The Keystone State

A common misconception about the Global War on Terror is that Iraq is completely unrelated to the war effort, that it is a distraction. This could be seen in polling questions during the presidential election. When pollsters asked about the issues most important to voters, the “War on Terror” and “Iraq” was listed as two separate issues. Despite the vast resources available to the mainstream media, they have failed to properly analyze the situation in the Middle East and grasp the strategic significance of Iraq in relation to the Global War on Terror.

Part of this problem is the liberal notion that the Global War on Terror should be fought against al Qaeda as retaliation for the attacks on 9-11. The problems with this worldview are that it fails to address underlying problems of global terrorism: state sponsorship of terrorist entities, cooperation between terrorist organizations and the failed authoritarian political system of the Middle East. To reduce the threat of terror attacks against the United States and her allies, each of these problems must be addressed. This requires a radical reshaping of the Middle East.

Much to the consternation of a vast majority of the Democratic party, the war did not end with the removal of Afghanistan as a base of operations for al Qaeda. We could not fall back into a police enforcement role and reasonably expect to be safe from future acts of terrorism. President Bush recognized the overarching problems in the Middle East that contribute to the terror threat: state sponsorship of terrorism by Iran and Syria; support of radical Islamists within Saudi Arabia and Pakistan; the failure of maintaining the status quo with respect to kingdoms, theocrats and dictators; the proliferation of WMD materials and knowledge throughout these failed states.

After the success in overthrowing the Taliban in Afghanistan, the focus of the war moved to the heart of the Middle East: Iraq. Despite the absence of stockpiles of WMD, the administration had a strong case to invade Iraq. Invading Iraq not only achieved the objective of removing the strategic threat Saddam represented in the Middle East, but it had the added bonus of acting as a magnet for international terrorist, drawing al Qaeda’s resources away from other areas of operations, demoralizing the jihadis and stretching their logistical chain, exposing A.Q. Khan’s WMD distribution network and frightening Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi, so much so that he divulged and surrendered his WMD program (which was more advanced than thought) to the United States and Britain.

Invading Iraq also accomplished another very important objective: establishing a beachhead in the Middle East. The significance of Iraq in the War on Terror is twofold. The establishment of democracy in the heart of the Middle East places political pressure on neighboring states to reform from within. Iraq can serve as a base of operations against terror sponsoring states of Syria and Iran if diplomatic and political options fail, as well a base of operations against Saudi Arabia if it is overtaken by an Islamist revolution or is complicit in another terrorist attack.

As mentioned yesterday in A New Containment, the occupation of Iraq has completed the encirclement of Saudi Arabia. A look at the map of the Middle East will show that an American presence in Iraq also has the same effect on Syria and Iran. With American forces in Iraq, the line of communications between Syria and Iran has been severed. Syria is now surrounded by nations with an American military presence, and none of them are particularly friendly; Turkey to the north, Israel to the south, Jordan and Iraq to the east, and the United States Navy’s 6th Fleet to the West in the Mediterranean.

Iran faces a similar military problem, with Turkey, Iraq and Kuwait to the west, Afghanistan and Pakistan to the east, the Gulf states and the 3rd and 5th Fleets to the south. The north remains open via Turkmenistan and the Caucasus states, however neither of these nations is likely to be supportive of Iran in the event of an American led military action. Iraq, Afghanistan and the Caucasuses may also provide another level of unconventional containment against Iran, as there are plans to host ground based anti ballistic missile systems to defend against Iran’s nuclear missile program in the event the program is not stopped.

It is no accident that Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia have been divided and surrounded in this manner. These nations have been ringed with a series of logistical bases, naval, air and special operations bases and prepositioned military equipment. The facilitie provide the support and logistical chain needed in the event that military operations must be executed from the spearhead in Iraq. Without Iraq, threat of invasion into Iran was limited to amphibious assault from Indian Ocean or Persian Gulf. While not militarily impossible, an amphibious assault would require enormous resources and increase the risk to Naval assets and the assault force. The American ground presence in Iraq provides for increased flexibility and safety if future operations are required.

In the past, I have referred to Iraq as a wedge state, as placing an American presence in this country splits the states of Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia. However a good friend has referred to Iraq as the keystone to the Middle East. This is a more apt analogy as placing American forces in Iraq is the key to containing and encircling state sponsors of terrorism. Removing Iraq from the arch of nations in the Middle East that support terrorism can lead to their collapse and eventual reform.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.


  • leaddog2 says:

    As usual, you do a good job of writing. Over on Rantburg, there is a thread that talks about Secretary Rumsfeld’s comment today. They focused on getting out of Iraq in 4 years. Personally, I see our presence in Iraq as a long-term situation such as we see in Japan. I DO NOT see us leaving Iraq in 4 years and your article points out the reasons why. In addition, the Wahhabi ideology is at least 10 times worse than anything the Nazis ever dreamed up, so I believe we will keep the Saudi’s encircled until that ideology is changed or exterminated. (It is an open question which ideology is worse, Iranian theocracy or Saudi Wahhabism).

  • Enigma says:


    Isn’t it interesting to watch U.S. strategy unfold like this, even as the Left laments how our “mistaken”
    intervention in Iraq has “tied our hands” with respect to dealing with the crisis over Iranian nukes? Am I the only
    one who wonders how long CIA/Special Forces teams have been in Iran?

    Excellent analysis on the Middle East. I couldn’t have said it better myself. 😉

  • Bill Roggio says:

    I saw the debate at Rantburg. I am not sure why Rumsfeld said this, but it certainly was wrong for him to do so. Perhaps he is referring to the occupation/reconstruction aspect of the military deployment. My understanding is that garrisons are being planned. And I seriously doubt we expended the blood, treasure and political capital just to abandon Iraq without considering the long term. I’m with you on this, and suspect Rumsfeld misspoke or perhaps was misquoted (unlikely but possible).
    You are not alone, that is one long and lonely border. Those that has criticized Iraq are short sighted; they tend to look at what Iraq brings them today instead of the long term benefits and capabilities placing bases in Iraq brings to the table. Iran is on the horizon, like it or not.
    Thanks to both of you for the kind words.

  • Addingle says:

    Your comments also reflect the thoughts of George Friedman, in his recent book “America’s Secret War”. Your ideas, and his, are so clear that one wonders why it is so hard for so-called informed pundits to understand the machinations of the US, it’s allies, and it’s enemies. Friedman takes the administration to task for failing to explain it’s strategy and goals, and we should also assign some blame to the MSM for failing to do the same.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    I must admit I have not read George Friedman’s book, “America’s Secret War”. But based on your comments, I will add it to my list of books to read.
    One item of note is the difficulty the Bush administration would have in making this case. Case in point is Saudi Arabia. We are working with them to hunt al Qaeda and are trying to get them to reform their society on their own accord, so openly stating that we have them surrounded might happer these efforts. There is a certain subtlety needed in diplomacy.
    However I think the administration must do a better job in explaning the war from a very high level – prevent Iran from going nuclear; explaning the danger of Hezbollah and its relations to al Qaeda, Syria and Iran; talk more about our involvement in the Middle East, etc. I think it has tried on some accounts, but the MSM has failed to broadcast the message. But the presidency has the most powerful pulpit in the world and should use it to its advantage.
    The MSM has no excuse for not recognizing this though. They pay plenty of ex-generals and admirals who seems to bring very little to the table.

  • Robert M says:

    After the Jan 31st election in Iraq if the Iraqi’s say go home how is it possible to act against either
    Saudi Arabia of Iran with your loss of a ground staging area and the amount of troops currently at our governments disposal? If we don’t leave clearly democracy for the Middle East doesn’t mean anything. If we stage in Israel almost everyone will go ballastic. The idea of invading someone else in the Middle East without a disruption in oil supplies to the industrialized parts of the world is either a very dangerous game of chicken or if we are really going to do it a disaster given our record in Sunni-Arab Iraq.
    Assume you do invade Saudi Arabia to take over the oil are we going to give control of the oil fields to the Shia-Arab Saudi’s whom are the primary population to damp down hard feelings? How are you going to deal with intra religious problems in Islam comparable to the Protestant/Catholic split? Are the Chinese going to go along with this with their current dependency on Saudi oil at 40% of imports? Conversly in Iran are we just going to take the Persian Gulf oil fields and bring back the Shah? Ar you expecting a rollover like Libya?
    The suggestion of an acutal invasion doesn’t seem to match either current military capablities or account for blowback scenarios. What is the real purpose of this post?

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Robert M.,
    LAst question first, as this seems to be the basis of all of your questions.
    The purpose of this post is not to discuss the potential problems of invading Iran or Saudi Arabia, or how this affects the global community or the world’s oil supplies.
    The the purpose of this post is to explain the posture of our military forces in the Middle East, how this related to the global war, and how this puts pressure on Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia. If you are reading something else into it, I am interested in knowing what it is and how you got there from what I wrote.
    I never said we would stage in Israel, it is mentioned to show the ring of basing around the country of Syria. It is an added form of pressure on Syria, and Israel has been rattling its own saber against Syria (so has Turkey). Note that Israel was not involved in either action against Iraq, for the political reason of enflaming the “Arab Street”, whatever that is (that steet has been nothing but silent throught the years).
    If Iraq askes us to leave, then no doubt we must. I happen to view this as an unlikely scenario, but you are correct, it is a possibility and would be a major blow to the containment and pressure policy in place.
    I’m not suggesting an invasion of any of these countries in the near or long term future, and would prefer for Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia to reform without out our intervention. But based on the history of the Middle East, reform does not occur without outside pressure. Our posture in the Middle East is applying that pressure. And it also allows us to act if any of these nations cross the line and actively sponsor acts of terrorism against the United States. Certainly we would be remiss if we did not plan for the worst, based on the Middle East’s love of exporting Jihad. And we would certainly want to be in a good position to intervene in Saudi Arabia if an a Qaeda coup was successful.
    Concerning miitary capabilities, we would be stretched to invade any of these countries, but it would not be impossible. We have yet to tap the full potential of the reserve and guard force. I do not recommend this, but it is more than possible.
    Cocerning our “failures” in Sunni Iraq, I disagree with your characterization, and you should know this if you read my past posts on the subject. We have learned a valuable lesson in Iraq, and our military is good at adapting. You seem to be implying that we would make the same mistakes. I happen to think the knowledge we have obtained by fighting in Iraq would be quite useful in Saudi Arabia and Syria (less so in Iran) in the event of war with these nations.

  • Justin B says:

    Robert M,

    We didn’t need to invade Libya. Libya is what our foreign policy will look like with Middle Eastern Dictators. If they do not attempt to fund terror and do not develop banned weapons, we respect their autonomy. If the are aggressive and pose a threat, they will be removed. Libya understands this and they chose one path. Iraq chose another. Clearly the decision on stopping funding terror and stoping developing Nukes, etc. falls on Iran and Syria. They just will have REAL consequences imposed by the US, not fake “sanctions” and Oil for Food as administered by the UN.

    We have decided to pull a good cop – bad cop with the entire world. We are the crazy, war crazed Americans who will invade anyone in the world that is a threat to us. We are the slightly off kilter agressive cop that scares the hell out of the world. I kind of like this picture as it certainly is prefered to the UN where they are not only impotent, but can be bought off. The problem is that instead of the UN being the “good cop” they are clearly “corrupt cops”.

    There is one thing these folks understand. Strength. We tried diplomacy with Palestine, Isreal, Iraq, Iran, etc. under Bill Clinton. Did things change? Yes, as a matter of fact. They perceived us as “weak paper tigers” and flew planes into buildings. We see the respect they have for the UN. The UN is pretty scary with sanctions unless you can bribe Kofi. That brand of diplomacy is over post-9-11. That is old school thinking and it does not work.

    Why do you think Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia have so many youths going to fight and kill us in Iraq? They are scared to death about a long term US presence in Iraq. They know that once we are anchored there, the insurgency is over. Once the election is over and the Iraqi police are trained, the insurgency is dead. They already lost Fallujah. Sure these countries are scared of democracy toppling their governments, but they have the dual threat of two major emerging democracies and a major US base of operations to ensure orderly transition to democracy. We are learning the lessons of how these folks think and demoralizing them by beating them senseless on the battlefield, plus undermining their support among the locals.

    I don’t think anyone wants to topple every government in the Middle East and “take their oil”. We want them to stop exporting terror, ensure human rights, stop funding terror, and stop developing WMDs. Libya gets it. Syria and Iran now actually have a legitimate threat of consequences. We are not paper tigers that can be bought off like the UN and if we want to invade Iran or Syria, we will not make the same mistakes we have made in Iraq. But, trust me, if they do not stop trying to get nukes or funding and exporting terror, they will be hiding in a spider hole pretty quick just like Saddam was.


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