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Outside View: America's Mideast Future

'Superpowers need large, flexible forces. Professional, all-volunteer forces need to constantly assess possible changes in mission. This does require broad analysis of the kind of future threats around which we should shape our forces. It also requires a clear understanding that we are far from the level of understanding in the Middle East or any other region that allows us to size and shape our forces around the specific details of any estimate of future threats'.

Washington (UPI) Oct 04, 2005
The emerging threats from non-state actors that the United States has seen in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Iraq, and in cells and organization in much of the region are likely to become steadily more sophisticated.

It is impossible to predict the extent to which today's neo-Salafi Sunni Islamist extremist and Shi'ite activist Islamist extremist movements will grow or decline, but it seems very unlikely that they will go away. This is true regardless of whether Osama bin Laden and/or Abu Musab al- Zarqawi are killed or captured, or a major movement like al-Qaida is broken up.

As long as the present tensions exist in the Middle East exist, new non-state actors will emerge. Much will, however, depend on the outcome of the fighting in Iraq and progress towards an Arab-Israel peace settlement.

The radicalization of Sunni and/or Shiite Arabs in Iraq could present major new problems, as could the radicalization of the Palestinian leadership. Similarly, there are serious uncertainties regarding the future of movements like Hezbollah.

Today's movements already point towards several aspects of the future. They clearly learn from experience, share techniques and lessons, and have at least some interest in chemical, biological, radioactive and nuclear (CBRN) weapons. Most work in some form with one or more state actors and other groups, although such relationships are unstable and uncertain.

Friendships do not always last, and regime change is often anything but desirable from the viewpoint of U.S. strategic interests and military commitments. So far, the law of unintended consequences has triumphed over the "End of History."

The United States may also face problems with basing, deployability, coalitions, and alliances from states that are not "bad guys," but are far less willing to be directly tied to U.S. interests, security guarantees, and military presence. Yet, a number of regimes have so far tended to see the United States as more necessary in the regional peace process, as a counterbalance to non-state threats, and as a counterbalance to Iran. This is a hard one to call.

Superpowers need large, flexible forces. Professional, all-volunteer forces need to constantly assess possible changes in mission. This does require broad analysis of the kind of future threats around which we should shape our forces. It also requires a clear understanding that we are far from the level of understanding in the Middle East or any other region that allows us to size and shape our forces around the specific details of any estimate of future threats.

In fact, a general caveat about Americans and their desire for prophecy may be in order. H. L. Mencken described it as, "The virulence of the national appetite for bogus revelation." We are the country that did not predict Pearl Harbor, did not predict Korea, failed to predict the timing Russian acquisition of nuclear weapons and then failed to predict its development of ICBMs and rate of MIRVing.

We mischaracterized the threat in Vietnam, and initially disregarded the Sino-Soviet split. We did not predict the risks in Lebanon, Haiti, and Somalia. We are the country that did not predict the threat Iraq would be to Kuwait or its level of proliferation, and then exaggerated the probable effectiveness of the Iraqi Army before the Gulf War.

We failed to accurately predict 9/11 and the threat posed by Islamic extremism. We blundered into the Iraq War with the wrong threat analysis of the reasons for going to war, and totally failed to understand the importance of stability operations.

I hope that the preceding analysis does have some value in highlighting the kind of risks and problems the Quadrennial Defense Review and other strategy and force planning exercises should consider. Given our national track record, however, a little modesty seems necessary. More importantly, our national history has been equally consistent in warning that it is far safer to plan for too much in peacetime than have too little in war.

(Anthony H. Cordesman holds the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the CSIS. This article is extracted with permission from his testimony on Sept. 28, 2005 to the Middle East and Africa Threat Panel of the House Armed Services Committee.)

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Iraq Braced For Ramadan Attacks As US Troops Launch Offensive
Baghdad (AFP) Oct 04, 2005
Thousands of US troops Tuesday widened their hunt for Al-Qaeda insurgents in a new offensive along Iraq's Euphrates Valley, as Iraqi security forces braced for possible attacks with the start of Ramadan.







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