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THE REAL REASON WE ARE IN IRAQ

FORECASTS & TRENDS E-LETTER
By Gary D. Halbert
May 18, 2004

IN THIS ISSUE:

1.  Bush’s Strategy For A Permanent Force.

2.  Iraq Is A Part Of The War On Terror.

3.  Why Bush Will Not Reveal This Plan.

4.  Stratfor: Bush Should Tell The People
                    & They Will Support Him.

5.  U.S. Will Not Leave Iraq On June 30.

Introduction – Bush’s Problem

How things go in Iraq over the next few months could well decide who is the next president of the United States.  The war has not gone well recently, in particular the latest firestorm over prison abuses.  Bush’s approval ratings have fallen to new lows.  The President has two major problems with the war in Iraq, and it remains to be seen how he will deal with them.

The first problem is that the war in Iraq has been mismanaged.  Everyone knows it, including the Bush administration, yet they steadfastly refuse to admit it.  The question is, how badly has it been mismanaged?   It remains to be seen if the administration can turn things around and what will happen if Iraqi sovereignty is actually turned over at the end of June.

The other problem, perhaps just as serious, is that the Bush administration has refused to tell the American people why we are really in Iraq in the first place.  My best sources believe that the plan from the very beginning was to oust Saddam Hussein and install a permanent military presence in Iraq that would be used both to stabilize the region and advance the War On Terror.  Yet for political reasons, apparently, the Bush administration feels it dare not reveal this policy publicly.

The result: the war is not going well, and the American people are increasingly losing faith in the effort.  In some respects, things couldn’t have gone much worse for Bush in Iraq, especially with the latest prison debacle.  Fortunately for Bush, John Kerry has not been able to gain much traction even as the worsening situation in Iraq has dominated the media in recent weeks.

This week, we’ll delve into these issues with the help of our friends at Stratfor.com, the highly respected and always insightful global intelligence group.

Why Are We Really In Iraq?

Let’s think back to what we were told in the weeks leading up to the war in Iraq.  We were given three primary reasons for invading Iraq: 1) Saddam had weapons of mass destruction; 2) Iraq was aiding and abetting terrorists, al Qaeda specifically; and 3) Saddam posed a threat (nuclear or otherwise) to America directly.  This, we were told, was the justification for sending 130,000 US troops into Iraq.

The liberal media, of course, had a different spin on why we went to war in Iraq.  The two primary arguments from the media were that Bush decided to attack Iraq either to seize control of its oil or to finish the job of Bush Sr. in Desert Storm, or both.  You will remember the headline: “Blood For Oil.”  The media claimed that Bush was using US troops to seize Iraq and the oil for Halliburton and his cronies in the oil business.  Didn’t happen.  Others claimed Bush took us to war only to avenge Saddam’s assassination attempt on his father in Kuwait.

From the beginning, Stratfor had a very different take on why we went to war in Iraq.  In February and March of 2003, Stratfor laid out the following analysis for why we were going to war in Iraq:

“The primary purpose of the Iraq campaign will, of course, be to influence and reshape the region. Al Qaeda has support throughout the Middle East, and most governments are either complicit or unwilling to incur the political costs of disrupting al Qaeda and similar [terrorist] groups at home. The purpose of this campaign is, first and foremost, to create a politico-military environment that persuades countries in the region to redefine their behavior. To put it more brutally and honestly, it is to bring massive military forces to bear on countries in the region in order to compel them to cooperate, or failing that, carry out future military confrontations.

There will be two dimensions to this. The first will be to redefine the atmosphere of the Middle East. Washington now accepts as a given that it bears the deep animosity of the region. Officials do not see any opportunity for a short-term solution to this problem, and the problem presented by al Qaeda is immediate. If the United States cannot be loved, the second best outcome is to be feared. A victory in Iraq would demonstrate both American will and power. If it can be coupled with a successful and relatively prosperous occupation, fear can be coupled with respect.

The second dimension is politico-military. Following the war, the United States not only would be an occupying power but also would field a force that is in effect indigenous to the region, at least from a military point of view. The presence of a massive, mobile force, permanently based in the region, without depending on the permission of others, would redefine the region dramatically. The United States expects to be able to use that force to its ends.  [Emphasis added, GH.]

From the U.S. point of view, three countries are particular post-campaign targets: Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran… Once Iraq is occupied, U.S. forces will have two missions. The first will be the occupation, pacification and reconstruction of Iraq. The second will be to pose a direct military threat to these countries. The United States certainly has no intention or desire to invade any of these countries. At the same time, the United States takes the view that it is only the threat of direct military action that will compel them to cooperate in destroying al Qaeda. A threat has no meaning if it is not serious. Therefore, in order to be effective, the United States will have to be prepared to carry out follow-on campaigns.”

Stratfor and its high placed sources believed from the beginning that the plan was to invade Iraq with overwhelming force, oust Saddam Hussein and install a permanent US force on the various Iraqi military bases seized in the conflict.  The war effort would result in the capture and control of the most strategic country in the region, and the US military presence would then be used, either directly or indirectly, to influence other countries in the region to oust al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

Why Couldn’t Bush Just Tell Us This?

To put it bluntly, it just sounds bad.  To say publicly that we are going to take over a sovereign nation and install a permanent military presence sounds imperialist.  It feels like “Pax Americana.”   It looks like the bully on the block.  And you know what, it is.   Therefore, you don’t say it, even if it is the policy.  Instead, you go with WMDs (based in part on British intelligence), Iraq’s purported links to al Qaeda and Saddam as a threat to the homeland.

The problem with this approach, as we have all seen, is that it opened the Bush administration up to widespread criticism when WMDs were not found, when al Qaeda links were not initially uncovered, and when it was not clear that Saddam posed a near-term threat to the United States.  The media had a field day with these “failures” and “lies” for months.

Even amidst the firestorm of criticism, the Bush administration refused to divulge its real policy (at least as advanced by Stratfor and others) of occupying Iraq as discussed above.  When it seemed that no WMDs would be found and direct links to al Qaeda were thought by many to be unfounded, the administration’s rhetoric shifted to the concept that we are there to bring Western-style democracy to the people of Iraq.

Actually, there is growing evidence that Saddam had WMDs.  Many still believe that large stocks of WMDs will be found, either buried in the desert or in Syria, or both.  On Monday, US troops discovered an artillery shell containing sarin nerve gas.  Likewise, the recent brutal murder of Nick Berg revealed that one of al Qaeda’s most senior leaders and others are indeed operating in Iraq.   

Stratfor maintains that the Bush administration continues to make a serious tactical, and political, mistake by not revealing its real policy in Iraq, that of installing and maintaining a permanent military force:

“Bush's inability and/or unwillingness to articulate a coherent strategic justification for the Iraq campaign -- one that integrates the campaign with the general war on Islamists that began Sept. 11 -- is at the root of his political crisis right now. If the primary purpose of the U.S. invasion of Iraq was to bring democracy to Iraq, then enduring the pain of the current crisis will make little sense to the American public. Taken in isolation, bringing democracy to Iraq may be a worthy goal, but not one taking moral precedence over bringing democracy to several dozen other countries -- and certainly not a project worth the sacrifices now being made necessary.

If, on the other hand, the invasion was an integral part of the war that began Sept. 11, then Bush will generate public support for it. The problem that Bush has -- and it showed itself vividly in his press conference -- is that he and the rest of his administration are simply unable to embed Iraq in the general strategy of the broader war. Bush asserts that it is part of that war, but then uses the specific justification of bringing democracy to Iraq as his rationale. Unless you want to argue that democratizing Iraq -- assuming that is possible -- has strategic implications more significant than democratizing other countries, the explanation doesn't work. The explanation that does work -- that the invasion of Iraq was a stepping-stone toward changes in behavior in other countries of the region -- is never given.

We therefore wind up with an explanation that is only superficially plausible, and a price that appears to be excessive, given the stated goal… This is not only odd, but also it has substantial political implications for Bush and the United States. First, by providing no coherent answer, he leaves himself open to critics who are ascribing motives to his policy -- everything from controlling the world's oil supply, to the familial passion to destroy Saddam Hussein, to a Jewish world conspiracy. The Bush administration, having created an intellectual vacuum, can't complain when others, trying to understand what the administration is doing, gin up these theories. The administration has asked for it.”

Stratfor: Bush Should Tell The American People

Stratfor believes that recent developments in Iraq have deteriorated into a full-blown crisis, not only in the country but also for Bush politically.  Stratfor’s advice is that Bush either call a press conference or go on network television and explain to the American people that the war in Iraq is the centerpiece of the War On Terror.  Otherwise, they believe Bush could be defeated in November.  They say:

“This is creating a massive political crisis for Bush domestically. The public knows there is a crisis in Iraq, but there is little understanding of how to judge whether the crisis is being managed. If the only criterion is the creation of democracy, that is not only a distant goal, but also one that will be undermined by necessary U.S. deal-making. Democracy -- by any definition that the American public can recognize -- is not coming to Iraq anytime soon. If that is the mark of success, Bush's only hope is that he won't be kept to a tight timetable. What is worse for Bush is that, in his news conference, he framed the coming presidential election as basically a referendum on his policy in Iraq. The less that policy is understood, and the more Iraq appears uncontrollable, the more vulnerable Bush will be to charges that the Iraq war was unjustified, and that it is a distraction from the wider war [on terror] -- which the American electorate better understands and widely supports.

He is facing John Kerry, who has shrewdly chosen to call neither for a withdrawal from Iraq nor for an end to the war on the Islamist world. Kerry's enormous advantage is that he can articulate a strategy without having to take responsibility for anything in the past. He can therefore argue that Bush's impulses were correct, but that he lacked a systematic strategy. Stratfor said in its annual forecast that the election was Bush's to lose. We now have to say that he is making an outstanding attempt to lose it.  [Emphasis added, GH.]

Obviously, the administration has a strategy in Iraq and the Islamic world. It is a strategy that is discussed inside the administration and is clearly visible outside. Obviously, there will be military and political reversals. The strategy and the reversals are far more understandable than the decisions the Bush administration has made in presenting them. It has adopted a two-tier policy: a complex and nearly hidden strategic plan and a superficial public presentation.

It could be argued that in a democratic society like the United States, it is impossible to lay bare the cold-blooded reasoning behind a war, and that the war needs to be presented in a palatable fashion. This might be true -- and there are examples of both approaches in American history -- but we tend to think that in the face of Sept. 11, only a cold-blooded plan, whose outlines are publicly presented and accepted, can work. We could be wrong, but on this we have no doubt. Even if the administration is correct in its assumption that there must be a two-tier approach to the public presentation of the war, it has done a terrible job in articulating its public justification.

The administration has held only three press conferences. Some explain this by saying that the president is too inarticulate to withstand public grilling. We don't buy that. He is not the greatest orator by any means, but he doesn't do that badly. His problem is that he will not engage on the core strategic question. Franklin Roosevelt, our best wartime president bar none -- who should be the model for any wartime president -- spoke on and off the record with reporters, continually and with shocking frankness when we look back on it. He did not hesitate to discuss strategy -- from Germany First to relations with Joseph Stalin. He filled the public space with detail and managed public expectations brilliantly, even during the terrible first six months of the war.

We are convinced that the Bush administration has a defensible strategy. It is not a simple one and not one that can be made completely public, but it is a defensible strategy. If President Bush decides not to articulate it, it will be interesting to see whether President Kerry does, because we are convinced that if Bush keeps going in the direction he is going, he will lose the election. The president's public presentation of the war is designed to exploit success, not to withstand reversals and hardships. What is fascinating is that political operatives like Karl Rove, the president's political adviser, can't seem to get their arms around this simple fact: The current communications strategy is not working. They seem frozen in place, seemingly hoping that something will turn up. We doubt strongly that building democracy in Iraq is the cry that will rally the American nation.”

But We’re Getting Out Of Iraq June 30, Right?

President Bush steadfastly maintains that the US will hand over control of the country to the interim Iraqi Governing Council on June 30.  But does that mean we will also withdraw the roughly 130,000 US troops and ship them home?  Not if Stratfor is correct that Bush’s strategy is to maintain a permanent military force in the region. 

What is more likely to happen is that our troops will withdraw in large part from the cities and move to Saddam’s former military bases, many of which have been refurbished and expanded, and to garrisons located away from the urban population.  US Central Command and the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq have both said that apprx. 100,000 US troops will remain in Iraq after the June 30 transition to the new governing council.

Here again, it seems the Bush administration has put itself in a difficult spot.  Many Americans believe that withdrawal means the troops come home.  And some undoubtedly will come home.  But if we are going to keep some 100,000 troops in country, the media will certainly seize on this as another Bush broken promise.

The worst thing the Bush administration could do, in my opinion, would be to withdraw from Iraq and allow the country to fall into widespread chaos.  Were that to happen, voters would almost certainly send Bush back to Crawford, Texas.  So don’t expect it.

Conclusions

Stratfor.com continues to believe that the Bush administration’s strategy is to maintain a permanent military force in Iraq, and that the force will be used to pressure other countries in the region to crack down on terrorists.  The question is, why has the Bush Administration elected not to communicate this strategy to the American people?  Remember that Bush has one of the best political advisors around in Karl Rove.  You would think Rove would know that the American people could rally around this strategy if they were told it is an integral part of the overall War On Terror, especially now that evidence of WMDs and al Qaeda have been found in Iraq.

It remains to be seen what happens.  Will Bush leave large numbers of troops in Iraq after June 30 and take heat for not withdrawing?  As this is written, there is talk that troops from the Second Infantry Division in South Korea may be relocated to Iraq.  There are also troops in Europe that could be relocated to Iraq so that many of our current troops there could be sent home.

Will Bush go before the American people and explain how occupying Iraq is a key part of the greater War On Terror?  As noted above, I don’t know why he hasn’t already.  All we can assume is that Rove and his other advisors believe it would be a dangerous move politically to do so.  I actually think it could be a really smart move.  Maybe they are just waiting for the right time.

Or will Bush bring large numbers of troops in Iraq home, not replace them and then hope that things don’t blow up in Iraq until after the election?   I think this option would be very bad for Iraq, and it could backfire miserably from a political standpoint.

I hope Bush stays the course in Iraq and rejects the pressure to get out early due to the election.  I continue to believe that homeland security and the War On Terror are the top priorities.  I hope it doesn’t take another attack on our soil to get the liberals to agree!

Lastly, I encourage you to check out Stratfor.com.  They have some excellent information.

Very best regards,

Gary D. Halbert

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Forecasts & Trends E-Letter is published by ProFutures, Inc. Gary D. Halbert is the president and CEO of ProFutures, Inc. and is the editor of this publication. Information contained herein is taken from sources believed to be reliable but cannot be guaranteed as to its accuracy. Opinions and recommendations herein generally reflect the judgement of Gary D. Halbert (or another named author) and may change at any time without written notice. Market opinions contained herein are intended as general observations and are not intended as specific investment advice. Readers are urged to check with their investment counselors before making any investment decisions. This electronic newsletter does not constitute an offer of sale of any securities. Gary D. Halbert, ProFutures, Inc., and its affiliated companies, its officers, directors and/or employees may or may not have investments in markets or programs mentioned herein. Past results are not necessarily indicative of future results. Reprinting for family or friends is allowed with proper credit. However, republishing (written or electronically) in its entirety or through the use of extensive quotes is prohibited without prior written consent.

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