Alternate history is an interesting way of examining the way in which events shape the course of history, so I figure it would be interesting to run a few scenarios about what would happen had the United States followed some of the arguments most frequently advanced by liberals in the Global War on Terror:
The US Remains In Afghanistan
US Finds Difficulties In The Graveyard of Empires
The New York Times
April 27, 2004
Afghanistan has stymied militaries across the centuries, from Alexander the Great to the British, and the United States once again finds itself mired in a quagmire abroad. Three years after President Bush indicated that nation-building in Afghanistan was to be the top priority fo the United States, the Afghan government remains unable to project power much further than the capital of Kabul.
Meanwhile, another 3 US troops were killed in a mortar attack led by Taliban holdouts near Mazar-i-Sharif, raising the death toll to over 600 after nearly three years of combat. Despite efforts by the United States to eradicate the poppy trade, little has been done to stem the lucrative trade of opium, and human rights groups have criticized the United States for its “heavy handed” approach in dealing with Afghan poppy farmers.
Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his top aide Ayman al-Zawahiri remain at large, having believed to have escaped into the tribal areas of Pakistan, where US troops are forbidden to go. President Musharraf has pledged to work with the United States in hunting down the fugitive believed responsible for the September 11th attacks, but many international analysts feel that he will be unable to deliver on his promises.
Meawhile, a shipment of missile parts from North Korea was interdicted by the US Navy, bound for the Iraqi port of Um Qasr. The shipment contained materials that could be used to build long-range ballistic missiles capable of delivering chemical and biological weapons to Israel or Turkey. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) lambasted Bush’s policies towards the Middle East in a Senate speech today calling them “a failure of leadership that has left critical threats completely ignored.” Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry promised that a potential Kerry administration would “get serious about ridding Saddam Hussein of his weapons of mass destruction, a threat which the Bush Administration has utterly failed to contend with”…
China Announces Iraq Weapons Deal
May 12, 2004
The Bush Administration warned that the sanctions regime against Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein is falling apart as China has announced that it will begin selling weapon technologies to the Iraqi government. Following last week’s Security Council vote that saw the United States vetoing an effort to virtually remove the sanctions, several nations have announced that they will effectively ignore the UN resolutions banning sales of dual-use and military technologies to Iraq.
United States Secretary General Kofi Annan has sent special envoy Benon Savon to Iraq to try to broker a deal in which the Iraqi govermment will see reduced sanctions in exchange for the promise not to develop weapons of mass destruction…
President Bush’s chief Democratic challenger, Sen. John Kerry, stated today in an Ohio campaign stop that President Bush “has done nothing on Iraq for too long.” When prompted by a reporter on whether Kerry would use military force to remove the Hussein regime, Kerry stated that he would do “whatever it takes” to remove the threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.
The US Invades Saudi Arabia
Saudi Fires Burn Strong As Resistance Grows
The New York Times
June 26, 2003
A few months after the toppling of the Saudi government at the hands of the United States, the Arab world has been inflamed by images of US troops in the revered holy lands of the Islamic Faith. President Saddam Hussein of Iraq has announced that he would fund an army of Islamic mujihadeen to dislodge what he called “the Zionist alliance led by the Great Satan.”
Meanwhile, the environmental devastation wrought by the oil fires across Saudi Arabia has caused a significant drop in worldwide temperatures. Officials from the WHO are warning of widespread birth defects, crop failures, and other hazards to human life. Sen. Dick Durban (D-IL) has criticized the Bush Administration for taking what he called a “reckless and dangerous action that has made it quite clear that the Administration intends to start a Third World War.” So far 700 US soldiers have died in the unilateral action which resulted in the destruction of the Saudi oil fields.
The Dow fell another 500 points as the price of oil soared to $150 per gallon on the news that significant radiological contamination may make putting out the remaining oil fires difficult, if not impossible.
The United States Attacks North Korea
Death Toll In Seoul Attack Remains Uncertain, Tokyo Struggles To Rebuild
The New York Times
August 11, 2003
Former inhabitents of Seoul continue to scour the debris of the city that once held nearly 10 million, three months after the North Korean artillery attack that levelled nearly the entire city. Shortly after President Bush announced that the North Korean government would not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons and the first bombs fell on the Yongbyon nuclear plant, a rain of artillery descended on the city, leaving hundreds of thousands dead and millions more homeless…
In Tokyo, Japan, work continues on repairing the damage left when a North Korean missile slammed into a bustling suburb of the Japanese capital. Casualty estimates continue to climb as more human remains are found from the attack. So far the death toll stands at over 20,000, with some estimates placing the total number of dead and injured in the multiple strikes at over 150,000.
Revolution In Iraq
200,000 Feared Dead In Iraqi Civil War
The Boston Globe
January 14, 2004
Two months after the assasination of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, the situation in Iraq remains choatic. The United Nations has estimated that nearly a third of the Iraqi population has been internally displaced, and at least 200,000 Iraqis have died in the fighting thus far. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has warned that the situation is likely to get much worse before it could get better. Already the UN has declared Iraq a complex humanitarian disaster as the fighting grows more intense.
Kurdish peshmerga fighters have reportedly taken the Iraqi city of Kirkuk after a month of seige warfare. At least 10,000 Iraqi Arabs brought into the nothern city as part of Hussein’s plan to ethnically cleanse the region were killed in the fighting. In the “Sunni Triangle” the situation is even more dire. Foreign fighters led by al-Qaeda linked terrorist Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi have reportedly joined with former elements of the Baathist regime and are fighting the elite Republican Guards that were once loyal to Hussein. In the south, the Iranian-backed Badr Brigades have seized the cities of Um Qasr, Basra, and the sacred Shiite city of Najaf. Iranian-backed rebel Moqtada al-Sadr has taken control of the Iraqi Shiite population in the vacuum of the assassination of popular cleric Ayatollah Ali Sistani by Baathist security agents early in the Iraqi civil war.
The State Department has sent a strongly-worded notice to Iran and Syria to end their support of insurgent groups in Iraq and help work to create a new government in the wake of Iraq’s bloody civil war. Neither country responded to the statement.
Enough Red Herrings To Feed Norway
Most of the arguments commonly used by the anti-war crowd – that we should have invaded Iran, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, etc, are simply distrations from the situation at hand. The argument that we didn’t have a sufficient causus belli in Iraq or that Iraq was a “unilateral” action would look pale in comparison to what would happen were the United States to have attacked a country just because of their status as a sponsor of terrorism. Such arguments are really just red herrings. Unless one in all honesty believes that attacking Saudi Arabia wouldn’t be viewed as an attack against Islam itself, or that we would get an ounce of international support for a preemptive attack against a country that wasn’t already under UN sanction, one’s not being intellectual honest — and if one were to actually believe those things they’d be delusion.
The argument that we should have “stayed” in Afghanistan is a much better argument, but is still ultimately flawed. The enemy we’re facing in Afghanistan is mainly Taliban dead-enders. Al-Qaeda left a long time ago. Arguing that we should have stayed in Afghanistan only works if one accepts the precept that Afghanistan is of great strategic interest to al-Qaeda. Yet we know that after Tora Bora, al-Qaeda virtually abandoned Afghanistan is a base of operations. Many al-Qaeda members escaped to Pakistan, Iran, and Iraq. Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi was in Baghdad well before the outbreak of the war, and planned at least two attacks while there – the attempted attack against the Jordanian security service headquarters (with chemical weapons no less), and the assassination of USAID diplomat Laurence Foley in Amman, Jordan. That alone is a de facto indication that al-Qaeda was working in Iraq. The fact that the Jordanian government demanded that al-Zarqawi be extradited proves that the Ba’athist regime knew that al-Qaeda was operating in their territory and chose to do nothing.
Furthermore, Afghanistan is not an Arab country. Afghanis don’t speak Arabic except in prayers – they speak either Persian or one of the various tribal languages such as Pashto or Tajik. Al-Qaeda’s base is in the Arab world, not Afghanistan. How many al-Qaeda terrorists were Afghani? If Afghanistan were so critical to al-Qaeda, why did they leave by December of 2001? Afghanistan provided a convenient logistical base for al-Qaeda, nothing more. Smashing the Taliban was a setback, but it wasn’t a death blow to al-Qaeda. Only a defeat in the Arab world would truly weaken or destroy the terrorists largest supply of men, money, and ideological support.
The argument that staying in Afghanistan would have resulted in the capture of bin Laden is equally facetious. Bin Laden knows quite well that Afghanistan is not safe for him – the US can operate in impunity there. However, across the border in Pakistan, bin Laden knows that any action against him would have dire consequences for the Musharraf government. As undemocratic as President Musharraf is, he has ensured that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal does not fall into the hands of Islamic fanatics. The risks inherent in allowing those weapons to fall into the hands of terrorists or a revolutionary government that would threat India is simply too great to justify crossing the border at this time.
Furthermore, the idea that were bin Laden to be captured or killed, we’d be able to return to the status quo is a falsehood. This war is larger than bin Laden, and while it would do my heart proud to see the man’s head sitting on a pike in the Rose Garden, the reality is that it would be a moral victory, not a strategic one. Without bin Laden we would still have al-Zarqawi, and while bin Laden is confined to the desolate Afghan/Pakistan border, al-Zarqawi and others are far freer to plan further terrorist attacks.
The results of the war in Iraq have been more than the simmering insurgency — it’s been the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, the unilateral disarmament of the Libyan WMD program (which helped lead to the end of the A.Q. Khan nuclear proliferation network), pro-democracy sentiment in Syria, Kuwait, Iran, Egypt, and even Saudi Arabia. It’s hard, if not impossible, to say how many of those events would have happened had Saddam Hussein been allowed to remain in power. It could have been none of them. We have only the word of Mohammar Qadafi, Walid Jumblatt, and others, who directly attribute the fall of Hussein and the subsequent success of the Iraqi elections as watersheds for events in the region.
At the end of the day, the case for the removal of the Hussein regime, even absent the stocks of WMDs that were believed to exist in Iraq, remains strong. As difficult as the status quo has been, the argument that the United States should have invaded somewhere else, remained solely in Afghanistan, or hoped that someone would take out Hussein for us are ultimately arguments that would have either created worse problems or are red herrings and little else. The rationale for war is never as simple as one issue, be it solely WMD or solely democratization. The calculus involved for the removal of the Hussein regime centered around a few big arguments and host of smaller ones. The removal of the potential WMD threat, the removal of a cancerous and tyrannical regime, the ending of Iraq’s state sponsorship of terrorism, demanding that the terms and conditions of the Gulf War cease-fire be met, the potential for Iraq to serve as a new experiment in grass-roots Middle Eastern democracy, the demands of justice for Saddam’s brutalization of his own people, all of these arguments and more were part of the momentous decision to go to war.
The world faced a binary choice: either take out Saddam Hussein or leave him in power. The latter would have involved assuming that Hussein was no threat (an assumption not sustainable based on the evidence at hand) and being forced to maintain resources keeping Hussein boxed in while engendering all the problems that went along with the northern and southern No-Fly Zones. Putting the benefit of the doubt on a brutal dictator is never a sound policy, and the United States and the coalition allies that joined it in removing the evil Hussein regime did the right thing. In examining the war in Iraq it becomes quite clear that the alternatives to conflict were worse than the status quo.