There are many worthy contenders, but the following, “Iran Occupies Iraq,” is what may be the dumbest Wall Street Journal editorial yet published on the Middle East. From The Wall Street Journal editorial board, with SLL responses in bold-face type:
While Washington focuses on Iran-U.S. nuclear talks, the Islamic Republic is making a major but little-noticed strategic advance. Iran’s forces are quietly occupying more of Iraq in a way that could soon make its neighbor a de facto Shiite satellite of Tehran.
That’s the larger import of the dominant role Iran and its Shiite militia proxies are playing in the military offensive to take back territory from the Islamic State, or ISIS. The first battle is over the Sunni-majority city of Tikrit, and while the Iraqi army is playing a role, the dominant forces are Shiite militias supplied and coordinated from Iran. This includes the Badr Brigades that U.S. troops fought so hard to put down in Baghdad during the 2007 surge.
The Shiite militias are being organized under a new Iraqi government office led by Abu Mahdi Mohandes, an Iraqi with close ties to Iran. Mr. Mohandes is working closely with the most powerful military official in Iran and Iraq—the Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guard Corps. Iran’s official news agency last week confirmed Western media reports that Gen. Soleimani is “supervising” the attack against Islamic State.
[Well how about that, Shiites are fighting Sunnis in the Middle East! Lest it escaped the notice of the WSJ’s editors, they’ve been doing so for over 1000 years. Here’s a fact of which they are apparently ignorant: in the Middle East, family, tribal, and religious loyalties trump loyalty to governments, domestic or foreign (US). The resolve of the US-trained Shiite Iraqi army that turned tail and ran when charged with defending Sunni cities from ISIS stiffened remarkably as ISIS moved south and threatened Shiite holy sites.
Maybe the WSJ should have thought about Iraq becoming “a de facto Shiite satellite of Tehran” before it endorsed the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. Back then, it certainly was not a Tehran satellite. Saddam Hussein had waged war against Iran, with US assistance, and his minority Sunni government had managed to put a lid, albeit a quite repressive one, on the seething tensions and cross currents of Iraqi politics and society. We got rid of him, and in the name of “democracy,” installed a Shiite-majority government that, surprise, surprise, treated the Sunni minority poorly and moved into Shiite Iran’s orbit.]
This is the same general who aided the insurgency against U.S. troops in Iraq. Quds Force operatives supplied the most advanced IEDs, which could penetrate armor and were the deadliest in Iraq. One former U.S. general who served in Iraq estimates that Iran was responsible for about one-third of U.S. casualties during the war, which would mean nearly 1,500 deaths
[Two things many Shiites and Sunni agree on: they don’t like each other, and they like US occupation even less. We discovered the antipathy characteristically directed towards armies of occupation in Vietnam, but it would have been downright un-American to learn anything from our mistakes. Thus, US military personnel found themselves on the receiving end of deadly IEDs from local Shiite insurgents, which they obtained from their coreligionists next door. Those 1,500 deaths were as predictable as they were tragic.]
Mr. Soleimani recently declared that Islamic State’s days in Iraq are “finished,” adding that Iran will lead the liberation of Tikrit, Mosul and then all of Anbar province. While this is a boast that seeks to diminish the role of other countries, especially the U.S., it reveals Iran’s ambitions and its desire to capitalize when Islamic State is pushed out of Anbar province.
[The WSJ editors don’t like ISIS and want them out of Syria and Iraq, but they are awfully picky about who is supposed to do that job. Below, they pick their fantasy ISIS elimination team.]
The irony is that critics long complained that the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 created a strategic opening for Iran. [We have indeed.] But the 2007 surge defeated the Shiite militias and helped Sunni tribal sheikhs oust al Qaeda from Anbar. U.S. forces provided a rough balancing while they stayed in Iraq through 2011 [Not stated, but certainly implied: that “rough balancing” could be maintained only as long as US troops stayed in Iraq.] But once they departed on President Obama’s orders, the Iraq government tilted again to Iran and against the Sunni minority.
[Two important points. The candidate who promised during the 2008 election to get the US out of Afghanistan and Iraq won the election; the candidate who has never met a foreign intervention or continuing occupation he didn’t like lost. Obama was keeping a campaign pledge that a majority of Americans, and virtually all of his supporters, believed should and would be kept. That’s how elections are supposed to work. While Obama was uncomfortable with maintaining a continuing US presence in Iraq, so too was the Iraqi government. Obama offered to keep troops in Iraq, but the Iraqi government nixed the deal because Obama insisted on immunity from Iraqi law for US military personnel, a usual precondition for the stationing of US troops.]
Iran’s military surge is now possible because of the vacuum created by the failure of the U.S. to deploy ground troops or rally a coalition of forces from surrounding Sunni states to fight Islamic State. With ISIS on the march last year, desperate Iraqis and even the Kurds turned to Iran and Gen. Soleimani for help. The U.S. air strikes have been crucial to pinning down Islamic State forces, but Iran is benefitting on the ground. The strategic implications of this Iranian advance are enormous. Iran already had political sway over most of Shiite southern Iraq. Its militias may now have the ability to control much of Sunni-dominated Anbar, especially if they use the chaos to kill moderate Sunnis [both of them]. Iran is essentially building an arc of dominance from Tehran through Baghdad and Damascus to Beirut on the Mediterranean. [And we can’t have that, because fundamentalist, repressive, terrorism-fomenting Iran would challenge our buddy: fundamentalist, repressive, terrorism-fomenting Saudi Arabia.]
This advance is all the more startling because it is occurring with tacit U.S. encouragement amid crunch time in the U.S.-Iran nuclear talks. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, competed last week with Gen. Soleimani’s anti-ISIS boasts by touting U.S. bombing. But this week he called Iran’s military “activities” against ISIS “a positive thing.” U.S. civilian officials are publicly mute or privately supportive of Iran. [There’s that pickiness again about who gets to defeat ISIS.]
While Islamic State must be destroyed, its replacement by an Iran-Shiite suzerainty won’t lead to stability. [Wait until you see what they think will lead to stability!] Iran’s desire to dominate the region flows from its tradition of Persian imperialism compounded by its post-1979 revolutionary zeal [The last great Persian empire was the Sasanian Empire, which fell in 651 AD after the Battle of Nihawānd. Just imagine those Persian hordes, storming the Middle East, with their blood-curdling battle cry: “Remember Nihawānd!”] This week it elected hardline cleric [Has there ever been a cleric in Iran who didn’t have the adjective “hardline” put in front of his name by the WSJ?] Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi to choose Iran’s next Supreme Leader.
The Sunni states in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Gulf are watching all of this [and doing next to nothing to stop Sunni ISIS that supposedly threatens them] and may conclude that a new U.S.-Iran condominium threatens their interests. [Those condo boards can be vicious!] They will assess a U.S.-Iran nuclear deal in this context, making them all the more likely to seek their own nuclear deterrent. They may also be inclined to stoke another anti-Shiite insurgency in Syria and western Iraq [The use of the word “another” implies that Bashar al-Assad and the Iraqi politicians who claim the Sunni states were behind the earlier insurgencies in Syria and Iraq are correct.]
All of this is one more consequence of America leading from behind. [Heaven forbid we don’t lead at all and just stay at home.] The best way to defeat Islamic State would be for the U.S. to assemble a coalition of Iraqis, Kurds and neighboring Sunni countries [i.e., the Sunni states in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Gulf who have heretofore been watching all this] led by U.S. special forces that minimized the role of Iran. Such a Sunni force would first roll back ISIS from Iraq and then take on ISIS and the Assad government in Syria. [So the Sunni nations who midwifed Sunni ISIS by stoking the anti-Shiite insurgencies in Syria and Iraq are now going to join a coalition against their coreligionist creation? Right. After, and only after, they defeat ISIS will they get to take out a Shiite government the US doesn’t like in Syria, but not a Shiite government the US does like in Iraq. Right. And there will be no blowback—because WSJ editors refuse to acknowledge that phenomenon—as the US-led coalition wages war across a broad swath of the Middle East. There will be no new terrorists, no new refugees joining the thousands that are already overwhelming Europe, especially Italy and Greece. Right. And Iranians will lay down their arms and go back to Iran, grateful that the US is taking out ISIS and they don’t have to, even if they are going to take out Shiite ally Bashar al-Assad afterwards. Right.] The latter goal in particular would meet Turkey’s test for participating, but the Obama Administration has refused lest it upset Iran. [Those damn Iranians just don’t understand the nobility of US government and WSJ editors’ intentions.]
The result is that an enemy of the U.S. with American blood on its hands is taking a giant step toward becoming the dominant power in the Middle East. [The US is supposed to be the dominant power in the Middle East, because, after all, it’s our region, not theirs. And when we insist on asserting our rightful claim, nobody is supposed to shoot back and get blood on their hands.]