By Hugh Ash
THERE must be an awful lot of soap being used up in the White House and Whitehall, as ministers and their minions try to wash their hands of Iraq.
And I bet the label on each bar is stamped, ‘For ditherers only.’ If not, they should be.
Because the great brains of Western diplomacy haven’t a clue whether to stick, twist or chuck in their hand and allow violence to take its course in sorting out the latest Middle East imbroglio.
Various military acronyms rooted in WW2 slang – like FUBAR and SNAFU, whose meanings I won’t spell out for fear of upsetting those of a sensitive disposition – spring to mind as pertinent descriptions for the plight of those whose indecision may, or may not, be final.
And at the very top of the pile of confused, anguished hand-wringers is an American leader, whose default setting is to gaze at his navel, as if answers to the world’s ills miraculously lie within the lint of his belly button.
In 2008 Barack Obama was elected President on an anti-war ticket, echoing with slogans ranging from ‘Hope’ to ‘Yes We Can’, whatever that meant. The following year he was awarded the Nobel Peace prize, based not on deeds, but the same windy promises that shoehorned him into office.
Even the man himself was flabbergasted.
Over six years later his only achievements of note have been extricating his gung-ho predecessor, George W. Bush’s ‘Coalition of the Willing’ from Iraq and downsizing troops in Afghanistan, with the aim of every Crusader squaddie quitting by New Year.
But, given the daily evidence of mounting carnage afflicting both rudderless states, there’s little to embellish Obama’s legacy, except for taking Hillary Clinton’s advice and obliterating Osama bin Laden.
Meanwhile, even starry-eyed optimists recognise it’s only a matter of time before the untamed Taliban return to Kabul and fill the void created by the exit of NATO troops.
A similar spectre haunts Western policy-makers over the future of Iraq, where a sectarian civil war has erupted in all but name, as murderous Sunni fanatics of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, ISIS, mop up the oil-rich hinterland and threaten Shia-dominated Baghdad.
It’s futile to rake over old coals, as Tony Blair recently did in justifying the 2003 invasion/liberation of Iraq, because history is already writ large, though it was always perceived wisdom the country would be a powder-keg for decades.
That it has exploded so ghoulishly is largely due to the ineptitude and arrogance of Nouri al-Maliki, the Shia Prime Minister, who ethnically cleansed Iraq’s government, army and civil service of virtually any Sunni and Kurdish influence.
Even if the nation’s religious demographics gave Shias a 3-to-1 majority, the vision for a democratic, post-conflict Iraq was intended to be an inclusive one, with a modicum of power-sharing.
Now, stability exists only in far-north, autonomous Kurdistan, while the rest of the country seems damned to imitate next-door Syria and descend into a bloody, sectarian nightmare.
That the blinkered Maliki was stupid and overcome by megalomania is beyond doubt, despite having a democratic mandate.
But, as his paymaster and sponsor, Obama – for all his aversion to confrontation – should have had the wit to nip the shameless power-grab in the bud and read the riot act to the idiot of Baghdad much earlier.
Hence, now we see a battle-fatigued America being re-drawn into the conflict, after the President announced on Thursday 300 special force operatives would go to Iraq and ‘provide technical support’ to help overcome ISIS, after Maliki pleaded for US intervention.
Talk about déjà vu all over again!
Meanwhile, how much difference 300 specialists can make – and whether they are too little, too late – is debatable, as is Obama’s vague threat of force, ‘if intelligence recommended it’.
But, at least, he took a sideswipe at the Iraqi leader, underlining the error of his ways.
Nevertheless, it bode ill for the 44th President, who’s hardly put a foot right dealing with crises on foreign fields since his election.
He and his diplomatic corps at the State Department – situated in aptly-named Foggy Bottom – utterly misread the runes of the Arab Spring, ignominiously backtracked over the ‘red lines’ warning to Syria’s butcher, Assad, failed to arm-twist allies Israel into a one-sided peace deal with the deceitful Palestinians and contracted the ousting of Libya’s lunatic, Gaddifi, to France and the UK.
To add to his litany of follies, Obama has practically given Iran a free pass on its nuclear ambitions and allowed Vladimir Putin to run rings round him over Ukraine.
Rarely – if ever – has a US commander-in-chief commanded so little respect on the world stage, now a far more parlous place for his ineptitude and dithering.
The very real and present danger is that matters threaten to grow rapidly worse, because not only does ISIS make Al-Qaeda appear pussycats, their manifesto is to export terror worldwide, once they’ve established a Sharia caliphate across a swathe of Syria and Iraq.
The irony of all ironies is only one nation has sufficient military and diplomatic muscle to halt their charge and lift the West off the peg it’s impaled upon: Iran.
Through its religious ties, only it has the ears of Maliki and Assad, whose Alawite sect is a Shia offshoot.
However unedifying, the notion of Tehran’s terror-mongers and ‘The Great Satan’ of the United States finding common cause is increasing from possibility to probability, as back-channel chatter between the two is said to be buzzing.
The threat is not lost on Iran’s arch foe, Saudi Arabia, whose ambassador to Britain, Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf al-Saud, warned last week, ‘There must be no meddling in Iraq’s internal affairs, not by us or by the US, the UK or any other government.’
If a US-Iran axis does come to pass, though, any slender hope of Obama leaving a legacy of a peace-maker president will be forever tarnished.
No wonder they’re busy passing the soap in the White House and Whitehall.
To read more of Hugh Ash’s comments, follow his prize-winning online blog – Views From The Mallorca Pier – at hughash.wordpress.com