Friday, May 19, 2006

U.S. operations in Iraq. Geopolitically advantageous?

Amir Taheri's latest enumerates some benchmarks for success in improving conditions in Iraq. His indicators seem to be moving in a positive direction, and this made me reflect about what strategic advantages the U.S. might have attained in the GWOT. Here's my David Lettermanesque list. In no particular order, and I will probably continue to add to this list as these things occur to me:

1. Iraq finally in compliance with U.N. Resolution 1441.
2. Iraq, for the forseeable future, eliminated as a state sponsor of terrorism vs. the U.S. and Israel.
3. Iraq WMD issue definitively resolved.
4. Saddam, Qusay, and Uday Hussein deposed.
5. Interdiction of Iran-Syria flow of logistics and personnel.
6. Iran now faces U.S. military on two borders (Iraq, Afghanistan) and by sea. More advantageous for containment diplomacy.
7. Militarily easier to impose blockade on Iranian ports.
8. Basing rights in Saudi Arabia destabilized that regime; no longer necessary to have military units in Saudi since we transferred to Doha, Qatar, and Iraq.
9. Easier for U.S. forces to safeguard Straits of Hormuz.
10. Jihadis are being killed in large numbers. This is revealing exploitable fault-lines in al-Qaeda and cooling the ardor of potential jihadis. Attrition is taking its toll. Large-scale terror attacks are likely no longer the focus of AQ resources at this time.
11. Territory for terrorist training camps denied.
12. U.S. military institutional expertise at combatting AQ is tremendously enhanced.
13. U.S. Marine tactical doctrine for urban fighting validated and priceless experience gained.
14. Bumper crop of intelligence information from captured hostiles or their laptops, etc.
15. HUMINT resources likely recruited from ethnicities which can easily traverse the region's porous borders. The lack of such people severely hampered intelligence activites for the last few decades. Implications for Pakistan, Russia's southern border, and (of course) Iran/Syria as state actors, and for Jihadi groups of various ethnicities.
16. Operations in this theater have catalyzed an enhanced interaction between elite military units and intelligence gathering/processing.
17. Libya. Lebanon.

3 Comments:

Blogger honestpartisan said...

I agree with Numbers 1, 3, 4, 8, the Libya part of 17.

Don't know much about 7, 9, and 16. I'll give it to you for sport.

Numbers 2 is ambiguous: it's not clear to me at all that this was a big deal in the first place. Yeah, Abu Nidal lived in Iraq. Big whoop. He wasn't part of any group that flew planes into American buildings, and his terror days were long over with. And yes, Saddam offered to pay families of suicide bombers in Israel/West Bank/Gaza, but this probably didn't make much of a difference anyway, as Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad had lots of other sources of funding and the former two seem to be doing better than ever -- certainly electorally.

Number 5 isn't so clear to me: was Iraq ever really a conduit between Iran and Syria? Iran and Saddam were pretty bitter enemies, and he didn't get along with the Assad dynasty in Syria (who sided with the U.S. in Desert Storm).

Number 6 strikes me as ambiguous, too. I suppose it's possible that's an advantage, but I think Iran drew two lessons from the Iraq war: if you actually have WMD, you won't get attacked, and the U.S. can't successfully occupy a country so far from its borders. Not to mention that the U.S. must look pretty pinned down to Iran these days.

Number 10 seems dubious to me. First of all, a small minority of the insurgents are foreign fighters. Second of all, it seems to me that the Iraq war possibly created as many, if not more, jihadists-wannabes as were killed.

Number 11 I very much disagree with. Saddam didn't have terrorist training camps for Al Qaeda. I think that the Zarqawi types have training (camps or otherwise) there now that they didn't have before the war.

Numbers 12 and 13 strike me as a wash at best. AQ types are getting experience, too, and it's not clear to me how our military's experience will be useful in preventing future terror attacks, which are a lot more likely to be planned in places like the slums of Leeds rather than Iraq-war-like conditions.

How do you know number 14? Maybe it's true, maybe it isn't. One of the most scandalous aspects of the Abu Ghraeb travesty and Gitmo is that lots of people interned in both places didn't have connections to terrorism (they sent the real terror suspects to the "black sites", I understand). To the extent they didn't, the enemies we created there seem to me a pretty big disadvantage that threatens to outweigh this.

Number 15 strikes me as dubious as well. If you have any links that prove it, I'd be happy to see them, but seems to me that intelligence cooperation in the Middle East is a matter of politics to some degree -- that is, people have to want to cooperate with the U.S., or they have to feel like their government won't be imperiled if they cooperate with the U.S. To the extent that Pakistan's ISI and elements of the Saudi royal family already had troubling enough sympathies and ties with Al Qaeda before the war, the problem could have gotten worse.

It's not clear to me that much in Lebanon is so much better (Hezbollah is probably at its height of political appeal there), and that the Iraq war can be credited with anything that is.

5/19/2006 05:15:00 PM  
Blogger K. Pablo said...

Your strongest objection is against my "territory denied" item, which is based in part on 2005 Country Reports on Terrorism, chapter 3 of which states "Iraq is not currently a terrorist safe haven, but terrorists, including Sunni groups like al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI), Ansar al-Islam (AI), and Ansar al-Sunna (AS), as well as Shia extremists and other groups, view Iraq as a potential safe haven and are attempting to make it a reality."

Your criticism of item 10 seems to confuse insurgents with foreign fighters. My definition of "insurgent" would propose that these are indigenous Iraqis, mostly composed of rejectionist ex-Baathists. Shiite militias are not necessarily insurgents. Jihadists/al Qaeda are mostly foreign, and they have had increasingly significant difficulties with Iraqis. Incidentally, if you are going to ask me for links and "proof" of some of my assertions here, I think it's only fair you supply some to justify your sentiment that "the Iraq war possibly created as many, if not more, jihadists-wannabes as were killed."

More than all the Madrassas during the 90's? More than Saudi Arabia's public school system?

As far as the Iran-Syria interdiction, this of course was not something that existed with Saddam's blessing. Much information about the overland and riverine logistics of this was available in spring of 2005 when there was a campaign along the Tigris and backing up to the Syrian border, which I used to follow on Bill Roggio's site and on Belmont Club. They both have changed sites since and unfortunately, I cannot provide links. Walid Phares has written much about the Syrian-Iranian alliance.

Item 13 is so clearcut within the military community and sources that I have access to that I don't feel particularly compelled to defend it. Point 12, about the institutional capabilities of the U.S. military vis a vis those of e.g. al-Qaeda is based on the asymmetric nature of the casualties in theater, where senior al Qaeda personnel are routinely captured or slaughtered, with minimal analogous casualties within the command structure of U.S. and coalition forces.

I can agree with you somewhat where you speculate that the next terrorist attacks would be planned in the "slums of Leeds", as this echoes some of the thoughts of jihad strategist Abu Mus'ab al-Suri, . However, I don't see how such decentralized cells could coordinate a mass-casualty attack such as 9-11.

5/21/2006 03:43:00 PM  
Blogger honestpartisan said...

Your strongest objection is against my "territory denied" item, which is based in part on 2005 Country Reports on Terrorism, chapter 3 of which states "Iraq is not currently a terrorist safe haven, but terrorists, including Sunni groups like al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI), Ansar al-Islam (AI), and Ansar al-Sunna (AS), as well as Shia extremists and other groups, view Iraq as a potential safe haven and are attempting to make it a reality."

Interesting report. I checked out and discovered that there is a Philippine terror group that goes by the acronym MILF. While it does also contain that quote, it doesn't provide documentation that Saddam had terror training camps before the war.

The point about number 10 was, how many jihadists are really being killed if there aren't that many of them there? And as for the Iraq war creating for support for Al Qaeda than there was previously, I don't have links handy, but I do remember that Rumsfeld once conceded that this was going on. I can mine the web some more to confirm what I'm pretty sure I've read before, though.

Yeah, I think that Iraq war can create more support for Al Qaeda than madrassas, because the madrassas only reach the people they teach, while news about the Iraq war is available to everybody.

I don't see how such decentralized cells could coordinate a mass-casualty attack such as 9-11.

I suppose it's less likely, but Osama Bin Laden wasn't exactly living in a major communications hub in September of 2001. Moreover, I'm less worried that there actually will be 9/11-scale terrorist activity in the future than I am about the Israelization of everyday life, where someone will just strap some dynamite on him one day and walk into a pizzeria or on a bus.

5/24/2006 06:44:00 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home