Washington Babylon — September 4, 2007, 1:36 pm

Speaking from Experience: a former CIA official on the Sunni alliance

The newspapers are full of stories about the successful alliance struck between the American military and Sunni tribes in Iraq, and how said alliance augurs well for the future. “In the villages around the Abu Ghraib district on the western outskirts of Baghdad, American commanders have achieved their goal of enlisting more than 1,000 of these local Sunni recruits into the Iraqi security forces,” the Washington Post reported today. “For the past few months, the recruits have operated checkpoints, pointed out Al Qaeda in Iraq fighters and located caches of weapons.” Exhibit A was Naiem al-Qaisi, who had once been imprisoned and tortured by the Iraqi government. “Now,” the Post reported, Qaisi “wants to be a policeman” and help America fight Al Qaeda.

There’s certainly been some benefit from such deals. However–and you wouldn’t know this from reading most accounts–the long-term prospects of the American-Sunni alliance are dicey. Here’s how Milt Bearden, a former senior CIA officer with broad experience in the Middle East and who served as station chief in Pakistan from 1986 until the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, assessed the situation in a conversation we had this morning:

The administration is employing a very prudent tactic by having American commanders in the field striking these alliances, which eases our immediate torment. But the administration is spinning this as some sort of strategic victory for its vision of the Middle East. It’s not. The good news is that the sheiks are accepting our guns and money. The bad news is that the sheiks are accepting our guns and money. Yes, okay, go ahead and make these alliances–but understand how it’s going to play out. Don’t boogey in the end zone and pretend these Sunni fighters are a bunch of Presbyterians.

When I was in Pakistan I asked an Army commander if we could get the Afghan tribes to do something and he said, “We can usually get the Afghans to do something that they want to do.” In Afghanistan, the Soviets made thousands of deals with the tribes, but you don’t buy them–you rent them. These guys change sides all the time. It’s the same thing here. Their needs and goals are completely unrelated to our vision of the world. The sheiks figure that their turf is threatened by Al Qaeda in Iraq and they’re happy to help go after them, especially when the U.S. is doing the heavy lifting. But there will be a piper that needs to be paid. You don’t have to go much beyond T.E. Lawrence to see how this is likely to play out.

Share
Single Page

More from Ken Silverstein:

Commentary November 17, 2015, 6:41 pm

Shaky Foundations

The Clintons’ so-called charitable enterprise has served as a vehicle to launder money and to enrich family friends.

From the November 2013 issue

Dirty South

The foul legacy of Louisiana oil

Perspective October 23, 2013, 8:00 am

On Brining and Dining

How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

March 2017

City of Gilt

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Tyranny of the Minority

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Texas is the Future

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Family Values

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Itchy Nose

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Black Like Who?

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Texas is the Future·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

I first heard the name Barack Obama in the spring of 2004, while visiting my mother in Chicago. As we sat around the kitchen table early one spring morning, I noticed a handsome studio portrait among the pictures, lists, cards, and other totems of family life fastened to the refrigerator door. “Who’s the guy with the ears?” I asked, assuming he was some distant relative or family friend I didn’t know or else had forgotten. “Barack Obama,” she answered with a broad smile. “He’s running for Senate, but he’s going to be the first black president.”

Illustration (detail) by John Ritter
Post
The Forty-Fifth President·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

I first heard the name Barack Obama in the spring of 2004, while visiting my mother in Chicago. As we sat around the kitchen table early one spring morning, I noticed a handsome studio portrait among the pictures, lists, cards, and other totems of family life fastened to the refrigerator door. “Who’s the guy with the ears?” I asked, assuming he was some distant relative or family friend I didn’t know or else had forgotten. “Barack Obama,” she answered with a broad smile. “He’s running for Senate, but he’s going to be the first black president.”

Photograph (detail) by Philip Montgomery
Article
Itchy Nose·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

I first heard the name Barack Obama in the spring of 2004, while visiting my mother in Chicago. As we sat around the kitchen table early one spring morning, I noticed a handsome studio portrait among the pictures, lists, cards, and other totems of family life fastened to the refrigerator door. “Who’s the guy with the ears?” I asked, assuming he was some distant relative or family friend I didn’t know or else had forgotten. “Barack Obama,” she answered with a broad smile. “He’s running for Senate, but he’s going to be the first black president.”

Artwork (detail) © The Kazuto Tatsuta/Kodansha Ltd
Article
A Matter of Life·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

I first heard the name Barack Obama in the spring of 2004, while visiting my mother in Chicago. As we sat around the kitchen table early one spring morning, I noticed a handsome studio portrait among the pictures, lists, cards, and other totems of family life fastened to the refrigerator door. “Who’s the guy with the ears?” I asked, assuming he was some distant relative or family friend I didn’t know or else had forgotten. “Barack Obama,” she answered with a broad smile. “He’s running for Senate, but he’s going to be the first black president.”

Photograph (detail) by Edwin Tse
Article
Black Like Who?·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

I first heard the name Barack Obama in the spring of 2004, while visiting my mother in Chicago. As we sat around the kitchen table early one spring morning, I noticed a handsome studio portrait among the pictures, lists, cards, and other totems of family life fastened to the refrigerator door. “Who’s the guy with the ears?” I asked, assuming he was some distant relative or family friend I didn’t know or else had forgotten. “Barack Obama,” she answered with a broad smile. “He’s running for Senate, but he’s going to be the first black president.”

Photograph © Jon Lowenstein/NOOR

Hours during which Rio de Janeiro drivers may legally run red lights in order to avoid being carjacked:

10 P.M.–5 A.M.

Antioxidants in dark green, leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, and collard greens were said to prevent cataracts.

Greece evacuated 72,000 people from the town of Thessaloniki while an undetonated World War II–era bomb was excavated from beneath a gas station.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Who Goes Nazi?

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

By

"It is an interesting and somewhat macabre parlor game to play at a large gathering of one’s acquaintances: to speculate who in a showdown would go Nazi. By now, I think I know. I have gone through the experience many times—in Germany, in Austria, and in France. I have come to know the types: the born Nazis, the Nazis whom democracy itself has created, the certain-to-be fellow-travelers. And I also know those who never, under any conceivable circumstances, would become Nazis."

Subscribe Today