Friday, July 21, 2006
Josh Manchester, the "Chester" as in "Adventures of...," has written a TCS column assessing the impact of the removal of Saddam Hussein on American interests in the region, all through the "test case" of the Israeli-Hezbollah war. Do read it, but the short version is roughly this: By removing the Ba'athists in Iraq and, by default, elevating the Shia of that country to power, we have polarized the Sunni Arab world to our advantage. Annotating Josh a bit, may I suggest that three points are critical.
First, Operation Iraqi Freedom removed Saddam as a leading "confrontationist" Arab state, giving more political room to Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arabs to accommodate a world with Israel in it. That's good for Israel, but is only good for America to the extent you believe that support of Israel is a core American value (which, of course, I do).
Second, we have in the perception of the Gulf Sunnis removed the Iraqi Sunni barrier to Iran's western expansion. They (and, to be frank, the United States) can no longer "free ride" on Baghdad's first line of defense. That has polarized the Gulf Sunnis (and other major Sunni Arab countries) into taking a stand against Iran. Josh argues that Saudi Arabia's open opposition to Iran is a recent and profound development. It is. As recently as the Khobar Towers bombing in 1996 (in which Iranian Hezbollah agents, possibly working in concert with Al Qaeda, blew up a building housing American Air Force personnel near Dhahran, Saudi Arabia), the Saudis supposedly frustrated American investigators precisely because they did not want to risk a confrontation with Iran. Now they are willing to confront Iran and its proxy Hezbollah in implicit support of Israel. That is an astonishing reversal, and it is because Saddam's government is no longer in power in Baghdad. The Saudis began hunting al Qaeda in May 2003, and now they are helping to shut down Hezbollah.
Third, we have gained enormous leverage over the region by interposing American troops in Iraq. The left argues that we have limited our military options against Iran by having "stretched" our military in Iraq. This argument is silly. We have vastly more leverage over both Iran and the Sunni regimes to the west and south of Iraq precisely because we, rather than Saddam, now guarantee the security of the latter against the expansion of the former. When Saddam was all that stood between Iran and the Sunni Arabs, he had enormous influence over both. Now the United States does. It is that simple. Yes, it comes at a huge price to us and it remains to be seen whether the gains will be worth that price, but Saudi Arabia and Jordan (particularly) are in the fight against both the Sunni jihadis and the Iranian proxy Islamists only because the United States is fighting the war in Iraq. That's a gain by any measure.
If we do not retain a significant presence in Iraq until the jihadis are truly beaten and Iran is a different sort of place, we are fools.
I think that a huge proportion of Americans not only believe it is in our interests to support Israel, but that we ought to support Israel. I did not mean to suggest that there is no room for argument on that question, but I believe that Israel is very popular, and not just among politicians looking for campaign contributions.
The reasons for this are complex, but I believe it to be true.
Now, is the phrase "core American value" well-chosen? Probably not. I mean only that support for Israel in the United States is akin to support for the United Kingdom. I believe it is at least that popular, even if neither is actually a "core American value."
It is a 'core' American value because survival is a core value.
Islamic terrorism and, Iran as Islamic terrorisms' foremost national proponent mean to violently put-an-end to western values. The US is the nation most representative of those values. As the strongest nation holding to those values, the west cannot be defeated until the US is subdued.
Israel's survival is critical to US strategic goals in the WoT. Should Israel fall through Iranian actions, Iran will emerge as the 'leader' of the Islamic world and unite Islam in opposition to the US.
It is always better to fight a divided enemy than a united one.
On one hand, I would have thought that we do have leverage over Iran because it shares borders on both side with countries that are occupied by the US. However, I don't really see any real evidence of this. Iran's rhetoric has been heating up, and the only thing that the US does is mention that the UN is going to do something about it?
I think the hawks are being a little unfair to the Bush administration on the question of Iran. Thanks, I think, to its relative patience and the multilateral approach it has taken, coupled with the insane rantings of Ahmadinejad and now the Israeli-Hezbollah war, the West is being polarized against Iran (see the latest Pew Research Global Attitudes survey -- I wrote a post on it back a couple of months ago). We need that to happen first to support any tougher action. Simply bombing the Iranians is not a solution.