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Jewish World Review Dec. 24, 2004 / 12 Teves, 5765

Michael Ledeen

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Values and Interests: The “insurgency” and the future of the Middle East | The notion that we are fighting an "insurgency" largely organized and staffed by former elements of Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime is now fully enshrined as an integral piece of the conventional wisdom. Like earlier bits of the learned consensus — to which it is closely linked — it is factually wrong and strategically dangerous.

That it is factually wrong is easily demonstrated, for the man invariably branded the most powerful leader of the terrorist assault against Iraq — Abu Musab al Zarqawi — is not a Baathist, and indeed is not even an Iraqi. He is a Palestinian Arab from Jordan who was based in Iran for several years, and who — when the West Europeans found he was creating a terror network in their countries (primarily Germany and Italy) and protested to the Iranians — moved into Iraqi Kurdistan with Iranian protection and support, as the moving force in Ansar al Islam.

You cannot have it both ways. If Zarqawi is indeed the deus ex machina of the Iraqi terror war, it cannot be right to say that the "insurgency" is primarily composed of Saddam's followers. Zarqawi forces us to think in regional terms rather than focusing our attention on Iraq alone. Unless you think that Iraqi Defense Minister Shaalan is a drooling idiot, you must take seriously his primal screams against Iran and Syria ("terrorism in Iraq is orchestrated by Iranian intelligence, Syrian intelligence, and Saddam loyalists"). Indeed, there has been a flood of reports linking Syria to the terror war, including the recent news that the shattered remnants from Fallujah have found haven and succor across the Syrian border. Finally, the Wahabbist component carries the unmistakable fingerprints of the quavering royal family across the border in Saudi Arabia.

The terror war in Iraq was not improvised, but carefully planned by the four great terror masters (Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Saudi Arabia) during the infuriatingly long run-up to the liberation. They made no secret of it; you have only to go back to the public statements of the Iranian mullahs and the Syrian Baathists to see it, for top Iranian officials and Bashir Assad publicly announced it (the mullahs in their mosques, Bashir in a published interview). They had a simple and dramatic word for the strategy: Lebanon. Assad and the mullahs prepared to turn Iraq into a replay of the terror war they had jointly waged against us in Lebanon in the 1980s: suicide bombings, hostage-taking, and religious/political uprisings. It could not have been more explicit.

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Some of our brighter journalists have recently written about Iraqi documents that show how Saddam instructed his cohorts to melt away when Coalition forces entered Iraq, and then wage the sort of guerilla campaign we now see. But neither they nor our buffoonish intelligence "community" have looked at the documents in the context of the combined planning among the four key regimes. Anyone who goes back to the pre-OIF period can see the remarkable tempo of airplanes flying back and forth between Damascus, Baghdad, Tehran, and even Pyongyang (remember the Axis of Evil?), as military and intelligence officials worked out their strategies. Some of those flights, as for example those between Saddam's Baghdad and the mullahs' Tehran, were a kind of man-bites-dog story, since in the past such flights carried armaments to be dropped on the destination, whereas in 2002 and early 2003 they carried government officials planning the terror war against us in Iraq.

The myth of the Baathist insurgency is actually just the latest version of the old error according to which Sunnis and Shiites can't work together. This myth dominated our "intelligence" on the Middle East for decades, even though it was known that the Iranian (Shiite) Revolutionary Guards were trained in (Syrian-dominated, hence secular Baathist) Lebanon by Arafat's (Sunni) Fatah, starting as early as 1972. The terror masters worked together for a long time, not just after the destruction of the Taliban. But we refused to see it, just as today we refuse to see that the assault against us is regional, not just Iraqi.

Many of the statements emerging from official (that is, both governmental and media) Washington nowadays reflect yet another error, a corollary of the axiom that sees the region hopelessly divided between Shiites and Sunnis. The corollary has it that the impending electoral victory of the Iraqi Shiites will greatly increase Iranian leverage in Iraq. The truth, as Reuel Gerecht so eloquently demonstrated in the Wall Street Journal last week, is precisely the opposite, because the Shiite leaders in Iraq are fundamentally opposed to the Iranian doctrine that places a theocratic dictator atop civil society. The Iraqis adhere to the traditional Shiite view that people in turbans should work in mosques, leaving civil society to secular leaders, and therefore their victory in Iraq will threaten the sway of the mullahs across the border. We should not view all Shiites as a coherent community, and we should welcome a traditional Shiite society in Iraq, and recognize that it is a valuable weapon in the war against the terror masters in Tehran.

The mullahs know this well. They dread the success of traditional Shiites in Baghdad, and they are desperately trying to foment a Sunni/Shiite clash of civilizations. That is the explanation of the resumption of suicide-bombing attacks in the holy Shiite cities of Najaf and Karbala, which the mullahs' intelligence agents had terminated when previous bombings intensified anti-Iranian (rather than the hoped-for anti-Sunni) passions. As many Iraqi leaders have observed, the recent attacks in the holy places demonstrate desperation, not growing "insurgent" strength.

The clear strategic conclusion remains what it should have been long before Coalition troops entered Saddam's evil domain: No matter how strongly we wish it to be otherwise, we are engaged in a regional war, of which Iraq is but a single battlefield. The war cannot be won in Iraq alone, because the enemy is based throughout the region and his bases and headquarters are located beyond our current reach. His power is directly proportional to our unwillingness to see the true nature of the war, and our decision to limit the scope of our campaign.

The true nature of the war exposes yet another current myth: that we are at greater risk because we failed to send sufficient troops into Iraq. More troops would simply mean more targets for the terrorists, since we are not prepared — nor should we be — to establish a full-scale military occupation and to "seal off" the borders with Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia. Hell, we can't even seal off the Mexican border with the United States, an area we know well. How can we expect to build a wall around Iraq?

No, we can only win in Iraq if we fully engage in the terror war, which means using our most lethal weapon — freedom — against the terror masters, all of them. The peoples of Syria, Iran, and Saudi Arabia are restive, they look to us for political support. Why have we not endorsed the call for political referenda in Syria and Iran? Why are we so (rightly and honorably) supportive of free elections in the Ukraine, while remaining silent about — or, in the disgraceful case of outgoing Secretary of State Colin Powell, openly hostile to — free elections in Iran and Syria? Why are we not advancing both our values and our interests in the war against the terror masters?

Faster, please.

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JWR contributor Michael Ledeen is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of, most recently, ""The War Against the Terror Masters," Comment by clicking here.


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11/30/04: Europe’s Ritual Dance: The Western counterpart of Iran’s deception
11/18/04: Porter’s Purge: What spymasters? 10/10/04: The War Cabinet: President Bush needs to reshape his top structure
10/08/04: Guardian Angels: Once again, our enemies save America
10/06/04: Iran, when? The war on terror cannot be won without addressing Iran
09/28/04: Know Thine Enemy: The beheadings are about them, not us

09/27/04: Iran, Impossible? Nope. The mullahs will go the way of the Evil Empire
09/21/04: Iranian Tales: An evil regime
09/01/04: An improbable molehunt
08/17/04: The Terror Masters Revisited: Let’s go to the videotape
08/16/04: The Iran-Iraq War, Again: Listen to the Iraqis (And, faster please)
08/11/04: Intelligence and Imagination: The only real 'fix' is good leadership and accountability
07/27/04: The Nature of the Enemy: Win first. Hearts and minds will come
07/26/04: The 9/11 Vision: Better, but not there yet
07/20/04: Are you sitting down? Iran is a terrorist state
07/13/04: The Great Intelligence Committee Report: Some mysteries remain unsolved
06/30/04: The Fears of the Terror Masters: If we want a peaceful Iraq we will have to confront the mullahs
06/29/04: The Iraqis and the Neocons: Arab democracy is a work in progress
06/23/04: Ready for $60-a-Barrel Oil?: The Iranian election strategy at work
06/15/04: Iran is making trouble, and finessing it is a dangerous strategy
06/02/04: Reagan Seen Plain: He changed the world 06/02/04: Quattrocchi's Killers: We are dealing with a truly international terror network
05/25/04: The Agency Rides Again: Angleton on Chalabi
05/24/04: Lying into the mirror: Misunderstaning the war on terror
05/18/04: Kristof’s Iran
04/19/04: The Iranian Hand: Regime change in Tehran is necessary for peace in Iraq
04/15/04: Dealing with the Libyans: Is Khaddafi about to cash out?
04/08/04: From Tyranny to Freedom: Democracy in Iraq has precedent
03/18/04: Drifting, Dangerously: We must support freedom
03/02/04: Once Upon a Spymaster, Part II: Returning to a conversation
02/24/04: The Great Iranian Election Fiasco: What actually happened; what we must do
02/20/04: Stalinist Mullahs: The Iranian regime is in open battle with its own people
02/11/04: The Jihadis' Primal Scream: Zarkawi's "Yaarrrhhh!"
02/04/04: Inelegant Lies: Making sense out of mullahs
02/03/04: Potemkin WMDs? Really?
01/27/04: The Jihad on Iraq: Bad analysis and bad policy
01/20/04: Our Moment of Vainglory: A p.c. mess
01/06/04: Aftershocks: The West must read the meter in Bam and Tehran
12/02/03: Managing Iraq: We can't continue this way
11/26/03: Back to the Angleton Files
11/25/03: The Turks, Italians & us — never again
11/06/03: Regional Struggle: Fighting narrow vision in Iraq
11/04/03: Unpunished Failure: What are we waiting for?
10/21/03: Curses: Diamonds and Naples
10/15/03: Into the Quagmire: Important days ahead for Iran
09/18/03: The Ayatollahs’ bomb: An invulnerability strategy
09/12/03: You can't make peace until the war is won
09/11/03: Ron Paul, dishonorable congressman
09/03/03: The Latest Horrors: Still organized
08/29/03: The Peace Trap: Back to the war, please
08/27/03: Angrier and Angrier: Self-deception, big-time
08/25/03: Iraq's terrorists have friends in high places
07/10/03: The Future of Iran: Armitage might want to rethink that "democracy" line
07/02/03: Looking Toward July 9: Independence Day in Iran?
06/24/03: Iran: Back the freedom fighters
06/17/03: The Iranian Revolution, 2003: Regime change in the air
06/05/03: Academic Standards: A Middle East scholar has his way with the truth.
05/28/03: The Moment of Truth? U.S. policy could determine Iran's destiny
05/15/03: Iran's Path: Stopping the mullahs in their tracks
05/13/03: The Nuclear Axis of Evil: The people solution
05/08/03: Inside the Dark: Applebaum's ‘Gulag’
05/06/03: Tough Guy: Powell's curious priority list
05/01/03: Desert Shame Redux: Want a free Iran and a free Syria? We have to fight for it
04/25/03: Timing Is Everything: We have a narrow window in Iraq to win Shiite support
04/15/03: Political war can remove terror masters in Syria and Iran
04/07/03: The Others: We have miles to go in eliminating the Axis
04/02/03: French Lies: Take the foreign minister at his word
03/31/03: Why muzzle Saddam's foes?
03/28/03: The post-war terror threat
03/26/03: All Fronts: Military war, political war, psychological war
03/24/03: More Bad News for Daschle: Taking out terror of all nationalities
03/21/03: The Killer Pneu: Virus terror from China
03/13/03: Iran: Nuclear suicide bombers?
03/11/03: A Theory: What if there's method to the Franco-German madness?
03/05/03: The Iranian-Election Revolt: The people speak. The West won't listen
02/19/03: The willful blindness of those who will not see
02/12/03: The Europeans Know More Than They Now Pretend? They choose to dawdle and obstruct
02/03/03: Monumental failure: Nelson Mandela had promise
01/30/03: Elevation: The president knows what it's all about
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01/28/03: The Axis of Evil Redux: Same place, a year later
01/27/03: The Return of the Ayatollah: Washington could afford a little more attention on Iran
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01/09/03: Fish are Better than Women: Gauging U.S. priorities
01/07/03: The Shape of Things to Come: The terror masters are now waiting for us
12/20/02: A Prophecy for the New Year --- Faster, please!
12/16/02: Scud Surrender: The "W" factor
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12/09/02: Tom Friedman's Reformation: His Iran
11/26/02: How Tyrannies Fall: Opportunity time in Iran
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11/13/02: The Temperature Rises: We should liberate Iran first --- now
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10/16/02: Sniper, Saboteur, or Sleeper? Channeling James Jesus Angleton
10/01/02: The real foe
09/27/02: The Iranian String Quartet: The mullahs get increasingly nervous
09/25/02: The Dubya Doctrine
09/23/02: Intelligence? What intelligence?
09/12/02: America's revenge: To turn tyrannies into democracies
09/10/02: Iran & Afghanistan & Us: We'll have to deal with the mullahcracy, sooner or later
09/04/02: Iran, according to the Times: All the nonsense that's fit to print
08/21/02: Life and death of Abu Nidal tells us a great deal about our enemies
08/08/02: Can You Keep a Secret?: The media silence on Iran
08/06/02: Fantasy Reporting: The latest disinformation from the Washington Post
08/02/02: Propping Up the Terror Masters: Europe's Solana on tour
07/16/02: Bush vs. the Mullahs: Getting on the side of the Iranian freedom fighters
07/12/02: The State Department Goes Mute: It's official: State has no message
07/09/02: History being made, but the West appears clueless
06/05/02: Is George Tenet endangering peace in Israel?
06/03/02: Ridiculous, even for a journalist
05/20/02: So how come nobody's been fired yet?
05/14/02: Open doors for thugs
04/20/02: Iran on the Brink … and the U.S. does nothing
04/16/02: It’s the war, stupid … someone remind Colin Powell
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04/02/02: Faster, Please: The war falters
03/26/02: The Revolution Continues: What's brewing in Iran
03/18/02: Iran simmers still: Where's the press?
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02/12/02: Unnoticed Bombshell: Key information in a new book
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01/29/02: My past with "Johnny Jihad's" lawyer
01/21/02: It's Munich, all over again
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11/06/01: A great revolutionary war is coming
10/25/01: How to talk to a terrorist
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10/15/01: Rediscovering American character
10/11/01: Somehow, I've missed Arafat's praise of the first stage of our war on terrorism
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09/28/01: Machiavelli On Our War: Some advice for our leaders
09/25/01: No Room for the U.N.: Keeping Annan & co. out of the picture
09/21/01: Creative destruction
09/14/01: Who Killed Barbara Olson?
08/22/01: How Israel will win this war
08/15/01: Bracing for war
08/09/01: More Dithering Democrats
08/02/01: Delirious Dems
07/31/01: Consulting a legendary counterspy about Chandra and Condit, cont'd
07/19/01: Be careful what you wish for
07/17/01: Consulting a legendary counterspy about Chandra and Condit
07/05/01: Let Slobo Go
05/30/01: Anybody out there afraid of the Republicans?
05/09/01: The bad guys to the rescue
05/07/01: Bye-bye, Blumenthal
04/20/01: Handling China
04/11/01: EXAM TIME!
04/05/01: Chinese over-water torture
03/27/01: Fighting AIDS in Africa is a losing proposition
03/14/01: Big Bird, Oscar, and other threats
03/09/01: Time for a good, old-fashioned purge
03/06/01: Powell’s great (mis)adventure
02/26/01: The Clinton Sopranos
02/20/01: Unity Schmoonity: Sharon is defying the will of the people
01/30/01: The Rest of the Rich Story
01/22/01: Ashcroft the Jew
01/11/01: A fitting close to the Clinton years
12/26/00: Continuing Clinton's shameful legacy
12/21/00: Clinton’s gift for Bush

© 2001, Michael Ledeen