Diana West (author of The Death of the Grown Up, which I’m currently reading) thinks that the troop surge in Iraq makes little sense because success in Iraq would “do nothing to ward off jihadist state threats — Iran, for instance, in the wider region.” She also believes that our focus on Iraq causes us to lose sight of “the big bad world beyond.”
I confess to not really understanding why the primacy of the Iranian threat means we shouldn’t push forward in Iraq. I don’t know of anyone who advocates a mass U.S. invasion of Iran, and all other options — tougher sanctions, encouragement of Iranian dissidents, bombing of Iranian nuclear sites — are compatible with “surging” in Iraq. If the surge is causing us to lose focus when it comes to Iran — and I’m not persuaded that it is — why isn’t the remedy to talk more about Iran, rather than giving up in Iraq? I admit that our lack of success in Iraq may well have made it more difficult to come to grips with Iran. But since we can’t turn back the clock, why not pursue a course that seems to be helping to generate success in Iraq?
Diana wonders, “what’s in it for us” in Iraq? One answer is the defeat of al Qaeda’s most active operation. Iran is a major adversary in the war on terror, but so is al Qaeda. If al Qaeda in Iraq is routed because Sunni Arabs, with our encouragement and assistance, turn against it, that seems like a big deal. Our current strategy is helping to produce just that result, and in my view that’s reason enough not to abandon it.
Finally, Iraq seems to have become a front in Iran’s confrontation with the U.S. In fact, Iranian assets are operating in Iraq as part of the effort to drive the U.S. out. Thus, Iran must believe that its chances of dominating Iraq will improve if the U.S. leaves, and/or that a U.S. defeat in Iraq will improve Iran’s chance of establishing a regional hegemony. I believe this too.
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