Consequences of disengaging from the Mideast

Secretary of State John Kerry (right) with Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad. "I made it very clear . . . anything that supports [Syria's] President Assad is problematic," Kerry said. JASON REED / Associated Press

Here’s what happens when U.S. disengages from Mideast

John Kerry just made a trip to Baghdad, the first for a U.S. Secretary of State since 2009. But his mission isn’t likely to yield any success.

Kerry sought  to persuade Iraq’s leader, Nouri  al-Maliki, to stop daily Iranian overflights to Syria, which are ferrying tons of weapons plus military personnel  to help dictator Bashar al –Assad. 

Might you think that after all the U.S. blood and treasure spent on liberating Iraq, Maliki would listen? If you do think so, you’re wrong.

The White House squandered its influence in Baghdad by failing to negotiate a deal to leave some 10,000  or so U.S. military advisers  in Iraq after 2011.  If  those advisers had remained in Iraq, they might have helped Baghdad compel the Iranians to land those planes for inspection. Especially since we left Iraq with no air force. 

But once the Obama team signaled its disinterest in continued engagement, the Iraqis yielded to pressures from neighboring Iran, which  wants to keep Shiite co-religionist Assad in power. So why would Maliki want to buck a neighbor to help the United States?

Kerry told Maliki that stopping the Iranian weapons flow to Syria would hasten an end to the conflict.  But Maliki fears that the victors in Syria will be radical Sunnis who will help their co-religionists in Iraq topple Maliki’s Shiite government.

Had the U.S. shown continued interest in Iraq, it might have allayed Maliki’s fears.  Had the White House devised a coherent Syria policy in concert with its allies, the Syrian violence  might have abated.

But since the Obama team has done neither, the Mideast has concluded Washington is withdrawing from engagement in the region. lleaders there feel less and less compunction to listen to U.S. advice or warnings.  That’s why those Iranian planes full of weapons for Assad are likely to keep flying, unimpeded, over Iraq.