From the 5 Minute Forecast...
So… The “combat mission” is over in Iraq, the president declared last night. Just so there’s no confusion, that’s a separate thing from the “major combat operations” his predecessor declared were over in May 2003. Mission accomplished — again!
We’ve had “defining moments” like this before. Like the Paris Peace Accords that ended U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War in early 1973. Remember how that turned out a little over two years later?
We’re not saying this is how U.S. involvement in Iraq is going to end. The embassy in Baghdad is much bigger and better fortified. Still, the Iraq adventure has set in motion a series of events that could eventually end with oil north of $200 a barrel.
– Let’s review how we got to this point: Dick Cheney and friends figured on a quick war that would put an Iraqi exile buddy of theirs named Ahmed Chalabi in power. Chalabi was a successful banker educated at MIT and Chicago. If he couldn’t transform Iraq into a Jeffersonian democracy, at least he’d keep it in Washington’s corner.
Of course, ordinary Iraqis had their own ideas about who ought to run their country after Saddam Hussein. Since Shia Arabs make up about 60% of the population, we’ve since had a succession of Shia leaders. They have trouble getting along with each other, but the point here is that most of them are on friendly terms with Iran. Many lived in exile in Iran during the Saddam era.
And it turns out old Chalabi was funneling U.S. secrets to Iran himself. Thus, the supreme irony: A war started by U.S. leaders thoroughly hostile to Iran has empowered Iraqi leaders who are generally friendly with Iran.
Mission accomplished, for Iran.
For Washington, it’s a real pickle. Just yesterday in The Wall Street Journal, columnist Gerald Seib wrote that Obama’s policy in Iraq, Afghanistan and Israel-Palestine all aim to “clear the decks in order to concentrate more intensely on the paramount challenge posed by Iran and its Islamic extremist friends.”
– That’s what makes the news from Bahrain so interesting. Bahrain is an island state in the Persian Gulf, just 150 miles from Iran. It’s home to the U.S. 5th Fleet and Naval Forces Central Command.
It’s also home to a seething cauldron of Sunni-versus-Shia conflict — the ultimate dividing line in Islam, going back to the seventh century. The rulers are Sunni. The majority of the population is Shia. You can see how this might be a problem.
In recent weeks, the government’s been rounding up Shia opposition leaders. That could rile up the Shia majority. (The U.S. Embassy is advising Americans there to avoid parts of the capital city at certain times of the day.)
And it plays right into the hands of Shia Iran, which claimed Bahrain as its own territory as recently as 1970. “Politicians in Tehran still sometimes refer to the island as Iran's 14th province,” according to analyst Simon Henderson from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. (Remember how Saddam Hussein called Kuwait Iraq’s “19th province?” Just sayin’.)
The pot gets stirred up even more next month when Bahrain holds elections. Think about it: A ruling Sunni minority propped up in power by Washington, versus a Shia majority sympathetic to Iran.
– Bahrain could actually be a fourth flash point in the “new war” Byron King sees shaping up between Shia and Sunni across the Middle East — spurred on by an Iran seeking to restore its Persian imperial luster.
“No Empire forgets its past glory,” Byron explains. “The Iranians resent losing theirs… But now they see a chance to get it back. The nuclear bomb? Tehran's crackpot leaders don't want it just to scare Israel. They want it so they can throw a dark shadow over their Sunni Arab neighbors, too.”
This is the setup for a “new war” in a region that sits atop 66% of the world’s key energy reserves. That would send oil as high as $220 and gasoline toward $8. Byron sees this coming in as little as 12-18 months.