Considering that Prime Minister Maliki bookends these warnings with praise for America’s intervention in Iraq, the target audience has to be the neoconservatives who are urging a Syrian intervention. Maliki is patting them on the back for getting Iraq right, but warns them against getting Syria wrong and defends Iraq’s current “ambiguous” policy toward Syria.
So there are paragraphs like these that make supporters of the Iraq War feel good.
Today, on the 10th anniversary of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the debate about whether it was worth it to topple the regime and the direction of the U.S.-Iraqi relationship is influenced by a pessimistic view that the United States has lost Iraq. Not true. Despite all the problems of the past decade, the overwhelming majority of Iraqis agree that we’re better off today than under Hussein’s brutal dictatorship.
Iraqis will remain grateful for the U.S. role and for the losses sustained by military and civilian personnel that contributed in ending Hussein’s rule.
But the overall message is that
1. Iraq is a friend of the United States
2. Iraq has a lot of oil
3. Iraq wants to maintain a friendly relationship with Sunni and Shiite countries so don’t go expecting it to take a stand against Syria or Iran.
4. Arming the Syrian rebels is dangerous, stupid and crazy
Maliki is obviously right on that last point, even if his religious affiliations make his bias in the matter rather obvious.
We have been mystified by what appears to be the widespread belief in the United States that any outcome in Syria that removes President Bashar al-Assad from power will be better than the status quo. A Syria controlled in whole or part by al-Qaeda and its affiliates — an outcome that grows more likely by the day — would be more dangerous to both our countries than anything we’ve seen up to now. Americans should remember that an unintended consequence of arming insurgents in Afghanistan to fight the Soviets was turning the country over to the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
That part is common sense, but American foreign policy experts rarely listen to common sense from Arab leaders. Witness the baffled unease with which the Goldberg interview with the King of Jordan was met. By now most of the experts understand that the Muslim Brotherhood means dark times for Egypt, but they still have trouble saying it out loud.
Maliki is saying the obvious thing out loud, which few American foreign policy experts will do, and he’s using his leverage as the prime minister of a country that loomed large in American foreign policy to do it in the pages of the Washington Post.
But Maliki is even easier to dismiss than the King of Jordan. The Iraqi PM is right about the danger of Islamist militias taking over Syria and the boost to Al Qaeda, but it would have been better if he had been more up front about his own agenda.
Maliki’s talk of a negotiated solution is the official party line of Syria. With growing Sunni and Shiite splitting the region, a Shiite dominated Iraq becomes more precarious. It’s not hard to envision a lot of the Salafists heading back into Iraq from Syria once the fighting is done. That was how the insurgency began. And if the Muslim Brotherhood takes Syria, then the combined leverage of Egypt and Syria will be enough to make them start thinking seriously about their Iraqi problem.
The issue here isn’t just stability, as Maliki suggests. There is a loose Shiite alliance that Maliki is part of. And certainly Maliki has no interest in the fall of Assad and the transformation of Syria into a Sunni dominated country. That would be truly bad for business and would be likely to touch off yet another phase of the civil war in Iraq.
Iran is a trickier question, but again Maliki has clear affinities there and in a polarized Middle East, Maliki needs Iran. Maliki emphasizes that Iraq is independent of Iran, but Iraq, like every other Muslim country in the region, is playing all sides for an advantage.