Zakaria: U.S. position on Iraq incoherent
June 26th, 2014
02:45 AM ET

Zakaria: U.S. position on Iraq incoherent

CNN speaks with Fareed about the prospects for a unity government in Iraq, the roles of Iran and Syria, and what the United States can and should do.

With the U.S. saying we're not going get involved with air strikes right now, that our response is going to be very, very limited, does that create a vacuum where Syria and Iran were bound to get involved?

Well, I think that they were bound to get involved anyway and they’ve been involved for the last several years. The thing we’ve got to remember is that we think of the Middle East in terms of borders that are real and hard. And we think of it in terms of dictators and democrats. What's really happening in that part of the world is a sectarian war between the Shias and the Sunnis.

This crosses all borders, so that ISIS is battling the Shia government in Baghdad. It's battling what it regards as essentially a Shia government in Syria. It's an Alawite regime, but it's basically considered a heretical regime. So they’ve got the same enemy. The Iranians, the Syrians and the Iraqi government all see ISIS as their enemy. We are the ones who come in with the complication. We say, well, we sort of like the Iraqi government because it's sort of democratic, but we don't like the Syrian government because it's a dictatorship, and we don't like the Iranians.

But our position is incoherent. And I don't mean this about the Obama administration. I mean it about U.S. policy, because we’re trying to overlay this idea that we bring to the party, which is, there’s going to be democracy and pluralism.

That's not what's going on there. This is a Shia-Sunni fight. And if you get involved, you're picking a side.

So you could say Syria, Iran, all this extra complication could be an argument just for saying it’s such a mess, another reason we shouldn't be there.

Look, one very realpolitik way to look at this would be to say, a lot of bad guys are killing each other, that this isn’t entirely bad for the United States.

Hezbollah, for example – a terrorist group that we really don't like – is busy trying to support the Syrian government and perhaps even helping the Iraqi governments. The Iranians' Revolutionary Guard is in there. All these guys are being distracted from doing all the bad stuff we worry about because they're helping their friends. You know, at the very least, let some of this sort itself out before we jump in there, as I say, with our very different notions.

And yes, if we’re going to have 600,000 troops and impose order, maybe we can remake this region. But otherwise, let's just watch for a little while.

Let's talk about one group that the United States would like to see acting more – the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who did deliver that speech where he essentially said, no, I'm not going to form a unity government here. I know you want it, United States, but no thanks, I don't think I will right now. What does that say right now about the U.S. influence on that government?

Look, we tried to get him to do this when we had 150,000 troops in Iraq. The United States, Washington pressed him, and al-Maliki was pretty unyielding at that point.

What we’ve got to remember, again, this is really democracy in action in the sense that al-Maliki wins by appealing to the Shiites. And his worry, and the reason he gave that speech, is he needs Shiite allies. And he's worried about his right. He's got a Tea Party – it's called Muqtada al-Sadr. And that guy isn't going to support him if he makes nice to the Sunnis. So he's trying to figure out how he can cobble together a stable majority in parliament.

And al-Maliki is to blame for all this. I'm not justifying, but I'm explaining to you, even in Iraq, there’s a real sectarian war even in the ballot box.

Have President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry given al-Maliki a condition that he will never meet or can never meet?

He could meet it. I think the realistic scenario would have been if a long time ago the Bush administration hadn't chosen al-Maliki and these hard-line Shia parties. But we are where we are. At this point, it would be tough for al-Maliki – it would go against his nature. You are asking him…for 25 years, this guy has been a hard-line Shiite sectarian politician.

People forget, when he was in exile from Saddam Hussein's regime, he lived in Iran. He lived in Damascus. He was funded by the Iranians. So now to say to him become an inclusive, pluralistic democrat – that's not who he is.

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Topics: Iraq

soundoff (100 Responses)
  1. Funny Farm

    Brilliant plan !
    Obama was handed a mess with Iraq.
    What did he do ?
    Pulled the troops out, and let them go at each other.

    Instead of Americans dying
    Iraq, Iran & Syria are all fighting with ISIS.

    Just BRILLIANT !!!!

    June 27, 2014 at 9:28 am | Reply
  2. geen

    my advice to professional politicians who know nothing of war is simply: "Read a book." I have some recommendations for them....now, it was quite obvious that bush didn't read, and that is why we WEREN'T surprised at all when he said something stupid or unfounded. But we know that Obama can read...these politicians have to learn to admit their ignorance of things and, before they become talking heads reading from a teleprompter, actually read the myriad number of books and articles written over the years about that part of the world....perhaps..um..The Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence...or Lawrence in Arabia....or Richard Fisk's monumental War for Civilization...or, more recently, Joseph Stiglitz three-billion dollar war...or..hey..i got an idea...these clowns would do well to read Logevall's Embers of War..about the fall of dien ben phu and the subsequent paranoia which prompted American politicians totally ignorant of that country's culture AND language to get involved and eventually allow 59,000 americans to return home in body bags..Thank you Ike...thank you jfk..thank you lbj....thank you Milhous...Why the f-is it that in this country, we elect to office those MOST lacking in creative thinking ability?? READ A BOOK and NO. get the hell out of Afghanistan AND IRAQ, I expect no less from a Nobel Peace Prize winning President..regardless of how Pro-WAR he is.

    June 27, 2014 at 1:39 pm | Reply
  3. John

    Our allies in Iraq and Syria The Kurds are moderate non-radical Muslims that and tolerates all peoples. Christians, Jews, and Muslims are all welcome!
    Kurds sell The U.S. oil and are willing to fight to defend Iraq from ISIS.
    The Kurds should be given authority to drive ISIS out of Iraq for good!

    June 27, 2014 at 7:38 pm | Reply
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini

      They also deserve the right to set up their own home state in both northern Iraq and eastern Turkey and name it Kurdistan. The Kurds should be given the same right that the Israelis had back in 1948 when they established their home state. The UN must convince Turkey to go along. In the meantime, the U.S., the EU and the Arab league must stop trying to dominate that part of the world!

      June 27, 2014 at 8:05 pm | Reply
      • Joey Isotta-Fraschini@

        @ My Troll,
        That's not something that I would say, beginning with the establishment of Israel after World War II.

        June 28, 2014 at 11:44 am |
      • Josh

        Mr Zakaria, it would be fair if the USA stayed out of it as you are suggesting. But that is not true.
        The USA got involved in favor of terrorists,
        Obama himself asked the Congress yesterday for 500 Millions to a group call "Moderate Sunnis" which is laughable considering the history of USA of naming "Sunni Moderate." Remember what Reagan called the Taliban and funded them.
        Obama is doing the same.
        Disliking Assad is not a reason to fund terrorists. Reagan used the same argument then by disliking Russia. I do not think Russia turned up to be the enemy. Russia did not sent its boys on September 11 2001, Taliban and Saudis did.

        June 29, 2014 at 1:38 am |
  4. Rudy Haugeneder -- CANADA

    The United States should stay out of the expanding Middle East sectarian conflict between the Sunni and Shiite.
    If, months and perhaps years from now, Middle East oil looks to stop flowing, then America and Nato can send in the hundreds of thousands of troops needed to temporarily take over. But wait. Climate Change is going to to make an irreversible mess out of the global economy so it is better to just use the military manpower and expense associated with foreign adventures to better prepare the United States for this already rapidly unfolding natural disaster that will drown or storm-wreck cities or, as in California, simply wait for drought to turn the state into scrub as the fresh water dries up. Bottom line, keep the expensive troops at home to rescue Americans.

    June 27, 2014 at 8:19 pm | Reply
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini@

      @ Rudy Haugeneder:
      "If" is a poem, and I may recite it again here soon.
      When will Climate Change cause these disastrous events? Do you know an exact date?
      I am not a believer in precognition, having been sorely disappointed by an uneventful 2012.
      However, Global Wa-uh-Climate Change has served as a splendid impetus for make-
      work
      jobs.

      June 28, 2014 at 12:02 pm | Reply
      • jerry

        The World Health Organization says that around 4-6 million people have died from global warming since the 1970s
        Source: Climate change and health. Fact sheet N°266. Reviewed November 2013

        Sounds pretty crazy to me, but just thought I'd throw that into the pot.

        June 29, 2014 at 12:27 pm |
  5. d. lewis

    Gas is around $4, going toward $5, we are trillions in debt, the rich got huge tax breaks and created zero jobs. The gdp was minus 3%, we are headed towards another recession, likely because of no consumers, and high gas prices. There's nothing incoherent about that, everyone can see that, and understand that. Gas was $1 a gallon in the Clinton Administration.

    June 27, 2014 at 9:57 pm | Reply
  6. John in Denver

    I am reminded of the old Vonnegut Monkey House quote, "A sane person to an insane society must appear insane."

    June 27, 2014 at 11:32 pm | Reply
  7. Wisdomania

    "let's just watch for a little while" The U.S. created this mess and now wants to watch for a littlitle while while innocent people are dying...unbelievable. What is the difference of having Sadam or Maliki....same crab just one is a U.S. ally and under one there was stabilization and order in the country. too late now to sit a watch for a while, should have done that before intervening corporate america for the oil.....and the u.s. and the west needs to understands what works in the u.s. doesn't work in iraq, or Libya, or in Ukraine...etc....U.S. always trying to flex its muscles but lacks to understand that in such places where believes are very strong, you can not change a believe of something or an idea by force......you created this mess....you fix it before more people die.....oh wait...it is corporate america...only cares about $ not people's lives

    June 28, 2014 at 12:33 am | Reply
    • skillsaw

      We don't know how to fix it. Everything we touch turns to crap. Bill Maher has a funny video where he compares the US to a woman who marries a bad boy thinking she can fix him. Never happens

      June 28, 2014 at 2:11 am | Reply
    • khan in chandler

      US did not create this mess. US inherited this mess when a Colonial power disected the region without thinking/knowing about the cultures and beliefs of those poeple, and after a recent President decided to impose his will on people with out listenting to the reasonable voices. These hatres go back to about 1,500 years. Now that the Natural order of these hatres is taking place, US or we should stay the hell away from it or a decade later it will come back to haunt us. We should get involve when the dust has settled down, and reach out to the needy one which are the day to day people who have to worry about living in that region.
      The only lesson learn is that we should not impose or expect the same beliefs that the West believes in. Just a side note, approximately 1500 years ago, Sunnis were the one who wanted to elect, while Shias wanted to continue governing thru the blood line, hence the conflict.

      June 29, 2014 at 4:54 pm | Reply
  8. Lea

    Foolish Americans, once again getting involved in the wrong place at the wrong time. How is it that the same islamist jihadists are called "freedom fighters" in Syria but these same islamist jihadists are considered "terrorists" in Iraq. And Obama has been funding them, sending weapons etc since the outbreak of the Syrian war 3 years ago already. At this point in time it is made to appear that it is a sectarian war between sunni and shia, but ultimately the sunni and the shia will join, and all those American weapons and billions of dollars that Obama is so faithfully sending to them, is strengthening them. America should weaken both sides by not supporting any side and stay the hell out of other peoples countries.

    June 28, 2014 at 2:34 am | Reply
  9. Joey Isotta-Fraschini@

    i am happy after reading that armed USA aircraft now fly over Iraq.
    When President Obama first took office, I was afraid that he might be weak, although I had voted for him.
    He has proven himself to be powerful.
    Bravo Obama!

    June 28, 2014 at 12:11 pm | Reply
  10. edlf2014

    U.S. position on Iraq incoherent? What policy.

    June 28, 2014 at 4:18 pm | Reply
  11. zcyrus

    The head of snake is in Iran.
    The USA must support the Iranian people that are challenging against the dictator corrupted Iran mullah regime.

    June 28, 2014 at 7:58 pm | Reply
  12. zcyrus

    The Shia extremist groups like badr , Mahi and sadr and Ghods Sepah are worst than the ISIS!
    They have been armed by Al-Maliki and Iran Regime already to expand the Ayatollah Iran Regime empire!

    June 28, 2014 at 8:02 pm | Reply
  13. Observer

    I consider Mr. Zakaria an intelligent guy. but I have to say his analysis is dead wrong and based on biased sources (it could be Saudis', neo cons or pro Israeli groups). If this is really only Sunni Shia fight how come Jordanian king, an allay of US in a uniformly Sunni Country stated to panic of ISIS rise in their country??!!. Saudi's and other little Arab emirates pupped up these ISIS terrorist to acquire power and influence in region and now we see the result of it. Unfortunately US closed an eye to those destructive acts just not to obsetting their so called Arab ally's and looking for a scape goat in Iraqi government!!

    June 28, 2014 at 11:29 pm | Reply
    • jerry jack

      I agree, this article seems very outdated, like the analysis was done years ago. Al-Sadr is an opponent of Al-Maliki's. And he is possibly more moderate than Al-Maliki when it comes to the Arab Sunni vs Arab Shia tensions.

      June 29, 2014 at 12:48 pm | Reply
  14. Sick and fed up

    Obama's dad, step dad and brother were/are Sunni and the Muslims he surrounds himself with are Sunni. Obama has always picked the Sunni side, the side that kills non believers and forces Sharia law. We should not be taking sides. Short of a serious war we should let them work it out.

    June 29, 2014 at 9:34 am | Reply
  15. Nadrakas

    Quote from Article: "He's got a Tea Party – it's called Muqtada al-Sadr."

    Painting with such a broad brush that you intentionally "Tar & Feather" your Political Opponents with the unspoken label of "Extremist" and "Terrorist" shows a Political Bias that, at on the one hand, is absurd, and on the other is Orwellian when perpetuated by the 4th Estate.

    Comparing the Tea Party, or any American Political Party, with any Radical Islamic Elements of the Middle East is offensive and disingenuous to the men and women who fought and died there. Muqtada al-Sadr called for a Jihad against Coalition forces, which included American Servicemen, actively supporting forces that killed Americans, and called for violence against the Iraqi Government. No Political Party in America, including the Tea Party, has done so in the United States. For Fareed Zakaria to accuse ANY American Political Party of doing the same thing - of being "Terrorists" - is patently absurd...and tantamount to Political Hate Speech.

    So...Mr Zakaria, please tone down the rhetoric. Realize that NO American Political Party is calling for violence, the implementation of a religious oligarchy, or overthrow of America. Not the Democratic Party. Not the Republican Party. And not the Tea Party.

    Peace.

    ~ Fred
    (USAF, MSgt, Retired, 25-Years)
    (Iraq twice, Afghanistan twice, and many more places in the Sand Box...and beyond...)

    June 29, 2014 at 12:28 pm | Reply
    • jerry jack

      The weird thing is that Al-Sadr has been saying Maliki should step down and is too sectarian for a while now, which is what the US is saying too. And Al-Sadr may be one of the best hopes of stopping ISIS

      June 29, 2014 at 12:47 pm | Reply
    • Retired Military

      Nadrakas, well crafted.

      Absolutely correct and accurate analysis of the petty politics and attempt to deceive the public by comparing these butchers to a US political party. That just goes to show that demonizing is often the first resort by those who cannot hold a legitimate discussion based on facts. They are afraid of anyone (or part) who challenges their believes. The Tea Party has exposed the "man behind the curtain" and they cannot have that. I was in Iraq and remember quite well the despot Al-Sadr. He is essentially a thug trying to fill his father's shoes. He has been looking for any and ever way to gain political power.

      June 29, 2014 at 4:20 pm | Reply
  16. Michael Rich

    Hey, Fareed. I'm a fan, but I was disappointed watching GPS this morning when you equated Shiite extremists with the tea party. There are so many good points you make that need to be heard by as many people as possible and I think you do us all a disservice using that kind of shorthand.

    June 29, 2014 at 1:44 pm | Reply
  17. larry

    Let it burn and deal with what's left.

    June 29, 2014 at 2:07 pm | Reply
  18. Cat

    Mr. Zakaria, your words are lost on me when you pander to political interests–and highlight your own bias–by absurdly and incorrectly using a "Tea Party" correlation in this instance. I'm trying to remember the instances when the Tea Party was responsible for terrorism and murder, such as what took place with Muqtada al-Sadr's militia, which you, Mr. Zakaria, equate with the Tea Party. However, I'm at a loss to remember those times when the American Tea Party ever created a militia and killed people and blew up bridges.

    June 29, 2014 at 3:34 pm | Reply
    • jerry jack

      OK I think people are taking the "Tea Party" comparison too far. He was just saying Al-Sadr is supposedly a hard line Shia cleric who doesn't want to work with Sunnis, in the same way that Tea Partiers are much less willing to work with Democrats than a typical Republican is. I say 'supposedly' because articles on Al Jazeera and Al Monitor seem to suggest that Al-maliki is more hardline anti-Sunni than al-Sadr is.

      June 29, 2014 at 9:43 pm | Reply
      • dcaliento

        Really, jerryjack. So is Harry Ried a terrorist sympathizer because of his refusal to work with the republican led House? How many bills that the House has passed has HR brought up for vote in the Senate? Pot=Kettle=Black. Do you call your kids terrorists because they don't agree with you on their bed time? I thought Democrats were supposed to dial back the rhetoric, oh wait, they are incapable of that. Thanks for the reminder.

        June 30, 2014 at 1:23 pm |
  19. BMette

    The U.S. cannot develop a coherent position with regard to Iraq precisely because the entire Iraqi situation itself is incoherent.

    June 29, 2014 at 5:05 pm | Reply
  20. Dennis Jennings

    In the great Icelandic saga, the central character, Njal spends most of his life keeping his neighbors from continuing ther blood fued. the neighbors finally got togather and agreed on something. The attaced Njal and burned him in his bead. we stand to suffer from the same fate by trying to stop a religious war of long and vigerous standing.

    June 29, 2014 at 11:01 pm | Reply
    • jerry jack

      Only the ISIS people are really waging a religious war. The other Sunni and Shia factions are not doing that. The tensions are more politically related

      June 29, 2014 at 11:25 pm | Reply
  21. Burt

    In Spain in the years 750 and after, a Muslim caliphate existed in which Muslims, Christians and Jews lived, worked and learned together, harmoniously, for several centuries. It was called "one culture, 3 religions" and represented a golden age where science, mathematics, medicine, poetry and philosophy flourished while Europe slid into the Dark Ages between the fall of the Roman Empire and the Renaissance.
    Its capital, Cordoba, had libraries with more books than most of the rest of Europe combined. Its streets were illuminated at night and it had running water. Compered to London and Paris Cordoba was indeed a marvel to behold.

    If Islam could produce this place once, it can do so again. Why do we here nothing of this? Why are we not all intently working to reproduce what once was? And what is the value of seeing Islam only through the lens of terror and intolerance?

    June 30, 2014 at 10:06 am | Reply
  22. easterniron

    He's got a "Tea Party"? Is ISIS trying to help Iraqi's get their financial house in order? Are they trying to provide them with more freedoms? I understand that the comparison is that he has an opposing party to deal with, however this is more than offensive to compare a terrorist, evil murderous group with what is the American Tea Party. CNN owes an apology for this.

    June 30, 2014 at 1:07 pm | Reply
  23. dcaliento

    Keep offending people with your attempt at equating people who identify with the tea party as bloodthirsty terrorists. You, Mr Zakaria, are pathetic, and another strong reason why CNN continues to tank in popularity and viewership.

    June 30, 2014 at 1:18 pm | Reply
  24. Retired Military

    Partisan political reporting is deadly. GPS knows better, yet decides to go with inaccurate personal attacks that are baseless and false as in the Tea Party comparison in this posting. Sad.

    July 1, 2014 at 2:34 pm | Reply
  25. Gerald O'Hare

    Actually the American plan is very good. We send in enough people to protect our embassy and that's it. Remember Iraq refused to sign an agreement for us to leave a presence in country. So let the Shiits and Sunnis kill each other. This way the militants have to use up manpower and focus on the ground war and not on the USA. Iran will be forced to invade in some way and so will Saudi Arabis. Historically these have been behind the scenes players who wrought hell and never paid the price while Americans were left to fight and die. Now they will be forced to pay the price. It is a shame that both sides can't lose. For once by doing virtually nothing we become the good guys and get oil from the Kurds. Our drones aren't going to strike anything but give information to people who ask for help thus making them loyal and be holding to the USA. Bush was a checkers player but Obama plays chess.

    July 1, 2014 at 8:37 pm | Reply
  26. Matt

    You can put a border between Syria and Iraq over a cigar and a cup of tea, but the tribes on both sides are related, it is similar to marriages that occur in the Golans. So don't make too much over the ISIS statement. The border only was relevant in the mind of the scotch drink toffs not to the people on the ground.

    July 5, 2014 at 1:51 am | Reply
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