November 2, 2004

WHY WE ARE IN IRAQ : Military Bases Are A Requirement, Democracy is Merely an Elective.

Resolved: To safeguard the personal and economic wellbeing of the civilized world in the 21st century, it is essential for the United States to control Iraq for strategic and tactical military purposes alone.

Let's take a step back from our always entertaining electoral circus to cast a cold eye on what needs to be done in Iraq beyond November and far beyond 2005. Don't watch the hand waving the magic wand around, watch the hand held behind the back. It holds what is going to be pulled out of the hat.

Instead of spending untold hours listening to this or that speech from the two sides of the American coin, it's more instructive to take down an atlas, turn to a spread displaying the middle-east and meditate on what needs to be done to control that section of the world.

And while you're at it here's a couple of things you can forget about:

That answer turns on the general approach to fighting the war. That current strategy and tactics employed in Iraq are being driven by political needs in the United States is an obvious statement. Our current restrained approach will not, nor is it designed to, continue long past November 2 of this year. If you would

have fewer casualties, the best way to achieve this is to reduce your enemy's soldiers wholesale.

This is not to say that the current politically-determined military actions in Iraq are wrong. Just the opposite. Too much is at stake in Iraq to be undone by the victory of a faction of the American political class that has shown it cannot be trusted with the strategic needs of the nation in the coming decades. To defeat the dedicated enemies of the United States abroad, it is also necessary to defeat a mistaken political culture at home.

Many things are said during an election, but the truth seldom on the list. That's axiomatic. The goal is to win and the prize is power. Victory and power are two elements that readily combine into molecules of falsity and misdirection in electoral politics.

Of late, the largest dust cloud of lies cast into what passes for "public discourse" concerns two different ways of hinting towards the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq. Even when we know in our bones that we are in a long war, Americans of all political leanings still like to hear that it is going to be a short one. And both parties are happy to oblige our needs.

If we listen to the subtext of John Kerry we assume, from his statements, semaphores and metaphors, that the troops will be coming home "soon" after his election; i.e. within the year.

If we listen to the subtext being generated by the same mechanisms within President's camp, we might think that the troops are coming home "later," but certainly after just one more year.

In the first instance, we are being led to believe that our troops will be out of Iraq in 2005. In the second, we probably think they will be out in 2006, probably on the early side.

Both these signals are pure noise.

American forces will be in Iraq five years from now, more likely ten, probably 20, depending on how that part of the world shakes out and what sort of attacks it will be able to mount outside its core at targets in the Western nations. We will not remain in Iraq for "democracy" (Although we will spend treasure and lives to try and create one.), nor will we be there for the "benefit" of the Iraqi people (Although overall they will reap benefits in terms of treasure and improved lives.). We will remain in Iraq for one concrete reason alone: We need to have military bases there.

In this increasing conflict between Islamic fundamentalism and the civilized world, it is an absolute military necessity that America have a robust network of bases located at the center of mass of the Islamic world. If you clear you mind of either wishing for a lasting peace or hoping for an early victory, and simply look at the map of the Middle East you will know the road ahead is long, brutal and filled with hard choices.

If you can assume a military cast of mind, ask yourself, "What must we do to prevail in a war that is global but centered in the Middle East, and can possibly last for 20 years?" One of the most immediate answers is that you need to control significant amounts of real estate at the core of the struggle.Given the nature of the war, nothing else will answer across a long struggle. It is close to a certainty that this answer first appeared in the minds of professional military men around noon on September 11, 2001.

To the question of which nation a military mind would choose to conquer in the Middle East, Iraq is the only one that answers. Following the capture of Afghanistan, the map together with tactical realities dictates that Iraq be conquered by, and remain under the control of, the United States into the indefinite future for five core reasons:

Given these five reasons derived from the facts on the ground in late 2004, it would be suicidal for the United States to withdraw militarily from Iraq for at least ten years and probably 20. The level of forces needed to maintain control can fluctuate as the situation dictates, but the presence of significant forces is a necessity.

This is not to say that the United States will not withdraw, but only to underscore the price of such foolishness. The United States has, through bad politics, misdirection and clouded thinking, made monstrous errors of judgment in the past and is certainly capable of doing so in the future. It is only to say that should we, through a posturing for mere political power at home, cede military control of Iraq and hence the Middle East before the matter of Islamic fundamentalism is settled, and the Islamic cultures fully assimilated into the 21st century, departure early would only require our subsequent return. And that return will be far more bloody and necessary than anything seen to date in what is still a brush-fire war.

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Posted by Vanderleun at November 2, 2004 6:37 AM | TrackBack
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Very thoughtful post. I hadn't thought of the water issue except in considering the possiblity of taking out the oases in southern SA in certain circumstances.

Posted by: Oscar at September 22, 2004 6:24 PM

Great post, but you missed something else about the water []. Derb on NRO linked to this story earlier today. It's really long and about a decade old, but it makes a number of important points. Amoung them is this:

"Resource distribution is strengthening Turks in another way vis-a-vis Arabs and Persians. Turks may have little oil, but their Anatolian heartland has lots of water--the most important fluid of the twenty-first century. Turkey's Southeast Anatolia Project, involving twenty-two major dams and irrigation systems, is impounding the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Much of the water that Arabs and perhaps Israelis will need to drink in the future is controlled by Turks. The project's centerpiece is the mile-wide, sixteen-story Ataturk Dam, upon which are emblazoned the words of modern Turkey's founder: "Ne Mutlu Turkum Diyene" ("Lucky is the one who is a Turk")."

Also a paragraph or two later:

"Erduhan Bayindir, the site manager at the dam, told me that "while oil can be shipped abroad to enrich only elites, water has to be spread more evenly within the society. . . . It is true, we can stop the flow of water into Syria and Iraq for up to eight months without the same water overflowing our dams, in order to regulate their political behavior.""

Here's the kicker though, according to the article, these damns are being built on land where a large number of Kurds predominate:

"According to the map, the great hydropower complex emblemized by the Ataturk Dam is situated in Turkey. Forget the map. This southeastern region of Turkey is populated almost completely by Kurds. About half of the world's 20 million Kurds live in "Turkey." The Kurds are predominant in an ellipse of territory that overlaps not only with Turkey but also with Iraq, Iran, Syria, and the former Soviet Union. The Western-enforced Kurdish enclave in northern Iraq, a consequence of the 1991 Gulf War, has already exposed the fictitious nature of that supposed nation-state."

You're certainly right on the main point though: water is the key for the Middle East. While desalinization technology is quickly approaching cost per volume of regular tap found in the West, such technology simply is not affordable in the Middle East. Water allows societies to expand, to grow, and to improve their standards of living - all of which are key to that region as their population boom reaches its critical mass.

Koranic studies, don't quench thrist. Water does.

By the way, it's good to have you back.

Posted by: LRFD at September 22, 2004 8:09 PM

If water is as important as you say, and Iraq monopolizes it, how did Iraq fail to conquer Iran when it supposedly controls their water supply?

Posted by: Nick at September 22, 2004 10:29 PM

"Resolved: To safeguard the personal and economic wellbeing of the civilized world in the 21st century, it is essential for the United States to control Iraq for strategic and tactical military purposes alone."

Well, you may be resolved about it, but, in case you haven't noticed, the Iraqis still have quite a lot to say about whether we will "control" Iraq or not.

It is ludicrous to even think that this neocon chess game is possible under the current circumstances. It wasn't ludicrous once, but George W. Bush blew the real chances for it by diddling around for six months after the declaring that the "mission" was "accomplished".

The result: the growing certainty that Iran will successfully go nuclear while we struggle endlessly to finally get Iraq (and Afghanistan) "under control".

Posted by: Joseph Marshall at September 23, 2004 6:47 AM

Nick, two points. First I don't believe that Iraq had in the early '80s the capability to cut off the water into Iran. A series of dams, levies, reservoirs, etc... would be required, and, as we all know, Saddam wasn't too interested in building up infrastructure. Second, water is clearly crucial to the region, but I don't think a tipping point where access to the Tigris/Euphrates is a question of life or death. Given a few more decades and the population expansion underway, and this might change. Until then, water access is merely a bargining chip, powerful in itself, but not able to win a war by itself.

Posted by: LRFD at September 23, 2004 6:50 AM

- Saddam actually did build a series of water diversion projects after the '91 uprising, but it was mainly to eradicate the "marsh Arabs" after they rose up against him:

- J.Marshall: My read on the post is that it is taking the long-term view. Sure, we can't project strength to control the region right now given the current security situation, but neither are there indications that the insurgents have the capacity to defeat both the U.S. and the Iraqi gov't. In terms of long range strategic considerations, the points raised are sound.

- Something else to consider is that in the long term, having a "friendly" government in Iraq means that that nation's intelligence system will be working *for* us, rather than against us (as Saddam's Mukhabarat was). I'm sure Iraqi agents will have a much higher success rate of infiltrating groups like al-Qaeda, al-Tawhid, and whatever future groups emerge, than American CIA agents would.

Posted by: tagryn at September 23, 2004 10:25 AM

Very well written. It's about time someone started talking straight about what's at stake here. Freedom for Iraqis? Really, I think it's only the dumb Dems who ever bought into the idea that this had anything to do with freedom and democracy. I mean, hello, they're Arabs! After all we've done for them getting rid of Soddom and this is the thanks they give us, heck, whatever they end up with is too good for them, let's face it. It's about our democracy, and strategic resources, and the world's stability in the region.

Posted by: Floyd Jackson at September 23, 2004 2:52 PM

No war for Israel. All this crackpot is hiding the facts on the ground. The resistance is killing more GI than can be rounded up. so Wolfie is rounding up anybody including 55 years olds. Whyis he scared to put his name on it? Maybe becuase his name is Israeli?

If you rednecks are so hip on war get on down to the recruiting station. Wolfie and company are looking for a few good bodies to fight their Chosen war.


Posted by: Anti War at September 23, 2004 7:39 PM

We don't have to enlist because we're supporting the troops in the homeland. It's the traitors like you who need to get with the program and either support your country with your words and your vote, or support it on the battlefield.

Posted by: Floyd Jackson at September 23, 2004 8:36 PM


The democracy question is a valid one. It determines if our high activity occupation will last 5 years or 500.

Posted by: M. Simon at September 23, 2004 9:18 PM

Anti War,

You can stop this war.

Tell the jihadis to quit.

You could also do your part and personally surrender. The sooner the better.

You have in your own feeble way started your own surrender. Except your phrasing was a bit inept. Let me help. Next time you are asked about what should be done just come out and say: "let the Arabs kill the Jews first"

Posted by: M. Simon at September 23, 2004 9:38 PM

Ihave bee trying for over a year to vocalize
this to my left leaning friends ... kudos to you,
for putting it so well.

Posted by: Steel Turman at September 23, 2004 10:14 PM

Great piece, G. I've thought for a long time that the administration used many or all of these points in coming up with the plan for after Afghanistan, but didn't feel it wise to lay it all out for the public that way. I'm OK with that. I think it's a bit naive of the public to expect the government to be 100% honest with us re: sensitive strategies.

Posted by: Jeff Brokaw at September 24, 2004 4:56 AM

I'm sorry, but this argument holds no water (so to speak). You're completely missing the point of a terror war. You're analyzing it as though what's at stake were World War II-era strategic control. But in a war such as this, such notions are quaint at best.

This is not a strategic war. A terror war is mostly a political war. The United States doesn't need strategic control of Iraq in order to be able to militarily dominate or threaten any country on the planet. At a moment's notice we could pummel pretty much any country from the air.

However, controlling a country on the ground is a lot more difficult. Water or no water, it's very difficult to control a foreign land, as our current occupation of Iraq demonstrates. In fact, the occupation has proven to most of our enemies that we are far LESS capable of invading and dominating them than they might have thought, before.

But clearly our goal here cannot possibly be control on the ground. That's imperial overreach and we simply don't have the resources to pull it off. In any event, such control is irrelevant as we are fighting a terror war. In such a war, politics is far more important --- and we've established that we're pretty much everything they claimed we would be, and at the same time demonstrated that our vaunted military is not nearly as powerful as we thought it was. Recipie for disaster in a war such as this.

Posted by: M at September 24, 2004 6:58 AM

Iraq may be at the balance point of a resource-dependent Middle East, but it's also at the balance point of an ideological struggle that is at least as important: liberalism vs. totalitarianism. What we're engaged in, at the moment, is the establishment of "our vanguard" of civil society and liberal democracy as a counterforce to "their vanguard" of Islamo/Fascism (a blanket term covering the Sunni/Salafist factions as well as the Shi'a ecumenical factions in Iran). They currently have the upper hand, make no mistake about it. We're playing catch up, and we aren't really doing that well. The key to success involves establishing an enclave or sanctuary for liberals or "Islamic Moderates," and an attempt to turn them into lions for the cause. Our long term prospects are pretty good, but I'm not sure we've yet perceived the critical role that an Iraq with a functioning civil society plays in launching this ideological counterforce.

Also, given what one of your commenters has say about the role of the Kurds in controling the water, and the fact that the Sunni triangle controls almost no oil, isn't the ultimate "taming" of the Sunni triangle almost a foregone conclusion?

Posted by: Demosophist at September 24, 2004 7:53 AM

"the master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles."

In 1918 saying that got Eugene Debs a 10 years prison term.

If you want to talk like that you had better do it now.

Posted by: ccron at September 24, 2004 11:19 AM

The problem is, of course, that the strategy is failing to create that vanguard. It was doomed to fail, actually, in my opinion --- in this regard, I am in complete agreement with the arguments by the Cato Institute ( If anything we've created precisely the opposite --- a focal point for resistance against what appears to be blatant American empire-building. Whatever our good intentions, it seems to me on the political front this escapade is a losing proposition.

Since the political front is THE front in a terror war (we're not engaged in a literal battle over territory, as in a conventional war), this leads me to the conclusion that the Iraq adventure was a dangerous, costly, and unnecessary diversion from the real war against the Islamofascists.

Posted by: M at September 24, 2004 11:30 AM

What a breath of fresh air. Why is the American population seen as unable to assimilate these facts of life? We, as a political system under attack, need to look at the situation as it is and not as we want it to be. Let us use Occam's Razor and apply it to our national and international policies in dealing with this religious war that we are currently engaged in. What do we have to do to not only survive but also advance our way of life. We have to get serious about calling a spade a spade and get rid of the politcally correct element in our educational system and our media. History is in the very process of excising the moral and political rot that has invaded the body politic of America.

Posted by: dgree3 at September 25, 2004 3:13 PM

Just congratulations.
I find the Vanderleun analysis of
our position in Iraq so refreshing.
The MSM looks so childish in comparison.
But, I do have a different angle on
democracy there. We must offer it, and support
it; it is what allows us to be "exceptional"
and not an empire. This is our tradition.
This is what allows us to look at ourselves in the mirror. We are the anti-colonialist power.
Japan, Germany, even Russia were pointed toward
a democratic system after we defeated them.
Remember that we turned Vietnam back over to
the perfidious French colonialists and the trouble we had there. Democracy is what works
for us.
Whether Iraq can keep it, is a challenge for the
Iraqis. Just like democracy is a challenge
for the people in Pakistan, our ally. In
Pakistan they have tried again and again and
just that effort has probably helped to grow
some of the moderate middle that is present there.
Remember, all this took America a while too;
200 plus years, and a civil war.
Have a little faith that this is the right way to go.

Posted by: Rob at September 25, 2004 8:39 PM

You write:

> Iraq borders Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Iran -- the centers of our enemy's military, financial and demographic strength.


> While it may be too late to prop up the House of Saud, the world will need be able to control and maintain the oil fields should that government be overthrown. It seems to me that you have not applied reason for occupying Iraq is to from Saudi Arabia


> The United States has, through bad politics, misdirection and clouded thinking, made monstrous errors of judgment in the past...

But you don't tie together these points as tightly as I believe they can be tied. Occupying Iraq is, it seems to me, partially an admission that Saudi Arabia is a doomed nasty basket-case that the US needs to extricate itself from as of yesterday.

Without US support, the House of Saud will fall, probably to Bin-Laden-type Islamists. It will then be be politically easier to walk into that Taliban-like regime than the current ever-so-respected Taliban-like regime.

Saudi Arabia, with its oil and role as fount of fanaticism, is the main event in this war. Iraq is, as you pointed out, merely the staging ground for the troops. My point being that the invasion of Iraq was not carried out in case there has to be a take-over of Saudi Arabia, but in preparation for one.

Posted by: Adam Khan at September 26, 2004 5:31 PM

I cannot read this article as it looks corrupted, almost double vision, or dubed over. Please fix it and I will come back.

Posted by: eag at September 27, 2004 9:50 AM

I cannot read this article as it looks corrupted, almost double vision, or dubed over. Please fix it and I will come back.

Posted by: eag at September 27, 2004 9:51 AM

No Exit Strategy, an earlier take on it:

But don't you think we should also take Siberia (or buy it)? Clean air is going to be as scarce as water -- and Siberia's our upwind critical source.

Posted by: Hank Roberts at October 28, 2004 1:43 PM

Excellent post, something I have been telling my friends since the begining of the engagement in Iraq. It is essential strategically to have a military presence in the heart of the Islamic Middle East in a country that can't tell us, No!

Yet politically, the real reason couldn't have been given. The NY Times and the alphabet networks would have crucified the administration. Furthermore, there were more good reasons to invade Iraq than any other country, consequently, not only are they ideally located geographically they had given us sufficient reason to initiate the invasion.

Posted by: Bill Williamson at November 2, 2004 10:59 AM

With Old Europe increasingly hostile to America, and terrorists gaining influence in places like Sweden (have you heard Sweden speak up for America after Osama praised them in his pro-Kerry video? no you have not because theyre cowards and they aren't on our side!), Iraq may turn out, long-term, to be actually be a more reliable as a base than any of our old NATO bases in Old Europe. When Iraq finally gets their freedom they'll love us forever, while the French and Sweedish will be liberal or at least unreliable far into the future.

Posted by: Floyd Jackson at November 2, 2004 12:13 PM

I don't usually "come here", I am surfing in an effort to figure out why things are as they are. Different persuasion you might say. After reading the above, I have to sy that I'm sure it is correct in its analysis of what is going on in Iraq and why. The question I have is, what gives us the RIGHT to be there overseeing the future of the oil and fresh water? Who made us boss of the world's resources? Our military?? Well, yes that gives us the might, but the right?

Posted by: dmc at November 5, 2004 2:28 PM

dmc - you ask what gives us the right?

I think that anything that we can do to improve our position in the world and against Islamofacism gives us that right.


Posted by: sjones at November 5, 2004 9:47 PM

It's good to see someone talking straight--politics stinks because nobody wants to tell the truth. But it's not that hard to see.

1) The US is a super-power, and values this position so much that it is willing to pursue pre-emptive strategic wars in order to preserve this world-position.

2) American people are OK with this policy.

3) Christian sentiments (thou shalt not kill) have flown out the window.

I still don't think it was right to go to war as a preemptive move for good positioning in the next 20 years. I wish more of the American people were wise to what is actually happening, instead of dreamily believing that we are saving these people's lives and giving them their freedom. What we are really doing is raping their country and killing their children. I hope that Iraq gets a democracy, and that we get out of the country, as fast as possible. I like living in the premier super-power country, but I do not like being lied to by my government. I think we should earn our super-power status by taking care of domestic issues and defending our nation ONLY WHEN IT IS ATTACKED. (We all know that the terrorists responsible for 9/11 did not come from Iraq). It's stupid to pretend like we can catch terrorists by occupying countries. Terrorists can strike anytime, anywhere, and nobody is safe. No war will stop them.

We can concentrate on stopping fundamentalist islamic movements in other ways, without war.

What are you going to do? Kill every single Islamic person (just to make sure we get rid of ALL the fundamentalists) and then consider our work done?

I expect America to play fair. I am an honorable person, and don't want victory unless it was won honorably. The choice is yours: would you rather fight the righteous war (another country declares war on us, and we fight, tooth and nail, to defend ourselves?) or a strategic bully-war in a play for future political power?

All I want is for America to play fair. I want to feel righteous when I stand up for what my country does. I don't think that I am asking for too much.

Posted by: mel at November 7, 2004 1:06 AM

Mel, you mistake who these posters are.
They believe they're smarter, tougher and more moral than everyone else. They never bought that crap about the threat of WMDs, and they're not buying that crap about democracy now. They view their fellow American citizens as pathetic gullible losers and themselves as realistic, tough-minded, visionary colonialists. If you want to feel righteous when you stand up for your country's actions, take your country back from them, because the only force they recognize or respect is power.

Posted by: Melvin Twohig at November 10, 2004 5:08 AM

America can try for as long as it likes, order more body bags for the GI. We havent even started with you yet.

Posted by: Jo at November 18, 2004 3:56 AM
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