Mr. Ledeen, an expert on U.S. foreign policy, is the Freedom Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. He holds a PhD from the University of Wisconsin and his commentary regularly appears in the National Review, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post. The author of fifteen books, his latest one, The War against the Terror Masters: How it Happened, Where We Are Now, How We'll Win (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2002), explains the key priorities he sees for the United States. He addressed the Middle East Forum in New York on May 20, 2004.

Basics of Terrorism

The war on terror is far from a new phenomenon. In reality, this war has been an ongoing event for at least the past twenty-five years. The tragic events of September 11th, however, put an end to a one-sided war, fought by our enemies alone. Until then, terrorists were able to attack with confidence knowing that the response from their victims and victims' allies would be small or uncoordinated. President George W. Bush set a precedent following September 11th as he began to wage war on terror, as opposed to every president since Jimmy Carter who had merely declared war on terror.

Who Are We at War With?

Prior to the liberation of Iraq, there were four "terror masters" in the Middle East: Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Saudi Arabia, of which only two had Islamist governments: Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Syrian and Iraqi regimes secured and maintained their power precisely because they were the opposite of Islamists. Their strong secular backgrounds allowed them at various points in their existence to gain support from Western powers in the consolidation of power in the Middle East. It is wrong, therefore, to qualify all terror as simply radical Islam. Rather, if looking for a common theme among the "terror masters" one should identify tyranny threatened by U.S. democratic strength and success.

Why Do They Hate Us?

People in the Muslim world can be divided into the three categories devised by Bernard Lewis:

  • Oppressive regimes that are hostile towards the US, but whose people look to the US because they see it as their only hope for freeing themselves from those regimes;
  • Oppressive regimes that are formal US allies, in which the people despise the US because they hold it accountable for the preservation of those regimes; and
  • A small subset of Middle Eastern states in which both the government and the people are pro-American. This category, not surprisingly, includes the only two democracies in the Middle East: Turkey and Israel.

Finally, Saudi Arabia has the unique distinction of being both a friend and an enemy at the same time. While the Saudis assist the United States with bases, intelligence, and oil supplies, they also fund the "assembly line" of terrorists.

We failed to take steps earlier against our enemies and dubious friends because of the severe, long-standing Congressional restrictions on the activities of the CIA and FBI.

Democratizing the Middle East

The influence of Iran in the Middle East is enormous. Less Iranian interference in Iraq would be the best boon Iraq could receive in developing a new liberal society. Change in Iran is a crucial step towards democratization in the Middle East, and unlike Iraq, invasion is not required. Iran should have been dealt with before Iraq through bloodless revolution. An Iranian revolution must be lead by a strong figure currently residing within the country. Neither Washington nor the family of the shah can lead a popular uprising.

The leadership of Iran is passionately committed to its own survival. The dictators of Iran thoroughly doubt their own legitimacy, their paranoia is immense, and they expect to be driven out of power in a relatively short period of time. If instead of hankering after UN approval over Iraq, President Bush had worked with the Iranian people, the regime would have been gone in a few months. The Iranian people are very pro-American. It is in the best interests of the United States to support them and have them liberate themselves.

There was a 14-month gap between the Afghanistan campaign and Iraq. At the end of the Afghan war, all Middle Eastern tyrants believed their time had come; however, a few unfortunate events happened to delay the Iraqi invasion.

  • Saudi Arabia, through Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, unleashed the Saudi peace plan that specified that the U.S. could not invade Iraq until the Israel-Palestine conflict was solved. The Saudis presented this diversion out of fear that the Iraqi invasion would lead to the democratization of the Middle East.

  • Prime Minister Tony Blair said that the U.K. needed a U.N. resolution before it would become completely involved. The only U.N. precedent that could be used to justify invasion was Saddam's failure to live up to WMD requirements. Every intelligence agency in the world believed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and they probably did. These WMDs were most likely hidden somewhere within Iraq or transported to Iran and Syria.

The resulting delay was a serious blow to the cause for Iraq, as those opposed to the war, along with Iraqi supporters, were able to organize. In order to attempt to rectify these problems, the US will turn over power in Iraq to local leaders on June 30th. While power will technically be given to new Iraqi leadership at this time, the US will still play a major role and will not leave until requested to do so by the new government.

This summary account was written by Patrick J. Murphy, research assistant at the Middle East Forum.