Ralp Peters has a great article up at the New York Post. Read it here (registration required, but it's fairly painless).
I spent the day yesterday away from the computer, largely. Six hours of sauna is very relaxing.
While there, I started on a book that I've had for a while and simply haven't gotten around to reading: Ghost Wars by Steven Coll. I'm not that far along, but he points out that one of the reasons we supported the Afghan rebels was to make the cost of their adventure in Afghanistan as expensive as possible. Not because we thought that the Soviets would actually be beaten by the Afghan rebels - which were at best a loose coalition and at worst working at cross purposes, with one exception: they all wanted to kill the godless Communists, be it Afghans or Soviet conscripts - but because it made the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan very expensive in terms of material and lives, making it less likely that they would want to try their hand at Pakistan or Iran.
And don't think that wasn't what the Soviets wanted.
But let me get back to my point.
Trying to understand why countries like Iran and Syria are involved in supporting the mayhem in Iraq, I think that Syrian support can be basically attributed to pure bloody-mindedness. The Syrians simply can't be helped in this aspect: they're too deeply emeshed in tribal conflicts and seeking to avoid their own destruction that they don't realize how nicely they are digging their own graves.
But the Iranians are, perhaps, another story. Iran has two sides to its politics: religion and the age-old Iranian claim to local hegemony. The religious aspect is a complex story, with the clergy and their age-old rights to corruption clothed in religious scholarship on the one hand and massive demographic and societal changes on the other hand leading to a situation where the clergy, imagining that they can control their society, are leading slowly and unavoidably to their own destruction. But that's another post entirely.
I don't think many would deny that Iran is heavily involved in southern Iraq, with ties to various groups. But I'm not completely convinced that their involvement is so much the desire to see a religious state emerge in Iraq, since such a state would not necessarily be beholden to the Iranians. I see much more the likelihood that they know their support will not and cannot lead to a islamic state, but rather is oriented towards keeping coalition military assets tied down in a war that cannot be anything but nasty, brutish and bloody (even if largely on the one side: coalition losses have been modest at worst, but the losses on the other side are significant and justify calling the conflict bloody).
Not because they think they can win, but rather to maximize the cost to coalition forces of being in Iraq.
And the more I think of it, the more it appears that this is the real basis for the continuance of the violence and the attempts to make the conflict last as long as possible in the bloodiest way possible.
And how do you defeat such an agenda?
Good question. The only answer I see is to deny the other side any advantage it has in supporting these folks by raising their cost in doing so: by making the case public that they are involved in terrorist killings and by ensuring that they bear an increasing cost in doing so, perhaps not in the same gilt but in other ways.
And the point that Peters makes is that the people paying the cost, the members of the US military, are signing back up in truly record numbers, almost unprecedented. The question that the anti-war people of all persuasion should be asking is what is wrong in their evaluation of the situation if those who are at the most risk are those who repeatedly volunteer to take those risks?
And please: the tired and ancient argument that "they don't know better" or "they can't get other jobs" is so full of holes that it doesn't deserve consideraton, considering that the US job market shows much higher demand than the supply can provide and that the US military is about the best-educated that this nation, if not the world, has ever seen.