During the past few days, the United States strategy for addressing the escalating violence in Iraq has emphasized diplomacy to achieve political reconciliation. The Obama administration and many members of Congress are blaming Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for having fanned Iraq’s sectarian flames. Maliki has indeed systematically concentrated power in his own hands, and has excluded Sunnis, Kurds, and even other Shiite groups wherever and wherever possible. It’s no surprise, then, that many Sunnis have rightly concluded that the current political system will never benefit them, and that some of them are taking up arms to help a Sunni extremist group overthrow that political system.
Oil states are almost always autocracies, and it’s easy to understand why. They don’t depend on taxing their citizens in order to generate revenue, the way that most states do. Instead, they generate tremendous revenues simply by selling oil. Controlling the state means controlling the oil, which means controlling oil revenues, which translates directly into political power. And that means that whoever controls the state will do whatever they can to maintain that control – by providing lavish benefits to their supporters while seeking to quash potential opposition before it arises.
More from CNAS
CommentarySharper: The Budget
The defense budget and its $715 million price tag accounts for much of the U.S. government's discretionary spending every year, but where will (and should) this money go in th...
By Anna Pederson
VideoThree elements of Army’s iron triangle equally critical for United States, says defense analyst
Billy Fabian, adjunct senior fellow for the Defense Program at the Center for a New American Security and senior analyst at Govini discusses the Army's iron triangle on Govern...
By Billy Fabian
Congressional TestimonyThe Fiscal Year 2022 Defense Budget and Future Options for the Pentagon
Submitted Written Testimony I. Introduction Chairman Smith, Ranking Member Rodgers, distinguished members of the committee and staff thank you for inviting me to testify today...
By Stacie Pettyjohn
ReportsRisky Business: Future Strategy and Force Options for the Defense Department
Executive Summary Despite the overarching strategic priorities laid out by the Biden administration and initial indicators provided by the Department of Defense (DoD), it is u...
By Stacie Pettyjohn, Becca Wasser & Jennie Matuschak