Recent events in Iraq have produced an outpouring of
criticism of U.S. foreign policy in the region, and
no little indignation from Iraqi war veterans and their
families about their sense of imminent loss for the
sacrifice of lives and American economic expenditure
in the region.
As a frequent critic of President Obama’s foreign policy,
I might be expected to join in on these laments, but I do not
choose to do so at this point because events in world affairs,
especially in areas of extreme and seemingly permanent
conflict are rarely understandable at their outset.
There can, in other words, be no valuable “overview” of
what will be the destination of a chain of significant
events where consequences “on the ground” are so
complicated as they are in Iraq. All we have now is an
“underview” of these events.
I, and others, have often used a chess game as an analogy
for foreign policy because increasingly each move in such
policy produces a greater variety of countermoves or
reactions. The best chess players can “see” the possible
moves of their opponents far ahead of current play,
anticipate them with planned moves of their own ahead of
current play, and thus produce the desired result of victory.
In the past, foreign policy actions were taken by heads of
state, military leaders and tribal groups in a manner much
more predictable than seems to occur today in which
independent figures, smaller terrorist groups and
extra-national forces can be noticeable players in the
international “game,” and thus upset conventional
strategies and anticipations.
Specifically in Iraq, the historic and enduring conflict
between Sunni Moslems and Sh’ia Moslems appears as
the engine for the sudden change in logistics there, and
this conflict has different “rules” than do the
expectations of a new kind of democracy in the region,
or even the standing conflict between the U.S. and Europe
on the one hand, and Iran on the other.
From the outset of his administration, President Obama
now it is clear, intended to change the chemistry of the
Middle East theater of events. So did, President George W.
Bush, incidentally, after September 11, 2001, but with very
different premises. In each case, the U.S president saw
the “chess match” get away from him, as unexpected and
unintended consequences multiplied on the Middle East
At a certain point in a chess game, the outcome becomes
inevitable, and a losing player often concedes before an
actual “check mate.” No one has that kind of true overview
now of events in Iraq. All we have is the underview of
events as they unfold, with such curious circumstances as
the government in Tehran and the government in Washington,
DC being on the same side (but with different motives) of
trying to preserve the government in Baghdad.
Similarly, as the recent “Arab Spring” collapsed in Egypt,
the government in Cairo and the government in Jerusalem
found common interests against forces which opposed or
It ain’t really chess, of course (a chess board does not have
human pieces in play), but in trying to decipher what is likely
to happen in the world, it is better to have an overview than
Let’s see more of where this is going. Then we’ll talk.
Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.