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The right war in the right place, but not for the reason you think

By Alan Caruba
web posted October 18, 2004

There's a saying among journalists. "If your Mother says she loves you, check it out." It's a way of training rookies to be skeptical of what anyone has to say for public consumption and, in particular, politicians.

It is an article of faith among journalists (and many others) that the government is not likely to be telling the truth for a whole host of reasons, quite a few of which often make very good sense. After 9-11, the job of the White House and the rest of the government was to keep Americans calm while, in reality, they discovered they had virtually no actionable intelligence about who had attacked us and, more importantly, whether they would again.

It turns out that the objective of al-Qaida was to force America to launch a military invasion, to draw the US into a confrontation that, on paper, looked one-sided. We had lots of planes, tanks, ships; a mighty arsenal. Al-Qaida, however, was a deliberately amorphous, impossible to predict, relatively small group of people. They are motivated to overthrow the "Crusaders", the sheiks who cooperated with them, and then establish a new Caliphate in which Islam would regain its former power.

The White House might not have known too much about al-Qaida, but it knew where its base of operations was; Afghanistan. What we did was rent an army, the Northern Alliance of warlords, to overthrow the Taliban with whom al-Qaida was allied. Finally, in Tora Bora, we made a great show of bombing al-Qaida's forces, but the truth was that the caves and tunnels there were a superb redoubt in which to survive. When the bombing stopped, al-Qaida operatives just disappeared into areas of Pakistan where even that government exercised little power or across the border into Iran.

While Sen. John Kerry runs about calling for a renewed effort to find al-Qaida and calling the war in Iraq a mistake, he is either the most cynical politician since Aaron Burr or he is too stupid to be walked without a leash. Anyone in Washington with any access to intelligence knows that, until Muslim nations (and others around the world) decided to cast their lot with us, few inside the Beltway had much of a clue where al-Qaida is, who al-Qaida is, or what al-Qaida plans to do next.

That has changed. Al-Qaida's leaders and funding are being pursued and much damage has been done. The key factor to keep in mind is that the anticipated uprising of the "Arab street" never occurred.

What we do know is that al-Qaida's creators and those running it are very, very smart. That said, since they now pose a threat to every nation on earth, whatever mistakes any of them make will prove fatal. The notion that the US should be dispatching more troops to chase up and down the hills of Afghanistan looking for them is just so idiotic that someone should be chasing Sen. Kerry with a big net. What Afghanistan needs is a stable government and an economy that connects to the world, offering it something more than heroin.

Which leaves the question of what the hell are we doing in Iraq? And is it a good idea, given the amount of national treasure being spent and the loss of some very brave soldiers? Let's get one thing out of the way. There were no WMDs and that was NOT the real reason we invaded Iraq.

The real reason is brilliantly spelled out by George Friedman, the founder of Stratfor, a private company providing some of the best intelligence analysis found anywhere outside of the CIA. (Maybe even better than the CIA.) His new book, America's Secret War: Inside the Hidden Worldwide Struggle Between America and its Enemies ($35.95, Doubleday) tells you what occurred in the White House, the Department of Defense, the State Department, the CIA and everywhere else in the world that had an interest in American succeeding or failing. If you read no other book this year, read this one.

The real reason is also both complex and nuanced. One does not go to war frivolously, but neither do you have to be the President, a four-star General or a Ph.D. in global affairs to figure out why we're in Iraq. All you have to do is look at a map. Iraq is the single most strategic nation in the Middle East. As Friedman notes, "It borders on six other countries: Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, and Iran. In other words, from Iraq -- and with its forces in Afghanistan -- the United States could influence events in countries that ranged from the Himalayas to the Mediterranean and from the Black Sea and the Caucuses to the Red and Arabian Seas. Like its predecessor Mesopotamia, Iraq is the pivot of the Middle East."

Apparently, Sen. Kerry hasn't looked at a map lately because he is fixated on our retreat from a position of power that will, in time, greatly reduce the threats that bubble beneath the surface throughout the Middle East and get exported from there.

Now, keep this in mind. We did not attack al-Qaida, a movement with broad support among the 1.3 billion Muslims spread throughout the Middle East and around the world. Muslims are in Europe, in South America, in Africa, and in Asia. There are nearly two million here in the United States. Al-Qaida attacked us. Among those who were not entirely displeased to see that occur were Saudi Arabia, Syria, France, Germany, Russia and China. These nations and a host of others have their own agenda and an American empire or hegemony is not one of them.

We are in Iraq because the general view throughout the Middle East was that the United States of America lacked the guts to wage and win a war. If we can bring an end to the guerrilla war in Iraq, maneuvering, i.e., buying our way through the often-shifting alliances of Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds, and even Iran, we will have proved them wrong.

Once a new government in Iraq is secure, functioning, and friendly to the US for having liberated it from three decades of horrific despotism, America's military bases will allow it, as Friedman notes, to "dominate the area between the Mediterranean and the Hindu Kush; it would control the pivot of Eurasia. This, along with absolute control of the seas, would give the United States a global empire that was unprecedented in history." The irony is, America has never wanted to be an empire or an occupier.

So, on November 2, when you vote, you can choose to give up the one defense we really have, the ability to "encourage" other nations to help track down and kill the individual members of al-Qaida, and to do so from their backyard, or to leave our future to the tender mercies of a shadowy organization that wants to kill every last one of us.

Alan Caruba writes a weekly column, "Warning Signs", posted on the Internet site of The National Anxiety Center. © Alan Caruba 2004

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