The Marines -- 250 of them, together with carrier air support and Marine Corps Osprey support craft -- have been dispatched to save the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, the "biggest in the world," "the size of the Vatican City," with its swimming pools and skating rinks, from the menace of the offensive directed at Baghdad by the forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria -- the new Islamic Caliphate sought by the religiously rigorous Sunni counter-crusade.
ISIS already has taken Mosul and a large chunk of northeastern Iraq, and is aimed now at the Shia shrine city of Samarra and Baghdad itself. Some of us who witnessed the announcement and ambitions of that embassy when it was built had the premonitory thought that it might eventually end as the capitol of that Muslim Caliphate which the ISIS fanatics now have proclaimed, and which, in Washington, only the paranoid imagined.
Condoleezza Rice, and the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Its announcement coincided with an Israeli attack on Lebanon, foreseen as becoming the western Mediterranean access to what the two officials announced would become a "New Middle East" extending from Mediterranean Lebanon and Syria, through a federal Iraq of Sunni, Shia and Kurdish statelets, proceeding through a conquered Iran in Central Asia, to a "Free Baluchistan," a NATO-ized Afghanistan, and an allied Pakistan, to the approaches of the Himalayas, and beyond them, to the rising counter-empire of the Chinese.
Ah, bliss it was in that dawn to be alive, and to be young and neo-conservative in Bush IV's Washington and Arab-conquering Tel Aviv (the June attack on Lebanon proved to be the one unexpectedly beaten back by Hezbollah). I recall a summons that winter to a festive meeting in Brussels of the NATO nations, for a press conference to be told more about, and celebrate, this sweeping new geopolitical prospect sprung from the collective brows of the visionary intellectuals who surrounded the conquering President George W. Bush.
Today, in disillusioned Washington, Republicans and Democrats fight over how Iraq is to be defended, if not by more "boots on the ground," as they like to say, than the Marine Corps is providing? But can air operations be really effective without observers on the ground? And a scattered mass of fast-moving individual irregulars do not present easy targets.
As for those Americans who are among the prime objectives for those ISIS irregulars, it seems that when the United States withdrew its "combat forces" from Iraq, at Iraq's demand, not everybody fell into that definition. It is reported that some 5,000 people work in the monumental embassy, and reports are that a group of 500 contractors from Lockheed-Martin have been working at Balal Airbase, while one also assumes that there are American missions of one or another nature still active elsewhere in Iraq. It is reported that some Americans have already been embarked for Jordan and Kuwait.
The second imminent political clash in Washington is one that currently fascinates America's European allies (plus the Israeli government). It is over what the United States will make of the fact that its interest in Iraq now coincides with Iran's interest -- both wishing to save the Shia government of the imprudent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and also for Iran to prevent the destruction of the treasured Shia religious shrines of Samarra.
I say this interests the European allies because they have never approved, nor indeed seriously considered, the fanatical hostility of the American government and much of its political class to Iran and its people. They understand, of course, that to have the functionaries at work in one of your foreign embassies taken prisoner by students (to the silent gratification of the revolutionary government in that country) and held captive for 444 days -- plenty of time to read and publish all the reading matter on the premises -- and on top of that to bungle a maladroit rescue scheme, adds up to a grand humiliation. (All we were doing was simply supporting their dictatorial Shah.)
And of course everyone in the diplomatic business understands the constantly reiterated pressure Washington is under from Israel and its friends, who fear Iran and want to destroy it as the only other serious major country in the region. But still -- to cut your nation off from any serious relationship with one of the larger and more important non-western nations in the world, a big oil-producer to boot -- seems an absurd case of cutting your nose off to spite your face. It is even worse than Washington's childish, and half-century long, bullying persecution of Cuba. Grow up, the Europeans say.
But for Washington to cooperate in any serious way on the Iraq crisis with what is, objectively, its strategic partner in the region, Iran, would constitute in Israeli eyes a fateful "reversal of alliances," and even if Israel's government said little about this (its supporters in the United States would say a lot!), the Israeli right, and much of the rest of Israel's political class, would judge the U.S. an equivocal and dangerous false friend. Israel would be plunged into even deeper paranoia than that with which it already lives. In that case it could become a very dangerous state -- for Iran, or even for the United States.
(Visit William Pfaff's Web site for more on his latest book, "The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America's Foreign Policy" (Walker & Co., $25), at http://www.williampfaff.com.)
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