What follows are some lengthy excerpts from an opinion piece by Caroline Glick, entitled U.S. Pullout: The Sunset for Iraq? It originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post, although I came across it via Real Clear Politics. I’ve included the links, omitted in the original, to some of the source material referenced by Glick.
I normally refrain from the extensive use of excerpts, but in this instance, I’m going to make an exception.
I ask this of our readers: Stop reading the excerpts and follow the links to Friedman’s and Herman’s material, respectively, before continuing. The background material is critically important to understanding the uncanny ability of the political class to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
A troubling milestone arrived on Thursday when the US withdrew its final combat brigade from Iraq. The remaining 50,000 US forces are charged with advising and training the Iraqi military. President Barack Obama has pledged to withdraw them as well by the end of next year.
When US-led allied forces invaded Iraq seven years ago, their action raised the hopes and incited the dreams of millions throughout the region and throughout the world.
Operation Iraqi Freedom promised to bring the light of liberty to a corner of the world that had known none. By doing so, it would inspire and enable men and women throughout the region to believe that they too could be free.
But as the last US combat brigade departed on Thursday, the Iraq they left behind was not an Arab shining city on an Iraqi hill. The Iraq they withdrew from has no government.
Iran’s hand is everywhere in this chaos. As George Friedman wrote in a recent Stratfor Intelligence Bulletin **, it is true that today, with 50,000 US forces still deployed in Iraq, “the Iranians do not have the ability to impose a government on Iraq. However, they do have the ability to prevent the formation of a government or to destabilize one that is formed.
Iranian intelligence has sufficient allies and resources in Iraq to guarantee the failure of any stabilization attempt that doesn't please Tehran.”
As Friedman notes, for Iran, keeping Iraq in an ongoing state of instability, with sporadic periods of outright chaos, is a low-cost, high-return investment. It denies Iraq the ability to reconstitute itself to play its traditional role as a regional counterweight balancing Iranian power in the Persian Gulf. It also denies the US victory, erodes its will to fight and saps it of its determination to defend the Persian Gulf from Iranian ascendance.
(** RCP link substituted to include those without a subscription to STRATFOR.)
On a military level, the US’s inconclusive campaign in Iraq bears striking similarities to Israel’s departure from southern Lebanon 10 years ago. In Lebanon, as in Iraq for the US, Iran and its proxies made it impossible for Israel and its allies in the South Lebanese Army to bring stability to the south. Hizbullah’s constant but low-key assaults on Israel and IDF forces, punctuated by sporadic escalations, eroded the Israeli ruling class’s will to fight. So, too, the elusive character of the asymmetric enemy made it easy for the same elites to ignore the nature of the adversarial forces arrayed against Israel and so paved the way for Israel’s retreat. This in turn fomented Hizbullah’s triumphant takeover of the south, and in due course, its takeover of the whole of Lebanon.
The political class is delusional, and their thinking is extremely shortsighted and dangerous.
For the past seven years, advocates of the Iraq war and opponents of the war, Republicans and Democrats alike, have consistently refused to understand the nature of the battlefield and what that meant about their prospects in Iraq and the region.
Both the Bush and Obama administrations wrongly characterized Iraq as a stand-alone war. But the fact is that Iraq has always been a battleground of a regional war. And the main enemy in Iraq, the main obstacle to stability and victory, is Iran. Just as Israel was unable to beat Iran in Lebanon, and so lost to its proxy Hizbullah, so the US has been and will remain unable to defeat Iran in Iraq. And if it maintains its current strategy, it will be defeated by Iran’s proxies.
The only way to safeguard Iraq is to overthrow the regime in Iran. The only way to get the likes of Hariri out from under the jackboots of Hizbullah and the Iranian-proxy regime in Damascus is to overthrow the regime in Iran.
If it were just a question of Iraq’s well-being as a country, it would arguably make sense for the US to avoid escalation of the war and refuse to challenge the regime in Teheran.
But Iran is not only fighting for Iraq and it is not only fighting in Iraq. Through its proxies, Iran is also fighting in Lebanon and is using its proxies to increase its influence throughout the Persian Gulf, the Levant and beyond.
And with the regime just a short step or two away from nuclear capabilities it is clear that the US strategy in Iraq was wrong all along. It was wrong and dangerous.
The US strategy was to bring democracy to Iraq and by doing so, inspire democratic revolutions throughout the Arab world.
Although inspiring, it was wrong first and foremost because it was predicated on ignoring one of the basic dictates of strategy. It failed to recognize that there were other forces in the region.
It failed to anticipate that every US move would be countered by an Iranian move. And in failing to recognize this basic strategic truth – even though it has been staring them in the face – the Americans aggressively pursued a strategy that became more and more irrelevant as time went by.
In the September issue of Commentary, Arthur Herman depressingly sets out the Obama administration’s declared plans and early moves to gut the US military. It is obvious that regardless of Obama’s political position after the mid-term elections in November, he will not revisit the US’s current Middle East strategy, which is predicated on ignoring the Iranian nuclear elephant in the middle of the room. He will not work to overthrow the regime or support any forces that would overthrow the regime.
It is true that in the short term, the prospects for the region hinge on whether or not Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has the courage to order the IDF to attack Iran’s nuclear installations. And it is also true that if an Israeli strike is sufficiently successful, it would empower many positive forces throughout the region – from Teheran and Kurdistan to Ankara, Damascus and Beirut.
But in the medium and long term, nothing can replace America. And as long as the US continues on its trajectory of strategic blindness, the Iraqis will be far from alone in their suffering.
I will reiterate: There can be no victory absent regime change in Iran.
And, simply state: This is no victory. We have just laid the foundation for a greater Middle East conflict.