Given that we’re more than a year out from the start of the war in Iraq, fighting has flared up recently, and opponents of the war have been trying rewrite history to take advantage of the fact that our intelligence estimates about WMD in Iraq have proven to be inaccurate, it’s important to remind people why we went to Iraq.
To begin with, it’s important to put the war in context. We must remember that we have been trying to remove Saddam Hussein from power since the Gulf War. Here’s David Frum on that subject,
“In the 2000 election, both candidates spoke openly about the need to deal with Saddam Hussein. Al Gore was actually more emphatic on the topic than George Bush was. In 1998, Congress passed and President Clinton signed the Iraq Liberation Act. Just to show how conspiratorial they were, they put it in the Congressional record. In 1995, the CIA tried to organize a coup against Saddam Hussein and it failed. The coup was secret, but it has been written about in 5 or 6 books that I know of. In 1991, representatives of President George H. W. Bush went on the radio and urged the Iraqi people to rise up against Saddam Hussein. So America’s policy on Saddam has been consistent. What we have been arguing about for years are the methods. First, we tried to encourage a rebellion in Iraq, that didn’t work. Then we tried coups; that didn’t work. Then in 1998, we tried funding Iraqi opposition. That might have worked, but the money never actually got appropriated. Then, ultimately we tried direct military power. The idea that Saddam should go has been the policy of the United States since 1991.”
So the idea that we should go after Saddam Hussein was nothing new. But after 9/11, removing Saddam Hussein suddenly became an essential part of the global strategy in the war on terrorism. Why so?
Well, after September 11th, it became apparent that simply going after Al-Qaeda was not going to be enough to prevent future attacks. First off, if you simply target Al-Qaeda, what happens if the core of group simply changes its name or groups with other anti-American terrorists? Furthermore, how can you effectively target terrorists protected by the power of a rogue state? The answer is, “you can’t”. In addition, the training, resources, & protection provided by those rogue states is the very thing that enables a group like Al-Qaeda to become capable of pulling off the sort of attack we saw on 9/11. So in order to prevent future 9/11s, you have to go after not just Al-Qaeda, but all terrorist groups with global reach and the rogue states that support them.
George Bush made that clear in his Sept 20, 2001 speech to the nation when he said,
“Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated….
And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation in every region now has a decision to make: Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.”
Without question, Iraq was a nation that provided “safe haven” for terrorists with “global reach”. Among them were terrormaster Abu Nidal, Abdul Rahman Yasin, one of the conspirators in the 1993 WTC bombing, “Khala Khadr al-Salahat, the man who reputedly made the bomb for the Libyans that brought down Pan Am Flight 103 over…Scotland,”Abu Abbas, mastermind of the October 1985 Achille Lauro hijacking and murder of Leon Klinghoffer,” & “Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, formerly the director of an al Qaeda training base in Afghanistan” who is now believed to be leading Al-Qaeda’s forces in Iraq. Quite frankly, any war on terrorism that didn’t tackle that nest of vipers would have been a war in name only.
Moreover, as devastating as 9/11 was, a terrorist attack featuring weapons of mass destruction could be infinitely worse. Much has been made of the fact that we have not found the stockpiles of WMD that we expected in Iraq. But, there are three points worth making about that.
First of all, there simply was no significant difference between the position the Bush administration had on Iraq’s WMD and the position held by prominent Democrats like Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Joe Lieberman, or John Kerry. In short, the overwhelming majority of Democrats & Republicans in Washington believed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
Secondly, given the size of Iraq and the fact that Saddam Hussein’s totalitarian regime was not cooperating with the UN inspectors, there was no way, even had they been there for a hundred years, that Hans Blix and the rest of the UN inspectors could have confirmed to anyone’s satisfaction that Iraq was not producing WMD. Even a year after the war, when our inspectors have had the run of the country, access to “secret documents”, and have been able to interview Iraqi scientists without Saddam’s”minders” being present, our WMD teams have still not been able to definitively say there are no remaining stockpiles of weapons in Iraq although we certainly suspect that to be the case.
Third, it isn’t as if our intelligence agencies and the politicians citing them were totally wrong about WMDs and Iraq. As David Kay revealed, Iraqi scientists were working on weaponizing anthrax “right up until the end” and had restarted a rudimentary nuclear weapons program in 2000 & 2001. Furthermore, Kay said,
“Even those senior officials we have interviewed who claim no direct knowledge of any on-going prohibited activities readily acknowledge that Saddam intended to resume these programs whenever the external restrictions were removed. Several of these officials acknowledge receiving inquiries since 2000 from Saddam or his sons about how long it would take to either restart CW production or make available chemical weapons.”
Those are not comforting words given that an “Iraqi chemical weapons expert”told “Uday Husayn” that mustard gas could be produced for Saddam’s Fedayeen in two months.
After 9/11, anyone who doesn’t see the potential danger of allowing terrorists like Abdul Rahman Yasin & Abu Abbas to be sheltered by an America hating regime that was working on weaponizing ricin and that could produce mustard gas in two months has an insufficient understanding of the peril facing in our country in my opinion.
Furthermore, there were certainly many other reasons to go to Iraq. Saddam Hussein was an avowed enemy of America who had started two wars of aggression in the region, was steadfast in his support for Palestinian suicide bombers, and brutally oppressed his own people. That last point is especially salient since we justified sending troops to Bosnia, Kosovo, Haiti, and Somalia almost solely because of “humanitarian reasons”. Personally, I believe in using our military to further American interests, but if “humanitarian purposes” floated your boat in Kosovo or Haiti, I see no reason why it shouldn’t still work for Iraq.
Similar arguments could be made about the UN. The UN Security Council averaged better than a UN Resolution per year for over a decade, the last of which was approved unanimously, demanding that Saddam fulfill the obligations he agreed to at the end of the Gulf War. While I have an extraordinarily low opinion of the United Nations, there are many people who hold the UN in high esteem and regard it as an essential part of the world order. But, why should anyone take the UN seriously when even a despised dictator can simply thumb his nose at the UN year after year with no response other than impotent new resolutions?
Also, as I mentioned earlier, Iraq is an essential part of the war on terrorism. That’s not just because we were able to go after the terrorists mentioned earlier, but because terrorists are coming to Iraq to fight our soldiers. Some people see that as a bad thing, but as Christopher Hitchens recently wrote,
“(I)n my experience, dud theories die only to be replaced by new and even dumber ones. The current reigning favorite is that fighting al-Qaida in Iraq is a distraction from the fight against al-Qaida.”
Indeed, we are fighting Al-Qaeda in Iraq. And while none of us are happy that our military is risking their lives fighting against terrorists in a foreign land, it could be worse. Instead of fighting the finest soldiers in the world in Iraq, Al-Qaeda could be murdering unarmed American civilians here in the US, at a time and a place of the terrorists’ choosing. Iraq has turned out to be irresistible flypaper for terrorists and quite possibly, we here in the US may have been spared terrorist attacks because of it.
It’s also worth noting that after Saddam was gone, we no longer had a need to keep troops in Saudi Arabia, which was something Al-Qaeda had used as a recruiting tool. Furthermore, we were able to lift the sanctions which had given Saddam an opportunity to starve his political enemies to death while shifting the blame for his murderous actions to the United States. Moreover, if as expected, we can actually help the Iraqis achieve Democracy, it has the potential to be the most significant thing to occur in the Middle-East since the Mamelukes effectively ended the Crusades with their victories in 1291.
If a beachhead of democracy can be established in Iraq, there’s an excellent chance that we’ll see Democratic reforms start to sweep across the region where anti-American tyrants are keeping their populations in control by the skin of their teeth. The influence of a free Iraq could in time help lead to a free Iran, a free Syria, a free Lebanon, a free Saudi Arabia, a free Egypt, etc, etc. We’re not just shooting for an Iraqi Democracy, we’re hoping to see freedom spread across the entire region.
In summary, what we must remember about Iraq is that it’s not simply an optional war like Bosnia or Haiti, it’s an essential part of the war on terrorism and the linchpin of our efforts to help bring democracy to the Middle-East. Potentially, what we’re doing in Iraq could be as important as the work the “Greatest Generation” did in Japan and Germany after WW2, perhaps more so. The Bush administration’s decision to take down Saddam and help the Iraqi people build a better, freer country was not just the right thing to do, it is without question in America’s interests.