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Intrusive Facts

By Jed Babbin

In the midst of about three hours of Pentagon briefings Tuesday a few seemingly disjointed facts emerged. Each is a major data point that exposes the vacuity of the Baker-Hamilton ISG's recommendation to negotiate with Syria and Iran.

There is simply no evidence to support the ISG's assertion that both Iran and Syria have an interest in a stable and peaceful Iraq that is not torn apart by sectarian violence. As I wrote earlier this week, each of those nations - Syria, by running a jihadi welcome wagon to help terrorists coming from all over the world to transit through Syria into Iraq and Iran by funding, arming and providing every other support of Shia terrorist organizations in Iraq - have demonstrated convincingly that they want an unstable Iraq to fall prey to their proxy forces. In the briefings Tuesday, a few interesting facts emerged.

In Iraq last December, I learned that the deadliest type of "IED" (improvised explosive device) that is the insurgents' most effective weapon against our troops is a very sophisticated bomb. It compares to the 2002-vintage crude roadside bomb in the same way a Porsche compares to a Model-A Ford. It's called the "explosively-formed penetrator" ("EFP" in the inevitable Pentagon acronym.) A shaped explosive charge compresses a projectile and launches it with enough force to penetrate the armor of any vehicle, even a tank. It's made in only one place: Iran.

In one of the Tuesday briefings, I asked one of the senior military leaders presenting it whether there had been a measurable change in the numbers of EFPs coming into Iraq in 2006. He said there had been a "significant increase" in the number. Iran is clearly raising the pressure on us to leave Iraq by doing its best to increase American casualties.

How are these EFPs coming into Iraq? Again, to quote the briefer: "Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps has established smuggling routes to transport men and supplies into Iraq." Who is using them to kill and wound Americans and other coalition troops? "Iran's Revolutionary Guard has a network in Iraq headed by Abu Mustapha al-Sheibani to commit violence against Coalition forces." That doesn't sound like a nation that has any interest in democracy and stability in Iraq.

Syria is just as bad. For about three years, the Pentagon leaders - and their subordinates - have been using the term "actively unhelpful" as a euphemism for Syrian intervention in Iraq. This time, the military briefers were much more blunt. They said that Syria's opposition to resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict was both clear and strong. Syria's interference in Lebanon, its refusal to do anything to stop the flow of insurgents, money and weapons into Iraq through its territory and Syria's intentions to dominate its neighbors were all major problems. These facts were all known to the Baker-Hamilton ISG. How they could determine that Syria and Iran had an interest in a stable, peaceful and self-governing Iraq is mind-boggling.

Another part of the briefings focused on al-Queda, and its own coalition of allied groups that is spread throughout the Middle East and parts of Africa. The briefing talked in terms of "leadership nodes," "operational cells" and "support nodes", dotting them all over a densely-packed map that ran from Waziristan to Mogadishu to Algiers. It bears translation from Pentagonese.

Al-Queda has evolved greatly from its early days of personalization in Usama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and a few others. Our military leaders now characterize it as a "franchise" that shares communications, some funding and sometimes coordinates actions. Some terrorism experts now say that al-Queda is less than that, a loosely-knit network of terrorist groups that coordinate only in giving credit to bin Laden for propaganda purposes. It's impossible to define it with precision, but the map showed al-Queda leaders headquartered in nine places including Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Waziristan (eastern Pakistan), two places in Iraq (Baghdad and northeastern Iraq), northern Uzbekistan and (and here the map is a bit imprecise) two places in Somalia. Al-Queda's objective, we must remember, is the same as that of Iran, but in a much different form.

Al-Queda wants to create a new Islamic caliphate dominated by Sunni Muslims. Iran wants a new caliphate, but under a Shia caliph. Though both want to remove our influence from the Middle East and the world and both want to destroy Israel, they cannot both succeed: there can be only one caliph. There is an opportunity to split this enemy, but that opportunity hasn't ripened. Opportunities present themselves for, as Churchill would have said, "action this day."

The Baker-Hamilton ISG recommended a regional diplomatic offensive to restore stability in Iraq and in our relations with Iraq's neighbors. We do need a regional diplomatic offensive - indeed a global one - but with the opposite goal. One goal should be to destabilize Iran, to enable its oppressed populace to overthrow the mullacracy. (Students' demonstrations against the Ahmadinejad government show how this government is fragile). And to diplomacy, we should be using every covert means we can think of to support the rebellious elements of Iran's society. The global offensive should include support for Lebanon's attempt - mostly unconnected from the Siniora government - to restore democracy there and overthrow the Syrian influence (including Syria's and Iran's proxy there, Hizballah). Those things cannot be accomplished in one day or one month. But huge strides can be made in the next year, perhaps in time to prevent a regional war centered in Lebanon and to prevent Tehran from achieving its nuclear weapons ambitions.

The president is developing his change to policy in Iraq and, from indications yesterday, it appears the changes won't be announced before January. Whatever he decides to do in Iraq, however, cannot succeed unless he includes in his decision the ways to really win this war.

Islamofascism cannot threaten America without state sponsorship. Since 9-11, the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism has been reduced by only one nation: Iraq. The biggest mistake we can make in this war is to fail to follow up one victory (and Iraq remains one until we give up on it) by pressing the advantage against the enemy. Syria, Iran, North Korea, Cuba and Sudan remain almost undisturbed. "Winning in Iraq" is not, and has never been, the definition of victory against global terrorism. Establishing democracy in the Middle East is a noble goal, but it is not worth spending American lives to achieve.

We went into Iraq to begin draining the Middle Eastern swamp of terrorism. The president needs to reset the goal. Drain the swamp, Mr. President. Then we can come home.

Jed Babbin was a deputy undersecretary of defense in the George H.W. Bush administration. He is a contributing editor to The American Spectator and author of Showdown: Why China Wants War with the United States (with Edward Timperlake, Regnery 2006) and Inside the Asylum: Why the UN and Old Europe are Worse than You Think (Regnery 2004).

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