The State Department is in a serious and weakened agency with the same Obama administration team players in charge of policy, so there is a continuing growing gap between the White House policy on Iran and where State should be. The events over the past 10 days are an ongoing devastating blow to the Kurds, and to the reputation of the United States.
The Kurds have been a faithful, unwavering ally since 1991-92 when we first arrived in Northern Iraq. They were instrumental in crafting the Iraqi constitution and getting it passed by the parliament in 2004. They are exercising their rights to self determination.
This referendum vote, to open a dialogue with Baghdad has been coming for almost two years. The State department ignored the issue until two days before the scheduled vote, when Bret McGurk released a statement saying the referendum was “ill advised and poorly timed”. Thats what passes for policy at State.
The President last week articulated the broad outline of the new Iranian policy. Yet the State department and coalition stood by and watched the Iranian Quds force leader, General Qassem Sulaymani, bribe the PUK leadership into abandoning their defensive positions and letting Shi’a militia, PMU’s, and Revolutionary Guard soldiers, operating American unarmed vehicles, M1 Abrams tanks, and MRAPS enter Kirkuk and take over the strategic positions around the city. The governor of Kirkuk is missing in action. Some 60 Peshmerga have been killed.
The senior Pesh commander from the PUK, who refused to abandon his post is missing in action. All while the USG stood by and watched, as yet another hostile government in Baghdad mounted a military operation against the Kurds. The exact same thing Saddam Hussein did during his reign of terror. The United States has lost over 5,000 dead, over 52,000 wounded to unseat Saddam Hussein only to allow a Shi’a government, controlled and directed by an Iranian General to take over the country.
Once again, in downtown Erbil, Sami Abdullah Rahman Park, is filled with Kurds, Kirkuk residents, sleeping on the ground, having fled their homes in Kirkuk to escape a military attack from Baghdad. This is exactly what went on under Saddam.
This is a day of shame, disgrace and betrayal. When is Secretary Tillerson going to take control of the State Department? This event was the perfect opportunity to put the White House new Iran policy to the test. How long will the State Department under it's new leadership remain missing in action.
Where do we go from here? The President’s new approach to the Iran policy is correct. We must reestablish the reputation and trust in the United States with our trusted allies, and engage politically, and with military and intelligence capacity to roll the Iranian influence and their Shi’a proxy militias and PMU’s back in Iraq and Syria. State should immediately engage, with new leadership and representatives, to assist and facilitate a dialogue between the Kurds and the Baghdad government. We must make an effort to understand the complex history of Iraq, and specifically the history of Kirkuk and the Kurds who lived there before Saddam took over the city and drove them out. The United States Government has some work to do, today, to recover from the events of the past 48 hours.
NSC and State are asleep at the wheel
1. State has no strategic vision, and their world view stangnant. State seems unaware that we are at a turning point in history. Decisions made 100 years ago (Sykes-Picot) are being proven untenable by demographic and ethnic imperatives. Dramatic change is inevitable, but rather than try to control or steer that change to protect our long term strategic interests, the ignorant, deep state technocrats who are controlling our policy are clinging to 20th century falacies like the notion of a unified Iraq and a strategic alliance with Turkey.
2. They cling to the naive notion that Iran can be persuaded to moderate its behavior, cease its inexorable drive to establish itself as the dominant power in the region, and join the community of civilized nations. State’s position is not grounded in reality.
3. The USG has a narrow window in which to control or at least steer the course of events in the region to protect our long term interests and those of our natural allies. In short, the events in Iraq are an opportunity to change the course of history. Our actions in theater are weakening the United States and the office of the President. Russia, Turkey and Iran are out maneuvering us on the field. The administration should expect a sudden move by Turkey to suspend US flight operations from Incerlik and Erdogon to follow that move by announcing Turkey intends to withdraw from NATO. The Iranians, led by General Qassem Sulaymani, the head of the Quds Force (labeled a terrorist organization by the State Department), is reported to be within 15 km of Erbil proper. Appeasement and hope is not a strategic policy.
Secretary Rex Tillerson, and the primary architect of the debacle that is our current Iraq policy, Brett McGurk, are currently in Riyadh visiting with the Saudis and also meeting PM Abadi discussing Iranian influence in Baghdad. This meeting may provide some political cover for Secretary Tillerson, (after all, he is doing something), but it will not erase the policy calamity the Department of State has handed The President of the United States, and our loyal Kurdish allies.
Few seem to appreciate this debacle rolled out shortly after the President clearly articulated his intention to begin to roll back Iranian influence in theater. Secretary Tillerson and Brett McGurk should fly to Erbil, and visit Sami Abdel Rahman park and get a first hand view of the implementation of their policy. Decisions made in cubicles in Foggy Bottom, look a bit different when you are standing on the ground among the people dealing with your decisions.
Armstrong Williams is Manager / Sole Owner of Howard Stirk Holdings I & II Broadcast Television Stations and the 2016 Multicultural Media Broadcast Owner of the year.