This is FDR and King Saud in the Great Bitter Lake, Egypt, on 14 February 1945. Our relations with the Middle East go back to the birth of our republic, but our modern history with the region stems from relationships like this.
There was no operational link between Saddam Hussein and the Al Qaeda attacks on 9/11. We have been fighting the organization – Al Qaeda – that planned and carried out the 9/11 attacks IN Iraq for the last five years. Iraq and Afghanistan are both part of the struggle against terrorism and success in one enhances success in the other. The surge could not have succeeded w/o factors such as the Sunni Awakening, but w/o the U.S. forces the brave Iraqis who stood up to Al Qaeda would have been beheaded and their families murdered. Causality is usually complex with mutually reinforcing forces at work. I don’t understand why it seems so hard for many otherwise competent journalists and analysts to hold all these ideas in their heads at the same time? Too often they are trying to find the one – clean – cause. This is just childish.
In Iraq our forces and those of our Iraqi allies are killing foreign fighters and terrorists trained, ordered and paid for by Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda a couple years back declared Iraq (specifically Anbar) the central front in their war against the West. They came to fight us in Iraq hoping to take advantage of the opportunities available to establish their base in Anbar. They boldly bragged as late as 2006 that they had indeed accomplished their mission and that from their bases in Iraq their screaming fanatics would spread their evil influence around the region and to Europe and America. We kicked their asses in Al Anbar. Now they are cowering in desert holes or laying dead there. Had we not done that to them, they would have succeeded in their goal.
Al Qaeda is an international organization that seeks to extend its influence wherever it can. It has to be confronted where it is making its moves. We can seize the initiative and fight them where they are, but we cannot always choose the places where we must fight them.
It is like the old story re the drunk looking for his keys under the street light. When asked where he lost them, he points across the street. “Then why aren’t you looking over there?” the passerby asks. “Because the light is better here.” We had to fight Al Qaeda in Iraq because Al Qaeda came to Iraq to fight us and and given the particular conditions of geography THIS was the most urgent fight.
During WWII, Franklin Roosevelt chose put more resources first into our fight against the Nazis, even though the attack against the U.S. came from Japan. He did this because Germany was the more URGENT threat. American generals in East Asia and the Pacific complained that they were not getting the resources they needed. They rightly pointed out that they were not achieving the results they could if they had more men, ships and firepower. But Roosevelt and Marshall knew that while we would need to fight both wars, Germany came first.
The same goes for Iraq and Afghanistan. Both are important, but Iraq was more urgent. As our victory in Iraq makes resources available, we can shift resources. Of course, we all need to remember that you cannot just flood resources at a problem. There is a carrying capacity for any place. It is not necessarily true that 1000 men can accomplish ten times as much as 100 men. We have to have APPROPRIATE numbers and missions.
There is a good garden analogy. If you want to grow beautiful flowers, you probably need to apply fertilizer. At some point, however, there is enough fertilizer and after that there is too much. It won’t make the plants grow any faster than they have the capacity to grow and it may even be harmful or fatal.
That is another reason why you have to understand the connection between Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as other places.
I would also point out that the situation in Afghanistan would be worse if Al Qaeda had been able to concentrate its resources on Afghanistan from the start. All those foreign fighters who died in the Western Deserts of Iraq would have been dispatched to the mountains of Afghanistan. And if Al Qaeda had a secure base in Anbar, there would have been a lot more of them.
Iraq under Saddam was a sworn enemy of the U.S. Today we have many friends here and a good chance that Iraq will become a reaonably democratic and stable place. This is good.
Terrorism is like piracy. In fact, the two often overlap. It is interesting that our country’s first significant overseas intervention was against the Barbary Pirates, activities and ideology were remarkably similar to some of the enemies we face today. Terrorists and pirates can never be eliminated entirely, but they can be controlled with diligence and vigilance. When pirates or terrorists control states where they can establish bases and safe havens, their depredation cannot be stopped. When their nests are cleaned out, you can control them.
BTW – We Americans often forget that Stephen Decatur didn’t have the final word against the Barbary Pirates. It wasn’t until the 19th Century superpower – the British – punished them so severely that they curtailed (not gave up) their evil ways. A lot of other social and technological factors were also at work. It was that complex causality thing again. No matter. The world didn’t thank the Brits much at that time, just like we cannot expect the gratitude of the rest of world for the service are performing to make the world safer for good people and commerce … and freedom.