The end of the beginning
Murphy tells us that “whatever can go wrong will go wrong, and it will do so at the worst possible moment.” Corollaries are the first law of conventional wisdom, which states, “Conventional wisdom is more often wrong than right”; and the second law of conventional wisdom, which states, “That the more certain the conventional wisdom is, and the more widely it is shared, the more likely it is going to be wrong.”
David Kay, the outgoing head of U.S. arms inspections in Iraq, has said, “The United States has found no stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and that it is unlikely that significant numbers of such weapons will be found.”
Those of us (with me at the top of the list) who accepted the “conventional wisdom” that we would find WMDs in Iraq were wrong, even though our thinking was well reasoned, to wit: 1) Saddam had chemical weapons and used them several times; 2) he behaved as if he had something to hide by thumbing his nose at 14 U.N. Security Council resolutions; 3) the French sold him a nuclear reactor capable of producing weapons grade plutonium; 4) every Western intelligence agency in the world was convinced that Saddam had WMDs (remember, there was no debate in the U.N. about “if” he had WMDs, only about how do deal with the situation); and 5) even the Clinton administration agreed this view.
It now appears now the current “conventional wisdom” is that the U.S. is preparing to withdraw a significant number of our combat forces from Baghdad within the next two months. This coincides neatly with U.S. troop rotation plans, increased U.N. involvement, recent overtures by NATO officials who are said to be interested in a peacekeeping role and the fact that this is an election year.
But is the United States actually going to reduce its footprint in the region? “Conventional wisdom” seems to point in that direction, but let’s scrutinize the issue a little more closely. Our actions in Afghanistan and Iraq have been “battles” in the overall war against militant Islam and al Qaeda in particular. And despite how maladroitly the administration has presented the war against militant Islam to the American people, it has always had clear logic.
Still, elections have a way of influencing politics. The major battles against militant Islam are far from over. Regardless of who gains the White House in November, he (or she) will have to face the reality that we are still in the early stages of this conflict.
In all likelihood, Al Qaeda’s next strategy will be to destabilize other governments in the region, i.e. Saudi Arabia or Pakistan. The House of Saud has been in al Qaeda’s gunsights for years, and the recent attempts on Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s life are clear examples of the intent to make those the next “battleground.”
From a strategic perspective, Iraq is the most advantageously located country in the region. It borders Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, Syria, Turkey and Iran, and is the jumping off point for any new conflagration if necessary.
The recent talk of substantial troop withdrawals doesn’t make sense unless these withdrawals include the massive amounts of armor and other military hardware that remain in Iraq. The amount of armor and weaponry currently in Iraq are disproportionate to the task of peacekeeping.
Conventional wisdom indicates that the administration must facilitate troop withdrawals during an election year, but any genuine pullback from the region will occur only when the M-1A1 tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles are moved back to Diego Garcia. This isn’t about to happen anytime soon because if al Qaeda destabilizes Saudi Arabia, rest assured that the M-1A1s and Bradley fighting vehicles will be needed in a hurry.
The tactical situation in Iraq is not as stable as we would want because Americans and Iraqis continue to die. But the strategic situation is better than expected. The “Arab street” did not rise up en masse, as was so direly predicted a year ago, and the United States is in the process of securing (to the extent that anything can be secured in the Middle East) a presence and the ability to deter governments such as Syria and Iran from further supporting al Qaeda and other terror organizations.
For those who don’t accept the notion that there is linkage between diametrically opposed terror organizations, you need look no further than the formal organizational meetings in Tehran on June 2 and 3 among Hezbollah, a Shiite organization supported by Iran; Hamas, a Sunni terrorists group supported by the Saudis; Islamic Jihad, an even more fanatical terrorist group; and the Popular Front for the liberation of Palestine, a Marxist-Leninist faction sponsored by the secular Baathists in Syria. As the old saying goes, “My enemy’s enemy is my friend.”
Conventional wisdom tells us that the president must make an attempt at withdrawal or disengagement during an election year. But don’t bet the ranch that troop rotations or bringing units home signals the beginning of end of our involvement in the Middle East, because it doesn’t.
To borrow a phrase from Sir Winston Churchill, “This is but the end of the beginning.”
Butch Mazzuca of Singletree writes a weekly column for the Daily. He can be reached at email@example.com