Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Ralph Peters, a retired Army officer and the author of 25 books, including best-selling, prize-winning novels and influential works on strategy. He is also an opinion columnist for the New York Post and a regular contributor to Armchair General Magazine. A popular media guest, he became Fox News’ first strategic analyst in 2009. He is the author of the new book, Endless War: Middle-Eastern Islam vs. Western Civilization. His most-recent bestseller, The War After Armageddon, set in a post-nuclear-war Middle East, was released in a paperback edition on September 1st.
FP: Ralph Peters, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
I would like to talk to you today about the challenges we face in the Middle East in the post-Obama-Leaving-Iraq era.
Let’s begin with this: What did you think of Obama’s speech on Iraq? He didn’t seem to want to mention the word “victory” or to congratulate American soldiers for winning the war.
Peters: Did Obama give a speech on Iraq? Or did he give a speech about running away from Iraq as fast as his two left legs can carry him? His seeming determination to squander the peace in the wake of an authentic military victory by our troops is nothing less than stunning. Even Jimmy Carter took the responsibilities of office more seriously. It appears that our current president is determined to prove that our dead shall, indeed, have died in vain. He’s not running away from a war–the heavy combat is over, thanks to the tenacity of Obama’s predecessor and our troops. He’s fleeing from the promise of a peaceful Iraq with a future government helpful to the United States. It’s almost as if, consciously or unconsciously, Obama manifests the longing of the left for Iraq to fail after all, “proving” that Bush got it all wrong and Al Franken’s a strategic genius.
Iraq doesn’t need more US troops today–let’s be clear on that. There are enough soldiers still on-hand for the ongoing military mission (and, no matter what Monsieur Obama claims, they’re largely combat troops). What Iraq needs is energetic, engaged diplomacy to get a unified Iraqi government in and keep Iran out. If, however, our self-absorbed president does not engage personally on the political level, we may, indeed, find more of our troops back in the Gulf in the future.
The grotesque paradox in all this is that Iraq has even more strategic importance–much more–in 2010 than it did in 2003, when we deposed Saddam Hussein, the region’s K-Mart Hitler of the moment. With the looming advent of an Iranian nuclear-weapons capability–which Obama seems disinclined to prevent–the stakes have soared. If an Iran with nukes can also dominate most, if not all, of Iraq, Tehran would have direct control of the world’s second and third largest oil deposits and effective hegemony over the number one deposits–in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.
It’s a bitter paradox that, after the Left screamed, “No blood for oil,” pretending that ridding the world of Saddam was just a ploy to make a profit (do these people have any grip on reality at all?), under Obama–or in his wretched wake–we may, indeed, have to spill a great deal of blood for oil.
Look at a map of the Persian Gulf (which may well be truly Persian again, thanks). It’s a narrow, wet doorway to the world’s greatest oil concentration. The lands surrounding the Gulf form an arch, with Iraq as the keystone. It doesn’t take a brilliant strategist to get the point.
As I’ve warned for many months now, don’t worry about Obama’s ideology. That’s secondary. Worry about this administration’s unrivaled incompetence.
FP: Your thoughts on Obama’s Palestinian-Israeli “peace” talks that are underway?
Peters: Well, there will be plenty of talk, but little peace. It’s disheartening that Obama’s foreign-policy priority is an attempt to add this particular (and particularly elusive) scalp to his (tiny) collection, when the great prize of the moment is Iraq–which he’s blowing off.
Obama may be able to bring enough pressure to get a flimsy deal of some sort that lets him go into 2012 claiming he made peace. But no agreement will last. Arabs remain incapable of accepting Israel’s right to exist. Israel’s destruction is about all they have left to believe in, since they’ve failed at everything else.
But let me be brutally frank: Although I am a lifelong and determined supporter of Israel, I agree with the many Israelis who see the more aggressive “settlers” as purely destructive and monstrously selfish. While Jerusalem is, and must, remain an undivided Israeli city, settlements in locations such as Hebron are unjust and unjustified. While I believe that the Arab demand for a return to the 1967 borders is unacceptable (Hey, you lost, guys, that’s how history works.), it’s idiocy to imagine that any solution can accommodate settlers whose out-lying presence is destructive to both sides. Now, the settlements in the West Bank are not uniform. They must be judged on a case-by-case basis. But surely there’s a point at which we can agree with most Israelis that the more extreme settlers are pathological cases.
For all that, 95% or more of the responsibility for making peace remains with the Arabs, whose behavior has been self-destructive and intoxicated by atrocity over the decades. In the end, Israel wants peace. Israel’s neighbors want Jews dead or gone–preferably dead. That’s pretty clear-cut to me.
FP: Well, maybe we don’t see completely eye to eye on the settlements issue, but we’re not here to debate that today and we are, of course, entitled to different perspectives. David Horowitz provided some profound insights, from angles often not discusses in our media, on this whole matter in his speech at the University of California in San Diego on May 10, 2010, which readers can check out here.
But let’s move on. Your thoughts on Afghanistan?
Peters: Let me start by addressing a larger context–into which Afghanistan fits. For many years now, we’ve heard intermittent comparisons of the United States to the Roman Empire. Usually, it’s leftists yearning for an American decline that just refuses to come (they thought they had us after Vietnam, just as they think our back’s against the wall now…well, just wait…we’re incredibly resilient, when well-led). Sometimes, we hear facile comparisons to the effect that Rome and the USA are both lesser ”engineering cultures,” descended of more high-brow parents, Greece or Europe. Lot of silliness there…which would you rather have, Aristotle or aquaducts? For myself, I’m all for fresh drinking water…
Yet, now I do see a parallel at last. It has nothing to do with the decline of “empire,” but with its limits. Rome reached a point at which it recognized, after a number of bloody fusses on its farthest borders, that there were barbarian lands it just wasn’t worth conquering–or bothering about. The value just wasn’t there. So you just needed to keep the barbarians out–which Rome did for many centuries (after which Byzantium, the eastern Rome, did the same for a thousand years).
In the greater Middle East, I think we’ve found our “limes,” as the Romans called their military frontiers. Certainly, there’s a parallel in the barbarism (although any comparison is a bit unfair to Germanic tribesmen or Picts). From North Africa through Pakistan, we’re confronted by primitive, barbarous cultures marked by degeneracy and decay, where men born of powerless families are treated as women; where women are treated as animals; and where animals are treated unspeakably. Let the left howl, but the empirical data shows that these are “cultures” with no redeeming values. (Of course, it’s riotously funny to hear the left claim that our troops mistreat Arabs or Afghans–when the same I-hate-mommy-I-hate-daddy activists are determined to overlook the region’s taste for genocide, torture, indiscriminate slaughter and the monstrous abuse of women. Instead of critiquing the barbarians, leftists from the Upper West Side to Southern California are determined to invite the barbarians in and to accommodate their cruelty).
Of course, we cannot disengage entirely from the Middle East: We need to continue to kill terrorists, wherever we locate them. And, thanks to bipartisan incompetence in Washington over four decades, the world still depends on the region’s oil and gas. But the dark lands beyond the frontiers of our civilization cannot be rescued by us. We will not civilize Afghanistan. Saudi Arabia will not grow tolerant and productive. With luck, Iraq may prove the best of the lot, but that’s saying little. I see our problem with this decrepit relic of a past civilization–its denizens mere ghouls among the ruins–as keeping their problems out of our incomparable, humane civilization.
Afghanistan in and of itself is not worth the life of a single American soldier. Its sole value lies in offering bases from which we can kill terrorists in the AfPak border region. That’s it. Our attempts at nation-building–and no matter what the White House claims, that’s what we’re trying to do–would be worthless, even were they not doomed. And, as you and I have this exchange, Jamie, the Kabul Bank, the leading private bank in Afghanistan (through which our funds are transferred to accounts that pay the Afghan army, police and teachers) has been seized by the Afghan Central Bank, with hundreds of millions of dollars gone missing, a long roster of corrupt insider loans, and a portfolio of luxury properties–now much devalued–in Dubai. No matter how broad a view you take of our reconstruction efforts, it’s a bit tough to see how U.S. funds siphoned off to buy villas in the Persian Gulf for well-connected Afghans (the Karzai family holds a 7% stake in the ruined bank) advances our efforts against the Taliban and al Qaeda. And, simultaneously, President Karzai has released a key government official arrested on unrelated, massive corruption charges…and Karzai berated us publicly for backing the case against the perp.
I really pity the old South Vietnamese regime. It had plenty of thieves, but they thought small, the poor suckers. The Karzai family and its cronies think a lot bigger and they’re showing the world how corruption is done on a scale that really means something. And our blood and treasure support them. This is madness.
FP: Your take on the growing threats in Yemen and Somalia?
Peters: Instead of my take, let me start with the take I get from my acquaintances deep in the special-operations community–including some superb service members currently in Afghanistan. While they’re doing great work killing terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan (our one success story in AfPak, along with the CIA drone attacks), they’re much more worried today about Yemen and Somalia. Even the Saudis–as encrusted as ever in moral filth and fanaticism–are terrified of what’s happening in Yemen and are begging us to do more. In Somalia–a country that only exists as a state in the State Department’s hyper-limited imagination–al Shabaab, an al Qaeda affiliate, is on the verge of a takeover.
Now, let’s look at a map of the greater region again. Exactly how much of the world’s oil supplies passes through Afghanistan? Oh, right. None. Now, what proportion flows from Iraq, the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia along sea lanes that pass directly by or near Yemen and Somalia? On that map, Yemen and Somalia can be seen as jaws ready to snap shut. Then factor Iran into the equation. Meanwhile, because Obama–as unmanly as he is unwise–is trapped by his campaign rhetoric about Afghanistan…massive threats go ignored. Even a stunning success in Afghanistan brings us nothing. Iranian or fundamentalist takeovers in Iraq, Yemen and Somalia change the global equation (you may want to buy that Chevy Volt, dear Reader).
In my lifetime, I have never witnessed worse strategic incompetence on the part of a presidential administration.
FP: Ralph Peters, thank you for joining us today.
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