The notion that we are fighting an "insurgency" largely organized and staffed by former elements of Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime is now fully enshrined as an integral piece of the conventional wisdom. Like earlier bits of the learned consensus — to which it is closely linked — it is factually wrong and strategically dangerous.
That it is factually wrong is easily demonstrated, for the man invariably branded the most powerful leader of the terrorist assault against Iraq — Abu Musab al Zarqawi — is not a Baathist, and indeed is not even an Iraqi. He is a Palestinian Arab from Jordan who was based in Iran for several years, and who — when the West Europeans found he was creating a terror network in their countries (primarily Germany and Italy) and protested to the Iranians — moved into Iraqi Kurdistan with Iranian protection and support, as the moving force in Ansar al Islam.
You cannot have it both ways. If Zarqawi is indeed the deus ex machina of the Iraqi terror war, it cannot be right to say that the "insurgency" is primarily composed of Saddam's followers. Zarqawi forces us to think in regional terms rather than focusing our attention on Iraq alone. Unless you think that Iraqi Defense Minister Shaalan is a drooling idiot, you must take seriously his primal screams against Iran and Syria ("terrorism in Iraq is orchestrated by Iranian intelligence, Syrian intelligence, and Saddam loyalists"). Indeed, there has been a flood of reports linking Syria to the terror war, including the recent news that the shattered remnants from Fallujah have found haven and succor across the Syrian border. Finally, the Wahabbist component carries the unmistakable fingerprints of the quavering royal family across the border in Saudi Arabia.
The terror war in Iraq was not improvised, but carefully planned by the four great terror masters (Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Saudi Arabia) during the infuriatingly long run-up to the liberation. They made no secret of it; you have only to go back to the public statements of the Iranian mullahs and the Syrian Baathists to see it, for top Iranian officials and Bashir Assad publicly announced it (the mullahs in their mosques, Bashir in a published interview). They had a simple and dramatic word for the strategy: Lebanon. Assad and the mullahs prepared to turn Iraq into a replay of the terror war they had jointly waged against us in Lebanon in the 1980s: suicide bombings, hostage-taking, and religious/political uprisings. It could not have been more explicit.
The myth of the Baathist insurgency is actually just the latest version of the old error according to which Sunnis and Shiites can't work together. This myth dominated our "intelligence" on the Middle East for decades, even though it was known that the Iranian (Shiite) Revolutionary Guards were trained in (Syrian-dominated, hence secular Baathist) Lebanon by Arafat's (Sunni) Fatah, starting as early as 1972. The terror masters worked together for a long time, not just after the destruction of the Taliban. But we refused to see it, just as today we refuse to see that the assault against us is regional, not just Iraqi.
The clear strategic conclusion remains what it should have been long before Coalition troops entered Saddam's evil domain: No matter how strongly we wish it to be otherwise, we are engaged in a regional war, of which Iraq is but a single battlefield. The war cannot be won in Iraq alone, because the enemy is based throughout the region and his bases and headquarters are located beyond our current reach. His power is directly proportional to our unwillingness to see the true nature of the war, and our decision to limit the scope of our campaign.