I recently posted on the latest New York Review of Books piece by Rob Malley and Hussein Agha. Now many people will be very familiar with Rob Malley and his consistently piercing analysis, so I thought it would be worthwhile to better familiarize Prospects for Peace readers with Hussein Agha and, in particular, with another blistering piece he has just written on US troops in Iraq.
Hussein Agha's formal affiliation is an academic one, at St. Antony's College, Oxford. But he is better known as an informal adviser to, and confidante of, the Palestinian leadership, a track-II activist, and Arab world expert with a sharp mind and a wickedly playful way of expressing himself.
Here's an example of his keen intellect at work in a piece from last week's Guardian Online.
In "The last thing the Middle East's main players want is US troops to leave Iraq," Agha argues that while the street mood is against the US presence in Iraq, across the region states and political actors have learned to use the US presence to promote their own objectives and are keen to continue doing so. He goes on to list why each of the regional actors has an interest - clear if unstated - in keeping the US firmly stationed in Iraq. Iran and Syria, for instance, in addition to enjoying the spectacle of the quagmire, benefit from the perceived inability of the US to open another front and from having such available targets on their doorstep.
Saudi Arabian, Jordan, and Egypt are nervous about the radicalizing impact of the "moment of defeat" and hope the US will prevent an overly Iranian orientation of Shia Iraq, and/or the country's break-up.
As for the myriad of political and armed groups within Iraq:
It is not the moment for all-out confrontation. No group has the confidence or capacity decisively to confront rivals within its own community or across communal lines. Equally, no party is genuinely interested in a serious process of national reconciliation when they feel they can improve their position later on. A continued American presence is consistent with both concerns - it can keep clashes manageable and be used to postpone the need for serious political engagement.
And this on Al Qaida:
Al-Qaida and its affiliates arguably benefit most from the occupation. They established themselves, brought in recruits, sustained operations against the Americans and expanded. The last thing they want is for the Americans to leave and deny them targets and motivation for new members.
America comes out of this grim picture something of a sucker. Not pleasant reading, but food for thought.
... the Americans appear the least sure and most confused. With unattainable objectives, wobbly plans, changing tactics, shifting alliances and ever-increasing casualties, it is not clear any longer what they want or how they are going to achieve it. By setting themselves up to be manipulated, they give credence to an old Arab saying: the magic has taken over the magician.