Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Long War Evolves

Iraq really was a victory in the war on terror, even if you think the price we paid was too high. But the Long War continues because Iraq was just a battle and not the war itself.

My hopes for Iraq as an influence on Iran are not so far fetched:

Yet, if one were to isolate a single hinge in calculating Iran's fate, it would be Iraq. Iraq, history and geography tell us, is entwined in Iranian politics to the degree of no other foreign country. The Shiite shrines of Imam Ali (the Prophet's cousin and son-in-law) in An Najaf and the one of Imam Hussain (the grandson of the Prophet) in Karbala, both in central-southern Iraq, have engendered Shiite theological communities that challenge that of Qom in Iran. Were Iraqi democracy to exhibit even a modicum of stability, the freer intellectual atmosphere of the Iraqi holy cities could eventually have a profound impact on Iranian politics. In a larger sense, a democratic Iraq can serve as an attractor force of which Iranian reformers might in the future take advantage. ... Without justifying the way that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was planned and executed, or rationalizing the trillions of dollars spent and the hundreds of thousands of lives lost in the war, in the fullness of time it might very well be that the fall of Saddam Hussein began a process that will result in the liberation of two countries; not one. Just as geography has facilitated Iran's subtle colonization of Iraqi politics, geography could also be a factor in abetting Iraq's influence upon Iran.

Mind you, the author is quick to point out that this is in no way a defense of the war. That's been a major point of disagreement that I have with Stratfor.

Although deaths were not in multiple hundreds of thousands as the author states. Further, given the rate that Saddam killed Iraqis (and Kurds, and Kuwaitis, and Iranians), I think it is a stretch to assume no war in Iraq would have led to a decade of peace in Iraq.

Nor was the cost in the trillions, for that matter. Unless you count so many indirect costs as to make the exercise pointless. I'll just point out that our direct spending on the war was about what we spent in a pen stroke with the 2009 stimulus.

But I digress. The point is--ignoring the debate over the price we paid in favor of the outcome--that a reasonably democratic largely Arab Iraq could be a major influence in Persian Iran that undermines the mullah autocracy. (So is it really so bizarre to think Iraq might have influenced the Arab Spring?)

By George, I think I mentioned that before the Iraq War:

So could Iraq spark dominos from Iran to Syria and from Egypt to Saudi Arabia? I hope so. It certainly isn't out of the question given the history of the "discredited" domino theory. With Islamofascism crumbling in Iran, perhaps the region is ripe for the democratic counter-offensive. Shoot, just batting .300 would be pretty good. The ironic thing is, though tipping the domino of Iraq could start a chain reaction for rule of law and democracy in the Islamic world; the Iranian mullahs hoped tipping Iraq the other way, during the Iran Iraq War in the 1980s (the real First Gulf War) would be the first domino to turn the Islamic world into Iranian-inspired and led fanatics. The Iraqis may have held the line long enough to blunt the murderous, Islam-distorting philosophy that today motivates al Qaeda and prepared the region for the day very soon when we reach out our finger and tip the domino the other way. No wonder al Qaeda hates Saddam almost as much as the West.

I hope for democracy in the Moslem world. I'm realistic enough not to try to implant democracy overnight in Iraq; yet optimistic enough to think that there is no such thing as a people "not ready for democracy," as so many critics condescendingly imply. I'm also realistic enough to accept as a success far less in the short run. Iraq as a place where people aren't trying to flee bloody tyranny, where the rulers don't dream of expansionist glory, and where thugs don't find sanctuary to plot our murder in the thousands, is fine by me. Even a democratic Jeffersonian democracy in Iraq, or elsewhere, would be pure cake. We might even do better than that in the long run.

Sanctions, Iraqi democracy, a wall of Gulf Arab resistance, Syria, and Lebanon are all battles that can weaken Iran. And the Arab Spring is a threat to Iran's hope of leading Moslems against the West.

Not that we are simply able to harvest the fruits of Iraq. Mind you, Iraq was a victory. But it was a battle and not the war. Now we are in a wider battle for the heart and soul of the Arab world. We must fight this battle to win the Long War.

We've decimated the terrorists; we've destroyed despots who backed terrorism, putting every terrorism-supporting state on notice; and now we have the opportunity to address the problem in the wider Moslem Arab world.

But from the start, it was always a war for the heart and soul of the Arab world to help reformers and moderates control and then discredit the jihadis who were nurtured in a culture that too often still celebrates suicide bombers who kill us.

Thinking of the Long War as a tactical--or even just a law enforcement--problem risks endless war and a security society that steadily erodes our freedoms. Even just focusing on state supporters of jihadis just contains the jihadi wave and buys time for the next surge of jihadi anger and mobilization, which has a long history. But the next surge might be in an environment where chemical, biological, and even nuclear weapons are within the capabilities on nonstate or even individual actors.

I know we are all tired of war. But we haven't won this war yet. Hopefully we will need no more drawn out counter-insurgencies. But whether that is true or not, the war continues on different battlefields.