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July 3, 2004

Iraq: A Failure Without Borders


by William S. Lind

How are the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan going? Perhaps the best way to answer that question is to look at what is happening in Saudi Arabia. Until about a year ago, Saudi Arabia was one of the safest countries on earth. Crime was rare, and everyone, including Americans, was secure almost anywhere in the kingdom. In a world where the most important distinction will increasingly be that between centers of order and centers of disorder, Saudi Arabia was a center of order.

That is no longer true. War has come to Saudi Arabia, Fourth Generation war waged by Islamic non-state forces. Battles are almost a daily occurrence. Foreigners, on whom the Saudi oil industry heavily depends, are frequent targets for assassination. A number of incidents suggest the Fourth Generation forces have penetrated Saudi security forces – not surprising in a strict Islamic country where the non-state elements represent an even stricter Islam. They have the moral high ground.

In Washington, the "bouffesphere" whispers nervously about Saudi Arabia's future. It is obvious that the trend-line is not favorable. When will the House of Saud fall? What will replace it? Will the cheap oil on which America depends continue to flow? Schemes abound – send the Marines to "secure" the oil fields and exporting facilities, impose democracy (including, of course, feminism) on the Saudi monarchy, give Mecca and Medina back to the Hashemites – but the debacle in Iraq effectively makes it impossible for us to act elsewhere. Plus, invading the homeland of Wahhabism would make Iraq seem like a walk in the park. What Washington cannot understand is that the crumbling of Saudi Arabia is part of the war in Iraq, and that in Afghanistan as well. We still think of wars as delineated by state boundaries, because we still envision a world made up of states.

Non-state forces such as al-Qaeda use a very different map. Their map has no state boundaries on it; they only think of the dar al Islam, the Islamic world, and the dar al harb, the world of war. For them, our presence in Iraq and Afghanistan is an invasion, not of two countries, but of the dar al Islam. Their response can come anywhere, with equal validity; it is all one "battlespace," to use the U.S. military's latest buzzword for battlefield (an historical question: do all failing militaries change their terminology frequently?). Their actions in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Europe and North America are all one. Reacting to what we do in one state with actions in another is no different from, in conventional war, counterattacking in the south when your opponent attacks in the north. Like the Washington Establishment, al-Qaeda also believes in "one world." If we use our enemies' map, it is difficult not to conclude that we are losing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition to increasing instability in Saudi Arabia, we see General Musharaf tottering in Pakistan, President Mubarak of Egypt flying to Germany for "back surgery" (is that diplomatic-speak for terminal cancer?), Islamic militancy rising in Europe, and who-knows-what in the way of terrorist incidents being prepared in the United States itself. All of these play in the Afghan and Iraqi wars, no less than car bombs in Baghdad and ambushes outside Kandahar. It is all one war, one battlefield. State boundaries mean nothing. Of course, it is not going very well on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan either. But in this war, events in those places are in effect merely tactical. The strategic centers of gravity are in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Egypt. Al-Qaeda, I think, understands this. Washington does not. That fact alone suggests we have only seen the opening moves in what promises to be a very long war.


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  • William Lind is Director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism at the Free Congress Foundation. He is a former Congressional Aide and the author
    of many books and articles on military strategy and war.

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