State of the Union address by President George W. Bush

Christopher Jones writes: I am passing along this comment (The Guardian, 2/3/05) by Sidney Blumenthal about GW Bush's State of the Union speech.  I agree with Blumenthal's take on the Iraq elections and the eventual failure of the Iraqi state and how this benefits Iran.   I have taken the liberty of injecting some comments and questions to spur on debate.

President Bush's state of the union address adds the element of euphoria to the utopianism of his inaugural speech. Coming between the two speeches, the Iraqi election has given him a significant event over which to drape his universal abstractions. Who would not want it to be true that the courageous people of Iraq, as one body, have defied bloodthirsty fanatics in order to establish a thriving democracy that will be a beacon to the rest of the Middle East, and that the glow from that fire will truly light the world?

The Iraqi election went more or less as anticipated. The Kurds voted in overwhelming numbers, and an exit poll reported they overwhelmingly endorsed independence.

CJ:  What will the Turkish government think of US policies if it leads, democratically to an independent Kurdistan?  And what will the Kurds do if the US, mindful of Turkish sensibilities, denies the Kurds independence that they have claimed through the election process?

The Shia, the majority suppressed throughout the history of Iraq, turned out in large numbers to celebrate their inevitable empowerment. The Sunnis, who have always ruled, for whom the election would ratify their minority status, and who were allotted no part in a new government, hardly voted at all. Most of the Sunnis are sympathetic to the insurgency. Yet all the parties campaigned on ending "the occupation", as even members of prime minister Allawi's cabinet call the coalition forces. Integrating the Sunnis has been made more difficult by a centrifugal election process.

CJ:  If the Allawi government is calling the US presence in Iraq an "occupation," and the Americans are building 14 bases in the country, it seems that "democratic" Iraq is on a collision course with the occupation forces.

The morning after, the Iraqi state received the nod of legitimacy from other governments, but it is no more capable than before of providing security or basic public services. It remains utterly dependent on "the occupation" for the indeterminate future. Nor is this democracy any more protective of liberal values. Just days before the election, Human Rights Watch reported that the Iraqi government engages in systematic torture of detainees.

CJ: The accusations of torture against the US and now the Iraqi provisional government have undermined any vestiges of sympathy the US may have had for the overthrow of Saddam, my prediction of the breakup of the country or the installation of Saddam II will come to pass.

The Shia victory was a quiet victory for Iran, whose leaders, unlike Bush, did not claim credit. The Iranian Shia government has invested more than $1bn in Iraqi Sha political parties, organisations and media. The Qods Force, the extra-territorial arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, has trained Shia militias, and its intelligence agents have honeycombed the Iraq government and Shia parties.

Before the election, King Abdullah of Jordan warned of a "Shia crescent" dominated by Iran, stretching through Iraq to southern Lebanon. Though Abdullah praised the balloting in Iraq, his anxiety about Iranian influence in Iraq is reflected by the governments of Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

The Iraqi election is the culmination of the long Iran-Iraq war that Iran has won without lifting a finger. Its neighbour has been replaced by a Shia ascendancy atop a weak state that cannot threaten it, but is subject to its influence in many ways. When the mist of elation lifts, the shadow of Iran looms.

CJ:  Now the nitty gritty question to Cameron Sawyer: what will Putin's reaction to a US invasion be?  Historically seen, a US presence in Iran would be a dagger pointed at Russia.  The Russians have always sought to control Iran in one form or another going back to the days of the Qajars.

The Bush policy consists of paralysis interrupted by fits of sabre-rattling. The responsibility to rein in Iran's development of nuclear weapons has been assumed by the UN and the EU. Led by Mohammed ElBaradei, head of the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency, the EU has negotiated Iran's agreement to inspection of its facilities and to freeze its production of fissionable material. For his good deed and for declaring before the Iraq war that there were no WMD there, the Bush administration has attempted to oust ElBaradei.

Despite their promise these negotiations are unlikely to succeed unless the US enters into them; for only the US can offer the big carrots: lifting the sanctions, recognition, and perhaps entry into the WTO. Iran has not been intimidated by the presence of 150,000 troops next door; that has not prevented it from suppressing its reform movement. Opening Iran to liberalisation, while containing its nuclear ambition, would appear to be an obvious win-win for the west.

But some in the administration want the negotiations to fail.

Vice president Cheney fantasises about an Israeli air strike on Iranian nuclear facilities. Seymour Hersh of the New Yorker reports that there are clandestine, special operations teams inside Iran trying to identify facilities that might be targets of US bombing. Two Republican senators, Rick Santorum and John Cornyn, have introduced a bill that would authorise the funding of Iranian exile groups and stipulate "regime change" as official US policy. Yet the US is overstretched militarily, and it cannot be conclusively known that all Iranian nuclear facilities would be eliminated by an Osirak-like strike. If attacked, Iran could create untold mischief within Iraq. But the dream world of ideology trumps the national interest. Thus, toward the Europeans' greatest diplomatic initiative, on the country whose fate is most closely linked with Iraq, Bush's policy, on the eve of his trip to Europe, is a vacuum.

Blinding bursts of triumphalism are characteristic of a march of folly, and they quicken its pace. True, just as paranoids have real enemies, the euphoric can experience a high from genuine events. But the insistence on euphoria, as those who grapple with reality know, is symptomatic of a disorder that can dangerously swing in mood.

Sidney Blumenthal is former senior adviser to President Clinton and author of The Clinton Wars

Ronald Hilton 2004


last updated: February 3, 2005