Archive for November, 2005

White House War Aims Remain Unclear

[Originally published in the Valley News.]

For anyone paying close attention to events in Iraq, Vice President Cheney’s speech on November 21st to the American Enterprise Institute was not only alarming, but also very troubling.  It is troubling in the sense that Cheney continues to illustrate the inescapable fact that the Administration’s policy in Iraq is motivated by as yet unclear and unarticulated goals and that he continues to use unsupportable analysis and scare tactics as part of the Administration’s campaign to keep us interminably in Iraq.

Cheney says clearly in his speech, “The terrorists want to end American and Western influence in the Middle East. Their goal in that region is to gain control of a country so they have a base from which to launch attacks and to wage war against governments that do not meet their demands”.

This is a perfect example of  long employed Administration rhetoric – the use of the word “terrorist” in a non-specific, all-encompassing and alarmist fashion.  The fact is that there are two main kinds of “terrorist” in Iraq, Zarqawi’s “Al Qaida in Iraq” and the Sunnis who are running the Iraqi insurgency.

The only thing these two organizations have in common is their desire to see American troops gone from Iraq.  Theirs is a marriage of convenience motivated not by any kind of love, but by a single common interest and we Americans are that interest.  As long as we are there on the ground, there will be a tolerance of each group for the other.  Apart from that, they have nothing in common.

The Sunni “terrorists” in the insurgency are, as the Secretary of Defense has said, “dead-enders” whose sole goal is to get American troops out of their country. They are holdovers from the pre-invasion Baathi regime, which makes them nationalist, secular and focused primarily on the welfare of their own country as they see it.  They are practitioners of the Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) – roadside bombs – that are aimed at American troops.

On the other hand, “Al Qaida in Iraq” is made up primarily of Al Qaida members and recruits who are totally disinterested in Iraq and the real long-term goals of the Iraqi people.  In direct contrast to the “dead-enders”, they are in their own terms, internationalist and theist.  They represent the radical Muslim holy war against the secular West.  They are In Iraq primarily to cause as much trouble for the Americans as possible and to do it by creating as much internal Iraqi ethnic and religious strife as they can.  They are the suicide bombers whose goal in bombing a mosque is to turn Shia against Sunni.  Only through promoting this kind of devisiveness can they hope to be able to foment and maintain Iraqi instability.

These two groups are clearly not compatible in the long run.  What they have in common is short term at best – get America out.  In the long run, “Al Qaida in Iraq” has to see these “dead enders” for what they are, secular nationalists who represent, in their own way, just as much of a threat to radical Muslim goals as the Americans do.

Whether the Administration wishes to admit it or not, American troops on the ground in Iraq are the glue that keeps these two groups together, keeps them from turning on each other.  In the absence of our troops, it is infinitely more likely that they will turn on each other than that they will join arms in a larger jihad against America and the secular West.   Anyone paying attention in Iraq will see that struggle as the far more logical outcome of American withdrawal.

In a broader sense, American withdrawal will probably precipitate other ages-old grudge matches between Shia and Sunni, Kurd and Arab. Since the British forced it on the world, Iraq has never been a State in the truest sense of the word.   It was, rather, a British convenience.  Because those religious and ethnic frictions have always been present in Iraq, there is simply no way to avoid them short of voluntary cooperation between the parties or the imposition of order from above, neither one of which can be accomplished by American troops.

For those paying attention to Iraq realities, the disturbing factor here is why the Administration is taking this position on Iraq.  Because the logic is so flawed, it appears that it represents an attempt to justify the continued presence of American troops on the ground in Iraq, not as a policy designed to forward any goals that have been articulated by this Administration to the American people.  To “see it through” to victory, whatever that may mean, is simply not good enough.  That leaves America wondering what those goals really are.

Haviland is a retired CIA Station Chief who served in the Middle East and as Chief of the Counterterrorism Staff.

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