Beware Iraq's neighbors

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Americans voted as they did in the midterm elections in large part because they are tired of the war in Iraq. But as Leon Trotsky allegedly said: "You may not be interested in [war], but [war] is interested in you."

Jack Kelly is national security writer for the Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio (, 412-263-1476).

A major problem in Iraq is that we think our problem is Iraq. It's much bigger than that.

We are at war with Islamic extremism, which is by no means restricted by the borders of Iraq. Many in the Democratic Party think we can quit the war in Iraq at little cost to ourselves, as we did in Vietnam 30 years ago. But this is a war that will follow us home.

Our enemies hate us because we are not like them, and they will go on trying to kill us unless we become like them, whether we are in Iraq or not. They cannot be appeased. We can destroy them, or let ourselves be destroyed by them. There are no other choices.

Al-Qaida launched the attacks on 9/11. But the most dangerous of our enemies are those Islamic radicals who control nation-states. They have access to resources that terror groups can only dream of.

Let us recall why we went to war in Iraq in the first place. Saddam Hussein hated the United States. He was trying to obtain weapons of mass destruction. He sheltered and sponsored terror groups.

Saddam Hussein is no longer in power. And no matter how badly things have gone for us in Iraq, this is still a plus for us. Now that Saddam is gone, the most dangerous enemies we face are the rulers of Iran and Syria.

Current developments in the region illustrate the folly of trying to examine events in Iraq in isolation. Things are dicey in Iraq not because al-Qaida and the Sunni insurgency are stronger. They are much weaker.

The greater danger to stability in Iraq is posed by Iranian-supported Shiite militias -- chiefly Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi army -- and the inability or unwillingness of the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to disarm them. In other words, the great enemy in Iraq is Iran. How we should deal with this reality is a matter of legitimate debate. But to fail to recognize it is folly.

Our enemies regard the Democratic victory in the midterm elections as a triumph for them and are moving to consolidate their gains.

On Tuesday, Pierre Gemayel, a prominent anti-Syrian Christian politician in Lebanon, was assassinated. Syrian involvement is suspected, as it was in the February 2005 murder of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a Sunni Muslim, and the December 2005 murder of newspaper editor Gibran Tueni.

Mr. Gemayel's murder deepens a crisis in Lebanon triggered when Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shiite militia, ordered last Sunday what amounts to a putsch against the fragile democratically elected government of Prime Minister Fouad Sinoira. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has demanded formation of a "national unity government" that would give Hezbollah veto power over the government, even though Hezbollah has only 14 seats in the 128-seat Lebanese parliament.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for a summit meeting in Tehran this weekend with the presidents of Syria and Iraq to discuss "security in the region." Syrian President Bashar Assad is an Iranian ally. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said he will attend.

This will not be a meeting of equals. Mr. Ahmadinejad is not seeking an exchange of ideas. He intends to dictate terms.

I suspect this summit was prompted as much by reports that the Iraq Study Group headed by former Secretary of State James Baker and former U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton was going to recommend a regional conference to discuss Iraq as it was by the midterm election results.

Mr. Baker and Mr. Hamilton frequently are described as foreign policy "realists," a description I find odd for people who think Iran and Syria would ever contribute to a peace settlement that would in any way be beneficial to the United States, or to democratic forces in Iraq.

Israeli intelligence thinks Hezbollah now has more Iranian-supplied rockets than it did before its monthlong war with Israel this summer. Hezbollah's (i.e., Iran's) moves in Lebanon portend another round of violence -- a round that almost certainly will explode throughout the region if we give our enemies reason to regard us as a paper tiger.


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