Across the Bay

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Kissinger on Obama's Iraq Policy

An extremely important piece by Henry Kissinger in the Washington Post today that you should definitely read.

[W]hile Iraq is being exorcised from our debate, its reality is bound to obtrude on our consciousness. The U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq will not alter the geostrategic importance of the country even as it alters that context.

Mesopotamia has been the strategic focal point of the region for millennia. Its resources affect countries far away. The dividing line between the Shiite and the Sunni worlds runs through its center -- indeed, through its capital. Iraq's Kurdish provinces rest uneasily between Turkey and Iran and indigenous adversaries within Iraq. It cannot be in the American interest to leave the region as a vacuum.
But Iraq has largely disappeared from policy debates in Washington. There are special envoys for every critical country in the region except Iraq, the country whose evolution will help determine how American relevance to the currents of the region will be judged. The Obama administration needs to find its voice to convey that Iraq continues to play a significant role in American strategy. Brief visits by high officials are useful as symbols. But of what? Operational continuity is needed in a strategic concept for a region over which the specter of Iran increasingly looms.
The outcome in Iraq will have profound consequences, above all, in Saudi Arabia, the key country in the Persian Gulf, as well as in the other Gulf states and in Lebanon, where Hezbollah, financed by Iran, is already a Shiite state within the state. The United States therefore has an important stake in a moderate evolution of Iraq's domestic and foreign policies.
America needs to remain an active diplomatic player. Its presence must be perceived to have some purpose beyond withdrawal. An expression of political commitment to the region is needed.

Michael Young wrote last year about Obama's problematic approach in Iraq and the perils of the perception of an American vacuum. I have also touched on it in one of my pieces on Iraq:

As the United States, through its ongoing withdrawal, creates the perception of a growing vacuum, regional states are stepping in to grab a piece of the Iraqi pie. The lack of public attention paid in the US to the statements quoted earlier, and their implications, affirms how far Iraq has dropped in the American national consciousness. This can only be to the detriment of America’s interests and to those of its Iraqi ally.