Monday, January 6, 2014

The Costs of U.S. Retreat

At the clip, a remarkably consensus on the Middle East power vacuum among the panelists on yesterday's "Meet the Press." David Ignatius argues that some actor is going to have to stand up and fight al Qaeda. It's not likely to be the U.S. under the Obama administration, however. But a reckoning's coming. Start the video at 11:45 minutes.

And see the Wall Street Journal, "Al Qaeda revives in Iraq and Syria's contagion spreads to Lebanon" (at Google):

Americans want to forget about Iraq and Syria, especially since President Obama walked back from his bombing threat in September, but Syria and Iraq haven't forgotten America. The contagion from Syria's civil war is spilling across borders in ways that are already requiring U.S. involvement and may eventually cost American lives.

The casualties include the stability of Lebanon, which like Syria is riven by Shiite-Sunni divisions. Thousands of Shiite Hezbollah militia have joined the war on behalf of Syrian strongman Bashar Assad, and the opposition is retaliating with a terror campaign inside Lebanon.

An al Qaeda affiliate took credit for the car bomb that exploded on Thursday in a residential neighborhood of Beirut that is a Hezbollah stronghold. This followed the car-bombing murder of Sunni moderate Mohamad Chatah a week earlier that had the hallmarks of Hezbollah. The Saudis recently pledged $3 billion to turn the Lebanon military into a viable counterforce to Hezbollah.

Meanwhile, our Journal colleagues report that Hezbollah has smuggled advanced antiship missile systems into Lebanon from Syria. The missiles are intended for use against Israel, which has attacked arms shipments headed for Lebanon at least five times in the last year.

The dangers are that the violence in Lebanon devolves into another civil war, or that Hezbollah provokes Israel into a response like the 2006 war. Hezbollah already has upwards of 100,000 missiles, many of them unsophisticated Katyushas, but two or three times the number it had in 2006. Hezbollah may be stockpiling higher-quality missiles in order to retaliate after an Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear program or on another arms shipment. This could escalate into another war.

Syria's contagion is also spilling into Iraq with the revival of al Qaeda in neighboring Anbar province. Anbar was the heart of the Sunni insurgency in Iraq after the U.S. invasion in 2003, and American soldiers paid dearly to reclaim cities like Ramadi and Fallujah. Al Qaeda was defeated when Sunni tribal chiefs turned on them amid the U.S. troop surge in 2007.

But now al Qaeda is coming back, thanks to the heavy-handed sectarian rule of Shiite Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and to the rise of jihadists in Syria. The U.S. refusal to help the moderate Syrian opposition has given the advantage to Sunni jihadists, including many from Europe and probably the U.S. too. Much of eastern Syria is now controlled by the al-Nusrah front or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and they move with ease back and forth into Iraq. Men flying the flag of al Qaeda took over large parts of Ramadi and Fallujah last week, ousting the Iraq army.

The Iraqis are promising a counterattack to retake Fallujah, but insurgencies aren't easily beaten when they have support in the local population. Many local Sunni leaders no longer trust the Maliki government, which may not be able to protect them against al Qaeda reprisals.

The U.S. recently supplied Mr. Maliki with Hellfire missiles to use against the insurgency, and he wants American intelligence and drone support. It's clearly in the U.S. interest to defeat the jihadists. If al Qaeda can operate with impunity in Anbar, it could develop safe havens from which it can plot attacks outside Iraq. As we learned from Afghanistan before 2001, that includes attacks on the U.S. 
More at the link.