« Political Strategy Notes | Main | Abramowitz: 'Enthusiasm Gap' Favoring GOP is Way-Overstated »

ShareThis

The invasion of Iraq overthrew Iran's most lethal enemy and replaced it with a regime that is now Iran's closest and most reliable ally. Depressingly, Mitt Romney has chosen the architects of this massive strategic fiasco as his principal advisors.

A recent profile of Colin Powell described his growing concern about Romney's disturbingly narrow range of foreign policy advisors. As the article noted:

Romney's team of about 40 foreign policy advisers includes many who hail from the neoconservative wing of the party...Many were enthusiastic supporters of the Iraq War, and many are proponents of a U.S. or Israeli attack on Iran.

This group includes a number of well-known Neo-con figures like John Bolton, Elliot Cohen and Robert Kagan but it also includes a variety of lesser-known individuals who were intimately connected with the botched planning and execution of the war in Iraq. As a Nation review of Romney's advisors noted:

Romney's team is notable for including Bush aides tarnished by the Iraq fiasco: Robert Joseph, the National Security Council official who inserted the infamous "sixteen words" in Bush's 2003 State of the Union message claiming that Iraq had tried to buy enriched uranium from Niger; Dan Senor, former spokesman for the hapless Coalition Provisional Authority under Paul Bremer in Iraq; and Eric Edelman, a top official at the Pentagon under Bush. "I can't name a single Romney foreign policy adviser who believes the Iraq War was a mistake," says the Cato Institute's Christopher Preble.

Given Romney's very narrow set of pro-invasion advisors, it becomes particularly important to review what the invasion of Iraq actually accomplished in strategic terms. Dan Froomkin, who wrote penetrating commentary about Iraq for the Washington Post during the period of the Iraq War, recently wrote a very useful review of that history and an overview of the situation today. He began his review as follows:

In the run-up to the war in Iraq, neoconservative hawks in and out of the Bush administration promised that the U.S. invasion would quickly transform that country into a strong ally, a model Arab democracy and a major oil producer that would lower world prices, even while paying for its own reconstruction.

"A new regime in Iraq would serve as a dramatic and inspiring example of freedom for other nations in the region," President George W. Bush told a crowd at the American Enterprise Institute in 2003, a few weeks before he launched the attack.

In fact, the Neo-con promises for what the invasion of Iraq would produce were actually even more flamboyantly manic and -- in retrospect -- patently delusional then even this summary suggests. The Neo-con's actually promised that the invasion would achieve two objectives of absolutely breathtaking scope.

First, the invasion would not only create a vibrant Jeffersonian democracy but also a capitalist paradise - a wide open free-enterprise economy that would provide an inspiration for the entire Arab world and also a fountain of profits for U.S. investors in the oil and other sectors of the deregulated and privatized economy. This profit potential was so vast that it would make the war essentially a "pay for itself" proposition. The new foreign investment law for Iraq was a mammoth document the size of a telephone book carefully drafted by a series of committees on K Street in downtown Washington to insure that not only U.S. oil companies but Pizza Huts, Wal-Mart's and Del Taco's could sprout like mushrooms across Iraq without any pesky interference from ungrateful locals. The interlocking planning committees that operated under Dick Cheney's direction spent more time figuring out how to cut France out of the imagined gold rush/bonanza that would emerge for U.S. investors in Iraq than how to restore electricity for the desperate residents of Bagdad after the "shock and awe" bombing inevitably collapsed the capitol's power grid.

Second, the invasion would provide the U.S. with a mammoth military base and staging area for projecting U.S. air power and mechanized ground forces anywhere in the Arab-Persian region. As Froomkin notes:

Neoconservatives with the Bush administration imagined that post-invasion Iraq would serve as a staging ground for American military power in the region. The U.S. built about a dozen huge air bases, at a cost of around $2.4 billion, complete with long landing strips, massive fortifications and all the comforts of home. They clearly meant to stay.

In fact, at the height of the U.S. presence in Iraq there were something like 40,000 tanks, APC's, trucks Humvees and other military vehicles that were intended to remain permanently in the country as well as massive, permanent barracks and facilities for over 100,000 troops. The Neo-con dream was for the giant U.S. air bases to establish massive air superiority over the entire region, so much so that the major military installations of every major Arab and Persian country would be only minutes away from a devastating air and cruise missile attack while at the same time also being vulnerable to powerful mechanized tank and infantry ground offensives modeled on the great "Hail Mary" desert attack unleashed by "stormin' Norman" Schwarzkopf in the first gulf war. This massive air and ground force, it was promised, would either intimidate every country in the region into accepting U.S. dominance and leadership or make possible rapid and absolutely decisive "surgical" strikes against the air force and main armored divisions of any country in the region.

The hyper-macho slogan widely circulated among the Neo-cons in the weeks before the invasion of Iraq summed up their grandiose ambitions quite clearly: "Everyone wants to occupy Bagdad; real men want to occupy Tehran." Iraq was ultimately just a staging area and stepping stone, Iran was the goal. Maps distributed in Neo-con seminars before the invasion showed the ultimate goal as U.S. military preeminence and control over a region that stretched from Syria and Jordan in the west all the way to Iran and Afghanistan's eastern border with China.

After noting this history, Froomkin then proceeds to summarize the situation today:

Ten bloody and grueling years later, Iraq is finally emerging from its ruins and establishing itself as a geopolitical player in the Middle East -- but not the way the Neo-cons envisioned. Though technically a democracy, Iraq's floundering government has degenerated into a tottering quasi-dictatorship...

Most disturbing to many American foreign policy experts, however, is Iraq's extremely close relationship with Iran. Today, the country that was formerly Iran's deadliest rival is now its strongest ally.

Froomkin quotes four disparate experts who, while noting some underlying frictions between the two countries, all agree with his deeply somber assessment.

• "The extent to which Iraq has become an active collaborator with Iran ... is really very striking." said Chas Freeman, a Middle East scholar and critic of the neoconservatives.

• "Iran is far better off today with Iraq than it ever was with Saddam -- there's no comparison." Gary Sick, senior research scholar at Columbia University's Middle East Institute.

• "You have a government [in Baghdad] whose worldview is generally aligned with that of Tehran," said Michael Eisenstadt, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

• "He's an Iranian agent," Saudi King Abdullah said of [Iraqi Premier Nouri al-] Maliki in a March 2009 conversation with U.S. officials documented in a cable obtained by Wikileaks. Maliki has "opened the door for Iranian influence in Iraq" since taking power, the king said.

Froomkin explains the history of how Iran gained the upper hand in Iraq:

The two countries share a long and sometimes tortured history. Their strongest bond comes from populations that are largely members of the Shia branch of Islam, rather than the Sunni branch, which is more common in the other Arab countries...But the two countries' ethnic divisions -- Iranians are Persian, while most Iraqis are Arab -- and their fierce nationalism were exploited by Saddam Hussein, a Sunni, who turned Iraq into a bulwark against Iran, even going so far as to launch an eight-year war against Iran in 1980 that cost the lives of as many as a million soldiers.

When the U.S. toppled Saddam and purged his party's loyalists from the government and the military, Iran stepped in, providing support for both the Shia leaders working with the U.S. to form a new government and for the Shia militias that were fighting against the U.S. during its occupation.

Iraq's current president, Nouri al-Maliki, is particularly dependent on Iran because of the political, religious and commercial influence it has exerted in his favor -- most recently in June, when Maliki's ruling coalition nearly fell apart yet again.

Froomkin then looks ahead:

Predicting what's next in Iraq is next to impossible. In virtually no scenario, however, do things turn out how the Neo-cons intended.

He notes three areas where Iraq is now actively working against U.S. interests - in regard to Iran and Syria and oil production.

In regard to Iran, Froomkin says:

The U.S. is leading an intense international effort to pressure Iran to rein in its nuclear program. In January, the European Union agreed to join the U.S. embargo on Iranian oil, which went into effect this month.

Rather than help the U.S. in these endeavors, however, Iraq is doing quite the opposite. Iraq has been critical of the U.S. sanctions against Iran, and some fear it will help its neighbor avoid the penalty's sting by ferrying goods across their shared border.

Regarding the civil war in Syria:

Another top Obama administration goal in the Middle East is to push Bashar al-Assad's oppressive regime out of Syria. "For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside," President Barack Obama said last August.

But again, Iraq is working at cross-purposes to the U.S., decrying efforts to oust Assad and letting Iran use its airspace to ship weapons to Assad's government. In fact, some Middle East scholars predict the rise of a Shiite Iran-Iraq-Syria axis, which could challenge Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Persian Gulf states for control of the region.

Finally, on oil production

Iraqi oil production is booming, at long last making it a major world supplier again. All that additional oil on the market is widely seen as being a blow to Iran, because it will help fill any shortfall caused by a boycott of Iranian oil. But short of limiting its own production, Iraq is backing Iran as much as it can in the oil area as well.

Historically, there has been a split in the oil producer group OPEC between price hawks like Venezuela and Algeria, who want to drive the cost of oil as high as possible, and Gulf states like Saudi Arabia, who want to keep prices moderate. At the most recent OPEC meeting, Iraq used its new clout to try to drive the prices up -- siding with Iran against the Saudis. It also backed a proposal that OPEC officially protest the new sanctions against Iran.

Both attempts failed, but some observers think Iraq could help Iran defy the sanctions in other ways. "It remains to be seen whether the U.S. has enough leverage in Iraq to prevent Iraq from serving as a conduit for Iran for oil,"

In short, quite apart from the vast humanitarian disaster the invasion produced for the people of Iraq and the unprecedented personal sacrifices that repeated deployments and extended tours of duty demanded of the genuinely sincere and profoundly dedicated men and women in America's armed forces, the net effect of the invasion has been to massively strengthen rather than weaken Iran -- the country that the Neo-cons themselves defined as their principle adversary.

It is, therefore, not simply ironic but profoundly bizarre that Romney - who has essentially embraced George W. Bush's deeply discredited economic policies as his own -- has now also chosen to employ Bush and Cheney's foreign policy team -- the architects of one of the greatest strategic military failures in American history.

It certainly raises the question of exactly what useful management lessons Romney is under the weirdly mistaken impression that he has learned from his years in business. If he was a Hollywood executive charged with starting a new movie studio right now he'd probably be going out and hiring the bozos who green lighted John Carter of Mars, the Green Hornet and the 2011 remake of Conan the Barbarian. After all, gosh darn it, those guys certainly do have unparalleled first-hand "experience" -- even if it does happen to be with producing catastrophically unsuccessful films.