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Ralph Peters is a regular columnist with the New York Post. Register here for access to the Post's Online Edition.



  Iraq: It's Time To Take Sides
by Ralph Peters [author, novelist] 12/15/06

American diplomats and politically correct generals want to be honest bro kers in the Middle East, to achieve peace through forbearance and negotiated compromises. It may be the most-hopeless dream in the history of foreign affairs.

The deadly hatred goes too deep between Shia and Sunni (killing Jews is just for practice). You can't broker peace between fanatics.
Ralph Peters - Contributor
Ralph Peters is a retired Army officer and the author of 19 books, as well as of hundreds of essays and articles, written both under his own name and as Owen Parry. He is a frequent columnist for the New York Post and other publications. [go to Peters Index]

East of Athens, you have to pick a side and stick to it, no matter how it behaves toward its enemies. Restraint is viewed as weakness; olive branches signal cowardice, and aid is seen as a bribe.

Although Israel's existence is increasingly threatened, the unavoidable struggle is between Sunni and Shia. Transcending their internal fault lines - for now - these two competing forms of Islam are already at war in Iraq. It's only a matter of time until the fighting spreads.

The question isn't "How can we stop it?" We can't. Even delaying the confrontation may come at too high a price. The right question is "How do we make sure we're on the winning side?"

The dynamism is with the Shia. Oppressed for centuries, Arab Shia have found their strategic footing. Tehran's backing helps, but the rise of Shia power is not synonymous with Iranian power - unless our old-school diplomacy makes it so.

East of Suez and west of Kabul, Sunni Arab dominance is waning. To future historians, al Qaeda may appear little more than the death-rattle of a collapsing order. Jordan may have a future - if that future is guaranteed by the West - but Syria's grandiose ambitions are unsustainable, and it's difficult to imagine the long-term survival of the decayed Saudi royal family.

Now the Saudis are threatening us: If we turn our backs on Iraq's Sunni Arabs, Riyadh says it will fund the insurgents.

The threat might carry more weight if Saudis weren't already funding Iraq's Sunni butchers. And note that Saudi Arabia hasn't threatened to intervene militarily - the playboy princes know that their incompetent armed forces would collapse if sent to Iraq.

It's time to call Riyadh's bluff.

Having made whores of innumerable politicians on both sides of the aisle in Washington, the Saudis still hope to steer American policy the way they did before their citizens attacked us on 9/11.

Now they demand American protection for those Iraqis who have done their best to kill our troops, instigate a religious civil war, slaughter the innocent and destroy any hope Iraq has of a better future.

You bet we can always count on our Saudi pals to look out for our interests. Perhaps we should reciprocate by threatening to fund the discontented Shia who live atop the richest Saudi oil fields.

The Saudis could have undercut the insurgency in Iraq in 2003. Instead, they backed it - because they refused to give up the old order in which the Sunni Arabs - less than 20 percent of Iraq's population - ruled in Baghdad. But Riyadh's policy of channeling funds through private donors didn't fool anybody who didn't want to be fooled.

The Saudi (and Syrian) tactics backfired: Enraging Iraq's Shia only made the weakness of the Sunni position obvious. Now only the presence of our troops - whom the Sunnis continue to attack - protects Iraq's Sunnis from a massacre. Isn't it time to stop defending those who murder our troops?

Our wrongheaded attempt to placate Iraq's Sunni Arabs failed utterly. Some military officers suffering from client-itis argue that their Sunnis really are on our side. But we need to face the facts: For all of Muqtada al-Sadr's Shia shenanigans, it's the Sunni Arabs who have destroyed Iraq.

We've tried all of the politically correct negotiations-and-aid nonsense. Now it's time to take sides.

Unfortunately, Washington's impulse will be to continue squandering the blood of our troops to preserve the - doomed - existing order in the Middle East, to keep borders intact and the region's miserable kings, sheikhs, emirs and presidents-for-life in power.

Our political leaders are lazy creatures of habit who default to yesteryear's failed theories in any crisis. New ideas just upset them.

So any attempt to disengage from our Sunni Arab enemies to back the ascendant Shia will hit plenty of roadblocks in D.C. The slam-on-the-brakes question will always be, "Do you want to strengthen Iran?" (Unless, of course, you're a congressman responsible for intelligence oversight, in which case all those pesky Sunni/Shia, Iran/Iraq details are beneath your notice.)

Equating "Shia" with "Iran," then writing off the Shia option would be strategic idiocy (in other words, business as usual). Instead, we need to ask ourselves how we can wean the region's Shia - including restive young Iranians - from Tehran's breast.

Some Iraqi Shia do feel an affinity for Iran - but many don't; Arabs find Persians racist and condescending.

Here's the critical issue: How do we channel the unstoppable rise of Shia power into a course that doesn't threaten us? (One answer: Don't pander to their deadly enemies, such as Iraq's Sunni insurgents).

And if the terrified Saudis want us to rescue their nasty backsides again, let's ask just what they plan to do for us in return - then let's see them actually do it.

But our response to any threat from Riyadh should be a public smackdown. Without our support, the Saudis are defenseless. Let's stop pretending we're the ones who need help.

We have to shift onto the winning side of history. Increasingly, that doesn't look "Sunni side up." Yes, face down Iran. But do it wisely, by cooperating with those Shia who fear Tehran's imperial ambitions - rather than alienating them for the sake of Jim Baker's Saudi friends.

We've tried to be fair, and we failed. Now let's concentrate on winning. CRO

Ralph Peters' latest book is Never Quit The Fight.

This piece first appeared in the New York Post
copyright 2006 - NY Post

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