After Iraq: The Ongoing Crisis
Apr 10, 2003
As the war in Iraq moves toward a conclusion, the expectations are that the end of the war will bring at least a pause in international tensions. We do not believe this will be the case. Given U.S. war goals, crises -- inside Iraq, with nations along Iraq's border and between Europe and the United States -- can be expected to flow directly from war termination, whenever it comes. As we have said, Iraq is a campaign in a much larger war and not a war in itself. We now will see what that means.
Stratfor has argued that the United States had two fundamental reasons for invading Iraq:
1. To transform the psychology of the Islamic world, which had perceived the United States as in essence weak and unwilling to take risks to achieve its ends.
2. To use Iraq as a strategic base of operations from which to confront Islamic regimes that are either incapable of or unwilling to deny al Qaeda and other Islamist groups access to enabling resources.
The war in Iraq is not over: There are extraordinarily complex politico-military missions to confront. This is particularly true in the north, where some substantial Iraqi forces appear to remain and where the political situation among various players -- Kurdish, Turkish, Iranian and Syrian -- remains complex, dynamic and opaque. Nevertheless, it is possible to make some assessment of the intended and unintended consequences of the war.
There already has been a strong impact on the psychology of the Arab world in particular. During the run-up to the war and until the last week, there existed a sense of growing anger and radicalization. With the collapse of resistance in Baghdad, this has given way to a sense of stunned disbelief. The Arab press appears to be filled with four themes:
1. A sense of denial, and an insistence that resistance continued but was being hidden by the world press.
2. A sense of betrayal by Saddam Hussein, whose failure to resist effectively was seen as a sign of corruption.
3. A sense of hopelessness, expressing the view that resisting the United States is beyond the capacity of Arabs. This was coupled at times with an expression of determination to rectify the situation.
4. Bitterness at Europe -- particularly France and Russia, which abandoned Iraq to its fate.
U.S. leaders understand that the result of the war will be increased bitterness, although some argue that Arab bitterness was already maxed out anyway. What they are driving for with this operation is a psychological capitulation -- a sense that accommodation with the United States is the only path.
The United States certainly has inflicted a massive blow on the Arab, if not the Islamic, psyche. The only comparable moment was in June 1967, when Israeli forces defeated the Egyptians, Syrians and Jordanians. It should be remembered that the defeat had unintended consequences: Not only did Egypt and Syria attack Israel with some effect in 1973, but the consequences of the defeat energized the Palestinian movement. The Israelis have begun warning the Palestinians to think through the lessons of Iraq. On the other side, the United States must carefully think through the lessons of 1967.
The simplistic idea that resentment of the United States will generate effective action by Arabs misses a crucial point. Two scales are at work here: the radicalism scale and the hope scale. On the radicalism scale, the level of radicalism and anti-Americanism in the Arab world has been off the chart for months. Increasing the level would be difficult. However, radicalism by itself does not lead to action. There must also be hope -- a sense that there are weaknesses in the U.S. position that can be exploited, that there is some possibility of victory, however distant. So long as the hope scale tends toward hopelessness, radicalism can be intense.
The United States was prepared to allow the radicalism scale to go deep into the danger zone, but Washington has been trying to keep the hope scale deeply in the green zone. Israel's failure after 1967 was inherent in its position: The Israelis depended heavily on outsiders for national security. The Arab perception was that the Israelis could be attacked by splitting them from their patrons. This sense of vulnerability led to an active response to defeat.
The task facing the United States now is to avoid projecting a sense of vulnerability. This is easier for Washington than it was for Israel. The United States comes out of the war less dependent on others; it also has a strong domestic consensus in favor of the war. The United States presents, at the moment, a seamless face to the Arab world: It is hated but feared. Washington now must act now to maintain the fear, while reducing hatred. How it manages Iraq will determine the outcome. If the United States loses control of the situation, it quickly could lead to a perception of vulnerability. It must control the situation in Iraq while maintaining a benign administration. This will not be as easy it sounds: Where Washington can choose between unrelenting strength and the risk of perceived weakness, it will have to carefully choose strength. That is implicit in the strategy.
From a geopolitical perspective, we already have seen the United States transiting from the Iraqi war phase toward confrontation with the surrounding states. Saudi leaders capitulated in fundamental ways before the United States went to war, permitting U.S. aircraft to fly air strikes against Iraq and allowing U.S. forces to pass through Saudi territory. Jordan and Kuwait are not problems. But there are three issues: Syria, Turkey and Iran.
· Syria: Syrian behavior has become unpredictable. The Syrians have long understood that, as a consequence of the war, their country would be surrounded by three enemies: the United States, Turkey and Israel. Rather than trying to reach an accommodation with the United States, Damascus stepped up its aggressive behavior during the war, permitting volunteers to go into Iraq to fight coalition forces and apparently permitting Iraqi personnel to seek shelter in Iraq. The Bush administration has made it clear that it finds Syrian behavior intolerable, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has refused to rule out assertive action against Syria. There was no question but that the United States was going to confront Syria at some point from its bases in Iraq, but the Syrians seem to have chosen to accelerate the process -- perhaps feeling that a better settlement could be reached earlier in the game.
· Turkey: Washington needs to defuse the bad end to the pre-war confrontation. Turkey is a geopolitical foundation of U.S. strategy -- not only in the Middle East, but also north of the Caucasus, in southeastern Europe and Iran. A permanent rift with Turkey would be intolerable. Similarly, the United States remains the foundation of Turkish national security policy. Without it, Turkey has fundamental problems. The two countries may not be friends at the moment, but they share fundamental interests. Both nations now will attempt to extract themselves from the unacceptable situation they created for each other. The key will be limiting Kurdish expectations.
· Iran: the extraordinarily complex game that Tehran is playing makes Syrian foreign policy transparent. Iran has positioned itself in such a way that its pro-Iranian Shiite groups in Iraq could wage a guerrilla war against the United States, while Tehran holds open the possibility of reaching implicit accommodations with the United States -- all at the same time. Iranian subtlety notwithstanding, Washington regards Iran as the single most potentially dangerous regime in the region, because of both its resources and the complexity of its politics and policies. Iran has positioned itself to be fundamentally unpredictable -- and having achieved this goal, it concerns the United States tremendously.
Therefore, if the goal of the United States was to create a base of operations in Iraq from which to influence the dynamics of the region internally, the game is in play even before the war is formally ended. The Syrian situation will probably be contained, but it represents a fundamentally destabilizing factor to the region. The Iranian situation is much more difficult to predict in the long run, even as the Iranians practice their traditionally complex prudence in the short run.
In a similar sense, unintended consequences of the war must be managed. The U.S. relationship with Britain is fundamental to U.S. national strategy -- and Britain, for a host of its own reasons, does not want an outright breach either with the Franco-German bloc or with multilateral organizations like the United Nations. The United States must accommodate the British without losing control of the situation in Iraq.
The primary purpose of the April 11-12 summit in St. Petersburg between Russian, German and French leaders is to find a way to limit the consequences of U.S. victory in Iraq. All of them opposed the war, and the United States prosecuted it any way. This demonstrated that Washington needs neither material support from Europe nor political validation. For all three countries, this represents a fundamental redefinition of their place in the world. There had been a fixed assumption that in some sense, the United States remained dependent on them, that they were necessary enablers for global actions. Alliance for them was not an American choice, but a necessity. Iraq represented a very public demonstration that they were irrelevant to U.S. policymaking, either individually or collectively. This represents a geopolitical crisis of the first order to them.
These countries' solution will be to try to manipulate the United States into accepting the United Nations as the primary manager of Iraqi affairs. To do so, they will use the British desire to maintain bridges to the Franco-German bloc as a means of forcing the United States to shift policy. The United States cannot abandon control of Iraq without abandoning the goals for which it fought the war. This undoubtedly will lead to another round of unpleasantness with the Euro Three, which would not bother Washington a bit. U.S. President George W. Bush is positioned domestically to take advantage of resentment -- particularly of France -- so that their demand to participate in governing Iraq will be taken as wanting the fruits of victory without taking the risks. The British, however, will be another matter. We expect to see growing strains between the two countries as Britain tries to find balance.
What we are getting at is that no postwar lull is possible here, even if there does emerge a clear-cut end to the war. The two goals of the war need immediate management. The management of Arab and Islamic public opinion requires exquisite care in the management of internal Iraqi affairs. It also requires that U.S. power in the region be perceived as irresistible. This means that U.S. relations with Syria and Iran must be managed aggressively but without crossing the line to unwarranted belligerence. It means that the U.S.-Turkish relationship must be managed dispassionately, in spite of underlying tensions. All of this is urgent. None of it will wait. Finally, the pre-war battle with the Europeans, while undoubtedly more subdued, still will define much of the global rhetoric -- save that given its stakes in the Islamic world, the United States will be even less able and less inclined to cooperate with European demands.
Now things get really tricky.