Frank J. Gaffney held senior positions in the Reagan Defense Department. He is currently President of the Center for Security Policy in Washington.
In assessing the war in Iraq and where we are likely to be a year from now, the first thing to understand is that it is a mistake to think of what is going on there as a war. Iraq is an important front in the war on those who wield terror against us and the states that sponsor, support and otherwise enable them.
This observation is important in two respects. First, it offers context to what is actually happening in Iraq at the moment. And second, it puts into sharp relief a central fact in the debate about what we should do and expect next: The stakes extend far beyond the struggle to consolidate the liberation of the long-suffering Iraqi people.
As to the Battle of Iraq itself, it is possible to look at the current situation as a glass half-full or half-empty. For some, the security situation remains tenuous at best — for coalition personnel, foreign contractors, reporters, and, most especially, for Iraqi officials, security personnel and others whose kidnapping might produce cash rewards. For the rest of the population, and especially those in the Kurdish areas of the north and the Shiite areas of the south, the threats posed by terrorist opponents of the New Iraq are far smaller.
Similarly, the effort to reconstruct — or, to a considerable degree, establish in the first place — a modern, functioning society with infrastructures that reliably provide potable water, sewage, electricity, and gasoline is a decidedly mixed bag. Considerable progress has been in some areas, but not enough in too many. U.S. money provided for the purpose has been brought to bear too slowly, and such projects are favorite targets for the terrorists who are determined to prevail at any cost in the Battle of Iraq.
Still, it seems certain that the trend is in the right direction, the glass is inexorably — if very slowly — filling up. The popular affirmation of the desire for a better future expressed in the extraordinary vote last January is one indicator. So are the reports of spontaneous demonstrations against those who murder Iraqi personnel and attack pipelines and other sites critical to improving Iraqis’ quality of life.
These are evidence that the Iraqi people have no intention of being coerced or intimidated into going back to their bleak past, to be brutalized and repressed by a government that is neither accountable to nor concerned with those it misrules.
Such a determination, if truly and widely embraced by the people of Iraq — and steadfastly supported by the United States and other freedom-loving nations — would represent an essential precondition to a successful outcome. It is, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, not necessarily the beginning of the end, but it is surely the end of the beginning of the Iraqi transition to a prosperous and free society.
Even so, a year from now we should expect to see difficulties in Iraq. A popularly elected government, based on a new constitution, should be in place as should be sizeable and well-equipped security forces. However, so long as the ruling elites in neighboring nations — in particular, Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia — continue to believe a free Iraq imperils their hold on power, terrorists inside the latter will be assured the financial and material support for at least a low-level, persistent and destructive insurgency.
For this reason, among others, the next year also must see progress on other fronts in this global struggle against those who wield and sponsor terror, be they Islamofascists like the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia or the mullahocracy of Iran or secular totalitarians (for example, Baathists like Saddam Hussein's dead-enders or their counterparts in Bashir Assad's Syria, or the crazy communists of North Korea).
If the United States and its friends now mount a steady, concerted and vigorous effort to bring to bear the political warfare instruments that can undermine the legitimacy, economic viability and hold on power of these enemies of freedom — instruments wielded with great effect by Ronald Reagan against the Soviet Union in the last world war (the Cold War) — the Battle of Iraq will prove to be a catalyst for a far better future for us all.