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Bush Takes One More Gamble In The Mideast

File image of a Patriot ABM system in action.
by Pyotr Goncharov
UPI Outside View Commentator
Moscow (UPI) Feb 05, 2007
What if U.S. President George W. Bush's recently announced new strategy on Iraq proves to be not only a tactical election campaign trick but also a well thought-out operation to redress the situation and ensure a comfortable U.S. presence in the Middle East? The dispatch of two Marine battalions and five army brigades will not be a key point of this strategy.

After all, the addition of 21,500 troops to the 132,000-strong U.S. presence in Iraq will not make such a big difference. The new strategy will rest on the early deployment of one more aircraft-carrier assault group and the latest Patriot PAC-3 ABM system.

Nuclear submarines are not likely to be effective against Iraqi rebels, especially in cities or deserts. The new strategy is not all about Iraq. It is Washington's alternative to Iran's nuclear program and its claim to be the number one player in the Middle East.

As for Iraq, the U.S. president's new strategy may well become the only correct and comprehensive solution to the Iraqi problem if it is viewed in the context of American interests. There is no alternative to this plan, and this is the only chance to save what seems to be a desperately lost game after a chain of obvious blunders -- from the start of the war to Saddam Hussein's execution. Moreover, this plan is not limited to Iraq.

The new strategy continues to be based on force. But this no longer rules out dialogue between major groups in Iraq with the support of all its neighbors, including Syria and Iran. Quite the contrary, this dialogue is implied. It is hard to imagine that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has not consulted the United States, which claims to be a guarantor of stability in Iraq, before his trips to Tehran and Damascus. There is no doubt that Washington is playing both the Iranian and the Syrian cards but in line with different scenarios.

Finally, the new strategy includes proposals on changes in the constitution to involve all ethnic and religious groups in the political process in Iraq, and declares a course towards delegation of bigger powers to the Iraqis, non-interference in their domestic policy, and preservation of Iraq's territorial integrity.

Restoration of security in Iraq is an important new provision of the new strategy, particularly for the Gulf Arab nations. The strategy urges the Iraqi leaders to fight "sources of violence" regardless of their ethnic or religious origin. Up to now, the military effort was focused on Sunni armed formations -- the Shiite groups were not suppressed although they are not likely to be absolutely uninvolved in what is taking place in Iraq.

The United States is staking on force most probably because nobody will talk to a party which is yielding its positions. Isn't it easier to switch to the language of ultimatums?

The White House certainly remembers what happened after the dubious decision by the Soviet Union in November 1991 to deny assistance (supplies of kerosene, benzene, and other oil products) to the Najibullah regime in Afghanistan. In April 1992, more than three years after the Soviet troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, Najibullah was about to implement a program of national reconciliation, but had to cede power to the seven party alliance. This led to a civil war, and complete social and economic collapse of the country, the consequences of which are still there.

Similar events await Iraq if the United States leaves. Moreover, they will envelop Iraq instantly, and will be much more dangerous and far-reaching than in Afghanistan. Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey are bound to be involved.

Clearly, Gulf Arab countries and Egypt have approved Bush's plan for a reason. The new strategy contains many positive elements, especially, for the restoration of civil society in Iraq. At the same time, the announcement of the new strategy has escalated tensions in the Middle East, primarily around Iran.

Why is the Pentagon sending its new aircraft-carrier group to the Persian Gulf? Is the United States flexing its military muscle to tame disobedient Iran in addition to resolving the Iraqi issue? If so, the United States is pursuing an all-or-nothing policy of brinkmanship. Tehran may reply with adequate measures, like exercises in the Gulf area.

(Pyotr Goncharov is a political commentator for the RIA Novosti news agency. This article is reprinted by permission of RIA Novosti.)

(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

Source: United Press International

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