Listen to the Military
By Michael A. Ledeen
Posted: Tuesday, July 17, 2007
National Review Online
Publication Date: July 17, 2007
At his press conference last week, President Bush--echoing the public assessments from his military underlings in Iraq--gave a clear picture of the war. Remarkably, not a single political leader or pundit saw fit to notice the dimensions of the war he described:
The fight in Iraq is part of a broader struggle that's unfolding across the region. . . . The same regime in Iran that is pursuing nuclear weapons and threatening to wipe Israel off the map is also providing sophisticated IEDs to extremists in Iraq who are using them to kill American soldiers.
The same Hezbollah terrorists who are waging war against the forces of democracy in Lebanon are training extremists to do the same against coalition forces in Iraq.
The same Syrian regime that provides support and sanctuary for Islamic jihad and Hamas has refused to close its airport in Damascus to suicide bombers headed to Iraq.
. . . the war against extremists and radicals is not only evident in Iraq, but it's evident in Lebanon, the Palestinian Territories and Afghanistan.
In short, the president sees that it is a regional war, as it has been from the beginning, just as our enemies in Damascus and Tehran publicly told us it would be, even before a single American soldier set foot in Iraq. The two biggest causes of casualties in Iraq are non-indigenous: suicide bombers and constantly improving explosive devices deployed in and alongside roads. Eighty to ninety percent of all suicide bombers are foreigners (mostly Saudis who are trained in Syria), not Iraqis, and the explosives have long been known to be of Iranian design to contain Iranian components, and often constructed in Iran (see the latest intelligence news about al Qaeda reconstituting in Iran).
Moreover, the spinal column of the terror army in Iraq is intimately linked to Iran and Syria. As U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Kevin Bergner recently put it, our recent successes in Iraq have been accomplished despite ongoing resistance from al-Qaeda, proxy groups like the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and their Lebanese Hezbollah surrogates. Bergner stressed that the activities of these Iranian forces, and joint instruments of Iran and Syria such as Hezbollah, are relentlessly increasing. "we've actually been very forthright in explaining the role that those groups are having and they are an increasing problem--one that's having an increasingly destabilizing effect on both the government of Iraq and creating more problems for us to deal with."
With all that, Bergner insisted "that there is no question that al Qaeda is the principle fueler of violence and sectarian attacks," and is therefore our main target. But it is indisputable--and further information is emerging every day to confirm this--that al Qaeda itself is hardly an independent actor. Several years ago, Spanish judge Baltazar Gar篮 noted that the leaders of al Qaeda reconstituted their headquarters in Iran after being driven from Afghanistan. I wrote at the time that Osama bin Laden and key members of his family had gone to Iran, and other key figures, such as Zarqawi (the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, lest we forget), had created an international terror network from Tehran. I have no doubt that when we finally unravel the terror network, we will find that people like Zarqawi repeatedly went back and forth between Iraq, Syria, and Iran, as did--and does--arch terrorists like Imad Mughniyah of Hezbollah.
It follows that victory in this war requires the defeat of both the terrorists on the ground and the state sponsors, just as President Bush vowed shortly after 9/11, when he said we would not distinguish between the terrorists and the states that provided them with the wherewithal for their actions. Yet the president does not instruct his people to move against the Assads and the mullahs. Quite the contrary, in fact. Military officers have long been instructed to "take it easy" against Iranian forces and surrogates in Iraq, even though the leash has been loosened in recent months. And as Senator Lieberman has so bravely insisted, it is a mistake to permit such forces and surrogates safe haven in Iran and Syria, from which they are free to move against us and the brave Iraqi people. We should attack the terrorist training camps, and the manufacturing facilities for the terror bombs, which, by the way, are also deployed regionally. The first exemplars of the new generation of such bombs were used against Israelis in Gaza and then again in Lebanon.
Attacks against the terrorists are fully justifiable; they would be acts of legitimate self-defense. But they are the least we should be doing. The president constantly says that freedom is our most lethal weapon against the terror masters, and he is right. But then he permits himself to be gulled by those in his administration who shrink from the consequences of our announced policy, and promise him that diplomacy and a gradually escalating set of sanctions will bring the terror masters to heel. That human history knows no case where this strategy has succeeded is somehow not sufficient to show them the errors of their ways, which is a tribute to their hubris and their inability to see the world plain.
The president says that we are in a regional war with a plethora of enemies: Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, al Qaeda, Islamic Jihad, and Hamas. They are fighting us in Afghanistan, Iraq, Gaza and Lebanon, and they promise to take their jihad to ever higher levels, including the use of atomic bombs. They constantly seek to attack us and our allies, on every continent save Antartica. In the face of this enormous war launched against us, this administration brings forth a limited strategy that cannot possibly succeed, since it is limited to fighting defense on a single front on a vast battlefield.
When a man as thoughtful as Bill Kristol says that he can well imagine future historians taking a positive view of George W. Bush's presidency--because the "surge" is doing well, and because President Bush had the nerve to stick with it--one has to read the fine print.
"military progress on the ground in Iraq in the past few months has been greater than even surge proponents like me expected, and political progress is beginning to follow. Iran is a problem, and we will have to do more to curb Tehran's meddling--but we can. So if we keep our nerve here at home, we have a good shot at achieving a real, though messy, victory in Iraq."
Yes, our troops are magnificent (as New York Times reporter John Burns so well put it), and the Iraqi people are also magnificent (their courage and patience are inspirational, and if the Nobel Committee were up to its task, it would award the Peace Prize to the Iraqi nation, excluding the terrorists of course). But fighting brilliantly in Iraq alone cannot possibly win such a vast war. Bill Kristol knows that, which is why he says "we will have to do more . . . but we can." Yes, we can. But will we? There is still no sign of that, and there are screams of horror at the very thought that we might support freedom in Iran, where significant numbers of people daily demonstrate their willingness to fight their oppressors.
Instead, every new revelation about Iran's role in the terror war is greeted with the pathetic mantra "but this does not prove that the regime itself is involved." As if General Suleimani of the Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force would dare launch operation after operation against us in Iraq without the explicit approval of his commander-in-chief, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Do our analysts not know that the Revolutionary Guards were created for the explicit purpose of responding to the whims of the Supreme Leader? Whenever the Guards move, they do so precisely because "the regime" has willed it.
Big wars require big strategies, and we do not have one. Yet. I believe the country would support one if the case were made clearly and honestly. Taking the war to our enemies in Damascus and Tehran does not require troops on the ground or bombs from the air, except in the limited cases of terrorist training camps and weapons factories. It requires, above all, two things: support for the democratic forces in Syria and Iran, and the will to confront our enemies. That will can be easily expressed, but no president has had the coherence and courage to do that. Iran has been at war with us for nearly thirty years, but no president has ever said we want an end to the terror regime in Tehran.
It's long past time to hear those words.
Michael A. Ledeen is the Freedom Scholar at AEI.