Responding to a Fars News Agency report that Iraqi president Jalal Talabani has called Iran “Iraq’s Real Friend,” Michael Rubin writes “Whenever any Iraqi politician — Chalabi, Talabani, Maliki, Barzani, Muqtada al-Sadr or anyone else — hugs Iran, there’s a tendency in Washington to say ‘Aha! They were pro-Iranian all along.’ This is dead wrong. They’re all politicians and can waffle with the best of them”:
The real issue is that these politicians are barometers of power. Iraqi politicians are survivors, and they will align themselves with and accommodate power while fleeing weakness. No one will sacrifice himself to be pro-American if America is weak.
The question U.S. officials should ask themselves is: After expending so much blood and treasure, is it really noble to abandon influence, or should we recalibrate policy to surge influence? The hostility of the Obama administration to power and influence is sadly a tragedy upon which historians will comment.
First, I think it’s more accurate to say that politicians waffle, politicians are barometers of power, and politicians are survivors who will align themselves with and accommodate power while fleeing weakness. There’s nothing uniquely Iraqi about this, and I wish writers would avoid engaging in this sort of casual Orientalism.
Second, the idea that the Obama administration, through its neglect, is squandering Bush’s “success” and abandoning Iraq to Iranian influence is a current favorite of the neocons, who are desperate to distract people from the fact that their brilliant idea of invading Iraq and removing Iran’s greatest enemy gave a huge boost to Iranian influence in Iraq and elsewhere. The truth, of course, is that a significant number of Iraqi leaders have relationships with the Iranian regime and its Revolutionary Guards Corps going back to the early 1980’s.
While Iran’s relationships with various Iraqi players have waxed and waned over the past few years, the idea that Iraq’s politicians are only now reaching out to Iran is not worth treating remotely seriously. Indeed, my colleague Brian Katulis and I were warning about Iranian influence in Iraq back when the neocons were busy high-fiving each other over Iranian-supported Nuri al-Maliki’s Iranian-infiltrated army’s Iranian-negotiated victory over Muqtada al-Sadr’s Iranian-supplied militia.
Regarding Rubin’s suggestion that the Obama administration is “hostile to power and influence,” I actually think Michael is too smart to really believe this. But I guess he feels that when he’s writing in The Corner it’s necessary to pitch things at a certain level.
As for the real tragedy of the U.S.’s intervention in Iraq, my colleagues Peter Juul, Brian Katulis and I have just issued The Iraq War Ledger, a memo tabulating the costs and consequences of the war for U.S. national security. The numbers are grim.