I have long said that the war on terrorism is not confined to al-Qaeda. Merely capturing bin Laden will not end the scourge of terrorism – we have to liberalize the societies that are acting as breeding grounds for terrorism. Auther Danielle Crittenden points to a book by the sister-in-law of Osama bin Laden that offers a chilling look inside the world of radical Islam. Carmen bin Laden married the brother of Osama bin Laden, Yeslam. She soon found herself living in the hell that is Saudi Arabia for women. After her ordeal in which she was fortunately able to leave her abusive husband and keep custody of her kids, she noted this:
Fortunately, the Swiss courts awarded custody to Carmen. She has emerged from her ordeal with some urgent insights into the kingdom from which she escaped: “Osama bin Laden and those like him didn’t spring, fully formed, from the desert sand. They were made. They were fashioned by the workings of an opaque and intolerant medieval society that is closed to the outside world. It is a society where half the population have had their basic rights as people amputated, and obedience to the strictest rules of Islam must be absolute. Despite all the power of their oil-revenue, the Saudis are structured by a hateful, backward-looking view of religion and an education that is a school for intolerance . . . .When Osama dies, I fear there will be a thousand men to take his place.”
These are the things that must change in order for this war to be won. The hate, intolerance, racism, and religious extremism that flows from the Middle East is the lifeblood of groups like al-Qaeda. Merely removing bin Laden is not enough to stem this tide, another would take his place. We must do whatever it takes to encourage moderates to come forward, or if necessary destroy those regimes standing in the way of progress for the Arab world.
That is why Iraq is key to the war on terrorism. As bad as the Saudis are, what possible causus belli would we have to attack the Saudis? Being a horribly repressive society is not cause for war, and the Saudi government was itself a target for al-Qaeda. The images of US soldiers occupying Mecca would set the Arab world on fire. The kind of resistance we’re seeing in Iraq would be nothing compared to such a spectacle. Those who advocate such a position do it dishonestly, as such an option is simply an unthinkable one.
Instead, the only way to reform the Middle East is to start with a country that already was somewhat insulated from radical Islam and was providing a direct threat to the region. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was the logical point to begin this process – there we had a clear causus belli (which now has proven to be not nearly as clear as it had, but that was unknowable at the time), as well as a clear humanitarian mission as well. It was a foregone conclusion that the French, Germans, Russians, and Chinese – all of whom benefitted from Saddam Hussein’s tyranny – would not go along. Yet the United States, England, and Australia still managed to form a coalition consisting of dozens of countries from Italy to Japan to Mongolia to remove Hussein.
This is why Iraq was not a distraction from the war on terrorism – it’s an acknowledgment that the war is far larger than many wish to think. Northern Africa wasn’t a direct threat to the US in World War II, but we knew that it would be crucial to victory in Europe. The same holds true with Iraq. Our mission in establishing even as much as a nominally free and democratic state in Iraq is crucial to pushing for more reform elsewhere in the Middle East. The reason why we need Iraq is because hoping for our credibility to carry much weight in the Middle East is a fool’s hope. We are, by nature, hated in the Arab world. We’re not Arabs, and in an insular society like that of the Arab world, outsiders are suspect.
Iraq gives us something that has never existed before – Arabs embracing democracy. The long-term goal of Iraq, the most important goal, is working. The Iraqis have a new government. That government is popular with the Iraqi people. The Iraqis have rejected terrorism – which is no surprise as they’re more often than not the victims of it. The Shi’a have even embraced democracy.
It’s the single stubborn boulder that has ignited an avalanche. Even the Saudis are tentatively embracing reform. They know that if their people see what the Iraqis have done once they’ve been given freedom, their own people will demand the same. This is why governments like Syria and Iran are desperate to keep Iraq from becoming a free state.
The only way we can end terrorism is by defeating the circumstances that create it – and Iraq is key to that goal. Those who are argue that Iraq is a distraction from the war on terror fail to understand both the nature of the enemy and the nature of warfare. We are on the offensive now, and we have to keep pushing for more reforms in Iraq and in the Arab world. Islamofascism belongs in the scrapyard of history with Nazism and Communism – but it will only get there if we’re willing to go against those who have a vested interest in maintaining the bloody status quo.