A few days ago, I mentioned I would publish my thoughts on the real reasons for the Bush administration’s drive to attack Iraq. My apologies for the delay. I’m a one-man operation here and sometimes I have to do other stuff, like sleep.
There are several theories floating around about the need to attack Iraq, some coming from the White House and others coming from various sources. The most common argument for attacking Iraq, that given by the administration, is a mish-mash of worries about weapons of mass destruction, disregard for U.N. Security Council resolutions, ties to al Qa’ida and Saddam’s wickedness. Of these reasons, the WMD rationale seems to have gained the most traction in the minds of many Americans. This is hardly surprising, as the White House has been relentlessly on message regarding Saddam’s weapons programs until recently when Osama bin Laden (remember him?) conveniently popped up to exhort Muslims to defend their Iraqi brothers through
Despite bin Laden’s sneering references to Saddam as a “socialist” and an “apostate,” the White House lept upon the tape as proof that Saddam and bin Laden were playing footsie when the West wasn’t looking. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said bin Laden’s reference to “our mujahideen brothers” inside Iraq and his appeal to Muslims to prepare for jihad suggested a “strong statement of alliance” between Iraq and al Qa’ida.
“If that is not an unholy partnership, I have not heard of one,” he said. “This is the nightmare that people have warned about, the linking up of Iraq with al Qaeda.”
Officials refuse to see the tape for what it is — an attempt by bin Laden to use
Anyway, back in the real world, other theories have abounded, with the anti-war left and the Arab world invoking the siamese-twin specters of imperialism and colonialism as the main reasons for war. “No blood for oil!” is the classic retort from the left, simplifying a complex array of domestic politics, international relations and geopolitical goals into a four-word slogan that doesn’t do justice to what I believe are the real reasons. Yes, this war is about oil, but it’s not just about oil. And yes, it’s about imperialism, but not in the way that the leftists believe. The real reasons are to secure a continuous supply of oil for Europe and Japan, pressuring Saudi Arabia into cutting off funding to the conservative clergy and thus fueling the worst of the terror networks, securing a stable environment for regional ally Israel and encircling Iran in the hope of sweeping the ayatollahs from power.
I’m convinced that the reason
givenby the left for the U.S.’s drive to topple Saddam — mainly control of Iraq’s oil fields — is much too simplistic to give the whole picture. And I don’t trust the Bush Administration that Iraq poses a clear and present danger, with Saddam being thisclose to fielding nukes on magic unmanned drones that could take out American cities. And the Butcher of Baghdad isn’t so stupid that he would give weapons of mass destruction to an element that he couldn’t control, such as al Qa’ida. So what gives? Why the push on Iraq when al Qa’ida poses a clear and present threat and Pakistan has been helping North Korea with its nuke program. (The implication is that if Pakistan has elements that would help the North Koreans, there are likely elements in the government that would help al Qa’ida in a similar manner.)
This report from the Institute for National Strategic Studies’ National Defense University might offer some clues. The main thrust of the report is that America has long realized the strategic value of the Persian Gulf, and fully intends to keep a military presence there regardless of any outcome in Iraq. “The United States will need to diversify its dependence on regional basing and forward presence, as well as reduce the visibility and predictability of its forward-deployed forces,” reads the report.
Why is this necessary? Because way back in 1990, the Bush White House, part first, announced a defense posture that called for “adult supervision” of the world. And the most recent iteration of the National Security Strategy of the United States calls for the globe’s sole superpower to suffer no rivals militarily or economically, imposing a
paxAmericana. So the United States is in the Gulf to guarantee the supply of oil not for itself, but for Europe and Japan, which get most of their oil from the Middle East. (Surprisingly, the United States gets most of its oil from Canada, Venezuela andMexico; Persian Gulf sources supplied only 11 percent of America’s oil in 2000, according to the Department of Energy.) The United States Marines safeguard the Persian Gulf because Europe and Japan might re-arm and secure the oil sources for themselves if we didn’t. And as I said, the United States does not intend to suffer rivals gladly.
So we are going to be in the Gulf for a long time. As the INSS report says, “There is no escaping the U.S. role as a guarantor of Gulf stability. Thus, the United States needs a viable concept for its
future forwardpresence that can be sustained over the long haul.” Saudi Arabia is not the secure base that we need for such a presence, as the presence of infidel troops so close to the holy sites of Mecca and Medina directly undermines the legitimacy of the House of Saud, which came to power in the 1920s as the family that would protect Islam’s holiest shrines. The presence of the troops inflames the faithful, such as bin Ladin, and leads the Saudi royal family to pay off the radical clerics that wield much influence in the kingdom. In essencethis is the reason radical Islamists with possible access to nukes are “funded” by Saudi Arabia — the Saudis are buying them off and pointing a loaded gun away from their own head and toward someone else’s. If the House of Saud falls, which it could do at anytime, a big reason will be resentment over its invitation of American GIs.
The solution is to get the 5,000 or so Americans off the Arabian peninsula. But the United States can’t pull out with Saddam in power; the troops are there to contain Saddam. So the solution to the solution is to remove Saddam from power, in the process diversifying the distribution of American troops in the region and removing a provocation to radicals. (Once they get over being pissed at the subjugation of Iraq, that is.)
Some would argue that this will just preserve Saudi legitimacy. Others may argue that a friendly regime in Iraq would undercut the Saudis and bring oil prices down as the two countries (which control the largest and second-largest known reserves of oil on the planet) compete for markets. There is evidence that the Saudis are hewing to the second view, doing everything in their power to impede the United States’ war planning, including a massive loan to Russia —
interest free! — if the Bear had only vetoed UNSCR 1441. Alas for the Saudis, this didn’t happen, and they are caught between Iraq and a hard place.
So the goal of the United States is to maintain a presence in the Persian Gulf so that Europe and Japan don’t re-arm. In order to maintain a presence and decrease dependency on an unreliable ally, Saudi Arabia, Washington has to lighten the military footprint in the region by removing the cause for the heavy footprint — Saddam Hussein. Once that is accomplished, the forward forces can be distributed out of Saudi Arabia and a friendly Iraq can help pressure the Saudis to keep oil prices low. As a bonus, Washington would no longer have to go easy on the Saudis in its war against al Qa’ida since Iraq would be the bulwark in the Gulf.
Since I wrote that, several other writers have come to the same conclusions. Anthony Lane at the New Yorker,