Nothing in Iraq is about American Security. In the ’80s, our Iraq policy was about revenge and sowing division. In the ’90s, it was pure economics but advantaged for the dollar, Europe, India, Japan and China.
Now, I can’t really tell what it is. We false flagged our way into a decade of lunacy in Iraq to no apparent advantage. We’ve definitely sewn division amongst the Middle East.
What we’ve accomplished here is the pitting of Shi’a Iran against Sunni Saudi Arabia. We’ve made a showdown all but inevitable. The problem with this is that there is no guarantee that the current criminals who are our putative allies will actually be the power in Saudi Arabia. We have strengthened the Wahhabist movement in the Nejd at the expense of the Saudi Royals. Not that I am against that. I abhor the Saudi hypocrites.
I suppose now that the thing to do is to withdraw from the Middle East and await the inevitable showdown between the Saudi led Sunnis and the Irani led Shi’a.
Let them fight it out. That’s a good centuries worth of fighting there.
That will take Israel out of focus until Egypt gets dragged into the conflict. The seeds for this have already been laid.
even with Egypt, there is no guarantee that Israel would become a focal point. Instead Egypt could be led to focus upon Iran.
If the Saudis were smart, they’d ally themselves with Israel against Iran. There is precedent for alliances with infidel powers. Saladin did it. Several Muslim princes did so during the “Crusader era.”
It will all depend on who comes to power over the next several decades.
Senator Barack Obama said something at the presidential debate last week that almost perfectly encapsulates the difference between his foreign policy and his opponent’s: “Secretary of Defense Robert Gates himself acknowledges the war on terrorism started in Afghanistan and it needs to end there.” I don’t know if Obama paraphrased Gates correctly, but if so, they’re both wrong.
If Afghanistan were miraculously transformed into the Switzerland of Central Asia, every last one of the Middle East’s rogues gallery of terrorist groups would still exist. The ideology that spawned them would endure. Their grievances, such as they are, would not be salved. The political culture that produced them, and continues to produce more just like them, would hardly be scathed. Al Qaedism is the most radical wing of an extreme movement which was born in the Middle East and exists now in many parts of the world. Afghanistan is not the root or the source.
Naturally the war against them began in Afghanistan. Plans for the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States were hatched in Afghanistan. But the temporary location of the plotters of that strike means little in the wide view of a long struggle. Osama bin Laden and his leadership just as easily could have planned the attacks from Saudi Arabia before they were exiled, or from their refuge in Sudan in the mid 1990s. Theoretically they could have even planned the attacks from an off-the-radar “safe house” in a place like France or even Nebraska had they managed to sneak themselves in. The physical location of the planning headquarters wasn’t irrelevant, but in the long run the ideology that motivates them is what must be defeated. Perhaps the point would be more obvious if the attacks were in fact planned in a place like France instead of a failed state like Afghanistan.
Hardly anyone wants to think about the monumental size of this task or how long it will take. The illusion that the United States just needs to win in Afghanistan and everything will be fine is comforting, to be sure, but it is an illusion. Winning the war in Iraq won’t be enough either, nor will permanently preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons or resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict. The war may end somewhere with American troops on the ground, or, like the Cold War, it might not. No one can possibly foresee what event will actually put a stop to this war in the end. It is distant and unknowable. The world will change before we can even imagine what the final chapter might look like.
Most of the September 11 hijackers were Saudis. All were Arabs. None hailed from Afghanistan. This is not coincidental. Al Qaeda’s politics are a product of the Arab world, specifically of the radical and totalitarian Wahhabi sect of Islam founded in the 18th Century in Saudi Arabia by the fanatical Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab. He thought the medieval interpretations of Islam even on the backward Arabian peninsula were too liberal and lenient. His most extreme followers cannot even peacefully coexist with mainstream Sunni Muslims, let alone Shia Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, secularists, feminists, gays, or anyone else. Their global jihad is a war against the entire human race in all its diversity and plurality.
Wahhabism has spread outward from Saudi Arabia by proselytizers funded by petrodollars who have set up mosques, madrassas, and indoctrination centers nearly everywhere from Indonesia to the United States. In the Balkans, for instance, Wahhabis are actually replacing traditional moderate Ottoman mosques destroyed by the Yugoslav Army and Serbian paramilitary units with their own extremist knockoffs. They’re staking out new ground in the West where they deliberately gin up virulent hatred among immigrants from Muslim countries. They tried to car-bomb their way into power in parts of Iraq, and in the cities of Baqubah, Fallujah, and Ramadi they even succeeded for a while.
In some places the ideology flourishes more than in others. It was effectively transplanted to Afghanistan with the assistance of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency. In thoroughly secular Muslim countries like Azerbaijan and Albania, bin Ladenism remains thinner on the ground than in Western Europe. Its adherents are unevenly distributed, but it began in the Middle East and has since metastasized.
Al Qaeda leaders did not spring up from the ground in Afghanistan, nor are they chained there. They move around. Any country where they are located becomes crucial whether American soldiers are present or not. Like the Cold War, this conflict is not exclusively military, but the theaters of armed conflict have already been widened well beyond Afghanistan. And the war isn’t America-centric. It is not all about us. Fighting between violent Islamists and their enemies broke out in Arab countries like Algeria and Lebanon, and even in countries without a Muslim majority like Russia and the Philippines. Many of these conflicts started before the attacks on September 11, before anyone could even imagine that American troops would fight a hot war in Afghanistan.
And let’s not forget the radical Shias. While Sunni Wahhabis export their fundamentalist creed from the Arabian Peninsula, the Khomeinists in the Islamic Republic of Iran are busy exporting their own revolutionary and totalitarian brand of Shia Islam to countries like Lebanon and Iraq. So far the Iranians and their proxies have been less violent and extreme than Al Qaeda, but Iran remains the biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world. While the leaders are Shias, that has not – contrary to mistaken conventional wisdom – stopped them from forming tactical alliances with radical Sunnis from Hamas in Gaza to Ansar Al Islam.
Before the U.S. demolished the regime of Saddam Hussein, Ansar Al Islam was based in and around the town of Biara in Northern Iraq. Al Qaeda in Iraq founder Abu Musab al Zarqawi was one of its members. American Special Forces and Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters pushed Ansar into the Northern Iranian city of Mariwan where they remain today and receive support from the government of Iran. They have since changed their name to Al Qaeda in Kurdistan.
On some level even Senator Obama himself understands that Afghanistan is unlikely be the beginning and the end of this war. He correctly argues that more needs to be done to shut down the safe havens bin Laden and company have established in Pakistan. He likely doesn’t believe some of his own rhetoric about Afghanistan even though it’s a standard staple of his campaign. His dovish liberal base seems sometimes desperate to believe that Afghanistan was the beginning and will be the end of a war they have little stomach to wage.
Wishing will not make it so. Afghanistan, indeed all of Central Asia, is on the periphery. The violent ideologies that animate the most dangerous terrorist movements in the world are Arabic and, to a lesser extent, Persian. The Middle East is central. It is not a distraction. It is where the war truly began because it is where most of the combatants, ideological leaders, and supporters were born and raised. While there’s a chance it won’t end there, most of it will be fought there.
09.29.2008 – 4:32 PM–
Michael Totten speaks the truth. Will anyone listen?
Let’s ‘Surge’ Some More
By MICHAEL YON
April 11, 2008
It is said that generals always fight the last war. But when David Petraeus came to town it was senators – on both sides of the aisle – who battled over the Iraq war of 2004-2006. That war has little in common with the war we are fighting today.
I may well have spent more time embedded with combat units in Iraq than any other journalist alive. I have seen this war – and our part in it – at its brutal worst. And I say the transformation over the last 14 months is little short of miraculous.
The change goes far beyond the statistical decline in casualties or incidents of violence. A young Iraqi translator, wounded in battle and fearing death, asked an American commander to bury his heart in America. Iraqi special forces units took to the streets to track down terrorists who killed American soldiers. The U.S. military is the most respected institution in Iraq, and many Iraqi boys dream of becoming American soldiers. Yes, young Iraqi boys know about “GoArmy.com.”
As the outrages of Abu Ghraib faded in memory – and paled in comparison to al Qaeda’s brutalities – and our soldiers under the Petraeus strategy got off their big bases and out of their tanks and deeper into the neighborhoods, American values began to win the war.
Iraqis came to respect American soldiers as warriors who would protect them from terror gangs. But Iraqis also discovered that these great warriors are even happier helping rebuild a clinic, school or a neighborhood. They learned that the American soldier is not only the most dangerous enemy in the world, but one of the best friends a neighborhood can have.
Some people charge that we have merely “rented” the Sunni tribesmen, the former insurgents who now fight by our side. This implies that because we pay these people, their loyalty must be for sale to the highest bidder. But as Gen. Petraeus demonstrated in Nineveh province in 2003 to 2004, many of the Iraqis who filled the ranks of the Sunni insurgency from 2003 into 2007 could have been working with us all along, had we treated them intelligently and respectfully. In Nineveh in 2003, under then Maj. Gen. Petraeus’s leadership, these men – many of them veterans of the Iraqi army – played a crucial role in restoring civil order. Yet due to excessive de-Baathification and the administration’s attempt to marginalize powerful tribal sheiks in Anbar and other provinces – including men even Saddam dared not ignore – we transformed potential partners into dreaded enemies in less than a year.
Then al Qaeda in Iraq, which helped fund and tried to control the Sunni insurgency for its own ends, raped too many women and boys, cut off too many heads, and brought drugs into too many neighborhoods. By outraging the tribes, it gave birth to the Sunni “awakening.” We – and Iraq – got a second chance. Powerful tribes in Anbar province cooperate with us now because they came to see al Qaeda for what it is – and to see Americans for what we truly are.
Soldiers everywhere are paid, and good generals know it is dangerous to mess with a soldier’s money. The shoeless heroes who froze at Valley Forge were paid, and when their pay did not come they threatened to leave – and some did. Soldiers have families and will not fight for a nation that allows their families to starve. But to say that the tribes who fight with us are “rented” is perhaps as vile a slander as to say that George Washington’s men would have left him if the British offered a better deal.
Equally misguided were some senators’ attempts to use Gen. Petraeus’s statement, that there could be no purely military solution in Iraq, to dismiss our soldiers’ achievements as “merely” military. In a successful counterinsurgency it is impossible to separate military and political success. The Sunni “awakening” was not primarily a military event any more than it was “bribery.” It was a political event with enormous military benefits.
The huge drop in roadside bombings is also a political success – because the bombings were political events. It is not possible to bury a tank-busting 1,500-pound bomb in a neighborhood street without the neighbors noticing. Since the military cannot watch every road during every hour of the day (that would be a purely military solution), whether the bomb kills soldiers depends on whether the neighbors warn the soldiers or cover for the terrorists. Once they mostly stood silent; today they tend to pick up their cell phones and call the Americans. Even in big “kinetic” military operations like the taking of Baqubah in June 2007, politics was crucial. Casualties were a fraction of what we expected because, block-by-block, the citizens told our guys where to find the bad guys. I was there; I saw it.
The Iraqi central government is unsatisfactory at best. But the grass-roots political progress of the past year has been extraordinary – and is directly measurable in the drop in casualties.
This leads us to the most out-of-date aspect of the Senate debate: the argument about the pace of troop withdrawals. Precisely because we have made so much political progress in the past year, rather than talking about force reduction, Congress should be figuring ways and means to increase troop levels. For all our successes, we still do not have enough troops. This makes the fight longer and more lethal for the troops who are fighting. To give one example, I just returned this week from Nineveh province, where I have spent probably eight months between 2005 to 2008, and it is clear that we remain stretched very thin from the Syrian border and through Mosul. Vast swaths of Nineveh are patrolled mostly by occasional overflights.
We know now that we can pull off a successful counterinsurgency in Iraq. We know that we are working with an increasingly willing citizenry. But counterinsurgency, like community policing, requires lots of boots on the ground. You can’t do it from inside a jet or a tank.
Over the past 15 months, we have proved that we can win this war. We stand now at the moment of truth. Victory – and a democracy in the Arab world – is within our grasp. But it could yet slip away if our leaders remain transfixed by the war we almost lost, rather than focusing on the war we are winning today.
Mr. Yon is author of the just-published “Moment of Truth in Iraq” (Richard Vigilante Books). He has been reporting from Iraq and Afghanistan since December 2004.
See all of today’s editorials and op-eds, plus video commentary, on Opinion Journal.
Why is the systematic rape of women and children by al Qaeda and it’s allies not trumpeted to the mountaintops by our press as was abu ghraib.
And why do Americans not get upset about this.
Why are our efforts to build clinics and schools not trumpeted as loudly as rendition, waterboarding and haditha?
Why are people not outraged by this?
These are the types of things that could help our military build allies in the Iraq and the Middle East. The Media is complicit with the terrorists. Accomplices in Terror and Murder.