Here is a key

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April 20, 2003 12:14 a.m.

Here is a key part of America’s strategic vision for Iraq coming into focus. According to this article in The New York Times, the Pentagon is expecting to secure long-term access to four key Iraqi military bases. One’s near Baghdad; the others are near Nasiriya, the pipeline leading to the Jordanian border, and in Iraqi Kurdistan. As we’ve noted earlier, Iraq is quite literally in the center of the Middle East. It borders almost every major country in the region. And isn’t that far from the two others — Israel and Egypt. (Remember, we’ve also secured a series of robust basing arrangements with several of the tiny emirates that line the Arabian Peninsula.

Consider how this changes our reliance upon and stance toward the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In addition to their oil, much of our security relationship with the Saudis has been based on our need to project force against and counterbalance Iraq and Iran. With the Iraqi government out of the picture, our need to counterbalance them disappears. And if you want to project force against or counterbalance Iran, Iraq is a much better place to do it from than Saudi Arabia.

What this adds up to is that most, if not all, of our geostrategic interest in Saudi Arabia evaporated over the last month. If the Saudis give us grief or won’t cut off terror money to various bad-actors we have a much freer hand to squeeze them.

Of course, they still have the biggest amount of oil, which is no small matter. But even some of that leverage may be fleeting. I’m not writing from home this evening. So I don’t have access to the precise percentages. But Iraq’s known oil reserves are quite large. And it is widely believed that if the country’s oil industry (which has been in a dilapidated state for many years) was opened up to more modernized, state-of-the-art technology, those reserves could actually turn out to be much greater than is currently known.

What this means is that while Iraq’s reserves may never be as great as Saudi Arabia’s, they may be large enough to diminish some of the Saudis’ commanding hand over the international oil market.

Now, combine all this with the fact that many in the Bush administration (and out of the Bush administration, for that matter) think that Saudi Arabia is the ground zero of international terrorism, the terror purveyor state par excellence. To this point, our ability to muscle the Saudis on the terror question or even undermine the regime itself has always been limited by our need for their assistance geostrategically. But if the administration gets what it wants in Iraq, all of that changes.

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