The importance of being there
Get a globe and put your finger on Iraq. Notice how your finger is resting right in the middle, the “heartland,” of the Middle East – halfway between Egypt and Pakistan. Is the occupation of this heartland the real strategic reason why our Coalition invaded Iraq? For those who subscribe to the Heartland Theory, the occupation of Iraq would make a great deal of strategic sense.
In 1904, the famed British geographer, Sir Halford J. Mackinder, placed his finger on Eastern Europe and declared that to be the “pivot area” or the “heartland” of Europe. Sir Halford declared: “Who commands Eastern Europe commands the Heartland; who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island, and who rules the World-Island commands the world.” By World-Island, Mackinder meant the Euro-Asian-African landmass.
Did anyone buy the Heartland Theory? Yes. Napoleon understood it even before Mackinder was born. Moreover, Kaiser Wilhelm, Hitler, Stalin and three generations of the world’s foremost military strategists embraced the Heartland Theory as Gospel. Moreover, look how the U.S. is moving NATO right into the heart of Mackinder’s Heartland with the addition to its ranks of: Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the U.S.-led NATO is now in possession of Eastern Europe – the Heartland of Sir Halford J. Mackinder’s Grand Strategy.
Had Hitler succeeded in adding European Russia to his Heartland, he might well have gained such rich resources and such a strategic geographic advantage that he could have commanded the Euro-Asian-African landmass and, therefore, Planet Earth.
So what has the Heartland Theory to do with Iraq? Despite the flowery Wilsonian rhetoric of the Bush Administration about freedom for the Iraqi people and planting the seeds of Jeffersonian Democracy, one suspects those are not the real “vital interest” reasons for why we are spilling blood and spending treasure in Iraq.
One suspects the strategists in the Department of Defense and the National Security Council are, in essence, applying Mackinder’s Heartland Theory to Iraq -- the “pivot point” of the Middle East. But, if so, they have not explained it that way. Nor have they applied the Heartland Theory quite right.
The key to applying the Heartland Theory is simply “being there.” Being there means Iraqi oil revenues cannot go to al Qaeda. Being there means the Iraqis can choose whatever government they want as long as it does not support al Qaeda. Being there means interdicting radical Islam’s lines of communication that run across the Middle East from Cairo to Islamabad.
But being there need not include trying to impose a Pax Americana on Iraqi’s cities. The inevitable collateral damage of urban warfare creates a no-win situation in a media world dominated by the hostile Al Jazzeria TV and by a western media that daily prove the dictum: Bad news will travel around the world before good news can tie its shoelaces.
Dr. George Friedman, who runs, arguably, the world’s best private intelligence service suggests, we can still be there while, at the same time, withdrawing our troops from the Iraqi cities. By occupying a series of desert outposts, we get back to the “vital interest” reasons for being there. Moreover, if al Qaeda wants to fight us, its cells must expose themselves out in the open desert where rusting, bomb-laden pickups are no match for our Abrams Tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles. Our casualties would plummet. Theirs would skyrocket.
So, if this is what we are really doing (and it is increasingly apparent we are beginning to withdraw from the cities), why hasn’t the Administration explained what we are doing in terms of the Heartland Theory?
Perhaps, it fears such Grand Strategy cannot be understood by what cynics call: the gum-chewing, mouth-breathing public. After all, more votes were just cast for the American Idol than during the previous presidential election.
At the other end of the “explain why we are there” spectrum, former Clinton political advisor, Dick Morris, says President Bush needs to tell America’s Soccer Moms that if we do not kill the bad guys over there, they are going to come over here and kill their kids. Hopefully, it will not take more beheadings and 9/11s before that lesson soaks in.
If we are, indeed, applying the Heartland Theory to Iraq that should be our main focus – not attempting to stand up a Jeffersonian Democracy. Meanwhile, the Administration should give voice to a message that appeals to the armchair strategists and to the Soccer Moms alike
Colorado-based, William Hamilton, J.D., Ph.D., a syndicated columnist, retired Army officer and co-author of The Grand Conspiracy and The Panama Conspiracy -- two novels about terrorism directed against the United States -- is a graduate of the U.S. Naval War College and a former professor of history at Nebraska Wesleyan University.
2004. William Hamilton.