“Just as all neighbors need to respect Iraq’s territorial integrity, Iraq’s neighbors have a vital interest in insuring that Iraq does not descent into civil war or become a safe haven for terrorists”; so said the President in addressing the situation in Iraq. The President, seemingly incapable of learning the lessons of the region, should realize by now that well-crafted rhetoric does not move the geopolitical or regional self-interest of the players in the region.
The President has, once again, demonstrated that he either misunderstands or is ignoring the prevailing self-interests in the region.
Saudi Arabia along with Qatar and Kuwait has been flowing financial support to ISIS in an effort to topple Bashar Assad. The Saudis were also upset with our non-intervention in Syria as their military surrogate-in- chief failed to perform to their wishes. ISIS, on the other hand published their plans and goals related to Iraq. Saudi “vital interests” have nothing to do with a stabilized Iraq governed by a Shia majority, on their border. They also, rightly, fear expanding Iranian influence in Iraq. There is no case to be made that Saudi “vital interests” have anything to do with a stable Iraq. Saudi self-interest has everything to so with ascendant Sunni influence in the region, especially in Iraq. American has, in most cases, convinced the Saudis to fill the gap when oil supply disruption is on the horizon; that as well may not be in the Saudi self-interest this time around.
The Kurds have been a nation within a nation for years. Their “vital interest” is the establishment of a Kurdish state in Northern Iraq. The Kurds will eventually look to U.S. for payback related to that goal, payback for long standing good relations with the U.S., at least in a relative sense and within the context of Byzantine Middle East politics.
Egypt has evacuated 900 from Iraq but has had little to say about developments there other than support for Iraqi territorial integrity and sectarian unity. It appears Egypt’s “vital interest” is little more than getting out of Dodge. The Arab League essentially mirrored the Egyptian position.
Kuwait, a supporter of ISIS no doubt lives in fear that Iran will establish hegemony over Southern Iraq resulting in Kuwait being essentially encircled by Iran.
Lebanon, under the boot of Hiz’bAllah sees an ISIS victory in Syria/Iraq as the precursor to a tsunami of Sunni dominance. Well aware of ISIS violence against religious minorities in Syria, Lebanon is caught between the recent history of Syrian political control and the violence of ISIS.
Jordan is already in crisis with thousands of Syrian refugees, a weak hold on power by the Hashemite ruling family, and gathering threats on the border. Jordan realizes that Sunni domination of Western Iraq will potentially spell a death knell for the Royal Family and their control of Jordan. Jordan, to radicalized Sunnis, represents a critical piece of real estate as dominance of Jordan puts them on Israel’s border.
Israel’s interests are vital. Sunni dominance of Iraq and by extension Jordan opens a variety of potential fronts for military action against Israel. Long rumored is the actuality of Israeli nuclear weapons policy; that in the event of being on the verge of being overrun by Arab armies the weapons would be deployed. ISIS control of Iraq and by extension Jordan could be the trigger point for the application of that policy; the ultimate complication.
Iran does have “vital interests” in Iraq, but they do not mirror many of the major players in the region. Southern Iraq is Shia as is Iran. Iran has long been a major presence in that region and should Iraq begin to deconstruct under pressure from ISIS Iran will likely move to establish a puppet Shia state in the region under Iranian influence. Oil is a critical factor as most Iraqi oil production comes from the Southern region as is the Iraqi deep water port facilities. The al-Maliki government has failed, in part, due to Iranian influence and the irony of its potential failure should not be lost in the discussion.
Despite the President’s contention on Thursday, Iraqi stability and territorial integrity is not in the “vital interests” of many of the major players; Saudi Arabia and Iran chief among them. Let us hope that America’s 300 does not repeat the fate of their famous predecessors.