For many months those involved in Iraq’s political affairs thought that U.S. President Barack Obama was putting the Iraq file on the shelf next to the other international files.
In fact, that is exactly what happened during the fierce electoral battle between Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney, which ended a few days ago with a historical victory by the former over the latter.
It wasn’t anything out of the ordinary for Obama to put the Iraq file on the shelf. The months of electoral battles in the U.S. often witness a suspension of many international files by the candidate sitting in the White House and seeking to stay there for another four years.
Referring to this situation, U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia James Smith pointed out the difficulties in adopting certain positions during election campaigns; at the same time, he hoped that changes in U.S. international affairs policy would be introduced and become more pronounced following Barack Obama’s victory.
Because Washington’s influence over the progress of the thorny and complex Iraq situation is not small, and because this influence was embedded in all its headlines and vocabulary, nobody was expecting a strong intervention from the U.S. Instead Washington monitors fierce debates and conflicts between groups of Iraqi politicians over issues that are not at the center of U.S. concerns and are far from the circles of U.S. influence.
Maybe it was excessive and exaggerated to imagine that Washington would be able to tackle these issues, determine where they were headed, find solutions to the chronic problems and link the escalating disputes and crises of the last ten months in Iraq to the concerns of the White House and the institutions supporting it in the presidential battle.
If indeed U.S. concern and efforts in Iraq were enough to accomplish all this, why didn’t Washington succeed earlier in diffusing the crisis and bridging the gap between competing Iraqi interests?
Some observers answer this question by saying that it is a mistake to assume that the U.S. seriously seeks to settle disputes and resolve crises in Iraq; rather, it may be a participant in the creation and exacerbation of dispute. Secondly, even if the U.S. does seek to resolve crises in Iraq, it does not hold all the cards; it cannot always impose its will and vision on all local political parties, not to mention regional powers that do not move within or intersect with Washington’s orbit.
The Iraq file was not present in the electoral battle the way other international files like Syria, Iran or the Palestinian conflict were. This is not surprising, because the majority of the battle was focused on internal issues rather than files connected to broader regional and international issues.
The question that is perhaps being asked by some in Iraq is: After Obama’s victory, will the Iraq file be moved to an advanced rank in U.S. foreign policy priorities?
Initial readings suggest that Obama’s victory can help to develop and strengthen the ties between Baghdad and Washington. Two congratulatory wires sent by President of the Republic [of Iraq] Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki included messages that support this idea.
Meanwhile, the Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari went even further, stating that “U.S. President Barack Obama’s second term victory will contribute to helping Iraq in the implementation of its plans to fight terrorism and the application of the strategic framework agreement signed between the two countries while strengthening development and economic projects, and this win is important for strengthening the domestic and foreign policy of the United States."
There seems to be an idea that U.S. foreign policy will not undergo any significant change in the foreseeable future regarding various core files, including Iran, Syria and others. However, after getting rid of the burden and wariness of the elections, the U.S. administration will be less hesitant and more able to be prudent when needed. This idea may seem realistic, and it demonstrates a different approach than that seen during the election battle, a time of suspending [attention to] files and shelving them.
But what is the alternative to Washington’s previous hesitation regarding Iraq? Maybe President Obama, who will not find himself doomed by the complicated calculations linked to the ambitions of his second presidential term, sees that military intervention in Iraq will be imperative in resolving the resurgent terrorism and the Iraqi forces’ inability to control the situation. There are several factors encouraging and impelling an American intervention in Iraq, including Iraq’s positive stance toward the situation in Syria and the means for solving it, Baghdad’s constructive relations with Tehran, and the declining influence and centralization of the political parties related to — as claimed by some sectarian headlines — regional powers like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey.
Although the Iraq file is not central to U.S. foreign policy, it is very unlikely that it will remain peripheral for long. Most likely, Washington will pressure Baghdad more frequently to change its stance toward Damascus and Tehran, without paying much attention to the particulars of the disputes and chronic domestic conflicts.
It is not expected that Washington will stand firmly behind the Kurds when they face their opponents in Baghdad, but it will not do the opposite either; it will not follow the “Sunni” ambitions and agendas backed by some Arab and regional parties; if it does, it will be strictly limited.
The seriousness and sensitivity of international issues and domestic economic challenges will most likely prevent Washington from intervening in the chain of the Iraqi crises except with respect to issues that are connected to its own interests. Those who expect Obama to support them and continue to make excuses for him, despite the fact that he ignored them during the last 10 months, will not find the support they seek in him.
The cycles of crisis within Damascus and Tehran will cast some shadows on Baghdad, but the balance of power in Iraq will not change easily. Washington cannot change it, even if it wants to. What Obama was unable to do yesterday, he won’t do tomorrow.