The next moves in the Mid­dle East

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

Our next strate­gic and tac­ti­cal moves in Iraq need to be gov­erned by how we plan to deal with Iran. This will be the prin­ci­pal is­sue for the newly des­ig­nated De­fense Sec­re­tary Robert Gates. The Mid­dle East and all its Byzan­tine machi­na­tions are well known to Mr. Gates, who brings a wealth of intelligence ex­pe­ri­ence to the job.

Now, how­ever, he must come to grips with how best to uti­lize the mil­i­tary op­tions avail­able to him. A care­ful bal­ance will need to be struck be­tween our world­wide com­mit­ments and force al­lo­ca­tions nec­es­sary to achieve our ob­jec­tives in Iraq and else­where in the re­gion.

The Baker-Hamil­ton Com­mit­tee on find­ing a new di­rec­tion for Iraq, of which Mr. Gates is a mem­ber, is ex­pected to sub­mit its re­port to the pres­i­dent soon. While we don’t know the specifics of the com­mit­tee’s rec­om­men­da­tion, a proac­tive, pre-emp­tive strat­egy is fun­da­men­tal to de­feat­ing the rad­i­cal Is­lamist threat. This can take many forms, rang­ing from pre-emp­tive search war­rants and ar­rests (as re­cently in Lon­don) to mil­i­tary strikes tar­get­ing both ter­ror­ist in­fra­struc­ture and dis­rup­tion of planned at­tacks.

The key to this strat­egy — and some­thing Robert Gates as de­fense sec­re­tary must en­cour­age — is a re­di­rect­ion of our intelligence pro­grams with a dra­matic in­crease of our HUMINT (hu­man intelligence) pen­e­tra­tion ca­pa­bil­i­ties. We can­not ac­com­plish this alone. We will need to en­list our al­lies as well as those Arab gov­ern­ments equally at risk from the spread of Is­lamic fun­da­men­tal­ism.

Pres­i­dent Bush’s abrupt an­nounce­ment he was re­plac­ing Don­ald Rums­feld with Mr. Gates ob­vi­ously stunned the Iraqi prime min­is­ter. An at­mos­phere of un­cer­tainty has been in­tro­duced; some­thing the U.S. should cap­i­tal­ize on im­me­di­ately by in­sist­ing on much greater co­op­er­a­tion than re­cently dis­played by the Iraqi gov­ern­ment. The prime min­is­ter must now dis­play the lead­er­ship nec­es­sary to bring the sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence un­der con­trol, which most likely will re­quire a new in­te­rior min­is­ter.

We need to ini­ti­ate more com­bined raids uti­liz­ing trusted Iraqi Spe­cial Forces sup­ported by the U.S. mil­i­tary. This will keep the Mahdi Army, the Shia and Sunni death squads and other mis­cel­la­neous rene­gade mili­tias off-bal­ance.

Lastly, with a new de­fense sec­re­tary, we have an op­por­tu­nity to take a fresh look at the com­bat force lev­els in Iraq. If more troops are re­quired, now is the time to start in­sert­ing them. That sort of de­ci­sive move will send the right sig­nal to the Iraqi gov­ern­ment, to the in­sur­gents and most im­por­tant to Iran, giv­ing al­lies and ad­ver­saries a sure sign we will nei­ther be driven out of the re­gion nor aban­don our friends. Fur­ther, by ad­just­ing our mil­i­tary pos­ture ag­gres­sively, we will be in a stronger po­si­tion to achieve our long-term ob­jec­tives in Iraq and through­out the Mid­dle East theater.

James A. Lyons, re­tired ad­mi­ral in the U.S. Navy, is a for­mer com­man­der in chief of the U.S. Pa­cific Fleet, se­nior U.S. mil­i­tary rep­re­sen­ta­tive to the United Na­tions and deputy chief of naval op­er­a­tions, where he was prin­ci­pal ad­viser on all Joint Chiefs of Staff mat­ters.

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