Frank Anderson worked for the CIA from 1968 until 1995. According to his unclassified biography, he served three tours of duty in the Middle East as an agency station chief, headed the Afghan Task Force (1987-1989), and was chief of the Near East Division. He now runs a consulting practice that focuses on the Middle East.
What will Iraq look like five years from now?
There is no prospect under which we will depart from Iraq in better circumstances than we entered. It's probable that every month we stay there our position will be worse than it would have been if we had left the month before. The conflict that is underway in Iraq will continue until a new order is established and there's an equilibrium based on the new reality. In five years, it's not unlikely that U.S. Special Operations forces will be working with Sunnis in western Iraq against a Shiite-dominated pro-Iranian government that controls much of the country. And that's the optimistic scenario, because it assumes that we have the resources and the friends in the area to make those deals with western Iraqi tribes that find it in their interest to work with us.
What's the diplomatic fallout from Iraq and the Bush Administration's general Middle East policies?
Our enemies are comforted and our friends are looking elsewhere. The policymaking group that decided to invade Iraq regarded the strategic relationship between the United States and the Saudis as a problem, not an asset. And now the Saudis are quietly shifting their diplomacy and their economic outreach to the Far East -- China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan. Saudi Arabia is not going to become our enemy, but they are coming to believe that they can live in a world in which the United States is less relevant.
As it turns out, Iraq under Saddam Hussein did not pose any significant threat to American security. How do you evaluate the case of Iran?
Iraq was not a strategic threat -- it was in a box for eleven or twelve years. But Iran is not in a box. Iran is stronger in the region than it's been in a long time -- and that should be a concern to everyone.
So if Iran poses a real dilemma, what's the best course of action?
There was a Defense Science Board task force in 2001 that looked at homeland defense. The board proposed that we look at terrorism in the same way we look at jurisprudence -- that we examine means, motive, and opportunity. Look at Iraq. Iraq was not an enabler, nor was it a chief supporter, of terrorism. The invasion of Iraq did not attack the means of terrorism --but by invading we provided a major motive for terrorism and an enormous opportunity by putting 190,000 soldiers there as targets.
Now look at Iran. It hasn't had any fingerprints on international terrorism since the Khobar Towers bombing in 1996. Their capability of hitting us with a strategic weapon is remote. But any military attack on Iran will provide a motive for terrorism in many parts of the world, yet we'll achieve no significant reduction of means with military action. We gain very little, but there's great potential harm.
I divide the world into copers and fixers. The former say, -- There's a mess but we can cope with it. --The fixers say "let's take a risk and try to fix it." My attitude is that it's better to cope with Iran.
From Six Questions for Frank Anderson on the Middle East