Desert Storm was about restoring the status quo ante. The 2003
war with Iraq will be about redefining the status quo in the
region. Geopolitically, it will leave countries like Syria and
Saudi Arabia completely surrounded by U.S. military forces and
Iran partially surrounded. It is therefore no surprise that the
regional powers, regardless of their hostility to Saddam Hussein,
oppose the war: They do not want to live in a post-war world in
which their own power is diluted. Nor is it a surprise, after
last week's events in Europe indicating that war is coming, that
the regional powers -- and particularly Saudi Arabia -- are now
redefining their private and public positions to the war. If the
United States cannot be stopped from redefining the region, an
accommodation will have to be reached.
Last week, the focus was on Europe -- where heavy U.S. pressure,
coupled with the internal dynamics, generated a deep division.
>From the U.S. point of view, regardless of what France and
Germany ultimately say about the war, these two countries no
longer can claim to speak for Europe. Ultimately, for the
Americans, that is sufficient.
This week, U.S. attention must shift to a much more difficult
target -- the Islamic world. More precisely, it must shift to the
countries bordering Iraq and others in the region as well. In
many ways, this is a far more important issue than Europe. The
Europeans, via multinational organizations, can provide
diplomatic sanction for the invasion of Iraq. The countries
around Iraq constitute an essential part of the theater of
operations, potentially influencing the course of the war and
even more certainly, the course of history after the war. What
they have to say and, more important, what they will do, is of
direct significance to the war.
As it stands at this moment, the U.S. position in the region, at
the most obvious level, is tenuous at best. Six nations border
Iraq: Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Turkey and Iran. Of
the six, only one -- Kuwait -- is unambiguously allied with the
United States. The rest continue to behave ambiguously. All have
flirted with the United States and provided varying degrees of
overt and covert cooperation, but they have not made peace with
the idea of invasion and U.S. occupation.
Of the remaining five, Turkey is by far the most cooperative. It
will permit U.S. forces to continue to fly combat missions
against Iraq from bases in Turkey as well as allow them to pass
through Turkey and maintain some bases there. However, there is a
split between the relatively new Islamist government of Turkey,
which continues to be uneasy about the war, and the secular
Turkish military, which is committed to extensive cooperation.
And apart from Kuwait, Turkey is the best case. Each of the other
countries is even more conflicted and negative toward an
Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Iran are very different countries
and have different reasons for arriving at their positions. They
each have had very different experiences with Saddam Hussein's
Iran fought a brutal war with Iraq during the 1980s -- a war
initiated by the Iraqis and ruinous to Iran. Hussein is despised
by Iranians, who continue to support anti-Hussein exiles. Tehran
certainly is tempted by the idea of a defeated Iraq. It also is
tempted by the idea of a dismembered Iraq that never again could
threaten Iran, and where Iran could gain dominance over its
Shiite regions. Tehran certainly has flirted with Washington and
particularly with London on various levels of cooperation, and
clearly has provided some covert intelligence cooperation to the
United States and Britain. In the end, though -- however
attractive the collapse of Iraq might be -- internal politics and
strategic calculations have caused Iranian leaders to refuse to
sanction the war or to fully participate. Iran might be prepared
to pick up some of the spoils, but only after the war is fought.
Syria stands in a similar relation to Iraq. The Assad family
despises the Husseins, ideologically, politically and personally.
Syria sided openly with the United States in 1991. Hussein's
demise would cause no grief in Damascus. Yet, in spite of a
flirtation with Britain in particular -- including a visit with
both Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles for Syrian President
Assad -- Syria has not opted in for the war.
Nor have the Jordanians -- at least not publicly. There are
constant reports of U.S. (and Israeli) special operations troops
operating out of Jordan. U.S. Marines have trained during the
past month in Jordan, but the government remains officially
opposed to the war -- and what support it will give, it will give
Finally, there is Saudi Arabia, which has been one of the pillars
of U.S. power in the region since the 1950s and which has, in
turn, depended on Washington for survival against both Arab
radicals and Iraq itself. The Saudis have been playing the most
complex game of all, cooperating on some levels openly,
cooperating on other levels covertly, while opposing the war
For all of the diversity in the region, there is a common
geopolitical theme. If the U.S. invasion is successful,
Washington intends to occupy Iraq militarily, and it officially
expects to remain there for at least 18 months -- or to be more
honest, indefinitely. The United States will build air bases and
deploy substantial ground forces -- and, rather than permit the
disintegration of Iraq, will create a puppet government
underwritten by U.S. power.
On the day the war ends, and if the United States is victorious,
then the entire geopolitics of the region will be redefined.
Every country bordering Iraq will find not the weakest formations
of the Iraqi army along their frontiers, but U.S. and British
troops. The United States will be able to reach into any country
in the region with covert forces based in Iraq, and Washington
could threaten overt interventions as well. It would need no
permission from regional hosts for the use of facilities, so long
as either Turkey or Kuwait will permit transshipment into Iraq.
In short, a U.S. victory will change the entire balance of power
in the region, from a situation in which the United States must
negotiate its way to war, to a situation where the United States
is free to act as it will.
Consider the condition of Syria. It might not have good relations
with Hussein's Iraq, but a U.S.-occupied Iraq would be Syria's
worst nightmare. It would be surrounded on all sides by real or
potential enemies -- Israel, Turkey, Jordan and the United States
- and, in the Mediterranean, by the U.S. Sixth Fleet. Syria --
which traditionally has played a subtle, complex balancing game
between various powers -- would find itself in a vise, no longer
able to guarantee its national security except through
accommodating the United States.
A similar situation is shaping up for Saudi Arabia. The United
States is operating extensively in Yemen; it also has air force
facilities in Qatar and naval facilities in Bahrain. U.S. B-1
bombers and some personnel are going to be based in Oman. The
United States has established itself along the littoral of the
Arabian peninsula. With U.S. forces deployed along the Saudi-
Iraqi border, and with U.S. domination of the Red Sea and Persian
Gulf, the Saudis will be in essence surrounded.
The same basic problem exists for Iran, although on a less
threatening scale. Iran is larger, more populated and more
difficult to intimidate. Nevertheless, with at least some U.S.
forces in Afghanistan -- and the option for introducing more
always open -- and U.S. forces in Iraq and the Persian Gulf, the
Iranians too find themselves surrounded, albeit far less
overwhelmingly than would be the case for Syria or Saudi Arabia.
The only probable winners would be Turkey, which would lay claim
to the oil fields around Mosul and Kirkuk; Jordan, whose security
would be enhanced by U.S. forces to the east; and Kuwait, which
is betting heavily on a quick U.S. victory and a prolonged
presence in the region.
If we consider the post-Iraq war world, it is no surprise that
the regional response ranges from publicly opposed and privately
not displeased to absolute opposition. Certainly, Syria, Saudi
Arabia and Iran have nothing to gain from a war that will be
shaped entirely by the United States. Each understands that the
pressure from the United States to cooperate in the war against
al Qaeda will be overwhelming, potentially irresistible and
politically destabilizing. This is not the world in which they
want to live.
Add to this the obvious fact of oil, and the dilemma becomes
clear. The United States is not invading Iraq for oil: If oil was
on Washington's mind, it would invade Venezuela, whose crisis has
posed a more serious oil problem for the United States than Iraq
could. Nevertheless, Washington expects to pay for the
reconstruction of Iraq from oil revenues, and there will be no
reason to limit Iraqi production. This cannot make either Riyadh
or Tehran happy, since it will drive prices down and increase
competition for market share.
Saudi Arabia, Iran and Syria have every reason to oppose a war in
Iraq. The consequences of such a war will undermine their
national interests. They were depending on Europe's ability to
block the war, but that strategy has failed. The Saudis and
Syrians then launched into an attempt to find a political
solution that would prevent a U.S. occupation of Iraq. That
centered around either Hussein's voluntary resignation and exile,
or a coup in Baghdad that would produce a new government -- one
that would cooperate fully with weapons inspectors, and remove
the U.S. justification for occupation.
This attempt, in collaboration with other regional powers and
countries like Germany and Russia, is still under way. The
problem is that Hussein has little motivation to resign, and his
security forces remain effective. Hussein apparently still is not
convinced that the United States will invade, or that he will be
defeated. His seems to assume that, if his troops can inflict
some casualties on U.S. forces, then the United States will
accept a cease-fire without toppling him. He will not abdicate,
nor will his followers overthrow him, until those two assumptions
are falsified. What that means is that the United States still
would occupy Iraq militarily, even if there was a coup or
resignation as the campaign unfolded.
If you can't beat them, join them. The European split -- and the
real possibility that France and Germany ultimately will endorse
war in some way -- mean that war cannot be prevented. Hussein
will not abdicate or be overthrown until the war is well under
way. Therefore, it is highly likely that the war will take place,
the United States will occupy Iraq and that the map of the Middle
East will change profoundly.
Continued opposition to the war, particularly from Riyadh's
standpoint, makes little sense. The issue until now has been to
cope with the internal political challenges that have arisen in
the kingdom since Sept. 11, 2001. After the Iraq war, this issue
will be supplemented by the question of how the United States
regards the kingdom. It is not prudent for a nation surrounded by
a much more powerful nation to allow itself to be regarded as an
enemy. Therefore, we are witnessing a shift in the Saudi position
that might evolve to reluctant, public support for the war by the
time an attack is launched.
Iranian leaders do not feel themselves to be quite in such
desperate straits -- since they are not. However, the presence of
U.S. power on Iran's borders will create an urgent need to settle
the internal disputes that divide the country. The need to do so,
however, does not guarantee a successful outcome. The division
between those who feel that an opening to the United States is
essential and those who feel that protecting Iran against the
United States is paramount might become exacerbated and
destabilize the country. However, there is no immediate, overt
threat to Iran, although the possibilities for covert operations
Jordan will do well, but Syria's future is cloudier. Washington
has concerns about Syria's long-term commitment to U.S.
interests, and Damascus might find itself squeezed unbearably.
Turkey will fatten on oil and manage the Kurds as it has done in
the past. But nothing will be the same after this war. Unlike
Desert Storm, which was about restoring the status quo ante, this
war is about establishing an entirely new reality.
The United States is, of course, well-aware that its increased
presence in the region will result in greater hostility and
increased paramilitary activity against U.S. forces there.
However, the U.S. view is that this rising cost is acceptable so
long as Washington is able to redefine the behavior of countries
neighboring Iraq. In the long run, the Bush administration
believes, geopolitical power will improve U.S. security interests
in spite of growing threats. To be more precise, the United
States sees Islamic hostility at a certain level as a given, and
does not regard an increase in that hostility as materially
affecting its interests.
The conquest of Iraq will not be a minor event in history: It
will represent the introduction of a new imperial power to the
Middle East and a redefinition of regional geopolitics based on
that power. The United States will move from being an outside
power influencing events through coalitions, to a regional power
that is able to operate effectively on its own. Most significant,
countries like Saudi Arabia and Syria will be living in a new and
quite unpleasant world.
Therefore, it is not difficult to understand why the regional
powers are behaving as they are. The disintegration of the
European bloc has, however, left them in an untenable position.
The United States will occupy Iraq, and each regional power is
now facing that reality. Unable to block the process, they are
reluctantly and unhappily finding ways to accustom themselves to