With Americans seeing Iraq as a serious crisis, comes this rather off-the-wall take on American interests in the Middle East by military and international relations expert Edward Luttwak. Luttwak’s view seems rather Machiavellian to me, but he does bring up some interesting points.
Indeed, provoking thought and discussion seems to be Luttwak’s specialty. It appears that he’s often regarded as a sort of respected crackpot. As a consultant, he’s paid for his views, maybe more for encouraging thinking outside of the box than for being right.
Luttwak’s thesis with regard to the current matter of Iraq is that President Bush has unwittingly reformed the entire Middle East, not the way he intended, but nonetheless in a way that is beneficial to American interests. Endless concourses of pols, commentators, and ‘experts’ are blathering nonstop that the U.S. should not be so arrogant as to think that it could ever resolve the deep-seated, centuries-old, tribalistic animosity between the Sunni and the Shia (a la the President’s plan).
But it is precisely this rift, according to Luttwak, that the President has accidentally leveraged to America’s advantage. For years the Sunni-Shia split was held in status quo. That status quo was bad for the U.S. because Arab Sunnis had little compulsion to work with the U.S. We did work with some Shiites in the region, but Iran and Iraq were our sworn enemies.
That all changed when the balance of power changed in Iraq. The majority Shia are in charge while the minority Sunnis that were used to being in charge aren’t any longer. That has upset the balance of power throughout the entire region. Now America has parties from both sides pandering for help against their opponents (even while other parties from both sides actively oppose the U.S.)
Mr. Luttwak sees the day coming quickly when the U.S. can simply sit back and manage the Sunni-Shia conflict in the region with a fraction of the troops we currently have in Iraq. Even if this view is accurate, it leaves me with an unsettled feeling. It seems rather diabolical. What about the quality of life for the people living there? Perhaps Luttwak’s Middle East isn’t any worse than the current situation.
Luttwak concludes on a somewhat more positive note, suggesting that we have finally achieved what we have been trying to accomplish in the Middle East for decades. He says, “What past imperial statesmen strove to achieve with much cunning and cynicism, the Bush administration has brought about accidentally. But the result is exactly the same.”
If Luttwak is right — and that’s a huge if — we will eventually have the troop draw downs for which many are clamoring (but not full withdrawal). But we will end up with a better situation than we have ever had in the Middle East. Part of me wants to believe it.