Monday, July 25, 2005

The GWOT and the DOG

The motivation and strategy behind war is often misrepresented or misunderstood, and OIF (now regrettably termed Operation Iraqi F*&%@-Up) is no exception. From the link to 9/11 to finding WMD to an Exxon-House of Saud oil conspiracy, the motives for OIF have been consistently miscast by both the right and left with the convenient and compelling rather than the accurate.

One of the current arguments made by supporters of the war is that Iraq is a key part of the Global War on Terror (GWOT). This key points of this argument are:
- Saddam Hussein was a state sponsor of terrorism (weak case although not completely false)
- Toppling Hussein will spur a reformist movement throughout the Middle East necessary to end state support for terrorism (naively ambitious and weak case, although not completely dismissible… see below)
- OIF now serves as a “flypaper” attracting jihadists to fight our forces in Iraq rather than prosecuting terrorism in New York or London… er… New York (the flies must be going to Iraq via Edgeware Road and Kings Cross).

But this justification is equally convenient and strategically inept as the earlier claims. Consider:

We know that neocons had been talking about toppling Saddam Hussein long before 9/11 (Johns Hopkins students tell me then Dean Wolfowitz was talking about invading Iraq in the mid-90s.). The rationale was to end the unique threat represented by Saddam Hussein, create a beachhead for moderate governance in the Middle East, and create a demonstrable example of will and determination (a la Reagan) that would promote reform and American interests in the region more broadly. I call this the neocons Democratization of the Globe (DOG) agenda that featured similar arguments for more aggressively separating the Baltics from the Russian grip in the early-mid 90s by Democratic neocons.

The notion that the motive is tied to GWOT is a clever twisting of the original intent (and this leads to the strategic ineptness part). Oh, and don’t say this was all terrorism driven because the Bush team downgraded al Queda and the Middle East as issues coming in, focusing instead on China and Latin America (remember our best friend Vincente Fox?). Only 9/11 sparked the terror connection. Defining the GWOT as the modernization and reform of the Middle East, then you have bought into a serious case of mission creep (and loss of focus).

Why strategically inept? If you are making the reasonable case that the combination extremist Islamic ideology and political tyranny in the Middle East are seeding anti-US terrorism (and other nastiness like war, instability, human misery), then there are more effective and less risky ways to promote reform while simultaneously not igniting a firestorm of anti-Americanism across the region. For example, the most obvious steps are making progress on Israel-Palestine, reducing US oil dependence, supporting reformist movements, funding opposition groups, building political and economic pressures, etc.) We had already knocked off a hard line regime to make way for moderates (Afghanistan) so no “demonstration” was needed. I like the cost-benefit/risk-reward analysis for these other opportunities far more. Doesn't mean there isn't some potential upside to Iraq, but the rationale gets obliterated when you consider the nearer term risks that came to roost: massive political, military, resource distraction, huge rise in anti-Americanism, fracturing of Western alliance, and so forth.

Consider also that the War on Terrorism is an effective political term, not a feasible campaign. You can't wage war on terrorism any more than you can wage war on poverty or disease or war itself. You can wage wars on countries, groups, organizations (see Zbig Brzezinski's op-ed on this).

In military parlance, the center of gravity is where the battle (or campaign) will be won or lost. The center of gravity of the US war on terror is the disruption and destruction of al Queda and its affiliated network of groups, supporters, financiers, etc. There is no reasonable argument that Iraq was the center of gravity for the al queda campaign or ANY of the other significant campaigns. Look to Iran, Syria, or even Saudia Arabia for the leading state sponsors. You may call this the view of "critics" but it is also the view of the CIA, non-partisan Middle East and terror professionals, and lots of people who supported the war in Iraq.

In contrast, there is a good case that al Queda has successfully exploited the US overreaction in Iraq to bolster the expansion of its network and the fracturing of the Western unity (“are the latest terror attacks because of Iraq?”).

In short, Iraq remains an ambitious neocon DOG that has gone awry. It is now more of a distraction and unhelpful distortion of the GWOT than the campaign’s center. I do think we need to succeed and it could still turn out to be a positive development long term, albeit at much great human, financial, political, and opportunity cost than the Administration imagined.


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