Amid the atrocities taking place in Iraq at the hands of jihadis operating as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), three opinions about the region have been vindicated:
1) Given the instability of the Middle East, perhaps Iraq was better off under the control of a despotic, secular strongman.
2) We really have no business meddling in the Middle East.
3) And we should never again take the Iraq War hawks seriously on anything.
Regarding point three, as the situation in Iraq deteriorates, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has been making his usual television rounds proving exactly how galactically incompetent he really is, especially on foreign policy. Why anyone would actually give him air time at this point is beyond me, but there he was Sunday morning in spite of the fact that he’s been wrong about Iraq from the beginning. But now, he’s more than just wrong, he’s not only contradicting himself, he’s also coming off as a Middle East dilettante, with a minimal grasp of the sectarian alliances and divisions that have fueled violence there since forever.
As if he dusted off the “mushroom cloud” script from 2002, Graham appeared on CNN’s State of the Union and said the following with a straight face somehow:
“This is another 9/11 in the making. The FBI director has warned us in Congress that Syria and Iraq present a direct threat to our homeland.”
I accept that we Americans are notorious for having frustratingly short memories, but I’m old enough to remember when this was part of the list of justifications for the invasion of Iraq in the first place: that Saddam Hussein was behind the 9/11 plot, and that he’d follow it up with weapons of mass destruction. If we didn’t invade and replace Saddam with a western-friendly government, more 9/11-style attacks were inevitable.
With Ground Zero still smoldering throughout the 2002 pitch for Iraq, it was a predictably effective strategy given the nearly unanimous popular and congressional support for invading (including, by the way, such names as Kerry, Biden and Rodham-Clinton). The pitch turned out to be, shall we say, inaccurate, and the execution of the war was badly botched. Sadly for thousands of American soldiers and many more Iraqi civilians, not to mention untold casualties yet to come, there’s no CTRL-Z in Iraq. The damage is done and more damage will surely continue into the foreseeable future, just as so many Middle East wonks had predicted from day one.
Lindsey Graham might fancy himself a Middle East expert, but his words betray his delusional self-image, exposing him as a twangy, out-of-his-depth buffoon (with apologies to buffoons). He continued:
“Get people on the ground that the Iraqis trust. Maliki must go. Get a new government in place, right, and hit Syria,” he said. “If you don’t deal with Syria in a coordinated fashion, maybe with Turkey, regional Sunni Arab states, you will have this happen all over again in Iraq.”
Yes, let’s absolutely go back in and orchestrate yet another regime change. Because it worked so well before. Nouri al-Maliki is as weak as Saddam was tough (granted, Maliki was handed a destabilized state to begin with), but we can’t keep preaching democracy in the Middle East while routinely replacing heads-of-state who we believe are either insufficiently strong or insufficiently friendly.
And then what? According to Graham, once we’re done rebuilding the Iraqi government, we’re supposed to attack Syria. Followed by what — regime change again? We should really question at this point whether Graham found his way into Maureen Dowd’s stash. Or perhaps he should be tested for brain parasites.
It gets even more bizarre.
As has been widely reported, we know that Iran, who is supposed to be an enemy of the U.S. and Israel, is on the ground in Iraq, supporting the Maliki government. Being deeply Shi’a, and being in league with Assad in Syria, Iran has a vested interest in putting down ISIS, which is composed of anti-Assad Sunni jihadis. Here’s what Graham had to say on CNN about Iran’s involvement:
“The Iranians can provide some assets to make sure Baghdad doesn’t fall. We need to coordinate with the Iranians.”
Yes, Graham urged the U.S. to sit down and talk with Iran. Let’s fire up the way-back machine and discover what Graham used to say about talking to Iran:
“We should tell the Iranians, no negotiations, stop enriching, open up the site on the bottom of the mountain, a secret site. Then we will talk about lifting sanctions.” May, 2012
“I think the time for talking is over. We should be demanding transparency and access to their nuclear program.” October, 2012
“There’s a pattern here: We talk, they enrich. It needs to stop. We need to have red lines coordinated with Israel and end this before it gets out of hand.” October, 2012
That loud snapping sound you heard Sunday morning was most of the Western world suffering from a mass simultaneous whiplash.
Back to Sunday morning:
“We should have discussions with Iran to make sure they don’t use this as an opportunity to seize control of parts of Iraq.”
So Graham’s plan is to work with Iran while it’s useful, but when it’s over, he and his buddy Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) will revert back to bomb, bomb, bomb Iran and bomb, bomb, bomb Iran’s ally, Syria.
Seriously, does he have any grasp as to why the United States is so hated in that region? We do this all the time. We form temporary alliances, we get what we want (sort of) and then we turn around betray our former allies. It happened in Afghanistan with the Mujahideen, it happened with Saddam following the Iran-Iraq War, and now Graham clearly wants to recycle the same old routine with Iran on a battlefield in Iraq. This time, his screwy little plan is to align with Iran in order to fix our colossal fuck-up in Iraq, and then to use Iraq as a staging ground to oust Iran’s ally Assad in Syria, which, by the way, could embolden an ISIS takeover in Damascus.
What could possibly go wrong?
We bugged out of Iraq in 2011 and now its future must be determined by the Iraqis. While, yes, it’s important to keep a sharp eye focused on Islamic jihad worldwide, engaging in Iraq again is absolutely out of the question.
Graham is illustrative of a form of megalomania wherein the U.S. has the ability to fix the Middle East, even though historical and current events prove otherwise. The record shows, old school diplomacy, politics and military solutions have only reaped short-term results if any at all, and in most cases, our mere presence has exacerbated bloodshed and inflamed anti-American, anti-Western resentments. Not unlike parts of Africa, the Middle East will require a lot time and considerable pain to overcome artificially-imposed boundaries and to resolve ages-old sectarian discord.
Butting-in every few years won’t change that. And the sooner Lindsey Graham butts-out, the better off our prospects will be.