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.