WASHINGTON – Over the weekend, two stories from the Middle East offered a one-two punch of troubling news for U.S. security interests: Syria’s President Bashar Assad unleashed new levels of military power on protesters and Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki agrees with him.
Question: If you had to rank the security concerns of the week, where would you rank the rollout of China’s aircraft carrier, which underwent its first sea trials? Now where would you rank this line from the New York Times: “Mr. Maliki’s support for Mr. Assad has illustrated how much Iraq’s position in the Middle East has shifted toward an axis led by Iran.”
Certainly, democracy and Middle East politics both have their elements of sausage-making. Former Central Command and Iraq War commander Gen. David Petraeus used to joke to adoring Washington think tank crowds about the emerging imperfect “Iraqcracy” for which thousands of Americans had died to help establish.
But many Middle East watchers long have feared democracy for the Arab world also would open the window for extremist groups to win legitimate power (See: Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt, elections.)
Now al-Maliki's post-war democratic Iraq is siding with the Axis of Evil – Iran – which the Pentagon has hotly accused of arming a renewed insurgent campaign this summer that is killing record numbers of U.S. troops with Iranian weapons. Suddenly, Iraqracy invokes images more akin to Hamas’ democratic ascension to power over the Palestinian Authority in 2006 than Philadelphia in 1776.
On Monday, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman chose not to comment. "No, I think I'll stay out of these state-to-state kind of positions on these things," he said.
News of al-Maliki backing Assad came a day before Assad unleashed the Syrian navy to bombard the port city of Latakia, where pro-democracy protesters have managed to keep the Arab Spring alive depsite military repression, reports The New York Time’s Anthony Shadid, from Beirut.
“Bombing, shelling and shooting all night long,” said one resident.
Whitman said the Syrian naval strikes were "of great concern" but that he would only comment on U.S. military activities. So what is the U.S. military's response? "We are very aware of this latest development and of course we take all appropriate measures," Whitman said. He would not explain what "measures" meant.
While residents flee, the U.S. has upped the diplomatic rhetoric, getting Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah to join calls for Assad to cease fire. Abdullah even recalled the Saudi ambassador from Damascus.
To be clear, the White House boasted it had won support against Assad from same Saudi regime that prevented its own uprisings by threatening a brutal violent crackdown before they even started.
Smell the sausage?