October 7, 2007

Out? Not So Fast. Our Military Bases in Iraq Are Essential

[Note: First published on September 22, 2004 as WHY WE ARE IN IRAQ : Military Bases Are A Requirement, Democracy is Merely an Elective. Only the names have changed. The songs remain the same.]

"Did you ever get the feeling that you wanted to go?
And still get the feeling that you wanted to stay?"

-- Jimmy Durante

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.

Posted by Vanderleun at October 7, 2007 12:00 PM
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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.

That is the most sensible thing I've ever read on this subject. Blew my mind and changed it.

Posted by: bob at October 7, 2007 12:26 PM

A hard nosed look at the grand strategy. Have you considered becoming an advisor at the Pentagon?

Barnett's THE PENTAGON'S NEW MAP was the softer version of why we are in Iraq. Unfortunately, Barnett has lost patience and turned on Bush, opining that he screwed everything up.

The gloves have still not come off, however, the new COIN tactics seem to be accomplishing a lot.

Implementation of oil revenue sharing might ratchet the violence even lower and ratchet the economic activity higher.

But even if violence in Iraq slows to a simmer there are still, as you say, the vasty numbers of Islamists who will continue to try to destroy Israel and establish the new Caliphate.

The path ahead continues to promise to be a long one. Will our politicians have the stamina to go the distance?

Posted by: Jimmy J. at October 7, 2007 1:45 PM


Iraq was obviously a tactical decision, it has a real nice view of both Iran and Syria. and was easily taken, though we tend to spend way too much on countries we defeat afterwards.

sadly though, Bush underestimated the enemies closer to home i think. our greatest danger isn't the terrorists as much as it is the ignorant sniveling masses at home who think peace and freedom are a free commodity, despite the entirety of history that says otherwise.

Posted by: Mark Krauss at October 7, 2007 4:47 PM

Variation on (2) above:
After 9-11, the lead target was Al-quida. How does one fight an enemy with no actual national home, aside from a source in a nation you can't really attack?
By making the enemy come to you.
The enemy could abandon the Taliban to their fate if need be. A challenge as close to the heart of arabia as Iraq is would, however, have the effect of drawing the bugs out of the woodwork.
Remember that the basic rule of power projection is to fight your wars in someone ELSE'S home, not your own.

Posted by: ed in texas at October 7, 2007 4:50 PM

I always believed the strategy to fight on Iraqi soil was brilliant thus creating a magnet for every Islamic maggot to come there and get whacked. Sort of reminds me of Lincoln and his generals deciding that fighting on Southern soil would result in major attrition of the fighting age population and resources. Of course the Southerners would defend their homes, wouldn't you? In the process the Union armies (despite treason at home) left the South a smoldering pile of ash. BTW - Victor Davis Hanson is a brilliant military historian and has great insights into these matters. I would love to hear his critique of the above article.

Posted by: Pickett at October 8, 2007 5:07 AM

The real problem, of course, is American politicians. We desperately need our own Franco/Pinochet.

Posted by: Bob Sykes at October 8, 2007 6:10 AM

The above article reaches a level of cognitive reasoning and rationale that few seem to do. Unfortunately for all of us is the fact that the vast majority of the American population (along with the rest of the world) will continue to remain oblivious, therefore ignorant of the strategic realities and necessities associated with our (the U.S.'s)interests, thus involvement, in events relative to that part of the world. In other words, the more pragmatic side of the issues, associated with why we are and must continue to be, steadfast in helping to bring about democracy to Iraq, will continue to be lost in the philosophically driven emotional fray of the war and all that it entails. Like they say, "ignorance is bliss". To which, it is also the easiest and least resistive path to delusional self rightiousness. Just ask many of our politicians.

Posted by: Al Pippin at October 8, 2007 11:07 AM

This may well be mostly correct.

However, as regards water:
The Euphrates (and its tributary the Nahr al Khabur) flows through Syria for c.500 miles before entering Iraq.
The main water source for western Syria, are the Orontes, which flows from Lebanon, and other sources out of the Lebanese highlands.

Saudi Arabia AFAIK sources no water from Iraq; it depends on the rainfall in the Hejaz uplands (the southern Hejaz is far from being arid desert), underground reservoirs, and desalination plants on the Red Sea and Persian Gulf coasts (vital for the second).

Several significant rivers actually flow from Iran into Iraq: the Little Zab, Gavrud, Meymeh, Kharkeh.
The lower Tigris flows through Iraq and then has a bank shared with Iran, and may be significant resource for the Khorromshahr/Abadan area; howerver they also have the sizable Karun, flowing entirely in Iran.
The other main urban concentrations of Iran inc. Tehran are removed from Iraq by one or two mountain ranges, and mostly have adequate local water supply.

Turkey is certainly a "water power" in the region; Iraq, hardly. The one country Iraq might become a valuable water supplier for in the short-to-medium term is Kuwait.

Posted by: John SF at October 9, 2007 2:11 AM

An impressive analysis, and correct. How long have we been in Germany? In Korea?

The best thing W did was to hire Cheney and Rumsfeld. These guys were running the government when we were in diapers. They are so despised today. Yet, do you think they did all this based on emotion? Who else would you want to make the call? Hillary? Pelosi? Reid?

No, since 9/11 the war has been fought "over there." It is a war.

Whatever you think about W, he's got cajones.

I juxtapose the new series on WWII against our current situation, and sometimes I am frightened by the pathetic state of our loyal opposition leadership. Is there a bigger joke than Reid? Does my family's security depend on him?

Thank you for your fine work.

Posted by: Terry Kirkpatrick at October 10, 2007 8:11 PM

Terry Kirkpatrick:

sometimes I am frightened by the pathetic state of our loyal opposition leadership.

"Loyal?" You're being too generous. Or optimistic.

Posted by: rickl at October 12, 2007 8:19 PM


Yes, we must choose our words carefully. I read three pieces today that said we can expect a nuclear event in this country. And we have these losers in Washington. On both sides of the aisle. The political class is failing us. Why? How did this happen?


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