Saturday, November 27, 2004

America's Secret War

STRATFOR describes itself as:

[T]he world's leading private intelligence firm providing corporations, governments and individuals with geopolitical analysis and forecasts that enable them to manage risk and to anticipate political, economic and security issues vital to their interests.
STRATFOR's founder is George Friedman, whose new book, America's Secret War, is getting some discussion in the blogosphere yesterday and today. (Start with Professor Bainbridge's link to Frank Devine's review of the book.)

The book's website contains some interesting Q&A with the author. His answer to the direct question that occupies Bainbridge and Devine is:

Q. Why did we go into Iraq?

A. We went into Iraq to isolate and frighten the Saudi government into cracking down on the flow of money to Al Qaeda. Bush never answered the question for fear of the international consequences. Early in the war, the President said that the key was shutting down Al Qaeda's financing. Most of the financing came from Saudi Arabia, but the Saudi government was refusing to cooperate. After the invasion of Iraq, they completely changed their position. We did not invade Saudi Arabia directly because of fear that the fall of the Saudi government would disrupt oil supplies: a global disaster.
I would like to see some evidence for the key proposition (which I highlighted in red). I'll read the book and search for corroborating evidence. Even if the Saudi's have changed their tune, that does not necessarily mean that achieving that result was the intent of invasion.

Before reading the book, I'm skeptical about the motive. I agree that reform (if not revolution) in Saudi Arabia is critical to peace in the Middle East, but the most pressing issue after the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan was Iran. Specifically, the next interesting event would be whether the students would oust the mullahs in Iran. Our next step should have been something to tip the balance in favor of democracy and nuclear disarmament in Iran. Failing that (but hopefully only after giving it a chance to succeed), we would need to be ready for a military confrontation with the theocrats in Iran.

EagleSpeak argues, in response to the Bainbridge post, that this is what the invasion of Iraq has been:
As I have argued before, the invasion of Iraq, coupled with the invasion of Afghanistan and the turning of Pakistan completes what is essentially an encirclement of Iran. Further, as a look at a topographic map will tell you, Iraq provides far easier access to Iran's interior than other alternatives.

Saudi Arabia may contain sources of funding and even human assets for terrorism, but Saudi Arabia itself is not, in my view, a hard target to attack if American protection is removed. There is not much need to encircle it. Iran, however, is a much tougher nut to crack, from every direction except the west.
Completing the RealPolitik trifecta is a post at American Digest earlier this month, in which both theories are used to answer to the question, "Why are we in Iraq?"

And they call economics "the dismal science?"


Jake said...

Tommy Franks in his book "American Soldier" deals with this subject.

He said that before the Iraqi war all Arab governments were paying Al Qaida extortion money to keep Al Qaida quiet in their country.

Franks went to each Arab government and asked them to help in the War on Terror. Each one said, "We would like to help you but you will cut and run." They all thought Bush would be like Clinton.

After the liberation of Iraq, Franks got cooperation from almost all of the Arab governments in going after Al Qaida. And it has had a devastating effect on them. Over 3000 Al Qaida have been killed in 102 countries.

The liberation of Iraq can be justified on this fact alone.

Anonymous said...

Get real, Jake. With your numbers, that's a bargain basement price of over $46 million per individual Al Qaeda operative killed (the war has cost around $140 billion to date).

Here's a novel idea: not all Arabs are terrorists or back terrorism. Invading countries only peripherally supportive of Al Qaeda probably won't do much to hurt the organization.

- Anonymous Bosch

Anonymous said...

Sorry, should say $4.6.

Eagle1 said...

Re Anonymous:
I think your analysis is wrong. You can't apply a simple formula to determine the cost of killing an al Qaeda member, because it doesn't factor in what the cost of not killing him is. Not acting has a cost, too. What was the cost to the U.S. and global economy of 9/11? Of not killing OBL when we had the chance?

The question being discussed was "why invade Iraq?" Friedman says it was isolate the Saudis, with a pretext of taking out Saddam. I say it was to take out Saddam and, in addition, give us a place to better contain Iran. American Digest says, correctly, that in addition to encircling Iraq, we can also protect the Saudi oilfields without being in Saudi Arabia (which was a source of concern to them). I think that Saddam was more than "peripherally supportive" of terrorists, including al Queda and, based on more recent information, had plans, once the UN sanctions were lifted, to get back into the WMD business. There's no doubt in my mind that if that had happened, al Q and others would have gained access to and used such weapons. What would be the cost of that? That's how much we saved by going into Iraq. If our presence helps deter Iran that another benefit to us that may prove cheap in the long run.