If nothing else, Ryan Crocker is an optimist. Speaking to a conference sponsored last week by the National Council on US-Arab Relations (NCUSAR), Crocker laid out what can only be called a rosy, if not Pollyanna-like, view of Iraq’s future as a friend and ally of the United States.
Crocker, of course, was ambassador to Iraq from 2007–09 (the "surge years") and, before that, ambassador to Pakistan (2004–07). He’s a longtime Arabist, having also served as America’s ambassador in Syria, Kuwait,and Lebanon, as well as posts in Egypt, Iraq, and elsewhere in the Middle East. Currently, he’s the dean of the George Bush School of Government at Texas A&M, which, it should be pointed out, is named after Bush 41, not the bungling, neoconservative-bewitched Bush 43 ("W."). The audience that Crocker addressed was very establishment, since NCUSAR is sponsored by the US military-industrial complex (Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman) along with Exxon Mobil, Chevron, and their allies in the oil-rich Gulf Arab states.
In his remarks, Crocker downplayed Iran’s role in Iraq, and he suggested that when the dust clears in the formation of a new government in Iraq that Baghdad would come to the United States to ask for an extension of the US military presence beyond the end of 2011. By that date, according to the accord signed in 2008 by the Bush administration, all US troops are to leave Iraq. But Crocker said that it is "quite likely that the Iraqi government is going to ask for an extension of our deployed presence."
He added, perhaps for the benefit of the many defense contractors in the audience, that the United States will probably be called on to supply heavy military equipment to Iraq, including battle tanks and combat aircraft, both of which the Iraqi armed forces currently lack. Such a resupply effort by the American military-industrial complex will start in earnest in the 2013-2015 time period, Crocker suggested.
He also predicted that Prime Minister Maliki would return to that office, atop a broad-based government that would include Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds. He outlined innumerable problems that Iraq faces—a refugee crisis, Arab-Kurd tensions, countless disputed internal boundaries, the leftover forces of the Sons of Iraq (the old sahwa or Awakening movement)—but he expressed optimism that Iraq will deal with each of these. And he called the United States the "indispensable outside power" that can "help to broker compromises."
The notion that Maliki, who has recently established an alliance with Muqtada al-Sadr, can form a government that might include Sadr but exclude former Prime Minister Allawi and his Iraqiya bloc recently set off alarm bells in Washington. Allawi’s bloc represents secular Shiites, anti-Iran nationalists and most Sunnis, and it is generally anti-Iran and pro-American. Sadr, who lives in Iran and whose support for Maliki was reportedly engineered by Tehran, isn’t likely to want to come to the United States to ask for an extension of the US military presence beyond 2011, as Crocker predicts. But it’s likely that the Kurds, who hold the balance of power, will refuse to back Maliki unless the prime minister cuts a deal with Allawi, too, undermining Sadr’s clout. The Kurds, though mostly pro-American, are heavily influenced by Iran, too, and are caught in the middle.