressures, with the added benefit of maintaining access to secure oil supplies for themselves.

II-Q: Compared to other possible scenarios what would be the strategic gains for the US? A: 1) It creates a very strong counter to Iranian backed Islamist elements in the region. 2) Provides US with a potential secure strategic base in the region in the event of need, right up against Iran’s back door. 3) Provides stronger leverage for US diplomatic efforts in the region. 4) Creates a potential “hammer and anvil” capability from Israel and Turkey to further constrain terrorist activity in the region. 5) Diminishes Iran’s overall influence in the region.

III-Q: What would such an immediate policy shift cost the US? A: 1) Nothing up front in terms of military deployments. 2) Very little in terms of extra funding since both Turks and Kurds are viable largely self-sufficient economic entities. Only some specific USAID and MAAG project modifications would be needed, mostly for technological upgrading of command/control systems, along with some air asset upgrades for both.

IV-Q: How would such a US policy shift affect the rest of the region? A: 1) Iranian influence and leverage would be diminished. 2) Lebanese, Jordanian, Saudi, and Gulf states fears of US withdrawal would be assuaged, and bolster their own efforts against Iran and extremists activities. 4) It would boost Israel’s overall position, and further help induce it to resolve its issues with the Palestinians.

If we compare the potentialities of the above, even at this late remove, continuing to waste time on a failed effort…one we’ve worked on for slightly more than a decade…makes no sense. Some might even consider it a classic example of –insanity- defined as: making the same mistakes over and over again, while expecting different results.

There’s a lot of …could’ve…should’ve…in the present situation, but we have a narrow window of opportunity…to salvage something from this policy debacle…so we should waste no time by immediately launching a multi-track diplomatic and military push to do so.

Among other things, besides such a shift with Iraq, we should cut into ISIS’s tail in Syria as well, by doing what we should have done three years ago…just as we did in Iraq before and later in Libya…by establishing no-fly/no fire zones against both the Assad regime and the ISIS as shown in the attached graphic. Starting from the Mediterranean just west of Aleppo, it would be a 25Km widea zone in which no air or heavy military assets would be permitted to approach or cross. It would extend to the juncture of the Jordanian border with Saudi and Iraq, then continue up along the lengths of the Syrian-Iraq border. East of it in Syria that would provide the Free Syrian opposition, and millions of Syrian refugees, a safe haven in which to consolidate and organize into a viable alternative entity ready to replace the Assad regime when it eventually collapses. It would also help them neutralize or eliminate extremist jihadi elements within their territory besides.

Meanwhile, that would also cut off the Syrian “tail” of the ISIS in Iraq from its back up and logistical support there, effectively containing its forces in the mostly desert areas of the Anwar province, providing the Iraqi government a better chance to take counter measures against it.

Concurrently a strong diplomatic effort, mainly with Turkey, through the back channels of its military establishment, to rapidly reach accommodation with the Kurds, would help create the desired strategic position outlined above. The attached graphic further illustrates how that would end up. At the same time a collateral diplomatic campaign to gain support from the other regional interests there for such a shift in US policy would provide further support for it.

Such a double pronged approach is more likely to accomplish something positive for the entire region…than just deploying a few hundred “advisors” to help shore up a crumbling political structure we mistakenly designed a decade ago.