Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Some considerations

In the discussions about the "validity" of our efforts in Iraq, people often forget the following:

1. Unlike 1941, when FDR could wait for the Japanese to attack us before proceeding to kick their collective ass, today any attack would be with unconventional weapons (e.g. airplanes) or WMD and would be against civilian targets. Imagine what those who claim we had no "reason" to invade Iraq would have said had the President sat by while a chemical, biological or nuclear attack against us had killed 50,000 of non-combatant citizens. Remember: Saddam had biological and chemical weapons and had a frighteningly advanced program to develop nuclear weapons in 1991. He made many terrorists welcome in his country. Admittedly, they were welcomed singly and not as groups - a la the Taliban in Afghanistan. Still, his government officially entertained the likes of Ayman Al Zawahiri, whose beliefs earned him Al Qaeda's #2 position. Additionally, he supported Hamas and paid the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. The fact that we didn't know his capabilities in 2003 is attributable, first, to his intransigence and second and thirdly, to the fact that his regime was Hitlerian/Stalinist in its paranoid elimination of anyone even remotely suspected of disloyalty so that his minions told him what he wanted to hear instead of the truth. This led to a precarious situation in which Saddam acted on wildly inaccurate information fed to him out of fear.

2. Any way you slice it, Iraq was a threat to us. First, as a direct threat: Saddam or his sons would have continued to cause military trouble in the region which had already once caused our involvement militarily. A move against Saudi Arabia or Israel or another move against Kuwait - certainly not impossible - would have required our involvement in a wider war than that which we have now. Second, indirectly, Iraq would have continuted to covertly undermine and challenge our efforts at peace in the Middle East and quietly support those seeking to hurt us, while maintaining "plausible deniability" of those efforts. Iraq was assisting and would have continued to assist terrorists determined to kill us. Was there a high level working relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda? No. But, that doesn’t mean Saddam wasn’t a terrorist or Iraq a state supporter of terrorism. If a state such as Pakistan can allow nuclear technology to leak out, ought we to ‘trust’ that Iraq would have abided by the terms of the NPT?

3. Finally, Saddam and Iraq was a rallying point for those who saw the United States as a toothless tiger. The fact that Saddam had stood up to the U.S. and the U.N. was seen as proof that the U.S. was impotent. In a society that places great emphasis on strength and martial proficiency, this perceived impotence fueled much of the willingness of Islamic groups to call for attacks against America. The removal of Saddam sent a very strong message to the Islamic world: whatever else we may be, we are not afraid to fight and if you mess with us, you don’t stand a chance. Indeed, dislike of America may have grown since 2003, but so has respect - and in the Islamic world, it is respect that matters.

The removal of Saddam, the establishment of democratic, Islamic Republics in Afghanistan and Iraq and our willingness to withstand casualties has begun to engender a question in the minds of those who now hate us: “If America is so evil and their system so corrupt, why have they succeeded where we have failed?” If an answer to that question is sought throughout the Islamic world by those on the Islamic “street”, we will have won the war on terror. After all, the “war on terror” has always been a war of ideas - and ideas depend on perceptions.


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