Strategic Forecasting, Inc. (aka Stratfor) has built a well-deserved reputation for reporting, analysis, and forecasting geopolitical events. But just as valuable, I believe that they provide a reliable window into the thinking of US corporate and political elites. In this respect they have proven especially prescient about Iraq. Five years after the invasion most Americans do not understand why we are there, which Stratfor clearly saw even before the first airstrikes. We planned to occupy Iraq and build bases from which to project power throughout the Middle East. For more on this see yesterday’s post.
This widespread blindness of Americans about the goals of this long and expensive war is one of its many anomalies. Needless to say, none of this has surfaced in the Presidential campaign — despite its record length and unprecedented media coverage. Best not to confuse and upset the proles.
Here are excerpts from Stratfor’s reports on Iraq, from before the invasion. Note the increasing focus on bases.
“Smoke and Mirrors: The United States, Iraq and Deception” , 21 January 2003
However, attacking and occupying Iraq achieves three things:
- It takes out of the picture a potential ally for al Qaeda, one with sufficient resources to multiply the militant group’s threat. Whether Iraq has been an ally in the past is immaterial – it is the future that counts.
- It places U.S. forces in the strategic heart of the Middle East, capable of striking al Qaeda forces whenever U.S. intelligence identifies them.
The Bush administration … has excellent strategic reasons for wanting to conquer Iraq. The government has chosen not to enunciate those motives for a simple reason: If it did, many of the United States’ allies would oppose the war. Washington’s goal – the occupation of Iraq – would strengthen the United States enormously, and this is something that many inside Washington’s coalition don’t want to see happen. Therefore, rather than crisply stating the strategic goal, the government has tried to ensnare its allies in a web of pseudo-legalism.
“Iraq: Is Peace an Option?”, 25 February 2003
The strategic challenge is tremendous. After Sept. 11, the United States did not have a war-fighting strategy. The strategy that was first adopted – a combination of defending the homeland and attacking al Qaeda directly – has proven difficult if not ineffective. Al Qaeda is a sparse, global network operating in a target-rich environment. A defense of the homeland is simply impractical …
Washington’s decision to redefine the conflict was driven by the ineffectiveness of this response. The goal has been to compel nations to crack down on citizens who are enabling al Qaeda … Invading Iraq was a piece of this strategy. Iraq, the most strategic country in the region, would provide a base of operations from which to pressure countries like Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Iraq was a piece of the solution, but far from the solution as a whole. Nevertheless, the conquest and occupation of Iraq would be at once a critical stepping-stone, a campaign in a much longer war and a proof of concept for dealing with al Qaeda.
“Iraq War Plans” , 11 March 2003
In early September 2002, Stratfor published a war plan series in which we laid out four possible U.S. strategies for invading Iraq. The war aims listed at that time consisted of
- Replacing Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s regime with one compatible with U.S. interests.
- Maintaining the territorial integrity of Iraq so that it remains a counterweight to Iran, and so that nationalist ambitions by ethnic Kurds in northern Iraq do not disrupt U.S.-Turkish relations.
- Eliminating the threat of weapons of mass destruction by having total direct access to all of Iraq.
- Changing the perception of American effectiveness in the Islamic world.
- Destroying collaboration between Iraq and al Qaeda.
- Minimizing U.S. casualties.
We since have added a seventh war goal, which is to create bases within Iraq for future power projection in the region.
“After Iraq: The Ongoing Crisis”, 23 April 2003 — This the formula for our goals that they have used since this date.
Stratfor has argued that the United States had two fundamental reasons for invading Iraq:
- To transform the psychology of the Islamic world, which had perceived the United States as in essence weak and unwilling to take risks to achieve its ends.
- To use Iraq as a strategic base of operations from which to confront Islamic regimes that are either incapable of or unwilling to deny al Qaeda and other Islamist groups access to enabling resources.
This does not mean that Stratfor’s people are magicians. Our intentions have been clear from the beginning, which is why I say we are blind not to see it. From “Pentagon Expects Long-Term Access to Four Key Bases in Iraq“, New York Times, 20 April 2003:
The United States is planning a long-term military relationship with the emerging government of Iraq, one that would grant the Pentagon access to military bases and project American influence into the heart of the unsettled region, senior Bush administration officials say.
American military officials, in interviews this week, spoke of maintaining perhaps four bases in Iraq that could be used in the future: one at the international airport just outside Baghdad; another at Tallil, near Nasiriya in the south; the third at an isolated airstrip called H-1 in the western desert, along the old oil pipeline that runs to Jordan; and the last at the Bashur air field in the Kurdish north.
Stratfor’s reporting is often penetrating, but sometimes oblique about sensitive matters. Such as in this quote from “Ahmadinejad Among the Iraqis”, 3 March 2008
It is interesting to note that the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, showed up unannounced in Iraq on March 1. There is not the slightest evidence that Mullen met with any Iranians, but his dropping in reminded everyone that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs comes and goes in Iraq without anyone’s permission. The message: The Iraqi government is formally sovereign, with emphasis on the word “formally.”
In the plain language, Iraq is not sovereign. But why does anyone in America believe otherwise (I doubt anyone in Iraq has delusions about their independence).
Update: Stratfor again tweaks its view of the reasons for the war
“Stratfor’s War: Five Years Later”, 18 March 2008:
The motivation for the war, as we wrote, had to do with forcing Saudi Arabia to become more cooperative in the fight against al Qaeda by demonstrating that the United States actually was prepared to go to extreme measures. The United States invaded to change the psychology of the region, which had a low regard for American power. It also invaded to occupy the most strategic country in the Middle East, one that bordered seven other key countries.
… The United States is now providing an alternative scenario designed to be utterly frightening to the Iranians. They are arming and training the Iranians’ mortal enemies: the Sunnis who led the war against Iran from 1980 to 1988. That rearming is getting very serious indeed. Sunni units outside the aegis of the Iraqi military are now some of the most heavily armed Iraqis in Anbar, thanks to the Sunni relationship with U.S. forces there. It should be remembered that the Sunnis ruled Iraq because the Iraqi Shia were fragmented, fighting among themselves and therefore weak. That underlying reality remains true. A cohesive Sunni community armed and backed by the Americans will be a formidable force.
… The irony is that the war is now focused on empowering the very people the war was fought against: the Iraqi Sunnis. In a sense, it is at least a partial return to the status quo ante bellum.
The last two paragraphs display a stunning inability to recognize that Iraq has fragmented. Unless the situation changes — as it did following the US invasion — neither the Kurds nor the Shia Arabs will again be dominated by the Sunni Arabs — nor will the the Sunni Arabs in “Iraq” have the ability to threaten Iran.
For more information from the FM site
To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar. Of special relevance to this post:
- About Iraq & Sub-continent Wars – my articles
- About Iraq & Sub-continent Wars – studies & reports
- About the Iraq War – Goals and Benchmarks
Reference pages about other topics appear on the right side menu bar, including About the FM website page.
Posts about the war in Iraq:
- The Iraq insurgency has ended, which opens a path to peace, 13 March 2007
- Beyond Insurgency: An End to Our War in Iraq, 27 September 2007
- Iraq, after the war, 20 May 2008
- Slowly the new Iraq becomes visible, 18 July 2008
- Brief update about events in Iraq, 8 April 2009
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