- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Arguments are raging about whether U.S. troops should redeploy out of Iraq or “stay-the-course.” With all the emotion, important issues have been lost in the sea of 30-second sound bites.

Among these issues are what kind of people are we fighting and what are their long-term battle plans? What would really happen if the U.S. were to pull out of Iraq? Are there other long-term considerations that haven’t been explored?

So far, all the pundits have been able to tell us is that if the U.S. leaves, there will be a bloodbath in Baghdad as Sunni and Shi’ite factions try to kill each other. This may be true, but it is only a fraction of the story. Obviously the terrorists’ goals are far larger than just driving us out of Iraq. Osama bin Laden doesn’t think small and his plans are reportedly based on what he sees as Islam’s defeat of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Therefore, he sees radical Islam as the true reason for the disintegration of the Soviet Union and plans do the same to the United States.

I believe that the terrorists’ plan to do this is simple. The terrorists we are fighting may be brutal barbarians, but they are not stupid. They have read history and know about the 1968 Tet offensive in Vietnam. They know that the Tet offensive was a disastrous military defeat for the Viet Cong, but that the U.S. media turned it into a victory for them. The terrorists know the value of the media and have a demonstrated ability to influence — if not actually manipulate — the Western press.

To build a Tet offensive, and as part of a long-term strategy, I believe the terrorists will continue the current spike in violence well into the fall. They likely believe that this will give activists the ammunition needed to force Congress to order a retreat and grant them a victory. Some in Washington may call it a redeployment, but the world press and the Islamic press will call it a U.S. defeat.

But that would only be the first move in a longer chess game. Defeat in Iraq would free up thousands of trained jihadists for action elsewhere. It would also give the Islamists a strategic base from which to train new holy warriors and mount new attacks.

These new attacks would focus on Afghanistan where they would likely have two goals. First, they would attack coalition troops and try to drive a wedge between the United States and the NATO allies. The logic here is that our NATO allies have a lower tolerance for casualties than we do. High, NATO casualties would make it very difficult for our allies to maintain their current levels of support. The terrorists most likely plan to use a high NATO body count to force a NATO withdrawal.

A NATO withdrawal would give the terrorists exactly what they want. It would leave an isolated U.S. fighting against a well-financed and unified coalition of Islamic forces — with no allies and a divided Congress. The fight would be in a landlocked country with neighbors who might not help the United States or allow unrestricted air access. After all, who would want to ally themselves to a beleaguered United States — especially when it has a history of cutting and running? Then the terrorists plan to come here; they’ve said as much.

But again, I believe that this is only part of the terrorists’ attack scenario. As in the past, the terrorists plan to attack the U.S. economy as well as the military. After a U.S. retreat, much of the Iraqi oil might be controlled by our friends in Iran. Recently, Iran has also been forging ties with Venezuela, another oil-rich country with an anti-U.S. dictator. This could give Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad influence with (if not control of) an even larger share of the global oil market. This alone could have devastating effects on the U.S. economy.

Things could get worse. Consider what would happen if Iran, Iraq and Venezuela all stopped shipments of oil at the same time. Then add the possibility that the Iranian Navy could block the Strait of Hormuz while the United States was engaged one-on-one with al Qaeda in Afghanistan. If the oil shipments from Nigeria were blocked and anything happened to the Alaska pipeline, the U.S. economy would be toast — and the terrorists know it.

This is just a short version of what the terrorists may have in store for us. It is probably a milder scenario than they have dreamed up. The main message to get out is that this is not a game. Our enemies are in this fight, and in it to win. Running away will only embolden them.

Robert Merz is a retired federal government analyst.

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