The “Boots” Camp and the Nixon Doctrine in Iraq

Posted by Cutler on September 07, 2007
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists, Unipolarists

Is there any point waiting for “something dramatic” to happen on the political front in Iraq?

Maybe there is no political front.  Maybe there is simply the security front–a blunt attempt to project US imperial military power into the heart of the Persian Gulf.

The old “Project for a New American Century” crowd associated with William Kristol and John McCain are the folks most clearly associated with the blunt attempt to project US military power.  And, to be sure, the entire “surge” is the brainchild of this crowd, especially the Kagan family–the brothers Frederick and Robert Kagan the women to whom they are married, Kimberly Kagan and Victoria Nulan.

These are also the figures whose “vision”–Iraq as merely one random example in the long list of adventures sponsored by the military industrial complex–provides the central focus of one of the early Iraq documentaries, “Why We Fight.”

For the “boots” crowd, victory in Iraq is all about the projection of US military power in the Middle East.  Germany and Japan are the models, not because the US embraced “nation building” and “democratization” but because there are still US boots on the ground in both countries.

This “boots on the ground” crowd, it must be noted, positioned themselves as dissidents and critics under the Rumsfeld regime.  They were eager for the invasion of Iraq and admired the “300 Spartans” that Rumsfeld sent to do the job but–as in the final scene of the movie “300”–they pressed for many thousands more.  “Yet they stare now across the plane at 10,000 Spartans commanding 30,000 free Greeks.”

In January 2007, former New Republic editor Peter Beinart speculated that war fatigue was leading the administration to abandon the ambitious “Bush Doctrine.”

And so the Bush Administration has begun cribbing from a very different doctrine: Richard Nixon’s. The Nixon Doctrine is the foreign policy equivalent of outsourcing… No longer would Americans man the front lines… In the Persian Gulf, we would build up Iran to check Soviet expansion. America would no longer be a global cop; it would be a global benefactor, quartermaster and coach–helping allies contain communism on their own.

Beinart is a card-carrying member of the “boots” crowd.  In 2005, he signed a Project for a New American Century letter demanding an expansion of US ground troops.

In his Time essay, Beinart warns:

[I]n the longer term, America will pay dearly for its inability to lead. The return of the Nixon Doctrine is one of the hidden costs of the war in Iraq…. [In the future] U.S. policymakers will be able to scan the globe anew, with more time and resources at their command. Then the U.S. can abandon the Nixon Doctrine once and for all.

If Beinart’s political loyalties are clear, his sketch of the timeline of Bush administration policy in Iraq is utterly confused.

The Bush administration went into Iraq cribbing from the Nixon Doctrine.  They went in “light” with only enough forces to be the “benefactor, quartermaster and coach” of a local political allies–the Iraqi Shia–who were to act as the proxy for US power.

Only with the January 2007 surge–as the Bush administration was retreating from the Cheney/Rumsfeld adaptation of the Nixon Doctrine–did the “boots” crowd come in from the cold.

If Beinart’s terms are correct, his timeline is inverted.

According to the “Goldilocks” scenario sketched by Frederick Kagan in his recent article, “The Gettysburg of This War,” the surge (and the “turn” in Anbar) doesn’t really require or imply any meaningful change in the political balance of power in Iraq.

If the Anbaris had thereupon asked for the creation of a local, autonomous or semi-autonomous security force that would be a de facto tribal militia, there would have been cause for concern about their intentions. But they did not….

The Anbari police will naturally stay in their areas, but they will not have the technical or tactical ability to project force outside of Anbar — they cannot become an effective Sunni “coup force.” Anbaris joining the Iraqi army, on the other hand, are joining a heavily Shia institution that they will not readily be able to seize control of and turn against the Shia government. In other words, the turn in Anbar is dramatically reducing the ability of the Anbaris to fight the Shia, and committing them ever more completely to the success of Iraq as a whole….

Anbar’s leaders are now more reasonable and probably more committed to the political success of Iraq than the Sunni parties in the Council of Representatives. Those parties were chosen at a time when most Iraqi Sunnis really did reject the notion of accepting a lesser role in Iraq, and many Sunni parliamentarians have continued to press for a maximalist version of Sunni aims….

The Maliki government is unquestionably twitchy about working with many of the Sunni grassroots movements, and with good reason. A lot of the new Sunni volunteers for the ISF were insurgents, and Iraq’s Shia, still traumatized by four years of Sunni attacks, are naturally nervous about taking former insurgents into their security forces…

The Sunni, of course, don’t trust the Maliki government any more than it trusts them, and herein lies a key point for American strategy. Right now, American forces are serving as the “honest broker,” the bridge between Sunni and Shia. Both sides trust us more or less, and are willing to work with us; neither trusts the other completely….

Young Anbaris, who feel defeated by the Americans and the Shia in their quest to regain control of Iraq, need a way to regain honor in Iraqi society… Joining the Iraqi army does accomplish that goal — it gives them an honored place not just in Anbari, but in Iraqi society….

Fear of Shia genocide has been a powerful force behind Sunni rejectionism. Local Sunni security forces help alleviate that fear. Fear of Sunni revanchism has been a strong motivation for Shia intransigence. Incorporating Sunni into the ISF mitigates that fear….

Kagan appears convinced that the “Anbar awakening” represents a retreat from the “maximalist version of Sunni aims,” including the “quest to regain control of Iraq.”

The “key point for American strategy” is that American forces can stay in Iraq–presumably at the invitation of Sunni and Shia–insofar as they serve as an “honest broker” and a bridge between Sunni and Shia.

Stripping the U.S. effort of the forces needed to continue this strategy, as some in Washington and elsewhere are demanding, will most likely destroy the progress already made and lay the groundwork for collapse in Iraq and the destabilization of the region.

As Kagan has written elsewhere, there is no middle way between withdrawal and ongoing military occupation.

Figures like Kagan and Beinart surely think of themselves as battling war fatigue within the general public.  Inside the administration, however, they may also still be battling ongoing commitments to the Nixon Doctrine.

There are still plenty of analysts who think that the “key point” for American strategy in Iraq is to “pick a winner” in the political outsourcing game.

A recent New York Times editorial asserted:

The problem is not Mr. Maliki’s narrow-mindedness or incompetence. He is the logical product of the system the United States created, one that deliberately empowered the long-persecuted Shiite majority and deliberately marginalized the long-dominant Sunni Arab minority.

For all the pressure on the Maliki government, are there any signs that indicate Vice President Cheney is unhappy with the deliberate decision to empower the Shiite majority?

Hardly.

And, for that matter, there are many analysts and partisans who reject Kagan’s depiction of Sunni compliance and who reject the wisdom of Shiite continuing rule in Iraq.

Juan Cole recently posted a commentary by Gerald Helman that appears to be at odds with Kagan’s notion of a Sunni retreat from “maximalist” demands.

[T]he Sunnis can offer the US to fight the radical al Qaeda types in their midst, a truce in their armed resistance to the US army, and undying opposition to the “Persians.” In exchange, they receive weapons, training and “reconstruction teams.” But it is the arms and training that count, to be used now against radical Islamist elements, but later to help recover the status and power they lost when Saddam was overthrown

“Bottom-up,” while suggesting something snappy and positive, instead will further confirm Shiite fear of Sunni purposes and reinforce the continuing suspicion that the Shiites will again be abandoned by the US. Wittingly or otherwise, the US reinforces that suspicion through active speculation on changing the leadership or even the nature of Iraq’s government.

Right Arabists like Anthony Zinni continue to complain about “democracy” in Iraq and regret the termination of the status quo in Iraq:

“Contrary to what our president said, containment did work leading up to this. We contained Saddam for over a decade, his military atrophied, he had no WMD, and we were doing it on the cheap,” [General Zinni] said….

For all the enthusiasm shown by Iraqis, [General Zinni] dismissed post-invasion elections as “purple finger” democracy that skipped the vital first steps of establishing a sound government structure, viable political parties and preparing the public for full democracy.

“It’s ridiculous. Our objective should have been reasonable representative government,” he said.

And there is still plenty of chatter that the “frustration” with Maliki will morph into an extra-parliamentary coup.

Liz Sly at the Chicago Tribune reports on new life within the old “Allawi coup” camp.

“There’s been a definite change in tone from Washington, and the momentum and drive to support Allawi will increase,” said Jaafar al-Taie, a political analyst involved in the new coalition’s campaign. “It’s not only that Maliki must go, but that the whole system must go.”

According to Allawi’s published program, the parliamentarians would not only appoint a new government but also suspend the new constitution, declare a state of emergency and make the restoration of security its priority….

Allawi signed a $300,000 contract with the Washington lobbying firm of Barbour, Griffiths and Rogers to represent his interests, according to a copy of the contract obtained by the Web site Iraqslogger.com and confirmed by Allawi on CNN. The head of the firm’s international relations department is Robert Blackwill, a longtime adviser to Bush who served as his special envoy to Iraq.

“Even when Bush tried to modify what he said, he did not go so far,” said Izzat Shabandar, a strategist with the Allawi bloc. “We know that Bush from inside would like to replace Maliki, but he did not say it clearly. He chose to say it in a diplomatic way”…

[T]he parliamentary math doesn’t add up in favor of the Allawi bloc….

“The Americans finally will support us because they don’t have another solution,” [Sunni politician, Saleh al-Mutlaq] said, sipping tea and chain-smoking in the coffee shop at one of Amman’s top hotels as a steady stream of Iraqi exiles and members of parliament wandered in and out. “If all these things don’t work out, it is the people who will make a coup. They will rise up, and there will be a coup all over Iraq.”

On the basis of his relations with Condoleezza Rice, Robert Blackwill pulled off the first major Right Arabist “coup” in the Bush administration when he took the helm of the so-called “Iraq Stabilization Group.”

His effort to install Allawi as the “benign autocrat” of Iraq faltered at the start of the second Bush term when the administration went ahead with a year of Shiite-dominated elections, over the objections of leading Right Arabists like Brent Scowcroft.

Can Blackwill’s latest lobbying campaign help deliver a coup that would “bring back the Baath“?

For the “boots” camp, the primary condition for any political reconciliation is a retreat from demands for US withdrawal.

But Right Zionists and Right Arabists faithful to the Nixon Doctrine are playing a different game: they are trying to identify a loyal ally that would allow the US to withdraw with honor–and a compliant imperial proxy.

The Right Arabists have always sought reconciliation with the old imperial proxy: the Sunni minority.

There was some cynical strategic logic to the imperial utilization of a minority population.

That logic led the Belgians, for example, to rely on the minority Tutsi population to govern Rwanda.  Gerard Prunier explains:

[T]he Belgians considered the [majority] Hutus to be more inferior… It was plainly a rationalization for being stingy, because by using the Tutsi, you spent less on local administration, that was all. It was easier to use them when they were locals, you didn’t pay them as much as whites and they would do the job. And since they were caught between you as a white administrator and their local chattel, they were at your beck and call.

Indeed, it is precisely the absence of such a dynamic in the context of Shiite majority rule in Iraq that leads astute observers like Gilbert Achcar to predict that the liberation of Shiite political power in Iraq would ultimately represent “one of the most important blunders ever committed by an administration abroad from the standpoint of U.S. imperial interests.”

Be that as it may, one might ask whether at the regional level in the Middle East the Shia of Islam and the Persians of Iran do not represent a relatively marginalized minority within the context of Sunni Arab hegemony.

Zionists like David Ben-Gurion used to call this the “Doctrine of the Periphery.”

I couldn’t begin to comment on the imperial, strategic viability of that Doctrine from the standpoint of U.S. imperial interests.

I do continue to wonder, however, at the role of Grand Ayatollah Sistani and his ally, Oil Minister Hussain Shahristani.

Are these guys Persian?

Or Tutsi?

1 Comment to The “Boots” Camp and the Nixon Doctrine in Iraq

  • Excellent overview. Would you agree that the Anbar project might also signal, or presuppose another big shift in policy – that of accepting and moving forward toward radical federalism or partition? If so the Maliki government has been an unwitting accomplist, what with running all potential allies from his government, and “threatening to install technocrats!?” – diminishing the centralized state to skeleton status. And most reliant on the willing green zone neighbor, the one with the gigantic embassy, to oversee what little remains of federal duties – like distribution of oil revenues etc.
    Which might also explain why Bush has stuck by Maliki, making the long awaited coup superfluous.

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