Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Ryan Crocker on Iraq, and on whether we are seeing the Arab state system fragment

Over the weekend I did a quick interview with Ryan Crocker, the veteran American diplomat. Here it is: Was the current situation in Iraq inevitable?  No. Actions have consequences to the 60th order and beyond. The consequences of what we set in motion were beyond imagination. But inaction also has consequences. Our inaction since 2011 ...

<> on February 11, 2015 in Washington, DC.
<> on February 11, 2015 in Washington, DC.
<> on February 11, 2015 in Washington, DC.

Over the weekend I did a quick interview with Ryan Crocker, the veteran American diplomat. Here it is:

Was the current situation in Iraq inevitable? 

No. Actions have consequences to the 60th order and beyond. The consequences of what we set in motion were beyond imagination. But inaction also has consequences. Our inaction since 2011 -- and I mean political inaction more than military -- leads us to today. The two things I learned in the Middle East over 40 years are 1) be careful what you get into, and 2) be just as careful what you propose to get out of - you don't end a war by withdrawing from the battlefield. You just give the ground to your enemies -- IS and Iran.

Over the weekend I did a quick interview with Ryan Crocker, the veteran American diplomat. Here it is:

  1. Was the current situation in Iraq inevitable? 

No. Actions have consequences to the 60th order and beyond. The consequences of what we set in motion were beyond imagination. But inaction also has consequences. Our inaction since 2011 — and I mean political inaction more than military — leads us to today. The two things I learned in the Middle East over 40 years are 1) be careful what you get into, and 2) be just as careful what you propose to get out of – you don’t end a war by withdrawing from the battlefield. You just give the ground to your enemies — IS and Iran.

  1. Is there anything we can do to change it now?

Engage, engage, engage. Do what we should have been doing the past five years: Presidential phone calls, repeated secstate and secdef visits.

  1. If we do nothing, ISIS looks to consolidate its hold on parts of Iraq. Yet if we help the Baghdad government, we help Iran consolidate its hold on part of Iraq. 

There is something worse than IS, and that is Iranian backed militias invading Sunni territory. That can destroy a unitary Iraqi state.

  1. Is there a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia going on in Iraq?

There is a new Middle East Cold War in which Iran and Saudi Arabia are the main protagonists. Syria and Yemen are the main theaters. The Saudis are largely absent in Iraq because they refuse to accept the legitimacy of a Shia-led government. We are largely absent in Iraq through sheer indifference.

  1. Do you think we are going too see a general, all-out war in the Middle East? 

No. But we may see something worse — fragmentation of the state system in the Middle East.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

More from Foreign Policy

Oleg Salyukov salutes to soldiers during Russia’s Victory Day parade.
Oleg Salyukov salutes to soldiers during Russia’s Victory Day parade.

Stop Falling for Russia’s Delusions of Perpetual Victory

The best sources on the war are the Ukrainians on the ground.

A fire rages at the Central Research Institute of the Aerospace Defense Forces in Tver, Russia
A fire rages at the Central Research Institute of the Aerospace Defense Forces in Tver, Russia

Could Sabotage Stop Putin From Using the Nuclear Option?

If the West is behind mysterious fires in Russia, the ongoing—but deniable—threat could deter Putin from escalating.

China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi is received by his Kenyan counterpart, Raychelle Omamo, in Mombasa, Kenya.
China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi is received by his Kenyan counterpart, Raychelle Omamo, in Mombasa, Kenya.

While America Slept, China Became Indispensable

Washington has long ignored much of the world. Beijing hasn’t.

A bulldozer demolishes an illegal structure during a joint anti-encroachment drive conducted by North Delhi Municipal Corporation
A bulldozer demolishes an illegal structure during a joint anti-encroachment drive conducted by North Delhi Municipal Corporation

The World Ignored Russia’s Delusions. It Shouldn’t Make the Same Mistake With India.

Hindu nationalist ideologues in New Delhi are flirting with a dangerous revisionist history of South Asia.