When David Frum counsels against a military intervention, that’s a pretty strong warning signal. Frum’s article arguing for caution in propping up the Iraqi government is one of the best assessments of the situation you’ll find anywhere.
Frum’s thesis is based on the realization that the government that emerged from our adventure in Iraq is at least as hostile to American interests as the one we fought to replace. We toppled a secular dictator deeply at odds with all of his neighbors in order to create a fundamentalist Shiite Islamic dictatorship closely aligned with Iran and Syria. Mission Accomplished.
That regime is now threatened by blowback from its deep involvement in Syria’s civil war. Before we decide on a response we have a decision to make. We must determine whether it makes any difference which variation of dictatorship emerges next in Iraq and to what extent we are willing to help the Iranians prop up their favorite client state.
Now, the most extreme and brutal of the anti-regime forces inside Syria has turned against Maliki. He is seeking American help, and Maliki’s patrons in Tehran appear content to see the United States rescue their client. According to some reports, the Iranians view U.S. aid to Maliki as a strategic partnership that could smooth the way to a nuclear deal more favorable to them.
Is this situation not utterly upside down? It’s Iran that has a vital interest in the survival of Maliki, not the United States. It’s Iran that should be entreating the U.S. for assistance to Maliki—and Iran that should be expected to pay the strategic price for whatever support Maliki gets.
That’s the gist of it, but Frum throws in the inevitable kink at the end. He mentions that there was one little-recognized bright spot that emerged from the catastrophe of the Iraq War. Among the proponents of an aggressive American global power , the Kurds are their third-favorite people on the planet.
The United States failed in its most ambitious objective: establishing a stable, Western-oriented government for all of Iraq. It did, however, succeed in establishing a stable, Western-oriented government in a part of Iraq: Kurdistan. Let’s focus resources instead on strengthening our relationship with that impressive enclave—and hope that as much as possible of Iraq’s oil wealth ends up under Kurdish control.
And in this case he’s right. When Iraq falls apart as it inevitably will soon, the Kurds will be prepared to emerge as a nation in their own right since they are already a functioning independent nation in fact. Pro-US, tolerant of Israel, and embracing a moderate Islam, if we carefully protect the Kurds’ ability to operate independently, instead of pouring resources into supporting the Maliki regime, we may actually be able to claim one victory from that mess.