Iraq: What Will Year Four Bring?
LIANE HANSEN, host:
Anthony Cordesman has appeared regularly on television and radio as an analyst during the past three years of the current Iraq War. A member of the Center for Strategic and International Studies here in Washington, he's also observed and written about Iraq since well before the current conflict. He's in our studio today and has been listening to the stories we just broadcast.
And first of all, Anthony Cordesman, thanks a lot for coming in.
Mr. ANTHONY CORDESMAN (Analyst, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington): Thank you.
HANSEN: When the war started three years ago, the American people were told by the President there were two reasons for going into Iraq. Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, he was an imminent threat to American safety. Three years later, no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Iraq didn't turn out to be the threat that the President expected it would be. So it's a simple question but a broad one as well, why is the United States still there?
Mr. CORDESMAN: The reality is we're in an area where 60 percent of the world's oil reserves. We're in an area which is absolutely critical to the global economy and we're part of that economy. Effectively we sent a bull in to liberate a china shop and we have a moral obligation to some 27 million people in Iraq.
And if Iraq is not brought to some degree of stability, we're probably going to see Iranian intervention, we may see Turkey brought into it. We'll see other Arab states probably intervene on the part of the Sunnis. We already have seen a major increase in the role of terrorism in Iraq. It has become one of the focal points of the neo-Salafi Islamist extremists like Bin Laden, that are really the major threat in the region.
And while the odds are not necessarily good, they're not necessarily bad either. Iraqi forces are coming online. There is still some hope of evolving a national government and there's some hope that changes in the way we are approaching economic aid can deal with that dimension.
HANSEN: As far as progress goes, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld says the progress in the last three years, remarkable. There is a democratically elected government. Saddam Hussein is on trial. Millions of Iraqis are part of the political process. But there's also intense internal conflict, horrible violence and an argument can be made that for ordinary Iraqis, life is a lot worse than it was before the invasion. So taking a look at all of that and what's going on, on the ground, do you see the glass as being half empty right now or half full?
Mr. CORDESMAN: Well, I think the reality is it's a little more than half empty. As you pointed out earlier, there were no weapons of mass destruction. Our primary objective in going to war in Iraq had no point. There were almost no terrorists in Iraq and no ties between the Iraqi regime and terrorists that mattered. We now have a massive movement in Iraq of Islamist extremists and very high ties to al-Qaida that extend throughout the region and are operating in other countries.
We talk about liberating Iraq and to some extent we did remove a horrible regime. But voting today is the ability to vote for ethnic and sectarian divisions. On a day to day basis, most Iraqis, because of crime, an ineffective police force, the insurgents, have less security now than they did then.
We did not improve Gulf stability. We are watching problems growing with Iran, with Turkey, with all the states around Iraq. And we certainly are less popular as a military presence and as a nation.
Instead of securing energy exports, we have far fewer energy exports coming out of Iraq and the tensions have spilled over into other exporters. And if we go back to the point where Iraq was going to become a democratic example to transform the Middle East, public opinion poll after public opinion poll shows what it really did was to make people throughout the region in the Islamic world angry at the United States, distrust our efforts at reform and see us as a potential threat.
Now, we may be able to overcome some of these problems over time. But even the most successful outcome in Iraq is still going to be an outcome that says out of our original strategic objectives, we will probably not achieve anything more than possibly liberating Iraq in a way which is still followed by years of instability.
HANSEN: The years of instability, what about civil war? Back in September, you appeared on NPR's MORNING EDITION in a piece by Eric Westervelt, and you basically said then, there's a low level civil war in Iraq. There has been for months and we need to admit it. There are some, the British Defense Secretary, for example, this week said it's neither inevitable or imminent. What's going on?
Mr. CORDESMAN: Well, it may not be inevitable, but frankly, an insurgency is by definition a civil war. This game with semantics doesn't make anybody more secure. We have seen a steady rise in attacks on mosques that began in 2003 but it stepped up in 2005. These are focused on dividing the country. Nobody really knows how many people are disappearing, being kidnapped or simply killed by death squads. But the figures obviously are not going down and they are rising. The number of attacks on our forces, on Iraqi forces and Iraqi officials are going up and the focus of those, time and time again, is to prevent the creation of a stable and inclusive government.
And just today, the former Prime Minister of Iraq said they already were in a deep civil war. I think that's premature, but quite frankly, when the regional commander, General Abizaid, warns that the whole situation is postured for a major civil war; when General Pace, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, gives that warning, we need to be honest about this. In this relentless effort to spin the war in ways which are totally unrealistic, I think, if anything, discourages Americans from understanding the risks and making any commitment to dealing with the risk.
HANSEN: In the brief seconds we have left, one of you colleagues, Kenneth Pollock, whom we spoke to, suggested that more U.S. troops will be needed. Do you agree?
Mr. CORDESMAN: No, I don't. We may have to surge them in. But the fact is, sending in more people that don't know the language, don't know the culture, won't help. What we've absolutely got to do is make Iraqi forces work, make a unified government work and transfer economic responsibility to Iraqis. If we don't do that, we're going to lose and not only lose in Iraq, we're going to lose in the region.
HANSEN: Anthony Cordesman is the Arleigh Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies here in Washington. Thank you so much for coming in.
Mr. CORDESMAN: Thank you.
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