Saturday, November 08, 2003

The Beginning of the End

Some of the largely unarticulated strategic questions about the War on Terror and the fighting in the Sunni Triangle in particular can be more readily answered in the light of recent developments.

  • What is the futility point of the Saddam loyalists in the Sunni Triangle and their Ba'athist allies in Syria?

It factually passed about a month ago, although the psychological reality of their ultimate defeat has not yet been absorbed. In that time frame, Iraq was accepted as a member of the Arab League, boycotted a meeting with Syria and sent a delegation to Turkey. All this at a time when the Iraqi Governing Council president, Jalal Talabani, was a Kurd. Within that approximate period, the French publicly acknowledged the reality of a new Iraqi government and tried to deal themselves into the picture.

In the south, the Shi'ite majority unmanacled from their Ba'athist overlords, are thriving. The Economist reports that:

For many Iraqis, living standards have already risen a lot. Boosted by government make-work programmes, day labourers are getting double their pre-war wages. A university dean's pay has gone up fourfold, a policeman's by a factor of ten. Before the war, Kifah Karim, a teacher at a Baghdad primary school, took home monthly pay equivalent to just $6. Her husband earned $13 as a factory overseer. Today, with a combined income of close to $450, they no longer rely on gifts of meat from Mrs Karim's brother, a butcher, to buttress a diet dominated by government food rations. They buy 2-3 kilos of meat a week, and have recently purchased a new fridge, a television, a TV satellite dish, a VCR and a CD player.

In the north, despite every terrorist effort, oil exports rose from 640,000 barrels per day in August to 1.2 million barrels per day in October, poised to pass two million soon. The idea that the Shi'ites and Kurds would suddenly hand back all their newfound political and economic power to a Tikriti dynasty is really a 21st century dream of a Sunni restoration; one that Saddam Shall Rise Again. The press, in comparing the terrorists to the World War 2 French Resistance, have really overlooked a far more appropriate comparison: Quantrill's Raiders, possibly in deference to their own liberal self-image.

By destroying infrastructure in the Baghdad area, retarding their own reconstruction and generally raising hell, the Sunnis are ironically assuring the permanence of the Kurdish and Shi'ite ascendancy in Iraq. They are resource poor, in the minority and worst of all, clueless. In hankering after lost glories, they are cutting themselves out of the loop, out of power and out of the future. But the psychological futility point will be reached only much later, almost imperceptibly, when the Sunnis are jolted into reality by a signal event, analogous to the capture of Aguinaldo, long after their army has lost the field. Then it will hit with a vengeance. The arrival of that moment is intertwined with another vexing question whose answer seems just that much clearer.

  • What is the center of gravity of the War on Terror?

The center of gravity of the War on Terror is the destruction of the totalitarian ideology that calls itself Islamism, which is to Islam as kryptonite is to krypton, Nazism to Germany, John Wayne Gacy to Pagliaccio, and Uncle Joe to Uncle Sam. Islamism and freedom will not fit on the same planet. And freedom will win. As President Bush put it:

"Iraqi democracy will succeed -- and that success will send forth the news, from Damascus to Teheran -- that freedom can be the future of every nation. The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global democratic revolution."

And above all it requires toppling the regimes in Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran. It will be an extension of the current war against terrorists in Iraq, of which it is a part. In that campaign, as in the current fighting in Iraq, American losses will be shouted from the rooftops and it's triumphs concealed, because on a clandestine battlefield, no information is more important to the enemy than an accurate knowledge of the state of the cells around him. He can safely be allowed to know his triumphs for so long as he remains ignorant of his loss. And though the enemy dwells in darkness, still the night time is our friend.  Ten days after September 11 we knew that we could come this way. And we have.

"Our response involves far more than instant retaliation and isolated strikes. Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen. It may include dramatic strikes, visible on TV, and covert operations, secret even in success. We will starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place, until there is no refuge or no rest."