My preteen son raves about DC Comics’ recent plot twist whereby a time-warping disaster instantly advanced the storylines of all its superheroes by one lost year. As a strategic planner, I couldn’t help but wonder what a similar narrative leap in the Middle East could yield.
So let’s fast-forward to Labor Day 2008 and — click! — imagine what’s happened.
In Iraq, a national oil-revenue-sharing pact keeps the Kurds from bolting while attracting foreign direct investment to explore the entire country for undiscovered energy deposits, like those recently located in Sunni areas. That shared economic opportunity bolsters Iraq’s political migration toward a loose federalism in which neither Shiites nor Sunnis dominate.
By now the American military has trained just enough central government forces to keep the various militias from turning Iraq’s ongoing ethnic partitioning into a bloodbath, meaning mixed urban areas still suffer a slow-motion squeeze on unwelcome inhabitants, but full-scale civil war is avoided, and resulting dislocations are mitigated by outside economic aid.
Thanks to a U.N.-mandated regional security forum populated by great powers, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Syria collectively secure their borders and curtail their unhelpful meddling in Iraq. America’s ongoing troop drawdown, begun in the spring, likewise encourages Riyadh and Tehran to back away from the specter of full-blown proxy war: the House of Saud fears a destabilizing influx of battle-hardened jihadists, and Iran’s mullahs want no retaliatory American strikes.
America’s military presence in Iraq is already smaller by half. Approximately 25,000 troops remain around Baghdad, and another 25,000 pull back to relatively isolated bases. These personnel train, support and advise Iraqi forces while continuing special operations aimed at reducing al-Qaida’s ranks, which have been progressively thinned through Central Command’s successful alliances with Sunni tribes eager to be rid of them. Declining U.S. combat casualties make the inevitable drawdown seem more a result of the surge’s success than troop-rotation stresses or anti-war pressure back home.
Meanwhile, roughly 20,000 U.S. troops have shifted to Kurdistan. Following Kirkuk’s contested vote to join the Kurdistan Regional Government in late 2007, the Turkish military invades northern Iraq to root out strongholds of the Kurdistan Workers Party insurgency. America submits to the U.N.-mandated regional security dialogue led by super-empowered envoy Tony Blair in exchange for the great powers’ acceptance of our bases in Kurdistan, which simultaneously ensure its quasi-independence while purposefully dampening its magnetism for separatist movements in Syria, Turkey and Iran.
America maintains 20,000 troops in Kuwait and a significant naval presence in the Persian Gulf. NATO’s regular shows of naval strength are soon to be routinely augmented with Indian and Chinese ships as part of those countries’ growing regional profile.
This greater security role for India and China was necessitated by America’s decision to take the fight directly to al-Qaida’s headquarters in northwest Pakistan following a devastating series of al-Qaida-linked suicide bombings in Europe in the winter of 2008. The fall of the Pervez Musharraf government led to Benazir Bhutto’s return to power, which in turn led to both a reduction of tensions with New Delhi and an immediate strengthening of ties with Beijing.
The U.N.-mandated regional security forum, which now encompasses all these flashpoints, was created in late 2007 in response to Tel Aviv’s stunning decision to take up Mahmoud Abbas’ offer of a peace treaty between the Fatah-run West Bank and Israel, triggering Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic recognition of Israel. The House of Saud, along with Egypt and Jordan, thereupon supports Fatah’s bloody fight to wrest control of Gaza back from Hamas. The U.N.-mandated forum likewise makes a concerted effort to reduce Hezbollah’s power in southern Lebanon, pressuring Syria to draw back as well, further curtailing Iran’s regional influence.
Iran, meanwhile, exploits the strategic breathing space created by Washington’s new focus on Pakistan to negotiate itself out of the harsh economic sanctions previously imposed by the U.N. Security Council. In exchange, Tehran finally accepts Russia’s offer to manage its nuclear fuel cycle. The mullahs’ immediate goals are massive energy-sector investments by India, China and other Asian economies.
Back at the ranch, Americans settle in for what most political commentators are predicting will be a supremely nasty fight for the presidency between Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani. Health care, education and environmental issues are expected to dominate the general election.
Hmm, now, if I can only find a few good superheroes.