Blogs: Paul Pillar

Saudi Arabia, Wellspring of Regional Instability

The New York Attack, Trump's Outbursts, and Misconceptions About Terrorism

Palestinian Reconciliation, in the Hands of Israel

Iraq and Iran, Sharing a Neighborhood

Paul Pillar

Amid these realities, it is jarring and inappropriate for the United States, in acting out its obsession with seeking confrontation with Iran, to lecture the Iraq government about how the Iranian-supported militias need, in the words of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, “to go home”.  It is not surprising that such preaching raised the dander of the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, which pointed out that the militias in question, although armed and trained in part by Iran, consist of Iraqis. Abadi further stated, in response to this U.S. effort to tell the Iraqis how to organize their internal security efforts, “No side has the right to intervene in Iraq’s affairs or decide what Iraqis should do.” 

Abadi later understandably expressed his frustration with the U.S. administration trying to make his country a playing board for Washington’s game of seeking confrontation with Iran.  Abadi said, “We would like to work with you, both of you [meaning the United States and Iran].  But please don’t bring your trouble inside Iraq.  You can sort it anywhere else.”

Iraqis are contemplating not only how the Iranian-backed militias have done much of the heavy lifting in defeating IS in Iraq.  They also can see most recently the constructive behind-the-scenes Iranian role in resolving the standoff with the Kurds over Kirkuk and nearby oilfields in a way that advanced the objective of Iraqi territorial integrity and sovereignty with minimal bloodshed.  Abadi’s own government can rightly claim most of the credit for this result, and the prime minister’s domestic political stock has risen as a result.  But to the extent any outside player played a positive role, that player was Iran.  The United States does not appear to have contributed to the outcome to any comparable degree.

Two basic reasons explain the U.S. obtuseness in failing to recognize and understand the regional geopolitical realities mentioned above.  One is the demonization of Iran and fixation on opposing it everywhere on everything, to the exclusion of attention given to the many other facets of security issues in the Middle East.

The other reason is the chronic difficulty that Americans, relatively secure behind two ocean moats, have had in understanding the security problems, and responses to those problems, of nations without similar geographic blessings.  This was the reason that, during the Cold War, “Finlandization” became a U.S. term of derision aimed at countries that deemed it advisable to observe certain policy limits in order to live peaceably as neighbors of the Soviet Union.  It is today a reason for failing to appreciate fully how Iraqis analyze what is necessary to live peaceably in their own neighborhood. 

Such understanding would come more easily to Americans if they had experienced wars with their North American neighbors that had been as bloody as the Iran-Iraq War.  And perhaps such understanding would come if today Iran were lecturing the Canadians and Mexicans about how to organize their internal security and about how they need to reduce U.S. influence. 

Image: Newly displaced people wait to receive food supplies at a processing center for displaced people in Qayyara, south of Mosul, Iraq, October 21, 2016.

Pages

Permanent Warfare as Normality

Paul Pillar

Amid these realities, it is jarring and inappropriate for the United States, in acting out its obsession with seeking confrontation with Iran, to lecture the Iraq government about how the Iranian-supported militias need, in the words of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, “to go home”.  It is not surprising that such preaching raised the dander of the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, which pointed out that the militias in question, although armed and trained in part by Iran, consist of Iraqis. Abadi further stated, in response to this U.S. effort to tell the Iraqis how to organize their internal security efforts, “No side has the right to intervene in Iraq’s affairs or decide what Iraqis should do.” 

Abadi later understandably expressed his frustration with the U.S. administration trying to make his country a playing board for Washington’s game of seeking confrontation with Iran.  Abadi said, “We would like to work with you, both of you [meaning the United States and Iran].  But please don’t bring your trouble inside Iraq.  You can sort it anywhere else.”

Iraqis are contemplating not only how the Iranian-backed militias have done much of the heavy lifting in defeating IS in Iraq.  They also can see most recently the constructive behind-the-scenes Iranian role in resolving the standoff with the Kurds over Kirkuk and nearby oilfields in a way that advanced the objective of Iraqi territorial integrity and sovereignty with minimal bloodshed.  Abadi’s own government can rightly claim most of the credit for this result, and the prime minister’s domestic political stock has risen as a result.  But to the extent any outside player played a positive role, that player was Iran.  The United States does not appear to have contributed to the outcome to any comparable degree.

Two basic reasons explain the U.S. obtuseness in failing to recognize and understand the regional geopolitical realities mentioned above.  One is the demonization of Iran and fixation on opposing it everywhere on everything, to the exclusion of attention given to the many other facets of security issues in the Middle East.

The other reason is the chronic difficulty that Americans, relatively secure behind two ocean moats, have had in understanding the security problems, and responses to those problems, of nations without similar geographic blessings.  This was the reason that, during the Cold War, “Finlandization” became a U.S. term of derision aimed at countries that deemed it advisable to observe certain policy limits in order to live peaceably as neighbors of the Soviet Union.  It is today a reason for failing to appreciate fully how Iraqis analyze what is necessary to live peaceably in their own neighborhood. 

Such understanding would come more easily to Americans if they had experienced wars with their North American neighbors that had been as bloody as the Iran-Iraq War.  And perhaps such understanding would come if today Iran were lecturing the Canadians and Mexicans about how to organize their internal security and about how they need to reduce U.S. influence. 

Image: Newly displaced people wait to receive food supplies at a processing center for displaced people in Qayyara, south of Mosul, Iraq, October 21, 2016.

Pages

Pages