Tag Archives: iraq

Peter van Buren asks what the Middle East would look like if we hadn’t helped

Summary: Today Peter van Buren examines the madness that is the core of America’s foreign policy — our relationship to the Middle East. We have set the region afire, with consequences unknowable. Until we learn from our mistakes, we’ll continue to make them. Second of 2 posts today.

Destabilizing the Middle East

What If They Gave a War and Everyone Came?
What Could Possibly Go Wrong? (October 2015 Edition)

By Peter Van Buren
From TomDispatch, 22 October 2015
Reposted with their gracious permission

What if the U.S. had not invaded Iraq in 2003? How would things be different in the Middle East today? Was Iraq, in the words of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, the “worst foreign policy blunder” in American history? Let’s take a big-picture tour of the Middle East and try to answer those questions. But first, a request: after each paragraph that follows, could you make sure to add the question “What could possibly go wrong?”

Let the History Begin

In March 2003, when the Bush administration launched its invasion of Iraq, the region, though simmering as ever, looked like this: Libya was stable, ruled by the same strongman for 42 years; in Egypt, Hosni Mubarak had been in power since 1983; Syria had been run by the Assad family since 1971; Saddam Hussein had essentially been in charge of Iraq since 1969, formally becoming president in 1979; the Turks and Kurds had an uneasy but functional ceasefire; and Yemen was quiet enough, other than the terror attack on the USS Cole in 2000. Relations between the U.S. and most of these nations were so warm that Washington was routinely rendering “terrorists” to their dungeons for some outsourced torture.

Soon after March 2003, when U.S. troops invaded Iraq, neighboring Iran faced two American armies at the peak of their strength. To the east, the U.S. military had effectively destroyed the Taliban and significantly weakened al-Qaeda, both enemies of Iran, but had replaced them as an occupying force. To the west, Iran’s decades-old enemy, Saddam, was gone, but similarly replaced by another massive occupying force. From this position of weakness, Iran’s leaders, no doubt terrified that the Americans would pour across its borders, sought real diplomatic rapprochement with Washington for the first time since 1979. The Iranian efforts were rebuffed by the Bush administration.

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Stratfor looks at Iraq, the Center of a Regional Power Struggle

Summary: Nothing shows the magnitude of our failure in Iraq as its transformation from foe to friend of Iran. More than an ally, Iran has become powerful in Iraq’s internal politics. Neither Iraq’s rulers nor its neighbors are happy with this, and now they push back. Stratfor seems optimistic about their odds of success. Color me skeptical about this analysis. However, Stratfor’s greatest value is as a window into the values, assumptions, and thinking of US elites. This shows how little we’ve learned after 14 years of FAILs in Iraq.


Iraq, the Center of a Regional Power Struggle

Lead Analyst: Omar Lamrani
Stratfor, 18 September 2015


  • The Iraqi prime minister will continue to pursue reforms to loosen Iran’s grip on his country.
  • A growing number of regional rivals will seek to challenge Iran’s position as the dominant foreign influence in Iraq.
  • Iran’s powerful proxies and considerable clout in the Iraqi parliament will continue to cement its presence in Iraq for the foreseeable future.


Iraq, a historical crossroad between major empires to the east and west, is once again caught in the middle of a battle among regional powers looking to protect their own interests. Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, Iran has maintained its dominant foreign influence in Iraq, a status quo that was only reinforced after the withdrawal of U.S. troops in 2011.

Now, however, Iran’s standing may not be so assured. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has pushed through several reforms that have increasingly challenged Iran’s role in the country, creating an opening for other states in the region to make a play for greater leverage in Iraq. But Iran will not back down without a fight. Tehran will use every tool it has, including proxy forces, to guard its interests in Iraq.

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America created ISIS, and other clickbait!

Summary: We consume news in unprecedented amounts via the information superhighway, yet we know so little. Smart people have learned to convert hard news into clickbait (exciting fiction), which people we trust then disseminate (the same process spreads urban legends). It’s advertising revenue for them but clouded minds for us. Either we learn to click through to sort truth from exaggerations and misrepresentations — or we get stop reading sources that don’t deserve our trust (no matter how flattering to our ideology.Clickbait  {2nd of 2 posts today.}



  1. Exciting News!
  2. Real News
  3. Actual Intelligence
  4. For More Information
  5. 20th C Headlines written as Clickbait


(1)  Exciting News!

Secret Pentagon Report Reveals US ‘Created’ ISIS As A ‘Tool’ To Overthrow Syria’s President Assad” at Zero Hedge. Wow! Pulitzer Prize material of the sort to change your view of the world. Their stories are reposted at hundreds of websites, and seen by thousands or millions of people. It cites as a source a story only a fraction of readers will click through to see…

(2)  Real news

Pentagon report predicted West’s support for Islamist rebels would create ISIS
Anti-ISIS coalition knowingly sponsored violent extremists to ‘isolate’ Assad, rollback ‘Shia expansion’” by Nafeez Ahmed at Medium. After this opening it gets a bit exaggerated, but it’s journalism (not clickbait fiction). Opening…

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The Right urges us to blame Obama & directly fight ISIS. Will we repeat our mistakes?

Summary:  As ISIS (grandly calling itself the “Islamic State”) expands, the Right blames Obama and calls for more direct military involvement by America. Their arguments rely on our amnesia about the past and delusions about the nature of modern war. Learning from experience is a vital skill for a nation hoping to navigate the rapids of 21st C geopolitics; so far we refuse to even try.  (2nd of 2 posts today.)

“They have learned nothing, and forgotten nothing.”
— French naval officer Charles Louis Etienne in a 1796 letter to Mallet du Pan.

Let's make a choice!

Our grandchildren will marvel at the obtuseness of our foreign policy. Future generations of historians will discuss the causes of our inability to learn from experience in our post-9/11 wars. Not only do we appear determined to repeat painful mistakes, we continue to take advice from the people who guided us into these failed wars — ignoring the clear lessons of post-WWII history — rather the people whose warnings proved prophetic.

Can any nation, no matter how rich and power, survive such a combination of amnesia, blindness, and arrogance?

The fall of Ramadi was avoidable” by Kimberly Kagan and Frederick W. Kagan, op-ed in the Washington Post, 18 May 2015. She is president of the Institute for the Study of War. He is a Director at the American Enterprise Institute. Despite being consistently wrong, our wars have been good for them — although not so good for America, for our troops that fight them, and for the nations we seek to help.

Learning From Mistakes” by David Brooks, column in the New York Times, may 2015. Our wars promoted Brooks from neocon hack at the Weekly Standard to mainstream respectability at the NYT. Simon Maloy at Salon eviscerated Brooks’ “learning” in “David Brooks’ sickening Iraq apologia“. “How the New York Times hack just rewrote history. The conservative New York Times columnist explains what he’s learned from his Iraq war boosting: largely nothing.”

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Our escalation shows the key US military strategy: FAILure to learn.

Summary:  The year is only 7 weeks old and we’ve already taken several steps accelerating phase two of our mad Post-9/11 Wars. Our primary method is FAILure to Learn, repeating the tactics that didn’t work during the past 14 years. This will not end well for us. (2nd of 2 posts today}

US foreign policy

A bad idea. Please hit the PAUSE button on our wars.

US forces have begun fighting along side the Iraq army (Apache attack helicopters supporting the Iraq army). Special Operations forces have increased their tempo of operations in Afghanistan. We’ve dispatched a brigade of 4,000 to Iraq, with a vague explanation of its mission (more are warming up in the US to go). Obama’s submitted to Congress a vague Authorization for the Use of Military Force against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (AUMF, to fight the wars already under way).

This makes no sense. We conducted our first wave of wars — Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen — in direct violation of the two lessons of post-WWII history. Both are quite obvious.

  1. Foreigners (especially foreign infidels) almost never defeat local insurgents. Their presence undermines the legitimacy of the host government and arouses opposition in proportional to their activity (i.e., the more we do, the more they hate us).
  2. Large numbers of troops are needed to have even a small chance of winning (large numbers as a ratio to the local population opposing us). Details here.

Having proven our incompetence at 4GW, now we escalate to outright madness by repeating the same failed methods but on a smaller (and hence less likely to work) scale. It’s a FAILure to learn, a weakness no amount of power can counterbalance. Not at WWI levels (doubling down with failed tactics), but still inexcusable.

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Before we start a new war with ISIS, let’s remember how we stumbled into the last two

Summary: As we gear up for new wars in Syria and Africa, and rejoining old wars in Iraq, let’s a pause to think. Success will depend on learning from our failures since 9-11. Our greatest failures have been our initial failures: seeing the situation incorrectly and beginning before we have accurate information about our foe. The combination creates almost insurmountable barriers to success, barriers that we construct. We can do better.

Learn from mistakes


  1. Familiar bad news about our new wars
  2. Reminders from the past
  3. We’re winning! Like always.
  4. Let’s remember the great advice we need the most
  5. For More Information

(1)  Familiar bad news about our new wars

It’s become the one of the two standard themes for the starts of our wars: US intelligence tells us that we know little about our enemies. As Eli Lake explains in “ISIS Baffling U.S. Intelligence Agencies“, The Daily Beast, 14 August 2014 — “It’s been two months since ISIS took over Iraq’s second-largest city. But U.S. analysts are still trying to figure out how big the group is and the real identities of its leaders.” Excerpt:

The U.S. intelligence community is still trying to answer basic questions about the jihadists who tried to wipe out Iraq’s remaining Yazidis and who now threaten to overrun the capital of the country’s Kurdish provinces.

In a briefing for reporters Thursday, U.S. intelligence officials said the government is re-evaluating an estimate from early this year that said the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) had only 10,000 members. These officials also said intelligence analysts were still trying to determine the real names of many of the group’s leaders …

While many U.S. officials have warned publicly in the last year about the dangers posed by ISIS, the fact that the U.S. intelligence community lacks a consensus estimate on its size and the true identities of the group’s leadership may explain why President Obama over the weekend said the U.S. was caught off-guard by the ISIS advance into Kurdish territory.

{the usual fear-mongering follows, presented as analysis}

The second theme which marks the start of our wars: errors and outright lies about the wars. The sinking of the USS Maine and the Spanish-American War, the Tonkin Gulf Incident, Saddam’s WMDs and alliance with al Qaeda, and Afghanistan’s key role in 9-11. Let’s hope that what we are told about our enemies in this new phase of the Long War is more accurate than what we’ve been told so far.

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The nation responsible for the record high oil prices we pay is …

Summary:  Why are oil prices so high? After inflation they’re above 1980 record highs. Peak oil enthusiasts have explanations (usually wrong, like their forecasts). There are many factors at work, including one simple but hidden reason: American foreign policy. The USA has played a large role in the suppression of oil production in three major oil producers, including two nations with some of the world’s largest petroleum reserves — and having the greatest potential for increased production. Perhaps it’s a coincidence that we’ve intervened in three oil producing nations, and high oil prices are an accidental by-product of our good intentions.

America & Oil



  1. Iran
  2. Iraq
  3. Libya
  4. Another perspective
  5. For More Information

(1)  Iran

After a long history of interference in Iran’s government, we initiated an ever-tightening and broadening array of sanctions on Iran after the 1979 revolution — continuing until today. See a list here; Wikipedia has details on US sanctions and the UN sanctions the US promoted. For analysis see the Council on Foreign Relations and the US Institute of Peace (USIP).

For analysis of sanctions impact on Iran’s oil industry see this USIP report: part one and part two. They’re working. Iran produced 6 million barrels/day of oil in 1974.  In July their exports hit a five-month high of 600 thousand b/day.

Iran has vast untapped reserves. See the EIA’s report on Iran.  From the EIA:

Iran's oil production

EIA, 10 December 2013


(2)  Iraq

Following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, in August 1990 the UN imposed a broad array of financial and trade sanctions on Iraq, which lasted until the US invasion and subsequent destabilization of Iraq.

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