At the moment all the focus is on what George W. Bush is going to do about the mess he's made of Iraq. But the larger question, looming just over the near horizon, is what we're all going to do about the dark forces Bush's policies in the region have leashed. Middle East politics is not for the faint of heart and certainly not for the faint of mind. Bush can be now safely be counted a member of the ladder. The region is a minefield of historical Pandora's boxes filled with over a thousand years worth of gripes, complaints, insults, offenses- real and imagined â€“ and title reports written on stone, parchment, paper and computers â€” none of which agree with the others, but all of which claim ownership to the same pieces of blood-soaked sand.
Bush's reckless policies in Iraq kicked open dozens of those Pandora boxes releasing demons that will, over the years ahead, try to force their own long-stifled, but never forgotten, claims and agendas. And if you think Iraq is a mess, just wait. While things in Iraq have reached a high-boil, below are just some of the other pots now simmering on the back burners, working their own way towards full boil.
Oil: A senior Iranian officer warned just yesterday that if the West continues to threaten Iran's economy over its nuclear program, Tehran will discontinue the flow of oil via the Strait of Hormuz. Something just over 40% of the world's oil is transferred through those straits. Which explains why the Pentagon has just positioned two aircraft carriers supported by large carrier groups, just outside the straits. Okay. But Iran is armed with new state-of-the-art Russian â€œSunburnâ€ anti-ship missiles. These supersonic anti-ship missiles, one of which, the SS-N-22 Sunburn, have been called "the most lethal missile in the world today." The Sunburn has a talent that makes it particularly useful against carrier groups. It's on-board computer can distinguish between support ships and carriers, and can be programed to ignore decoys and other ships and make a bee-line to the take out the carrier. It only takes one Sunburn missile to sink an entire carrier. Imagine that! This is a set up for a Gulf of Tonkin â€” times 1000.
Nuclear Weapons: Bush attacked Iraq on the pretext it was developing nuclear weapons, but didn't lay a glove on North Korea which already had nukes and was building more. By so doing Bush taught Iran a valuable lesson: â€œHurry up!â€ And that's precisely what they're doing, and precisely why the Iranians refuse to pause their deadly R&D to talk about it. Iran figures that once it has an handful of nuclear weapons mounted on their new long-range missiles, no one, including Israel, would to dare take a swing at them. Then they'll talk â€” if they feel like it.
Finally, George W. accomplished what previous Iranian governments could not â€“ he got rid of Saddam's Sunni-dominated Iraq and replaced it with an Iran-friendly Shiite government. Over the next few months Iraq will slowly settle into an orbit around Iran. Which, ironically brings us full circle. Once under Iran's wing, Iraq will really have access to weapons of mass destruction - Iran's.
Over the weekend London papers reported that Israel has been training a special unit to attack Iran's underground nuclear facilities with nuclear-tipped bunker busting bombs. Because Israel understands that once Iran has nukes Israel's clout and deterrent value as the region's sole nuclear power would be weakened, even nullified. So the clock is ticking. Israel's intelligence service estimates Iran will have a functioning nuke sometime between now and early 2009 â€” and the Israelis are not likely to let that happen â€” without at least trying to stop it. And to stop would require the first use of nuclear weapons in over 60-years. The fall out â€“ physical and political â€“ from such an attack, while incalculable, can't be good.
As the US gives up on trying to bring Iraq's Sunnis into the political process, throwing US weight behind the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government, Syria will be watching. Syria is 74% Sunni, and will not stand by idly while Shiite's slaughter their Iraqi cousins. Nor will Syria allow it's eastern regions to become one giant Iraqi-Sunni refugee camp. Instead Syria will supply arms, money and fighters to Iraqi-Sunni insurgents.
This will not amuse Iran, which has had an unnatural marriage of convenience with Syria thanks to Lebanese tribal politics. Both Iran and Syria oppose Lebanon's current western-leaning government. Both would like to see it fall. But that's where the mutuality ends. Syria sees Lebanon the same way Iraq saw Kuwait â€“ as a historical hunk of Syria. On the other hand Iran sees Lebanon as the capstone of an emerging Shia crescent, extending east-northwest across the Middle East and controlled from Tehran.
To further it's goals Iran has been funding and arming Shiite-Hezbollah in Lebanon. And to further it's goal of destabilizing the current anti-Syrian government in Lebanon, Syria has been allowing Iran to use Syria as a trans-shipment point for money and arms to Hezbollah's fighters in Lebanon. Syria's hope is that Hezbollah will cause so much trouble in Lebanon that the Lebanese people will beg for Syrian troops to return order to the country. Iran hopes Hezbollah will simply take over Lebanon thereby adding it to Iran's charm bracelet, right next to it's newest trinket & find it hard to resist a well-financed campaign by disciplined, battle hardened Hezbollah fighters. And it's the prospect of just that, Iran's proxy army, Hezbollah, in control of Syrian territory, that makes Israel so unwilling to returning the Golan Heights to Syrian control. Israel isn't worried about being attacked by Assad's Syria, but by a Hezbollah/Iranian Syria â€” a Syria under the influence of nuclear-armed friends in Iran.
While all this mayhem is going on to their south, Iraqi Kurds will be busy too. First they will drive any remaining Sunnis and Shiites out of oil-rich Iraqi-Kurdistan. Then, with their own source of revenue from oil, the ambitious and competent Kurds will be on a roll. Iraqi-Kurdistan is already the only part of Iraq that's functioning like a normal society. Once Kurds get the Shiite bureaucrats in Baghdad out of their hair they will consolidate their hold, declare their independence and press the west for recognition â€“ which they probably will deserve, and would get.
But it won't end there. Turkey has been fighting with Kurdish PKK separatists for decades and an independent Kurdistan right next door will send the Turks into a mouth-foaming fit. Iran won't like it either. Because both Iran and Turkey have Kurds living in the regions that will boarder this new Kurdistan. And both Turkish and Iranian Kurds will begin demanding that their respective regions be allowed to join the new Kurdistan. This dynamic would produce a new marriage of convenience, this time between Turkey and Iran, both determined to destabilize new Kurdistan. The goal of the Turks would be to put an end, once and for all, to the Kurdish separatists, Iran's goal would be that plus the return northern oil fields to Iraq's new Shia owners. Of course the Kurds will not go quietly â€“ not the Kurds in new Kurdistan, nor the Kurds in Turkey or Iran. Turkey's actions will further threaten that country's bid to join the EU, providing fuel for Turkey's own Islamic militant movement.
The Saudis are Sunnis â€“ Wahhabi-Sunnis. (You could say that Wahhabi Muslims are Muslims in the same way LDS Mormons are Christians.) The Saudis are very worried by Iran's plans for a Shia crescent surrounding and isolating them. Therefore, any where that Shia/Sunni conflicts break out around them, the super-rich Saudis will become financiers of Sunni resistance and terror. That in turn will make Saudi Arabia's oil facilities target No. 1 for Shia fighters. That in turn would put the west's supplies of Saudi oil at risk. Should major disruptions occur â€” and with that much trouble going on around them it's hard to imagine they won't be â€” the US and NATO would have to step in to protect Saudi pumping, pipeline, storage, refining and port facilities. Of course the introduction of "Crusader" troops on Saudi terroritory, home to Mecca, would only further infuriate and mobilize fundamentalist Muslims.
Egypt & Jordan:
The only other Arab nations in the region besides Lebanon that want to be part of the 21st, rather than the 12th, century, will find themselves right in the middle of the Shiite/Sunni crossfire. The Muslim Brotherhood - Egypt's version of Hezbollah â€” is already making trouble. And the relatively enlightened leader of Jordan, King Abullah, willl find himself under attack from those in the region that see him as an America/Israeli patsy. Any serious destablization of either Egypt or Jordan would serve only to put already edgy Israelies more on so. And and edgy Israeli is a dangerous Israeli.
The only net winners in all this, besides of course the Iranians, may be the Palestinians. With so much real trouble brewing all around them, Israelis would likely be forced to release their grip on the Palestinians and most of the West Bank. They would have to do so first to free up military resources to confront the real threats around them. And second, in the hopes that giving the Palestinians most of what want they will reduce Arab resistance to Israel and undermine Hamas. Finally, getting the Palestinian issue behind them would, Israel would hope, gain them support from European nations and, more importantly, military alliances.
As all hell breaks loose throughout the Middle East, Europe's Muslim refugees will surge. These refugees will flee to Europe in search of safe refuge, not in for â€œfreedom,â€ or because of a thirst for western-style â€œdemocracy.â€ Muslim refugees will arrive in Paris, London, Brussels and Berlin with all the tribal baggage and religious self-righteous nonsense that fueled the violence back home. This will spark the same kind of debate in Europe about border security and immigration reform as we are having here in the US â€” only with much greater urgency and passion. That will spark street riots throughout Western Europe as Muslim immigrants demand Europeans change their laws to respect Islamic religious doctrine and â€œrights.â€ When non-Muslim Europeans say no, conditions will be perfect for jihadist organizers, resulting in the same kind of terrorism in European cities that drove the refugees from their own countries in the first place. (One thing you can always predict about religious fundamentalists, and that's that they always crap in their own mess kits eventually.)
Bush will try his surge idea, and it might even meet one of the goals â€“ to bring some degree of law and order to Baghdad. This is what I call the â€œFantasy Island Strategy.â€ If successful Baghdad will become like Kabul in Afghanistan, an island of relative peace surrounded by boiling seas of violence. The calm in Baghdad would create a face-saving pretext for US withdrawal. That would leave Iraq firmly in the hands of Iran-supported Shiites. And, unlike US forces, the Shiites will have no qualms about doing what ever it takes to â€œpacifyâ€ Sunni insurgents.
Meanwhile, back in the USA, even the interest-only payments due on the half a trillion dollars Bush borrowed to fight the war in Iraq will begin pinching domestic spending. And the cost of the war won't end there. It's estimated the cost of caring from veterans seriously wounded Iraq War veterans for the rest of their maimed lives, will run the ultimate tab well past a trillion dollars.
That bill will come due at the very moment millions of Baby Boomers â€“ this one included â€” retire and show up at the Social Security to collect what's due them. There are 78 million Boomers, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, making up more than 25 percent of the population. An estimated 7,918 Boomers will turn 62 each day in 2008 â€“ or 330 an hour. The SS trust fund balance will peak in 2009 and then begin to drop precipitously. By 2014 it will have declined by $60 billion â€” more than half its peak value. A few years later the system will begin paying out more than it takes in.
This, at a time when GW Bush doubled the national debt, for about $4 trillion to over $8 trillion by slashing taxes and starting a couple of wars on the financed with IOUs. Inflation, stagflation and devaluation of the dollar will whack Americans upside the head at some point when those IOUs come home to roost. (Devaluaton has already begun.)
I only mention all this because everyone seems to be talking about how Iraq will be George W. Bush's legacy, and that's just plain wrong. Iraq will be part of George W. Bush's legacy, but only part. The rest of his legacy will play out in the years and decades after Bush leaves office. Because, when he invaded Iraq he didn't free the Iraqi people, as he likes to now claim. He freed a thousand years of ethnic/religious/tribal demons. And while these demons may not be the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, it'll sure feel like they are.