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Exit Strategies

There'll be no coming home from Iraq until Iran's nuclear-minded jihadist regime is neutralized.

By 3.10.05

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From the February 2005 issue of The American Spectator.

THE ONLY SERIOUS CRITICISM OF THE IRAQ WAR John Kerry managed to muster was that President Bush's invasion plan didn't include an exit strategy. But Mr. Bush always had a good exit strategy: first we win, then we go home. The problem is that he hasn't defined just what this war is, or how well even know when we've won.

An imperfect election is about to take place in Iraq. Some Iraqis will get to vote, and some will not. But in the end, a democratic government will have been chosen by a close-to-free people. Though the U.N. and Old Europe may turn their noses up at its legitimacy, our diplomatic recognition of it will make it a new member of the community of nations. And as soon as that happens, the left will insist that the war is over and that it is time to bring the troops home.

The war -- as the president has defined it -- is a global war on terrorism. But terrorism is, at most, a strategy. The "GWOT" -- in the inevitable Pentagon acronym -- a muddy concept. You cannot war against a strategy but you can fight nations, people, and ideologies. It would be better for the President to redefine the war in such clear and distinct terms that no one could misunderstand it. This is a war to defeat or destroy the ideology of Islamic jihadism, the terrorists who embrace it and the nations that support them. The president, in his second inaugural address, should tell us that we must defeat all three in order to win this war. With only a few sentences, he can change the dominant question of his second term from "when we will bring the troops home" to "where else and how else must the war be fought in order to win it?"

An endless parade of experts assure us that this is a war like none we have fought before, that the terrorists have or will soon have weapons with which they can wreak untold destruction on us and our allies. Only a very few of the experts tell us that we must deal with the sources of terrorism, and most of them get it wrong by insisting that the cause is poverty and the ugly American image of us that prevails in the Islamic world.

To deal with terrorism we have to destroy its sources. Those sources have little or nothing to do with poverty or public relations. The sources of terrorism are the jihadist ideology and the nations that base their imperial ambitions on its success. Were we to identify those sources clearly, and define the means of defeating them, we would have a clear vision of what winning requires. To begin to do that, we have to speak loudly those thoughts that have only occasionally been whispered.

THE FIRST OF THOSE THOUGHTS is that no matter the result of the Iraqi election America cannot withdraw from Iraq until the remaining terrorist regimes in the region are neutralized. That unpalatable fact results from two facts, that the jihadist regimes of Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia cannot leave a democratic Iraq at peace and that those regimes are jihadist themselves and large sources of terrorism.

The second is that military action will be necessary, in one degree or another, to destroy the other sources of jihadism. That we are building a number of military bases in Iraq is, to the U.N., Old Europe, and the Democrats, an unnecessary provocation of the terrorists. Heaven forbid that we would offend those who hack off the heads of helpless American and other hostages. The terrorists may well derive some propaganda benefit from our presence, but the military advantage we gain outweighs that by -- in strategic airlift terms -- millions of ton-miles per day. We don't have to "get there fustest with the mostest." We're already there, and can get on with the job of destroying jihadist ideology and supporters.

Jihadist ideology is based on two concepts. First, under the jihadists' reading of the Koran, only those who are true believers are entitled to life, and they must subjugate themselves to the dogma of jihad. Second, jihadist ideology promises to restore the idealized Islamic past of a Muslim caliphate, ruling the civilized world and leading it in science, art, and prosperity. To achieve this, they believe, requires destroying Western society.

Jihadism is, by definition, a hegemonist ideology. It means death not only to Westerners but to Muslims who are not "true believers." In War in the Desert, John Bagot Glubb wrote of his RAF service in the Iraqi desert in the 1920s. His task was to protect nomadic Iraqi tribes from "al Ikhwan," the Wahhabi raiders who crossed into Iraq from the Nejed: the eastern part of what we now call Saudi Arabia. The Ikhwan -- the first modern jihadists -- crossed the border only to kill and rob. But for Glubb and his tiny force, they might have depopulated southern Iraq. Today's jihadist believers say, as the Brezhnevites of the old Soviet Union did, that their success is both inevitable and irreversible. Glubb lacked the power to beat the jihadists by destroying their sources of power. We do not lack the power. But do we have the skill and will to use it?

We have done an exceedingly poor job of battling jihadist ideology, even among the people we are freeing from its oppression. Last November, a senior Defense Department official bragged about the lives we risked and lost attacking Fallujah without destroying many of the mosques from which the insurgents were attacking our troops. I asked him how we were making the Iraqis aware of those sacrifices. His answer was that we were trying to lead by setting a good example. What he said, in effect, was that we were sacrificing young American lives to earn Iraqi goodwill, and then wasting the sacrifice by not even trying to impress the point on the Iraqis. By failing to tell the Iraqis and the Muslim world that American lives were being sacrificed out of respect for their religion, we are failing to fight the ideological battle. It's doubtful that our military commanders in Iraq even understand this.

To defeat the jihadist ideology, we have to fight it as we did the Soviets'. There should be a continuous stream of American information being broadcast into the Muslim nations, in their own languages, setting out our values, our goals, and our strategy. We cannot overcome a thousand years of insecurity and failure of their societies by talking, but we can blunt the jihadist propaganda by getting information out to those most in need of it. The U.S. Information Agency -- disbanded with the fall of the Soviet Union -- should be re-created for that mission. But that is only one step. It is essential that we defeat jihadism in a way that proves -- like the freedom of Poland proved to Communists -- that the success of jihadism is neither irreversible nor inevitable.

Toppling Saddam's regime in Iraq was irrelevant to defeating jihadist ideology. To disprove its inevitability and irreversibility, we must remove the jihadist regimes so that for at least two generations no hope of their revival seems possible. Of the jihadist regimes, Iran is by far the most dangerous. If its nuclear ambitions are realized -- and they soon will be -- the advent of nuclear terrorism will quickly follow. If 9/11 was the challenge of Mr. Bush's first term, Iran is the challenge of his second.

SINCE 1979, WHEN JIMMY CARTER while the Shah's regime was overthrown and the current kakistocracy took power, Iran wasted no time in building a web of terrorist organizations to act upon its enmity toward America. Hezbollah, Iranian-created, equipped, and funded, made a battlefield of Beirut. In 1983, at Iran's direction, a Hezbollah attack killed 241 Marines in the Beirut barracks bombing. They kidnapped, tortured, and murdered Marine Lt. Col. William "Rich" Higgins, and CIA station chief William Buckley. Hezbollah fighters have been in Iraq, fighting beside the insurgents against Coalition troops. In Iraq, Iran has funded and operated the Moqtada al-Sadr "mahdi militia" and used it to attack and kill Coalition troops. Iran is now openly allied with al Qaeda.

In May 2003, when a rocket attack on a civilian compound in Riyadh killed a number of Westerners, the Saudis were quick to blame outsiders. All eyes turned to Iran. Did the al Qaeda attack in Riyadh emanate from Iran? Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, "Well, I'll leave the analysis to others, but just from a factual standpoint, there is no question but that there have been, and there are today, senior al Qaeda leaders in Iran. And they are busy."

Reliable reports, including those related in Richard Miniter's Shadow War, say that Osama bin Laden may be operating and traveling in Afghanistan and Iran under the protection of Iranian intelligence. According to Miniter's sources, this results from an agreement between bin Laden and Iranian grand ayatollah Ali Khameni after bin Laden sought sanctuary from the American attack on Afghanistan. Iran has admitted to harboring about 500 al Qaeda leaders, supposedly under arrest. Convenient jailbreaks (December 14, 2003) and transfer of some to Saudi custody (March 2003) probably arranged the release of most or all who were in custody. To call Iran a terrorist nation is a great understatement. It is the epicenter of Islamic jihadism, and its ambitions to global power will soon be vouchsafed by European appeasement.

Under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Iran is entitled to "peaceful" use of nuclear power. But a nation that sits on about 94 billion barrels of oil and some 25 trillion cubic meters of natural gas doesnt need nuclear power to generate electricity. It is building nuclear weapons and developing missiles to threaten any nation that would impose limits on its jihadist agenda. A nuclear Iran, with the means to deliver its weapons, would be able to increase its support for al Qaeda and their ilk with impunity. Any nation that would interfere with Irans terrorist operations would risk nuclear war. And Mullah Strangelove wouldn't hesitate to arm terrorists with nuclear weapons. For just those reasons, President Bush has said that Tehran will not be permitted to possess nuclear weapons. Iran has been lying about its nuclear weapons program to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N.'s purblind nuclear "watchdog," for about two decades.

Three EU nations -- Britain, France, and Germany -- have been negotiating an endless stream of agreements with Iran which are supposed give Iran better trade relations as the price for its ceasing to develop nuclear weapons. When Iran violates each agreement, the EU-3 step up and negotiate another. The EU-3 have apparently accepted the fact of a nuclear Iran, and Iran is playing them -- and the U.N. -- like well-hooked fish. Undersecretary of State John Bolton has been pressing the IAEA to report Iran's apparent violations of the NPT to the U.N. Security Council, with a view toward imposing diplomatic sanctions on Tehran. But every time America presses the IAEA, Iran talks to its European appeasers, and cuts us off at the diplomatic pass. Just last fall it happened again.

In November, when we pushed for U.N. debate on Irans nukes, the Europeans negotiated another agreement with Iran. Under their November 15 agreement, Iran promises suspension of its nuclear program in return for continued negotiation on long-term economic benefits to Iran.

This agreement is exceedingly dangerous for many reasons. The least obvious is that the EU-3 "recognize that the suspension [of uranium enrichment, a key step in developing fissionable material] is a voluntary confidence-building measure and not a legal obligation." In diplo-speak, that means the EU nations have agreed that what Iran is doing -- weapons-related or not -- is legal for it to do. On that basis, the IAEA again decided everything in Iran is tickety-boo, and went back to sleep. While the IAEA sleeps, the Iranian nuclear and missile programs go on. Iran plans its first satellite launch in 2005. If it succeeds, Iran's missiles will be proved capable of shooting objects into orbit, which means their soon-to-be-had nuclear arsenal will be able to reach essentially any nation.

CONVENTIONAL WISDOM SAYS that our only options to deal with Iran are U.N. diplomacy or full-scale invasion. The first is useless, the second beyond our reach. We must choose to be less conventional and more ruthless in order to reach the necessary result in the short time we have. Iran may have nuclear weapons in less than two years. Some sources say that it already has one to three weapons, and is working hard to mate them to its missiles.

Tucked away in the November EU-3 agreement is the sentence, "Irrespective of the nuclear issue, the E-3/EU and Iran confirmed their determination to combat terrorism, including the activities of al Qaeda and groups such as the Mujahideen e-Khalq."

It is impossible to conceive of any Western government agreeing to that sentence without the assistance of hallucinogens. The EU-3, floating along like Timothy Leary, have affirmed that the central jihadist nation is combating terrorism. But the rest of that statement -- referring to an otherwise obscure Iranian opposition group -- shows how much the Mujahideen e-Khalq (MEK) frightens the mullahs.

MEK is a nominally-Communist Iranian opposition group thats on Americas list of foreign terrorist organizations. And why is the MEK on our terrorist list? Because, in 1999, the Iranian government asked us to list them. According to the October 9, 1999 Los Angeles Times, "One senior Clinton administration official said inclusion of the [MEK] was intended as a goodwill gesture to Tehran..." Only the Clinton administration could slap the label "terrorist" on a group at the request of the principal terrorist regime in the whole bloody world. But any group that causes such great fear among the mullahs can't be all bad.

American forces bombed MEK positions in Iraq on one day in April 2003, trying to deprive Iran of an excuse to move its forces into Iraq. A month later, MEK voluntarily surrendered to American forces more than 2,000 tanks, artillery pieces, and armored vehicles, and some 3,800 MEK fighters are now in American custody at Camp Ashraf, north of Baghdad.

According to a July 21, 2004 letter to the "people of Ashraf," Gen. Geoffrey Millerthen -- deputy commanding general of multi-national forces in Iraq -- informed the MEK members and their families at Camp Ashraf that they have been declared "protected persons" under the Geneva Conventions. By definition, that means they cannot be terrorists. Moreover, Miller's letter says that they have signed an agreement renouncing terrorism. MEK hasn't committed a terrorist act against American interests for about 25 years. Incoming Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice should order an immediate review of MEK's status with a view toward taking them off the terrorist list. Once thats done, we can -- secretly, and through proxies -- rearm them and put them back in action against Tehran.

THERE ARE OTHER OPTIONS we can exercise against Iran. Air strikes on their nuclear weapons surface sites won't stop the program, but can slow Iran's progress for months or years. We should not hesitate to do it. Our B-2s can get in and out without the Iranians having a clue until it's too late. Some, including former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, decry military action as unlikely to stop the program. But they offer no better idea to slow it for sufficient time for opposition groups -- such as MEK and Iranian would-be revolutionaries -- to gather strength and oust the mullahs.

The idea of imposing economic sanctions against Iran is laughable. Europe, Japan, and China aren't going to embargo Iranian oil exports because their own economies are dependent on them.

But encouraging the Iranian populace to agitate is not something we should dismiss. The Internet is increasingly accessible to the Iranian internal opposition, and we should doing everything we can to help them organize, fund, and prepare to topple the mullahs. We cant now foresee the time for revolution in Iran, but its up to us to help those who would mount it. Moreover, we should be broadcasting information into Iran on every radio, television, and Internet link Iranians can reach. Irans borders are porous, and we should be sending people, resources and other support for the Iranian opposition across them in a continuous stream. We wont be able to topple the mullahs by some slick covert operation. But by covert means, we can help destabilize Iran and make it ripe for revolution.

Iran is not the only problem, only the biggest at the moment. President Bush knows, as we all should, that this war wont be over when he leaves office in January 2009. The next four years won't be peaceful ones here, and we cannot allow them to be in the jihadist nations. The long road home from this war reaches out past the horizon. Like it or not, the road home leads through Tehran, Damascus, and wherever else the jihadis gather.

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About the Author
Jed Babbin served as a Deputy Undersecretary of Defense under George H.W. Bush. He is the author of several bestselling books including Inside the Asylum and In the Words of Our Enemies. He is coauthor (with Herbert London) of the new book The BDS War Against Israel. You can follow him on Twitter@jedbabbin.