In his latest assessment of the state of the campaign in Iraq President Bush drew strategic assertions regarding the measurement of success and the risks of failure on that battlefield, in what we can coin as the next stage in the confrontation against the forces of terror in the region.
The successful surge
Practically the military surge has denied al-Qaeda and the Mahdi militia the realization of their current objectives. So far al-Qaeda wasn’t able to create an "Emirate" in the Sunni triangle, nor even to reconstitute a Fallujah-like enclave: That is a defeat for al-Qaeda in Iraq, regardless of their capacity to strike urban areas and to assassinate important leaders.
Also, the recent operations against Pasdaran-trained forces are a relative — albeit temporary — victory over Tehran’s efforts to expand direct control over Shia Iraq. Iranian political and intelligence influence is certainly present in the institutions and public life in the country. But the pressing Iranian goal of creating militia enclaves has failed so far.
But despite these successes, the President made it clear that these achievements can be reversed if an abandonment of the mission in Iraq is implemented in Washington.
Noted Growth in Iraq
It is also accurate to acknowledge the gradual strengthening of the Iraqi security forces and civil society. Iraqi armed forces are growing, though not to the optimal level needed. The expansion indicates progress, but an abrupt abandonment of Iraqi security forces would lead to their collapse and the control of most their units by the Terror foes.
Signs of development can also be seen in Iraq’s Civil society despite an omnipresent fundamentalism. The removal of Saddam’s regime and the growing localized resistance to al-Qaeda and the Khomeinist regime have provided some “space” for new social and political energies to emerge. As the President correctly noted: “They’re (Iraqis) trying to build a modern democracy on the rubble of three decades of tyranny, in a region of the world that has been hostile to freedom. And they’re doing it while under assault from one of history’s most brutal terrorist networks.” Indeed, it is through that prism that one can define the pro-democracy struggle in Iraq. There are more democratic forces in Iraq today than in 2003.
Warning the axis
In defense of the struggling democracy in Iraq, the President also issued a clear — though not fully explained — warning to the Iranian and Syrian regimes, demanding that they stop supporting the flow of terror across the borders. His statements included a number of noteworthy elements. First, it was important for a U.S. President to define the rulers of Iran and Syria as “regimes” and not “governments”: a clear signal that these forces are ruling against the will of their peoples. Second, it is important to clarify that the United States has no intention to abandon Iraq through concessions to the Ayatollahs and the Syrian Baath. Despite political voices within the beltway calling for "talks" with the two regimes, it is crucial for the U.S. Government to send a message to the rulers of these two neighbors that their support for terror is known, and will be addressed. Without such a message to the Pasdaran, Syrian intelligence and Hezbollah, it would be naive to talk about “progress” in Iraq.
Abandonment = Catastrophe
Equally vital to reiterate is that an abrupt abandonment of the Iraqi battlefield would bring about a catastrophe — not only in Iraq, but also throughout the region and even to the United States. President Bush’s description of the ramifications of a “retreat” is realistic. Indeed, at first the Iraqi democratic forces would be decimated. Second, the Iraqi armed forces would crumble and split. Third, whatever was achieved in terms of national consensus would collapse, sectarian divisions would deepen, and al-Qaeda would expand its influence in the Sunni Triangle and Iran would expand its rule in the Shia areas. The al-Qaeda bases would become a launching pad for operations in the region and overseas, including against the United States mainland. Iranian advances in Iraq would create dangerous shifts in power in the region and beyond.
Strategic partnership with Iraq
The President’s announcement of a possible treaty of “partnership” between the U.S. and Iraq is in line with the next stage of the confrontation with terrorist forces in the region and internationally. This strategic cooperation would be decided by both “partners,” and will be modified freely by Washington and Baghdad. This is the right response to the threat posed by al-Qaeda and the Syrian-Iranian axis. The concept of Iraq as an ally in the War on Terror is the ultimate objective — and should have been from the outset — of U.S. policy and Iraqi national interest. As Iraqi forces move to the frontline, American and coalition forces should not be far behind fighting our mutual enemy.
In response to his critics, the President argued: “If America’s strategic interests are not in Iraq, the convergence point for the twin threats of al-Qaida and Iran, the nation Osama bin Laden’s deputy has called the place for the greatest battle, the country at the heart of the most volatile region on earth, then where are they?” Unlike Haiti or Bosnia where interventions were designed to address a specific internal crisis, the campaign in Iraq is a central piece in the battle against external forces throughout the region.