During the Cold War, few people said, “We have to solve the problem of Latvia, before we can even begin to address the problem of the Soviet Union.” Latvia’s problem — as well as the problems of Lithuania, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Ukraine, etc., etc. — was the Soviet Union. To concentrate on the plight of Latvia would be like treating a runny nose while shrugging off the pneumonia which caused it.
Obviously, such analogies can be overdone. But whether you are for the United States coming to the aid of Israel or not, it seems increasingly transparent that the Arab-Israeli conflict will not be solved first. There are those who believe we must follow the advice of our “friends” in the Middle East, and the Solomons at the State Department and MSNBC who say we must first achieve through yet more talking what 50 years of talking could not achieve. Only after the United States (not the E.U. or the Norwegians or the Arab League, mind you, but the United States) secures a final peace between Israel and the Arab world, they say, will the Arab world allow us to topple Saddam.
They might as well say they’ll support toppling Hussein once the U.S. can guarantee that bears will never again use the woods as a toilet. Indeed, it’s worse than that, because the Arab states aren’t actively supporting bears crapping in the woods, while they are constantly supporting terrorist groups in the occupied territories, as well as in Lebanon and Syria. So long as Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Iran (the real Axis of Evil) know that the United States won’t try to squash Saddam before there is “peace in the Middle East,” there will never be peace in the Middle East. After all, the Palestinian refugees have lived in such dire circumstances for 50 years largely because neighboring Arab states have wanted it thus.
As the editors of the Wall Street Journal, Bernard Lewis, and others have noted, Saddam didn’t increase his payments for homicide bombers to $25,000 per mass murder because he’s committed to peace in the Holy Land. Ditto the Iranians, who shipped $50 million to the Palestinian Authority — or Bashar Assad, the Syrian hereditary dictator who argued that the best way to implement the “Saudi peace plan” would be by increasing the bombings and by forcing Egypt and Jordan to sever all ties with Israel.
If the United States is to wait for peace between Israel and Yasser Arafat before it continues its so-called war on terrorism, then the war on terrorism is over. As NRO’s Michael Ledeen writes, “It’s the War, Stupid.”
ISRAEL NOW OR US LATER Again, you might believe — as Chris Matthews, Robert Novak, the editors of The Nation, and others seem to — that Israel is the source of all our disagreements with the Islamofascists and Islamofanatics. You might hold that if only the United States stopped condoning this or that policy of the Israelis — or stopped supporting Israel entirely — there would then be peace. As I’ve written before, I doubt this. Should the Arab world succeed in its next attempt to wipe out Israel, that still wouldn’t be the end of our troubles. After all, Osama bin Laden didn’t care about the Palestinians until the Palestinians started cheering in the streets on September 11. And as we all learned this morning, Zacarias Moussaoui prays and fights for the destruction of Israel, the United States, and Russia as well as for the return of Muslim dominion over such places as Spain and parts of Yugoslavia. That’s a pretty hefty land-for-peace plan.
If Israel were destroyed tomorrow and the surviving refugees streamed into the United States, Australia, and Canada — Lord knows the Europeans wouldn’t take them — Saddam Hussein, the mullahs of Iran, Syria, and others would take the destruction of a nation which they regard as a U.S. outpost, to be a sign of our weakness. And weakness, perceived or real, is an invitation for more violence.
For example, when the United States pulled out of Somalia after the “Black Hawk Down” incident, we saw it as the tragic consequence of a feckless foreign policy and little more. “They don’t want our help, screw ‘em,” was how most Americans understandably regarded the episode. In the Middle East, however, the lesson was that Americans are weak and easily frightened away. This was partly because — if Osama bin Laden’s own words are to be believed — Muslim ideologues were incapable of believing that the United States’ motives were altruistic: as if we were keen on making Somalia, which measures per capita income in fractions of a goat, the 51st state of America, or maybe a U.S. territory like the Virgin Islands. Stop laughing. I’m serious.
Indeed, perceived American weakness in Somalia not only invited further al Qaeda attacks on the United States, but emboldened Israel’s enemies too. “The Israelis are just like the Americans,” reasoned Palestinian militants, “they can be scared away” (this lesson was further intensified when Israel voluntarily withdrew from Lebanon two years ago, a move widely interpreted as an Israeli capitulation — which makes sense, since Arab propaganda says Israel is implacably imperialist and hence incapable of giving up land for benign reasons). It seems obvious, to me at least, that the destruction of Israel — be it slow or fast — would be perceived as further dissolution of the American Empire. So, as a matter of cold political calculation, avoiding war now would only delay the inevitable, leaving Israel at the mercy of states dedicated to its death (or at least its constant insecurity). In short, the destruction of Israel would launch the next war, it would not avert it.
WHY IRAQ? So how does all this, or the humble attempt at a history lesson of my last column, justify tearing down the Baghdad regime? Well, I’ve long been an admirer of, if not a full-fledged subscriber to, what I call the “Ledeen Doctrine.” I’m not sure my friend Michael Ledeen will thank me for ascribing authorship to him and he may have only been semi-serious when he crafted it, but here is the bedrock tenet of the Ledeen Doctrine in more or less his own words: “Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.” That’s at least how I remember Michael phrasing it at a speech at the American Enterprise Institute about a decade ago (Ledeen is one of the most entertaining public speakers I’ve ever heard, by the way).
Saddam Hussein deserved to be overthrown by the United States at the end of the Gulf War, and it does not seem to me that a statute of limitations has expired on that verdict. Jude Wanniski’s protestations notwithstanding, the near-universal consensus among experts is that Saddam Hussein gassed the Kurds. He certainly tried to assassinate the former President Bush. He is dedicated — explicitly — to the destruction of Israel and to bringing America to its knees. Just read the riveting cover story of the current issue of The Atlantic (not on the web yet) — written by the author of Black Hawk Down — and you will at least agree that any legitimate argument against crushing Saddam’s regime does not include the assertion that Saddam is somehow undeserving of such a fate. He’s an avowed admirer of Stalin — Stalin! — and considers torture and mass murder to be the workaday tools of statecraft.
But Saddam has very little to do with al Qaeda (as far as we know). The Islamic fundamentalists hate Saddam because he is a terrible Muslim (note: being a terrible Muslim, according to these fanatics, has little to do with murder and torture and everything to do with drinking wine and letting women wear skirts). So why make like Benny Hill on the little bald guy on Saddam?
FINISH THE JOB There would have been a certain logic to calling for a cease-fire once Allied forces liberated Czechoslovakia, Poland, and — oh yeah — France from the Germans. Why lose more American lives, one might reasonably argue, now that we’ve accomplished our mission to liberate Europe?
Few people made this argument in 1945. The United States understood, in the words of Douglas MacArthur, that there is no substitute for victory. In the Persian Gulf War, the United States changed its mind. As chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Colin Powell reportedly urged for the cessation of hostilities before the U.S. entered Baghdad. The rationale offered not only by Powell, but by our allies in Riyadh and elsewhere, was that we would fracture the almighty coalition President Bush had assembled. Keeping the coalition, some reasoned, was more important than getting the job done. This is like telling your prom date, We’d better stop fooling around because it might result in the wasting of a condom. Whether you think our bellum interruptus was a good idea or not, justifying it for the sake of our coalition was a world-historic example of making the means more important than the ends.
Quick: Regale me with your favorite reminiscences of all the wonderful things the coalition did for the world. Pay homage to the sagacity of this decision. Who can doubt that schoolchildren will talk of the Persian Gulf coalition as the great fulcrum of human progress for millennia to come?
Indeed, there are plenty of excellent geostrategic, legal, and political arguments in favor of regime change in Iraq. For example, the British understood that the second-largest oil producer in the region needed to be, if not a client state, then at least allied with the West. We are still technically at war with Iraq (at least to the extent we were in a declared war with them before), and it is against our interests to be in a state of perpetual war on any nation — it makes us look both cruel and weak.
The most compelling substantive reason, from my point of view, is that Iraq should be a democratic, republican country, with individual rights secured by a liberal constitution. (My preferred governmental model is something along the lines of the Swiss confederation, with Kurds, Shiites, and Arab-Sunnis each having considerable internal autonomy but a shared national government. The country is already split in three parts by the U.S.- and British-imposed no-fly zones anyway.) A democratic Iraq with free-market institutions and the rule of law sounds pretty far-fetched, but it sounded pretty far-fetched for Japan and Germany too. The United States, with the help of its allies, pulled that off.
Indeed, the comparison with Japan is the most apt. Can anyone doubt that Japanese militarism would have been a long-term problem for the United States and the world if we had taken anything less than total victory as an option? And those who decry a war on Iraq as American imperialism should take note: The United States did not try to colonize or acquire Japan or Germany. The United States doesn’t fight wars of conquest, at least not any longer.
But there will be plenty of time later to dissect and debate every argument, good and bad, for toppling Saddam. For now let’s fall back on the Ledeen Doctrine. The United States needs to go to war with Iraq because it needs to go to war with someone in the region and Iraq makes the most sense.
Whether or not Ledeen — a historian and student of Machiavelli — was being tongue-in-cheek when he made the suggestion, there’s an obvious insight to it.
I know — from painful experience — that there are lots of people out there who subscribe to the bumper-sticker slogan “peace through strength is like virginity through f**king.” I had to argue with such folks through all of college (and much of high school). Such statements are black holes of stupidity — idiocy is crammed into such a small space that it folds upon itself and bends all reason and logic in its proximity. If peace cannot be attained through strength, I invite one of these bespectacled, purse-carrying, rice-paper-skinned, sandalistas to walk out into a prison yard. Let’s see how receptive Tiny and Mad Dog are to entreaties over the futility of violence. “Sir, there’s no need for fisticuffs, I would be glad to share my Snapple with you. Can’t you see this sort of conflict is precisely what the multinational corporations want?”
International relations is much more like a prison yard than like a college seminar at Brown. Yes, relations between democracies may be cordial — but that is an argument for turning Iraq into one, not for leaving it alone. It’s ironic: All of these people who think it imperative that the United States broker peace in the Middle East seem to think it’s a coincidence that the United States is the dominant military power in the world. If military might means nothing, why aren’t the Arabs and Israelis bending to the will and rhetoric of the Belgians or the Swiss?
It is impossible to read about the Middle East for any length of time and not conclude that that the Arab world respects power and the willingness to use it more than anything else. When Secretary of State Powell went on his “successful peace” mission last week, he was referred to everywhere as “General Powell,” not Secretary Powell, for the simple reason that being a general is considered a lot more impressive over there than being a diplomat.
There is nothing we want to see happen in the Middle East that can be accomplished through talking around long tables festooned with bottled water and fresh fruit at Swiss hotels, that cannot be accomplished faster and more permanently through war. But there is plenty that cannot be achieved by such gabfests that can only be achieved through war.
America’s power and influence in the Middle East reached its height after the Gulf War. The Palestinians and Israelis had no choice but to do what we asked. Our “Arab allies” had no choice but to support our efforts. The Europeans may have grumbled about how unfair it was that the United States was calling the shots, but considering the ongoing fire sale of European moral authority, we should get used to the background noise of European grumbling. Like the noise pollution that comes with a construction site, the United States will hear such whines for the duration no matter what we do.
Wouldn’t an invasion of Iraq result in instability in the region? Yes. But in this context, instability is more likely to be good than bad. In Iran, students chant “U-S-A! U-S-A!” at anti-government protests. What would be so terrible if this sentiment were encouraged? The Saudis dread the idea of our toppling Saddam, even though Saddam wanted to invade Saudi Arabia. Why? Because the notion that authoritarian regimes can be changed terrifies these overfed and fanatical monarchs. The Saudis have been financing and exporting precisely the sort of extremist ideology which created Osama bin Laden and his cadres, including in this country. So if the Saudis were to tumble in the years to come, I would not weep. The only Muslim country we’d owe some explanations and deference to is Turkey, but that can be worked out.
Would the Arab regimes declare war on the United States, and perhaps on Israel too? Maybe, but I think that’s doubtful. Israel alone has defeated the combined might of the Arab world more than once. If a tiny nation of a few million Jews can beat the pants off them, as it were, I somehow doubt Syria and Egypt would be much interested in the losing proposition of taking on the United States and perhaps Britain — especially when we made it clear that we were looking at Iraqi regime change along the lines of the Afghan model. Many Arab nations would have to decide which side of history they wanted to be on and since they tend to side with the winners, they wouldn’t be joining Iraq.
(I’m no general, but it seems to me the only real military fear would be a Chinese invasion of Taiwan while we were distracted elsewhere. But the Chinese, too, understand that the world works according to the rules of the prison yard, not of the seminar, and could be warned off.)
But let’s be clear: The hope is to do good for the Iraqi people in particular and the Arab world in general. Nothing would serve U.S. interests more than a U.S.-backed Iraq growing in prosperity and contentment and thereby leading by example for the entire region. Is there any doubt that the vast majority of Arabs would prefer to live under Western levels of prosperity? That is, after all, why so many of them want to move to the United States and Europe. If you have concerns about immigration from the Arab world, you might consider that the best way to keep immigrants out is to make it so that they don’t want to leave in the first place.
The first and only way to make that possible is to win. The Arab world respects winners and so does everybody else.
It’s not less true for being a cliché; success breeds success. In the world of sports we talk of streaks and strings of victory. The phrases “we’re on a roll” and “the big Mo” suggest that many of us believe there’s an actual law of nature to this phenomenon. Things roll because of gravity, after all. Momentum builds according to the laws of physics. Bodies in motion tend to stay in motion. Winning sports teams tend to win. Psychologists, coaches, and fans may have competing theories as to why this is true, but we all have an innate sense that it is so.
But just as international relations isn’t a seminar, it’s not a game either. You see, if the Giants destroy the Redskins 70-0 on Sunday, some other team will still play the Giants the following weekend. The coach of the Eagles won’t look at the staggering Giants victory and say, “Hmmm. We better keep our forces in reserve.” If the worst team in the country is scheduled to play the best team in the country, the worst team still has to play.
It doesn’t work that way in the state-of-nature of the prison yard. Fighting and winning today means not having to fight at all tomorrow — and maybe, just maybe, changing the rules of the prison yard so that it’s not a prison yard at all anymore.