As the war in Iraq moves toward a conclusion, the expectations
are that the end of the war will bring at least a pause in
international tensions. We do not believe this will be the case.
Given U.S. war goals, crises -- inside Iraq, with nations along
Iraq's border and between Europe and the United States -- can be
expected to flow directly from war termination, whenever it
comes. As we have said, Iraq is a campaign in a much larger war
and not a war in itself. We now will see what that means.
Stratfor has argued that the United States had two fundamental
reasons for invading Iraq:
1. To transform the psychology of the Islamic world, which had
perceived the United States as in essence weak and unwilling to
take risks to achieve its ends.
2. To use Iraq as a strategic base of operations from which to
confront Islamic regimes that are either incapable of or
unwilling to deny al Qaeda and other Islamist groups access to
The war in Iraq is not over: There are extraordinarily complex
politico-military missions to confront. This is particularly
true in the north, where some substantial Iraqi forces appear to
remain and where the political situation among various players
-- Kurdish, Turkish, Iranian and Syrian -- remains complex,
dynamic and opaque. Nevertheless, it is possible to make some
assessment of the intended and unintended consequences of the
There already has been a strong impact on the psychology of the
Arab world in particular. During the run-up to the war and until
the last week, there existed a sense of growing anger and
radicalization. With the collapse of resistance in Baghdad, this
has given way to a sense of stunned disbelief. The Arab press
appears to be filled with four themes:
1. A sense of denial, and an insistence that resistance
continued but was being hidden by the world press.
2. A sense of betrayal by Saddam Hussein, whose failure to
resist effectively was seen as a sign of corruption.
3. A sense of hopelessness, expressing the view that resisting
the United States is beyond the capacity of Arabs. This was
coupled at times with an expression of determination to rectify
4. Bitterness at Europe -- particularly France and Russia, which
abandoned Iraq to its fate.
U.S. leaders understand that the result of the war will be
increased bitterness, although some argue that Arab bitterness
was already maxed out anyway. What they are driving for with
this operation is a psychological capitulation -- a sense that
accommodation with the United States is the only path.
The United States certainly has inflicted a massive blow on the
Arab, if not the Islamic, psyche. The only comparable moment was
in June 1967, when Israeli forces defeated the Egyptians,
Syrians and Jordanians. It should be remembered that the defeat
had unintended consequences: Not only did Egypt and Syria attack
Israel with some effect in 1973, but the consequences of the
defeat energized the Palestinian movement. The Israelis have
begun warning the Palestinians to think through the lessons of
Iraq. On the other side, the United States must carefully think
through the lessons of 1967.
The simplistic idea that resentment of the United States will
generate effective action by Arabs misses a crucial point. Two
scales are at work here: the radicalism scale and the hope
scale. On the radicalism scale, the level of radicalism and
anti-Americanism in the Arab world has been off the chart for
months. Increasing the level would be difficult. However,
radicalism by itself does not lead to action. There must also be
hope -- a sense that there are weaknesses in the U.S. position
that can be exploited, that there is some possibility of
victory, however distant. So long as the hope scale tends toward
hopelessness, radicalism can be intense.
The United States was prepared to allow the radicalism scale to
go deep into the danger zone, but Washington has been trying to
keep the hope scale deeply in the green zone. Israel's failure
after 1967 was inherent in its position: The Israelis depended
heavily on outsiders for national security. The Arab perception
was that the Israelis could be attacked by splitting them from
their patrons. This sense of vulnerability led to an active
response to defeat.
The task facing the United States now is to avoid projecting a
sense of vulnerability. This is easier for Washington than it
was for Israel. The United States comes out of the war less
dependent on others; it also has a strong domestic consensus in
favor of the war. The United States presents, at the moment, a
seamless face to the Arab world: It is hated but feared.
Washington now must act now to maintain the fear, while reducing
hatred. How it manages Iraq will determine the outcome. If the
United States loses control of the situation, it quickly could
lead to a perception of vulnerability. It must control the
situation in Iraq while maintaining a benign administration.
This will not be as easy it sounds: Where Washington can choose
between unrelenting strength and the risk of perceived weakness,
it will have to carefully choose strength. That is implicit in
From a geopolitical perspective, we already have seen the United
States transiting from the Iraqi war phase toward confrontation
with the surrounding states. Saudi leaders capitulated in
fundamental ways before the United States went to war,
permitting U.S. aircraft to fly air strikes against Iraq and
allowing U.S. forces to pass through Saudi territory. Jordan and
Kuwait are not problems. But there are three issues: Syria,
Turkey and Iran.
- Syria: Syrian behavior has become unpredictable. The
Syrians have long understood that, as a consequence of the
war, their country would be surrounded by three enemies: the
United States, Turkey and Israel. Rather than trying to
reach an accommodation with the United States, Damascus
stepped up its aggressive behavior during the war,
permitting volunteers to go into Iraq to fight coalition
forces and apparently permitting Iraqi personnel to seek
shelter in Iraq. The Bush administration has made it clear
that it finds Syrian behavior intolerable, and Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has refused to rule out assertive
action against Syria. There was no question but that the
United States was going to confront Syria at some point from
its bases in Iraq, but the Syrians seem to have chosen to
accelerate the process -- perhaps feeling that a better
settlement could be reached earlier in the game.
- Turkey: Washington needs to defuse the bad end to the
pre-war confrontation. Turkey is a geopolitical foundation
of U.S. strategy -- not only in the Middle East, but also
north of the Caucasus, in southeastern Europe and Iran. A
permanent rift with Turkey would be intolerable. Similarly,
the United States remains the foundation of Turkish national
security policy. Without it, Turkey has fundamental
problems. The two countries may not be friends at the
moment, but they share fundamental interests. Both nations
now will attempt to extract themselves from the unacceptable
situation they created for each other. The key will be
limiting Kurdish expectations.
- Iran: the extraordinarily complex game that Tehran is
playing makes Syrian foreign policy transparent. Iran has
positioned itself in such a way that its pro-Iranian Shiite
groups in Iraq could wage a guerrilla war against the United
States, while Tehran holds open the possibility of reaching
implicit accommodations with the United States -- all at the
same time. Iranian subtlety notwithstanding, Washington
regards Iran as the single most potentially dangerous regime
in the region, because of both its resources and the
complexity of its politics and policies. Iran has positioned
itself to be fundamentally unpredictable -- and having
achieved this goal, it concerns the United States
Therefore, if the goal of the United States was to create a base
of operations in Iraq from which to influence the dynamics of
the region internally, the game is in play even before the war
is formally ended. The Syrian situation will probably be
contained, but it represents a fundamentally destabilizing
factor to the region. The Iranian situation is much more
difficult to predict in the long run, even as the Iranians
practice their traditionally complex prudence in the short run.
In a similar sense, unintended consequences of the war must be
managed. The U.S. relationship with Britain is fundamental to
U.S. national strategy -- and Britain, for a host of its own
reasons, does not want an outright breach either with the
Franco-German bloc or with multilateral organizations like the
United Nations. The United States must accommodate the British
without losing control of the situation in Iraq.
The primary purpose of the April 11-12 summit in St. Petersburg
between Russian, German and French leaders is to find a way to
limit the consequences of U.S. victory in Iraq. All of them
opposed the war, and the United States prosecuted it any way.
This demonstrated that Washington needs neither material support
from Europe nor political validation. For all three countries,
this represents a fundamental redefinition of their place in the
world. There had been a fixed assumption that in some sense, the
United States remained dependent on them, that they were
necessary enablers for global actions. Alliance for them was not
an American choice, but a necessity. Iraq represented a very
public demonstration that they were irrelevant to U.S.
policymaking, either individually or collectively. This
represents a geopolitical crisis of the first order to them.
These countries' solution will be to try to manipulate the
United States into accepting the United Nations as the primary
manager of Iraqi affairs. To do so, they will use the British
desire to maintain bridges to the Franco-German bloc as a means
of forcing the United States to shift policy. The United States
cannot abandon control of Iraq without abandoning the goals for
which it fought the war. This undoubtedly will lead to another
round of unpleasantness with the Euro Three, which would not
bother Washington a bit. U.S. President George W. Bush is
positioned domestically to take advantage of resentment --
particularly of France -- so that their demand to participate in
governing Iraq will be taken as wanting the fruits of victory
without taking the risks. The British, however, will be another
matter. We expect to see growing strains between the two
countries as Britain tries to find balance.
What we are getting at is that no postwar lull is possible here,
even if there does emerge a clear-cut end to the war. The two
goals of the war need immediate management. The management of
Arab and Islamic public opinion requires exquisite care in the
management of internal Iraqi affairs. It also requires that U.S.
power in the region be perceived as irresistible. This means
that U.S. relations with Syria and Iran must be managed
aggressively but without crossing the line to unwarranted
belligerence. It means that the U.S.-Turkish relationship must
be managed dispassionately, in spite of underlying tensions. All
of this is urgent. None of it will wait. Finally, the pre-war
battle with the Europeans, while undoubtedly more subdued, still
will define much of the global rhetoric -- save that given its
stakes in the Islamic world, the United States will be even less
able and less inclined to cooperate with European demands.
Now things get really tricky.