Published 01 May 06
Walid Phares, Ph.D.
World Defense Review columnist
The Strategic Waves of Iraq's Liberation
In a previous analysis of the War in Iraq, I argued that in the middle of a conflict, one cannot pronounce the final verdict yet, but detect the trends of successes and failures.
Between 2003 and 2006, the U.S. led coalition, was winning by points while al Qaida wasn't able to reverse the process, yet. The ending of Saddam's regime, the rise of a political consensus, the deployment of new Iraqi forces and the three popular votes is a string of coalition victories. The Salafists and Khumeinists weren't yet able to crumble the Sistani-backed Iraqi consensus.
Hence in Iraq itself, and despite the all-out war by the Jihadists and the omnipresence of Iranian heavy influence, fact is that the equation hasn't been reversed yet. That alone is telling: Until the Iraqi Government is forced to break down, the Iraqi army to divide and disperse, and the Salafis and Khumeinists forces take over in their areas of influence, the Iraq supported by the Coalition is still up and running.
We'll judge on the long-term outcome as we are watching the regional context evolving. For we do not negate the possibility of a general crumbling of the U.S.-led efforts in the Middle East, if Washington's current strategic objectives are changed, or are not well prosecuted. But until this happen, America and the democracy forces are winning, point-by-point.
However, these waves of geopolitical changes have bypassed the borders of Iraq. Three years after the fall of Saddam, let's contemplate the bigger picture for US efforts in the region:
1. Iraq: The Baathist army of 2003 and its projected re-armament for the decade are gone. In a zero sum game the defunct dictatorship won't be able to throw divisions in future battlefields of its choice, nor use restructured non-conventional weapons against neighbors and beyond. More important, as I argue in my book Future Jihad, any projected axis of terror in the region will operate without a surviving Saddam. In today's analytical terms, Iran's Ahmedinijad and Syrian's Assad can't factor Iraq as a regional power that can converge against "common enemies" anymore. Even better, with patience a "new Iraq" will fight along with the alliance and against the axis of Baathism-Jihadism. That alone is an undisputed change in the map setting.
2. Removing the Syrian army from Lebanon, even partially, would have been hard, had five layers of radicals, Hezbollah, and the four regimes of Lahoud, Assad, Saddam and Ahmedinijad, have been able to form a continuum from the Mediterranean to Pakistan. But with the Baath removed from Iraq, Iran got surrounded, and Assad lost his eastern strategic depth to face off with the US sixth fleet. Hence, without one single shot, he had to pull his forces out of Lebanon. The mere presence of the US forces in Iraq liberated not one, but two countries, though partially still.
3. The US move in Iraq alienated the French Government. But the Lebanese issue, moved back Paris to the Western alliance against Syria's regime, Hezbollah and Iran. Without that Iraq-generated Lebanon opportunity, France and its European partners wouldn't have put their weight in the balance. Ironically, the march of US Marines towards Baghdad, paved the way for France's diplomats to follow (along with their US counterparts) the road to UNSCR 1559 in New York.
4. With Lebanon slowly emerging from decades of Syrian occupation, a new balance of power is in the making in that small but strategic country: Hezbollah is not the sole power anymore. With the Syrian forces out, the Iran-dominated terror organization has to keep an eye on its rear-guard pressed by the one million marchers of the Cedars Revolution. Thus, without the change in Iraq, that revolution wasn't expected to happen soon, or even to happen at all bloodlessly. The weight of US presence in Iraq, freed the energies of another civil society in the region: Lebanon. Evidently, Hezbollah and its regional backers are counter attacking the Cedars Revolution. It is all up to Lebanon's civil society and the international community not to let Lebanon be left to the slaughter again. Meanwhile, and in contrast with the 1990s, today there is a space to widen freedom out of Lebanon.
5. The domino effect reached Iran: With US forces in Afghanistan protecting a rising democracy, coalition forces in Iraq, coaching an expanding democracy, and a UN backed civil revolution struggling in Beirut, Tehran's environment has been altered: Its strategists are attempting to accommodate evolving situations to their east (Afghanistan), west (Syria) and far west (Lebanon). US soldiers taking back Fallujah and training Iraqis are changing the strategic landscape of the Mullahs threat.
6. The cataclysmic changes in Iraq caused yet remote developments: Gaddafi's regime surrendered his designs on nuclear weapons, affecting the threat of rogue regimes; Sudan's Islamist regime moderated its stance on the South, and began to deal with an international initiative in Darfur. Absent of the Iraq campaign, it would have been less likely to see Tripoli offering concessions and a window for international attempts to stop the Genocide in Sudan.
7. In the war of ideas, the change in Iraq, mobilized the region's dissident forces. Watching the rise of 120 political parties in Iraq, women voting in Afghanistan, demonstrators in Beirut, thousands of democracy activists have spread online and in many Arab countries. Another indirect consequence of the sacrifices consented by young men and women from America's little towns and mega-cities.
The ripple effects of the US campaign, is amazingly wider quantitatively and qualitatively than the Iraq-only results. The seven effects above mentioned are only a limited version of the earthquake striking the region and awakening its underdogs to freedom. In the final analysis all perception depends on the understanding of this conflict by average Americans and soon to be by Europeans and Middle Eastern alike. It is about to be or not to be conscious about it. The ability of the reader, viewer, and student in the United States to understand the far meaning of Iraq's geopolitical changes can insure these changes are for real and the Middle East chances for greater freedoms possible.
— Walid Phares holds degrees in law and political science from Saint Joseph University and the Lebanese University in Beirut, a Masters in international law from the Universite de Lyons in France and a Ph.D. in international relations and strategic studies from the University of Miami.
He has taught and lectured at numerous universities worldwide, practiced law in Beirut, and served as publisher of Sawt el-Mashreq and Mashrek International. He currently teaches Middle East political issues, ethnic and religious conflict, and comparative politics at Florida Atlantic University.
Dr. Phares has written seven books on the Middle East and published hundreds of articles in newspapers and scholarly publications such as Global Affairs, Middle East Quarterly, and Journal of South Asian and Middle East Studies. He has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, NBC, CBS, ABC, PBS, and BBC as well as on radio broadcasts.
Aside from serving on the boards of several national and international think tanks and human rights associations, Dr. Phares has testified before the US Senate Subcommittee on the Middle East and South East Asia and regularly conducts congressional and State Department briefings.
Dr. Phares is a senior fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C.
© 2006 Walid Phares
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