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Practices, Interventions and the ‘Inevitable Curse’

Practices, Interventions and the ‘Inevitable Curse’

Tuesday, 28 May, 2019 - 07:45
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper
Ahmed Chalabi was a brilliant politician whose thorny career sparked diverging opinions. But he was a brave man, who did not hesitate to name things. And he was not only the friend of the Americans in those days.

When the US Army started to uproot Saddam Hussein’s regime, Chalabi entered Iraqi territory on foot from Iran after an official farewell, which included a meeting with Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi and Al-Quds Force Commander General Qassem Soleimani.
Years later, remarks made to me by Shalabi continue to resound in my head. He said that the United States was never willing to intervene in Iraq and overthrow Saddam’s regime. “We have carried out a long and hard work in Congress in order to entice the Americans to intervene, trying to convince them that the survival of the Baath regime is a threat to their interests.”
He said that two events facilitated the intervention: Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and the September 11 attacks. He explicitly said that without American intervention, Iraq would have stayed under the rule of Saddam or one of his sons for decades to come.
Chalabi said Americans do not want to shed their sons’ blood and billions of dollars in the Middle East as long as their interests are secure. But this region - which sleeps on a great wealth of energy - is a meeting point for three continents and requires external intervention, because it sometimes gives rise to adventurous leaders who do not know the world and its balance of power, or to ideas that resemble time bombs.
He said he believes that Iranian officials are smarter than directly engaging in a war with the United States, because the latter is capable of returning Iran decades back if not more.

During a long evening in Baghdad, Chalabi told me that there are two issues that the West cannot tolerate - exposing energy sources and corridors to danger, and threatening Israel’s existence - Such threats ignite Western intervention in the region.
He noted that US-Iranian relations will not settle until the waning of the enthusiasm of an Iranian generation that believes in the spirit of confrontation with America to ensure the continued cohesion of the Iranian revolution; pointing out that Ahmadinejad and Qassem Soleimani belong to this generation, which sees the US presence in the region as an obstacle and a threat to the revolution.
There is no doubt that western political, security and military institutions include hawks that support hegemony and imposition of models and codes of conduct. But the West has institutions that discuss and study, and parliaments that monitor and practice accountability.
Simply put, could the West have sent hundreds of thousands of its soldiers to discipline Saddam’s army if it had not occupied Kuwait? Or was not the invasion of Kuwait a kind of call to intervene because the option to accept the Iraqi fait accompli in Kuwait was not expected or even conceivable?
Another point. US forces left Iraq with some disappointment. The goal of overthrowing Saddam has been achieved, but without reaching the most important objective of building a democratic, stable and pro-Western Iraq that strives for prosperity.

Moreover, the deployment of the US military in Iraq led to the spread of extremism and the birth of jihadist groups, and facilitated neighboring Iran to leak into the Iraqi fabric and its decision-making.
It was therefore believed that America would distance itself from the region and avoid military interventions. But the emergence of the ISIS leader from Mosul, the expansion of the organization into large swaths of Iraq and Syria and its brutal practices within and outside its “state” have left the US with no choice but to intervene to prevent the organization from growing and possessing a stable popular base through which its lone wolves would plot attacks across the world.
Chalabi did not consider the West a charitable organization. He did not think that the West would sacrifice its sons for a difficult surgery to transplant democracy in our region. But he believed that the Middle East was a birthplace of dangers and the cradle of old conflicts and chronic hatreds, so the world finds itself faced with the option of encircling these dangers or intervening in the hope of uprooting them. He gave the example of al-Qaeda attacks in New York.
Another point that is directly linked to the current situation: Would it have been easy for Donald Trump to withdraw from the nuclear deal with Iran if it had succeeded in curbing Tehran’s missile ambitions and regional goals?

Would it have been possible for the Trump administration to send its vessels to the Gulf if Iran did not repeat its threats to close the Strait of Hormuz and if the Houthis did not resort to harassment that would ultimately lead to threatening energy sources and corridors?
Talking about mutual doubts between Iran and the United States should never obscure the fact that Iran’s first problem is its policy that worries neighboring countries before distant states. Iran says it wants to live in peace with its neighbors. Its foreign minister declares that it proposes non-aggression treaties.

In the light of repeated practices, neighbors have the right to suspect that the purpose of these offers is to enable Iran to avoid confrontation with America and turn a blind eye to its actions through its small mobile armies.
Problems in the Middle East do not begin with external interventions. They begin with practices that call for and facilitate such interventions.

The solution starts with the decision to return to the maps, to comply with international law and norms in inter-state communication, and to refrain from violating borders with rockets or drones.
No country in the region has the right to impose its model and policies on others. Infiltrating into the maps of others and threatening stability and interests are the main cause for larger interventions.
The Middle East’s problem can only be resolved from within, by changing policies and adopting the option of coexistence, acceptance of differences and respect for interests.

Without such a solution, the region will remain a problem for itself and the world. A diplomat, who has long gained experience in the capitals of the region, once said: “It’s better for armies to stay away from this region. But the Middle East equals the world’s economy and stability. It is sometimes an inevitable curse.”

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