Thursday, September 22, 2005

Why Iraq?
Whither Saudi Arabia and Iran?

To everything there is a season, so I guess this tis the season of Belmont Club:

After Operation Enduring Freedom drove the Taliban from Afghanistan some analysts asked why America chose Iraq, and not Saudi Arabia or Syria, for a regime takedown. For example, Jeffrey Sachs wrote in August, 2003:

Within hours of the attack, the White House apparently understood that senior Saudi intelligence officials were probably involved and that 15 out of the 19 terrorists were from Saudi Arabia. They were no doubt stunned to realise that parts of the vast Saudi royal family were not only corrupt, but also deeply intertwined with anti-American terror and extremist fundamentalism. ... a substitute had to be found for the US military bases in Saudi Arabia. Like Saudi oil, the bases too were now under threat, especially because the US presence in the Saudi kingdom was known to be the principal irritant for al-Qaeda. ... the Bush White House needed to issue a powerful threat to the Saudi leadership: one more false step and you're finished. Attacking the next-door neighbour was no doubt judged to be quite persuasive.

But perhaps the strategic rationale for choosing Iraq versus Saudi Arabia consisted in that Iraq lay along a major fault line in the Muslim world, not simply with respect to religion, but in the case of the Kurds, ethnicity as well. It was the one place where America was guaranteed to find local allies whichever way it turned; it was the last place where the population could easily put aside their differences to oppose the United States. And if the objective were to set the region on its ears, here was the pillar in temple of Dagon around which everything could be sent crashing down.