- The Washington Times - Friday, October 17, 2008



The next president’s war will measure America’s commitment to defending democracy and promoting genuine international security in the 21st century.

The Iraqi perspective differs a shade. Iraq’s war will be yet another Iran-Iraq war, but one where the Iraqis will have an organizational advantage and a significant ideological edge.

Iraq’s organizational advantage has two components. First and foremost, Iraq engages Iran with the United States as an active ally - unless the next U.S. president proves feckless and makes the inexcusably stupid mistake of denying Iraq diplomatic and military support in a crisis.

Iraq’s second organizational advantage is its increasingly capable military and more responsive government.

The Iraqis point to Operation Charge of the Knights as their first in a series of successful security operations signaling their new capabilities and confidence. Launched in late March, Charge of the Knights targeted Shia militias (like Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army), criminal gangs, and the “Special Groups” that are really guerrilla bands sponsored by Iran. Follow-on operations have reduced terrorist violence and crime, which senior officials point out are closely linked.

U.S. forces are already moving to support roles. This week U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. John Kelly, coalition forces commander in Anbar Province, said, “There are still 27,000 U.S. troops in the province, but they are on overwatch.”

“Overwatch” is military lingo for protecting your friends while they maneuver and fight. At the tactical level, as one soldier moves and exposes himself, another “covers” him (overwatches), prepared to fire a burst from his rifle to suppress enemy troops shooting at the exposed soldier. In Anbar Province, U.S. forces have assumed “operational-level overwatch.” If an Iraqi army commander finds his troops in a tough firefight, he can quickly request help from a U.S. ground unit.

At the strategic level, allied nations “cover” one another. Strategic overwatch in the U.S.-Iraq relationship includes deterring Tehran’s mullahs.

The next president will be tested by these robed thugs. The mullahs’ nuclear quest continues and the next president must thwart that quest. The mullahs will make trouble in Lebanon and stir conflicts throughout the Middle East and Central Asia (e.g. Afghanistan and Pakistan).

However, Iraq will be the central battle front with Tehran, militarily, diplomatically and morally.

Iraq’s emerging democracy presents the mullahs with a complex challenge. Democracy gives Iraq an ideological advantage in its struggle with Iran’s dictatorship. Disgust and discontent has become a way of life inside Iran. The Khomeinist revolution has failed and fossilized as a corrupt theocracy backed by secret police and Revolutionary Guards. The Iranian people look west and see Iraqi Arabs and Kurds seizing a historic opportunity to create their own open, democratic system - and they know the mullahs are the gangsters denying them that opportunity.

Moreover, Iraq’s Shia majority offers an “alternative political vision” (i.e., democracy) to Iran’s, and its Hezbollah puppet’s, Shia Islamist authoritarianism.

In 1979, when the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini toppled the shah of Iran, the Khomeinists had a radical vision propelling them, with the United States damned as The Great Satan. Now the ayatollah’s heirs wage a strategic delaying action, relying on terror at home and abroad to remain in control.

The mullahs provide an example of America’s most common 21st century opponent - a failed clique of violent ideologues with either petrodollar or narcotics income whose chief tools of foreign policy are assassination, terrorism and crime.

It’s why the next American president must win his Iraq war.

Austin Bay is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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