Middle Eastern Potpourri

It has been a while since I have posted. Part of the reason is the one-week I spent as a cultural advisor with a U.S. marine detachment preparing to go to a Middle Eastern country.

The week was spent going the rough a number of scenarios beginning with arrival at the airport, then several days of training role players who were motley crew of Arabs, mostly Iraqis, but also North Africans and others. Many of the Iraqis were Kurds.

The marines did an excellent job as did the role players, reinforcing my view that Arabs are natural actors. On one occasion, two role players were instructed to get into a simulated fight, to watch how the marines responded to it.

The comic part was that the Arabs were so realistic that some range personnel(we were at a firing range) came running over to separate the two “fighters.”

I spent much of the time talking to the 27 role players about their personal stories. Many of the Iraqis had been translator-interpreters for U.S. units and came over on that special immigrant visa program.

Some of them were working on entry –type jobs, a few did role playing as their only employment, and a couple were students and one a professor. Some said that they had done role-playing at Ft.Bragg for Special Forces units.

From the Kurds I heard that Kurdistan would not stay in Iraq but go their separate way. The all claimed that the Kurdish war with the Turks was over and that Syrian Kurds would join the New Kurdistan.

Kurdish factions By Iraqi Kurdish Cartoonist Ali Al Mundalawi

Kurds vs. Arabs by Iraqi Kurdish Cartoonist Ali Al Mundalawi

They also claimed that the age old animosity between the Talabani and Barzani clans was over and that Kurdistan is now a “happy growing, soon to be independent country.” I have my doubts!

Everyone lamented the terrible security environment in Arab Iraq. All insisted it was not a sectarian war, but simply a result of “indifferent, corrupt politicians, who only care about their money, trips outside Iraq and personal power.”

The one Shi’a Arab I talked to was obviously unhappy with the way the Shi’a and their stories are ignored by academia and journalists. He came from a well-off family in Kerbala and was a surgeon in Iraq. Now he is a studying trying to become a doctor in the US. He lectured me on the Shi’a doctrine and again blamed the corrupt politicians but he also told me something that anyone who follows the Iraqi story should know, but apparently – at least among our academics and journalists – do not.

The problem the Shi’a dominated government in Iraq is having is that the Shi’a potential leadership was systematically eliminated by Saddam. They need time to grow new leaders.One point the Shi’a role player vehemently made was that Shi’a  Iraq is not a vassal of Iran.  That I have always believed but it does not seem to fit into the narrative of the Bush haters who want to maintain the belief that the invasion of Iraq and deposing Saddam was the “unnecessary war,” and created more problems that it solved.

The few roleplayers who would talk about it indicated their bafflement with the Obama policy toward the Middle East. Most were reticent to speak of politics at all, reflecting the embedded DNA of Iraq toward speaking out of turn during the Saddam era.

In the meantime in assessing the “Arab Spring” the obvious fact is that little has changed in the Arab world.

Assad is not only holding his own, but as I predicted some time ago, now has a strategy to win. The Islamist opposition   has alienated most of the Syrian population- those remaining in Syria- and no longer has the momentum.

The Islamist fighters, many of whom are foreigners, have obtained most of the loot they came to Syria to get, and achieved their red badge of courage to impress their local village girls when they return. Assad does not have the wherewithal to drive the Islamists out of Syria but he will own the part that matters. The Islamists will continue to roam freely in the barren eastern desert of Syria …at least until the Iraqi army gets strong enough to drive them out of Iraq.

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Meanwhile the John Kerry fantasy continues to play itself out with the Geneva Syrian peace talks scheduled to convene in January. Assad will continue to establish “facts on the ground” to go into the peace talks with the upper hand.

The Obama “peace at any price” administration will pat themselves on the back for the destruction of the Syrian chemical munitions – itself a bit doubtful – and our intrepid diplomats will ignore the fact that very few Syrians have been killed by chemicals. Actually, Assad got a great deal.

The chemicals were only an intimidation weapon against Israel anyway. Israel is not his primary enemy,  if it ever was!

Of course the “signature” Obama achievement, the interim nuclear deal with Iran, will played to the hilt by the administration and their supporting media machine.

Sanctions against Iran have been partially lifted; they will never be restored. Billions of dollars will now flow into Iranian government coffers.

Courtesy of Ash Sharq Awsat Newspaper

Courtesy of Saudi funded Ash Sharq Awsat Newspaper

Iranian leaders can continue to enrich uranium, build a weapons-grade plutonium reactor and freed from sanctions and any possibility of US action, the Iranians will be free to push into the Gulf and elsewhere in the world in fulfillment of their  historical imperial aims.

But certainly the most kerreysque plan to come out recently has been the suggestion that if Israel withdraws from parts of the West bank the US will send troops to keep the peace for ten years! ( admittedly this came from Palestinian sources but it is so Kerry!)

How truly stupid can this administration be? Is this some kind of international joke? Remember this thing called UNIFIL, which has been in Lebanon for ages! Mostly a collection of UN forces to keep the peace in southern Lebanon. Several wars have been fought through them and around them.

Horse reads in Arabic: Middle East. (Courtesy of Ash Sharq Awsat Newspaper)

Horse reads in Arabic: Middle East. (Courtesy of Saudi funded Ash Sharq Awsat Newspaper)

Unfortunately as Obama keeps stepping in it at every turn so does the prestige of this country. And we will assuredly pay for it in years to come.

My next blog entry will look at the forthcoming Iraqi elections and what they mean for us.

About Tex

Retired artillery colonel, many years in a number of positions in the Arab world. Graduate of the US Military Academy and the American University of Beirut. MA in Arab studies from the American University in Beirut along with 18 years as Middle East Seminar Director at the JFK Special Warfare Center and School, Served in Vietnam with 1st Inf Division, Assignments in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, plus service with Trucial Oman Scouts in the Persian Gulf. Traveled to every Arab country on the map including Iraq, Syria, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.
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