Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Ron Smith: Iraq deployment - second thoughts

In a blog I wrote mid-February (‘Fighting Islamist Extremism’), I argued that it was right for us to commit a small New Zealand training force to the war against ISIS.  There was continuing atrocity going on in ISIS-occupied Iraq and, as good international citizens (members of the Security Council, no less) we had an obligation to contribute to an international effort to resist what was, effectively, genocide.  I also spoke of a continuing obligation to traditional allies, although, even then, I expressed doubts about the commitment of some of the leading players.
Be that as it may, the fact is that the situation in the region has changed radically in the last six weeks.
  To begin with, Iran has now intervened in the fighting in Iraq (around Tikrit), in support of Iraqi regular and irregular (militia) forces.  This throws up a number of questions, particularly since there have been reports of substantial atrocity by the Iraqi/Iranian forces.

Of course, these are Shiite forces and the victims are Sunni ISIS and the unfortunate remaining Sunni inhabitants of Saddam Hussein’s home town.
   The United States has now also supported (through air operations) the same Iraqi effort to liberate Tikrit.  Are they (and we) now allies of Iran?  That would be hard to understand.  In my last blog (‘Iran – the end game’) I urged the importance of resisting Iran’s progress towards a nuclear weapon.  It would be bizarre to for us to find ourselves on the same side as them in a regional conflict.

That is the other major development over the last month.  Shiite insurgents in Yemen, supported by Iran, have now more or less taken over that state.  Certainly, they have evicted the American-backed President and caused US diplomatic and military staff to flee.  This has caused the major Sunni states in the region to unite to reverse these events.  Air attacks from Saudi Arabia have already taken place and there is talk of following this up with ground forces.  Indeed, there is some speculation about large-scale sectarian conflict across the Middle East.  Incidentally, it has also been reported, that the Saudis did not give the US a ‘heads-up’ about its intention to attack Yemen.  They did not ‘trust’ the Americans not to betray their plans to Iran.

Apart from their nuclear aspirations, we might also note that Iran is the major sponsor of terrorism in the Middle East.
  It supports Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza (supplying the rockets that were fired at Israel, a couple of years ago).  It also supplied materials and the financial support for tunnels on the Israeli border which are, even now, being built or rebuilt.  We surely do not want to be on their side.  If it comes to a generalised conflict in the region, it might be prudent to leave the parties to it.

I would make one exception to this.
  We might help the Kurds.  Here is a people who might have had their own state after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, following WW1, but were denied by powerful regional and European interests.   Since the rise of ISIS, they have done more than any other party to defend on the ground, ethnic minorities who have been faced with expulsion, or annihilation.  They are also fighting for their own survival. The trouble is that neither Iraq nor Iran (which has its own Kurdish population) would favour Kurdish independence.  This why the US-led coalition has not supplied modern arms to the Kurdish Peshmerga, despite the fact that the latter have been fighting their (ground) war for them.  They do not wish to offend, particularly Iraq, but in some cases (e.g. US), also Iran.  Of course, we are not in a position to act alone.

Given the considerable uncertainties about the direction of future conflict and the dubious loyalties of many of the parties in the Middle East, it is prudent now to withdraw our offer to train Iraqi forces.
  As far as the longer term security problem presented by ISIS is concerned, we can afford to wait until present trends play out.  Experts suggest that the ‘Caliphate’ could not survive a progressive loss of territory, such as might arise from a major regional war.  (See Graeme Wood, ‘What ISIS Really wants’, in the latest issue of The Atlantic.)  That particular problem might take care of itself.  Meanwhile, we might focus on making sure Iran does not get nuclear weapons.  Through our place on the Security Council, this is a matter in relation to which we do have some power to act.


Brian said...
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Second thoughts may be followed by third and fourth ones.
There is only one thing certain in Middle Eastern situations; and that is that there is no certainty.
If, and that is a big word, the West had acted at once with boots on the ground in Northern Syria and Iraq it might have pre-empted Iran. Well as per usual, the West is renowned for slowness, which to be fair, emanates from those rather naive citizens who constantly feel that only peaceable negotiations have any merit.
The general result from this is that when positive action is needed we get the wasteful expenditure initially of our military personnel...refer to the late 1930’s; World War 11 and other secondary conflicts since that event.
Just when will Western Politicians stop considering the extent of any military action might have on the next election? At the same time they might realise that their military knowledge is a good deal less than they envisage, and have the sense to take relevant strategic military advice from the professionals.
I agree with Dr Smith, the Western Nations since the advent of Iran into this conflict, we should allow the Sunni and Shiite factions to exhaust themselves in all out religious war, which if the past is anything to go by, will never be ended.
If by any strange chance one side or the other prevails, and poses a threat, then deal with it swiftly and positively; all the more so if nuclear weapons might be involved.
The old military adage coined in the American Civil War by General Nathan Bedford Forrest is as relevant today, as it was over 150 years ago.
The Art of War consists of being ‘THE FIRSTEST WITH THE MOSTEST”.

Dave said...
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Who to back, support, supply weapons to? Its a bit like choosing between Hitler or North Korea's beloved leader.
Only one thing is for sure most if not all unanimously hate the West, Christians and particularly Americans.
As much as our hearts go out to the victims and family's of the terrible atrocities being committed, one is left wondering if the boot was on the other foot would the same victims also given the opportunity also commit the same barbaric acts not only on the aggressors but also on any naive Westerner who stumbled into their path. Yes it is very hard to identify the 'good guys' and why should we bother helping at all to an ungrateful people who in the end will take the same guns and use them against us. Let them fight their crazy wars against each other then when we are threatened use our superior firepower to wipe the aggressors our quickly and firmly.

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