In the comments to my Fisking of Dave Matthews JR Lentini asks some pressing questions about the aftereffects of the war in Iraq. It’s worthwhile to take a closer look at his concerns, as do represent some of the strongest arguments of the anti-war movement.
Osama bin Laden (remember him–the guy who attacked America and we still haven’t caught) hates Saddam Hussein with a passion. Even in the last tape (just released) when bin Laden offers his support to the people of Iraq in a war against the US, he makes it very clear that he is not supporting Saddam or his regime. Anyone who has researched Wahhabism (the extreme form of Islam to which bin Laden and his followers ascribe) knows that they (Wahhabists) hate secular Arab governments (like Iraq’s) more than they hate America. They see us as the enemy; they see Saddam as a traitor.
This is true, except I would argue that al-Qaeda is perfectly willing to accept funds and material from whomever supports their cause. al-Qaeda is already more than happy to take money from the Saudis even though bin Laden believes that the House of Saud is corrupt and illegitimate. (An argument not without its merits.) The same holds true for Saddam Hussein – which is why bin Laden (or whoever it was on the tape) called on all Muslims to defend Iraq. To them, even though Saddam is a bad Muslim, he’s still not as bad as the "Jews and Crusaders."
And while I cannot prove it, I still suspect that the lack of visual evidence proves that Osama bin Laden is dead, and the audiotapes are clever forgeries. It’s difficult at best to identify an individual from a low-quality audiotape, and the analyses of the previous bin Laden tapes have been inconclusive. Still, it’s impossible to say with any great degree of certainty if bin Laden is dead or alive, and al-Qaeda does still pose a threat to the US and its interests. However, I do not believe that we cannot fight al-Qaeda through counterintelligence while simultaneously invading Iraq. Each requires different skills and manpower, and can be done simultaneously.
Fighting a war in Iraq will remove Saddam from power, albeit at great cost. The question we must ask ourselves is two-fold: 1.) What will we do once he’s gone? and 2.) What will become of Iraq and it’s government when we’ve gone, too?
The first answer is somewhat simpler than the second. The Administration has made it clear that we do intend to occupy Iraq and create a provisional military government once the Hussein regime is ousted.
The answer to the second question is much more difficult, and largely depends on the first. If we do things right (which is an open question), we could see an Iraq that is stable, democratic, and free. More likely we’ll see Iraq become another Turkey, a democratic transitional state that sometimes requires military intervention to keep hardcore Islamism from destroying the democratic fabric of the nation.
The worst case scenario is that we get something like the Hussein regime again. However, even if that does happen, Iraq’s WMD programs will have been utterly removed, and the threat will be less. Furthermore, I have a feeling that the US intends to make Iraq a center for US military activity in the region for some time that can act as a stabilizing force as it did in Europe post-World War II.
Unless we’re willing to keep American soldiers on the ground in Baghdad for years to come, all the while coming under fire from al-Qaeda in other regions, we should not commit ourselves to war. Unless we’re prepared to pick, arm and train an entirely new Iraqi government at a cost of billions of dollars, we should not commit ourselves to war.
The response to both those questions is that is exactly what we intend to do, and in fact, that’s exactly what we must do. Our choices in the Middle East essentially boil down into two options: either we engage fully and actively reshape the region or we pull out and allow it to essentially go to hell. (Our Middle East policy has been a disastrous combination of the two for quite some time, which is one of the reasons why we’re in the mess now.)
The latter option just isn’t workable. We’re not insular, and we cannot afford the illusion of being so. As we learned on September 11, a group in distant Afghanistan can reach out and strike us with little to no warning. We can’t simply pretend that if we stop acting in the region everyone there will stop hating us. That would be a tragic mistake.
Instead, the lesson that groups like al-Qaeda would learn is that the US can be bullied around. The levels of terrorism would only increase. This game isn’t just about getting the US out of the Arab world, it is about the destruction of America itself. The goals of radical Islam aren’t about political independence, they are about the worldwide imposition of the shari’a and the destruction of democracy. Radical Islam divides the world into the House of Islam and the House of War. Those who are in the House of War have two options – submission (the literal meaning of Islam) or destruction. To the radicals, there are no other choices. We either all convert, or we all die. Against such a philosophy the conventional idea of negotiation and compromise do not exist.
The other option is vigorous engagement. This philosophy is also dangerous in its own right. Yet in my opinion, it is the pragmatically best option. I cannot morally accept the idea that the Arab world can never support democracy. In order to make such a statement one would have to make the argument that there is something inherently different between Arabs and Westerners on a fundamental level. Yes, the concepts of civil society and democracy are not native to the Arab world. However, I am a firm believe in the Jeffersonian ideal that human rights are innate to all mankind. Freedom is not a temporal thing, it is something that we are all endowed with by our Creator. No one in the world truly desires to be placed into subjugation under another. No one truly wants to live in a society that is fundamentally unjust.
Benjamin Netanyahu once stated that freedom invariably flows from states that are more free to those that are less free. I think history proves this statement. Bringing a level of democracy and freedom to Iraq not only rids us of a powerful threat, but hastens that reaction. Already the effects of a freer Afghanistan are starting to spread as students in Tehran become bolder in fighting the entrenched Iranian theocracy. A free Iraq scares the hell out of the other Gulf states, because they know that as their people see the freedoms the Iraqis will have gained, they will want it for themselves. Once that happens, they can no longer count on using dogma and fear as leashes to control their populations.
Granted, I wouldn’t expect Iraq to become a full-fledged democracy overnight, or even in our lifetimes. However, it can become something better than another two-bit totalitarian hellhole. Yes, that will require a long-term American presence, and it will be an often difficult and sometimes dangerous task. However, the alternatives are worse for all parties involved. Either we choose to do something and take the risks, or we do nothing and take even worse risks. Considering the nature of the ideology we’re fighting against, we cannot assume that disengagement will make us safe.
Why must we rush to fight when we haven’t even caught the last person to hit us?
Because we’re not just at war with al-Qaeda, and al-Qaeda isn’t the only threat we have out there. We can’t bolt the front door and leave the back hanging open and expect to be safe. We have to exercise a kind of vigilence that this nation has never had to exercise before. Yes, we need to still go after al-Qaeda, but that’s not enough. This is a war that is much broader than that. It’s a war we can win, but only if we’re willing to show that our system of government and our culture is stronger than the values of submission and jihad.
I worry greatly about what will happen when we attack Iraq. I worry even more about what would happen if we were not to attack Iraq.