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Is the Battle for Iraq a Diversion in the War on Terror?

LTCMD J.M. Le Blanc

D i s c u s s i n g w h e r e t h e b a t t l e f o r I r a q f i t s i n t o o u r G l o b a l W a r o n T e r r o r i s m i s a important exercise. However, most of today’s debate seems centered either on partisan politics or misinterpretation of the headlines, rather than a careful analysis of strategy. Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and our ensuing stabilization efforts are not a diversion; they are important parts of a worldwide effort. From a strategy perspective, their timing and execution were not only correct, they have brought us closer to our goals. n

The 2004 Presidential debates perpetuated one of the more misguided arguments surrounding the war in Iraq. Namely, that OIF was so distracting we let Osama Bin Laden “slip through our fingers” in the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan. This gross oversimplification of the fight in Afghanistan belies a fundamental misunderstanding of military objectives there. As stated by the President, those objectives were:

  • To make clear to Taliban

leaders and their supporters that harboring terrorists is unacceptable.

  • To acquire intelligence to

facilitate future operations against al-Qaeda and the Taliban regime.

  • To develop relationships with

groups inAfghanistan that oppose


the Taliban regime and the foreign terrorists that they support.

  • To make it increasingly

difficult for terrorists to freely use Afghanistan as a base of operation.

  • To alter the military balance

over time by denying to the Taliban the offensive systems that hamper the progress of various opposition forces.

  • To provide humanitarian relief

toAfghans suffering truly oppressive living conditions under the Taliban regime.1

Although it might have been a political objective, the capture of Osama Bin Laden was never a military one. When Coalition forces began operations in Iraq, they did so only after completing their mission inAfghanistan.

The second most common argument in this debate focuses on Iraq’s current insurgency. Specifically, those opposed to the war often use Coalition casualties as evidence our fight against insurgents is a diversion from the Global War on Terrorism. For this idea to hold, terrorism tactics such as suicide bombings, beheadings, or targeting civilians for the purpose of intimidation must be re- classified. Furthermore, personal tragedy notwithstanding, casualties are not indicative of a diversion. Instead, Coalition troop losses indicate the level of preparedness, planning, or success for the Coalition and the enemy. Many tactical and strategic arguments exist here, but Iraq as a diversion is not one of them.

So, how does Iraq further our cause? One compelling argument is based on a concept the military theorist Carl von Clausewitz

termed “centers of gravity.” Clausewitz defined these points as anywhere one might concentrate military effort for the greatest effect. By the spring of 2003, Coalition forces needed to go beyondAfghanistan in the war on terrorism. There were many possibilities, but most involved far greater risk than return. Iraq, however, offered a chance to conduct military operations where success could have the greatest effect on strategic efforts (such as applying intense pressure on neighboring rogue nations). In essence, it was the next best center of gravity. Sun Tzu is credited with saying, “those skilled in war bring the enemy to the field of battle and are not brought there by him.” Perhaps it was unwittingly, but by choosing Iraq, the Coalition followed SunTzu’s advice.

Iraq is no exception to the adage: military operations never go according to plan. It is tempting, especially when there are casualties, to consider mistakes in execution as indicators of poor strategic decision-making. Yet, the facts remain clear: after success inAfghanistan, Iraq was the next logical place to employ Coalition forces. Our stunning battlefield success against Saddam Hussein’s regime has been followed by an extremely difficult stabilization period and nation-building effort. However, in Iraq we have chosen the next center of gravity in a global war. We have chosen the battlefield, and instead of the streets of New York City, it is in the streets of Fallujah, Mosul, and Baghdad. It is the al-Qaeda’s of the world that have been diverted,

not us. continued on page 8


Public Interest Institute, May 2005

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