11:45 AM, Jun 16, 2014 • By FREDERICK W. KAGAN and WILLIAM KRISTOL
It’s widely agreed that the collapse of Iraq would be a disaster for American interests and security in the Middle East and around the world. It also seems to be widely assumed either that there's nothing we can now do to avert that disaster, or that our best bet is supporting Iran against al Qaeda. Both assumptions are wrong. It would be irresponsible to embrace a premature fatalism with respect to Iraq. And it would be damaging and counterproductive to accept a transformation of our alliances and relationships in the Middle East to the benefit of the regime in Tehran. There is a third alternative.
That alternative is to act boldly and decisively to help stop the advance of the forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)—without empowering Iran. This would mean pursuing a strategy in Iraq (and in Syria) that works to empower moderate Sunni and Shi’a without taking sectarian sides. This would mean aiming at the expulsion of foreign fighters, both al Qaeda terrorists and Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah regular and special forces, from Iraq.
This would require a willingness to send American forces back to Iraq. It would mean not merely conducting U.S. air strikes, but also accompanying those strikes with special operators, and perhaps regular U.S. military units, on the ground. This is the only chance we have to persuade Iraq’s Sunni Arabs that they have an alternative to joining up with al Qaeda or being at the mercy of government-backed and Iranian-backed death squads, and that we have not thrown in with the Iranians. It is also the only way to regain influence with the Iraqi government and to stabilize the Iraqi Security Forces on terms that would allow us to demand the demobilization of Shi’a militias and to move to limit Iranian influence and to create bargaining chips with Iran to insist on the withdrawal of their forces if and when the situation stabilizes.
This path won't be easy, but the alternatives are much worse. Doing nothing means we will face a full-scale sectarian war—Syria on steroids—with millions of refugees and tens or hundreds of thousands more dead, along with a massive expansion of Iranian control into southern Iraq and an al Qaeda safe haven stretching from the Tigris to the middle of Syria.
Throwing our weight behind Iran in the fight against al Qaeda in Iraq, as some are suggesting, would make things even worse. Conducting U.S. airstrikes without deploying American special operators or other ground forces would in effect make the U.S. Iran’s air force. Such an approach would be extremely shortsighted. The al Qaeda threat in Iraq is great, and the U.S. must take action against it. But backing the Iranians means backing the Shi’a militias that have been the principal drivers of sectarian warfare, to say nothing of turning our backs on the moderates on both sides who are suffering the most. Allowing Iran to in effect extend its border several hundred kilometers to the west with actual troop deployments would be a strategic disaster. In addition, the U.S. would be perceived as becoming the ally of the Islamic Republic of Iran against all of the forces of the Arab and Sunni world, conceding Syria to the Iranian-backed Bashir al-Assad, and accepting the emergence of an Iranian hegemony soon to be backed by nuclear weapons. And at the end of the day, Iran is not going to be able to take over the Sunni areas of Iraq—so we would end up both strengthening Iran and not defeating ISIS.
Now is not the time to re-litigate either the decision to invade Iraq in 2003 or the decision to withdraw from it in 2011. The crisis is urgent, and it would be useful to focus on a path ahead rather than indulge in recriminations. All paths are now fraught with difficulties, including the path we recommend. But the alternatives of permitting a victory for al Qaeda and/or strengthening Iran would be disastrous.
Frederick W. Kagan, a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard, is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and director of AEI’s Critical Threats Project. William Kristol is editor of The Weekly Standard.
Mosul has fallen, and al Qaeda is on the march towards BaghdadJun 23, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 39 • By MAX BOOT
Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, has long been hard for the central government to control because of its combustible mix of Arabs and Kurds. The first time I visited Mosul was in August 2003 when a tenuous calm was maintained by the 101st Airborne Division. Its commander, a then-obscure two-star general named David Petraeus, had on his own initiative opened the Syrian border to trade, struck deals with Syria and Turkey to provide badly needed electricity, restored telephone service, and held elections to elect local leaders.
10:19 PM, Jun 11, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
In a statement released just now, the White House press secretary says that the U.S. government will "increase" assistance to the government of Iraq "as required." The White House also "strongly condemns the recent attacks in Iraq by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)."
6:16 PM, Jun 9, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
In an interview that will air tonight, Hillary Clinton will tell Diane Sawyer that the Benghazi terrorist attack that left four Americans dead is "more of a reason to run" for president of the United States.
7:29 AM, Jun 6, 2014 • By JERYL BIER
Time magazine is reporting that during an interview about the deal to trade Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban detainees from Guantanamo, when "[a]sked whether the Taliban would be inspired by the exchange to kidnap others, a commander laughed.
7:01 AM, Jun 5, 2014 • By JERYL BIER
Addressing a Center for Strategic and International Studies forum earlier this week, Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael G. Vickers detailed a laundry list of national security threats that the United States faces today, the American Forces Press Services reports, including:
5:48 PM, May 31, 2014 • By MICHAEL WARREN
Two top ranking Republicans on the House and Senate Armed Services committees released a joint statement on the release of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for the release of five Taliban operatives from Guantanamo Bay. From Buck McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services committee, and James Inhofe, ranking member of the Senate Armed Services committee:
11:03 AM, May 29, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
Steve Hayes, with Mara Liasson and Charles Krauthammer, last night on Fox News:
And here's the Internet-only aftershow:
Al Qaeda runs amok.May 19, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 34 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
Forty-one recently declassified State Department documents obtained by Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group, have reignited the controversy over the September 11, 2012, terrorist attack in Ben-ghazi, Libya. One document in particular, an email authored by Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser and speechwriter for the president, has garnered the most attention.
2:04 PM, May 1, 2014 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
The State Department released its annual Country Reports on Terrorism yesterday. And once again the U.S. government has highlighted al Qaeda’s relationship with the Iranian regime. While the Iranians hold some al Qaeda members under house arrest, others are allowed to operate. And these terrorists, based on Iranian soil, play a prominent role in al Qaeda’s international network.
11:01 AM, May 1, 2014 • By MICHAEL WARREN
A retired military officer serving in the U.S.'s Africa Command headquarters in Germany told the House oversight committee Thursday that it was his belief at the time that the September 11, 2012, attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya was attributable to an Islamic extremist group and not an internet video.
Robert Lovell was an brigadier general with the Air Force, stationed in Germany, when four Americans were killed in Benghazi. In his congressional testimony, Lovell said that his role was to focus on "attribution" of the attack.
Troop levels to fall to below 10,000.12:38 PM, Apr 22, 2014 • By FREDERICK W. KAGAN
Media reports suggest that President Obama is looking to declare victory and withdraw from Afghanistan, as he did from Iraq. The military commander in Afghanistan, General Joe Dunford, has said that he needs 10,000 US troops to accomplish the missions the president has said he wants to accomplish after this year.
11:42 AM, Apr 16, 2014 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
A video of a large al Qaeda gathering in Yemen has raised eyebrows in the press. Nasir al Wuhayshi, the head of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), as well as general manager of al Qaeda’s global network, can be heard saying to a crowd of more than 100: "We must eliminate the cross. ... The bearer of the cross is America!"