The nation vociferously debates Iraq: We have lost the war, Iraq’s government is not doing its part, the surge is working, the surge is not working, we need to cut our losses, we need to stay till the job is done. Meanwhile, Osama bin Laden is telling us that Iraq now is al Qaeda’s main battleground and that the only way forward for the United States is for every American to convert to Islam. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad advises us to solve the problem of our Iraq involvement by turning that nation over to Iran.Debate participants, in proposing their nostrums, pay virtually no heed to either Osama or Mahmoud.
Watch the enemy and listen to him, and four factors emerge as central to any analysis of what is at stake for the U.S. in Iraq:
‐ First, Iran and al Qaeda both want to establish Islamofascist rule in the Middle East and hope to extend it everywhere else.
‐ Second, their leaders have made it clear that control over Iraq is central to their plans.
‐ Third, the Middle East produces the lion’s share of the world’s oil and control over Iraq goes a long way toward controlling all of it.
‐ Fourth, as both al Qaeda and Iran have said over and again, directly and indirectly, nothing less than total victory will cause them to abandon their goals and their methods.
Although these factors indicate that we have no choice in the matter of allowing control of Iraq to fall to Iran or to al Qaeda, they are virtually ignored in the current debate.
The Iranian government’s ambitions for hegemony are evident from its actions. Force and intimidation are the methods it is using to extend its dominion. It already is engaged in an undeclared war with its neighbors, with others in the region and with the West. It uses force indirectly through terrorist proxies: Hezbollah and al Qaeda-linked Fatah al-Islam in Lebanon, Hamas, and Jihad Islami in Gaza and Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias in Iraq. It uses proxies to kill Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan and to kill adversaries elsewhere. It is conserving its own forces for later in the fight. It is developing nuclear weapons and long-range missiles that already can reach Europe and soon will be able to reach North America. It beats, tortures, and murders its own people for engaging in conduct that is ordinary in the West.
Al Qaeda also has told us repeatedly that its goal is to reestablish the caliphate. Osama tells us to convert. Al Qaeda differs from Iran in that it doesn’t have a secure geographic and population base and in that it wants to create a homogenized Sunni caliphate while Iran seeks a Shiia-led Islamist empire. Al Qaeda uses terrorism directly, has sought WMD and already has initiated attacks in the United States, Spain, the United Kingdom, Indonesia and elsewhere. Plainly, if it gains control of Iraq, that country will become a secure base for launching terror operations around the world.
The ambitions of al Qaeda and Iran and the means they use to pursue them are an existing threat to the United States and its allies. Since al Qaeda and Iran are at war with us and make it clear that nothing less than the victory they seek will satisfy them, we have no choice but to oppose them, to do what we can to diminish the chance that either will succeed and to reduce the ultimate cost to us of whatever we need to do to assure that they are not victorious. The questions of whether the U.S. should stay in Iraq and what its goals there should be ought to be discussed in this context.
So why is control of Iraq important to al Qaeda and to Iran? Control of Iraq would go a long way toward giving al Qaeda or Iran control over most of the world’s supply of oil, not only because of Iraq’s own reserves, but also because it would provide al Qaeda or Iran with overland access to both Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. The threat of further aggression would be a powerful weapon and control of the oil would be yet another weapon to use in advancing their goals. The results would be catastrophic. Terrible personal suffering for countless millions, and even war would result.
We cannot wish away the wars al Qaeda and Iran are waging against us. Preventing Iran and al Qaeda from gaining control of Iraq is a vital U.S. interest and a central near-term objective in those wars. Those who think otherwise have not listened to the enemy.
— Jack David, a member of the Committee on the Present Danger, served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for combating weapons of mass destruction and negotiations policy from 2004 to 2006.