Beneath all the public reasons for invading Iraq lies a secret war agenda that has paid off in the war on al-Qaeda, according to a leading intelligence analyst. ``The Bush administration has been represented as strategically stupid but adept at political manipulation. The opposite is true,'' said George Friedman, president of Stratfor, a firm that delivers global strategic forecasting and open-source intelligence analysis to corporate clients.
Friedman's book, ``America's Secret War: Inside the Hidden Worldwide Struggle Between America and its Enemies,'' which goes on sale Tuesday, argues that midway through the war on terrorism, America has made major gains while al-Qaeda has failed in most of its goals and is on the defensive. Iraq, he argues, is a keystone of American strategy against al-Qaeda.
In the decision to invade Iraq, he argues, disarming a dangerous dictator and bringing democracy to the Middle East were secondary war goals. The factor that tipped the balance in internal Bush administration debates in mid-2002 was Saudi Arabia's recalcitrance in the war on al-Qaeda, he says.
America's invasion of Iraq put pressure on the Saudis that forced them to act against al-Qaeda sympathizers within Saudi Arabia in ways the Saudis had been unwilling to do, Friedman said.
In the past year, Friedman argues, it has worked. The Saudis, shaken by America's action, has engaged in a ``civil war'' against al-Qaeda, killing operatives, busting up cells and cracking down on the group's financial network.
``The problem is that the administration can't explain that this is blackmail on the Saudis. So it turns to WMD,'' Friedman said about the reasons given for the Iraq war. He argued that America was compelled to continue strong action after the Afghan campaign.
``Doing nothing would have been disastrous,'' Friedman said.
Gains against al-Qaeda so far, he said, include: action to isolate nukes, include undercover special operations agents monitoring Pakistan's nuclear weapons facility; significant damage to al-Qaeda's fund-raising apparatus; and better cooperation from intelligence agencies in Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.
But the high-stakes game of brute-force foreign policy has been poorly executed, creating a new series of problems, Friedman argues. He criticizes the administration for failing to build up U.S. military strength and commit enough forces to Iraq. The administration also failed to recognize that Saddam had planned a guerrilla war after his predictable fall and that Iran had heavily infiltrated the Iraqi Shiites.
A Shiite-dominated Iraq was meant to divide the Muslim world and further weaken al-Qaeda, Friedman said. But efforts to rein in the Shiites and cut deals with the Sunni minority in Iraq angered Iran, which is now making trouble by posturing itself as a soon-to-be nuclear power - although, he says, the mullahs know the U.S. and Israel will never let them complete have a deliverable nuke.