Politics & Policy

To Iraq or Not to Iraq?

Iraq, Now? Round II.
(To read Round I, click here.)


If Saddam Hussein’s Iraq weren’t involved in global terrorism, it is possible that the containment strategy Mr. Bandow recommends might work. But he is, so it cannot.

For more than a decade, the world has known that Saddam supports, funds, and trains terrorists. About 50 miles from Baghdad, at the huge training facility at Salman Pak, terrorists from Hezbollah, Hamas, and probably al Qaeda, have been trained in terrorist operations. Open sources have published some of the reconnaissance photographs of the Boeing 707 aircraft fuselage used there to train hijackers. And Salman Pak is only one of several terrorist bases in Iraq.

Outside Iraq, Saddam’s financial blessing reaches the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. Each family is given about $25,000. The amount can be higher, if the attack kills an unusually large number of people. Israeli intelligence has provided dozens of pages of documents showing these payments, including canceled checks. In short, Saddam is hip-deep in terrorism, and eliminating him won’t draw resources from the war against terror. Those resources will be used directly against one of the major state sponsors of terror: Saddam’s Iraq. Taking Saddam out of the picture makes terror less likely, not more.

War will not result in the loss of fragile allies such as Pervez Musharraf. If we remove Saddam, and establish a free Iraq, the force of our national resolve will have been demonstrated conclusively. Allies will be strengthened, not weakened. Conversely, if Saddam’s Iraq becomes a nuclear power, there is great risk that Turkey could fall into the hands of Islamic fundamentalists. If it did, our interests in the Middle East would suffer hugely, perhaps fatally. If Turkey fell, there would be no room for a moderate Muslim government anywhere in the region.

Muslim fundamentalists will never give up their artificial grievances against us, but they will understand that we cannot be threatened with impunity. Build all the schools and hospitals you want in the Middle East, Senator Murray. The only thing we can do to reduce this “grievance environment” is to teach a different lesson than we have for over a decade. One reason America is a favorite target for Islamic terror is that we have refused to act decisively when threatened. Contrast President Reagan’s sending the F-111s to visit Khadaffi’s personal encampment with Mr. Clinton’s decision to tickle Saddam with a couple of Tomahawks in 1998.

There’s only one reason Saddam hasn’t packed his money and fled to the Old Terrorists’ Home in Tripoli: He thinks we still play by Mr. Clinton’s rules, and that regardless of the provocation, we will not act decisively and remove him once and for all. Once the lesson is delivered in Iraq, others will be less anxious to threaten us. It matters not one little bit if the fundamentalists have another excuse to join the active terrorists. We cannot peacefully co-exist with terrorists. It is necessary that Islamic fundamentalists be made to fear us now, and in the future. It is necessary that the world learn the lesson that America will act decisively, and we will not be bribed, threatened, or simply talked out of taking the measures we need to defeat terror.

Proliferation is a reality we have to stop, not a danger we have to prevent from arising. For example, North Korea’s only cash crop is ballistic missiles, to the tune of about $800 million a year in exports. It is nothing more than wishful thinking to believe the North Koreans — or the Iraqis or the Iranians — will stop proliferating weapons because we ask them to. A nuclear-armed Iraq — able to sell those weapons, and to threaten Israel and Turkey — is inevitable unless we take Saddam down.

Deterrence works only with adversaries that don’t believe they can attack anonymously. All terrorists — and those such as Saddam, who support them — count on anonymity to protect them. If a smallpox attack is made against a major American city, who will we destroy with our nuclear arsenal? There are no DNA samples to trace VX gas or fingerprints on nuclear weapons. You cannot deter Saddam, you can only destroy him. Saddam delendus est.

Jed Babbin was a deputy undersecretary of defense in the first Bush administration, and is the author of the novel, Legacy of Valor. He now often appears as a defense commentator on the Fox News Channel and MSNBC.

How strange that those who want America to adopt a policy of preemption forget which country is the overwhelming superpower and which is the impoverished third-world wreck. They should relax: The U.S. is well able to defend itself without going to war.

Mr. Babbin suggests that Washington view Iraq as Britain and France should have viewed Germany in 1936. Obviously a little historical knowledge is a dangerous thing.

Britain and France were bereft of friends in a divided continent, facing Europe’s most populous and industrialized state, which had defeated France in 1871 and nearly beaten a global coalition in World War I. In contrast, America, the planet’s strongest military power, can obliterate any adversary and is allied with every major industrialized state. It need not fear Baghdad, an impoverished hellhole with an obsolescent conventional force and a desire for weapons of mass destruction that, even if fulfilled, would never match Washington’s arsenal.

Saddam is evil, but nothing suggests that he is suicidal. Saddam never wanted to be an enemy of America: Indeed, two decades ago he was our ally when he fought Iran. He surely would like America to stay out of any conflict — why else discuss Washington’s view of his dispute with Kuwait? But he wasn’t interested then and has no interest now in attacking the U.S.

True, Baghdad might like to dominate the region, but it first has to survive in a tough neighborhood. Look at a map.

There’s Israel, a regional superpower armed with an estimated 200 nuclear weapons. No wonder that Baghdad has never attacked Israel other than during the Gulf War, when Iraq sought to split the allied coalition. And even then Saddam did not use chemical or biological weapons.

There’s Iran, a more populous neighbor that bullied Iraq under both the shah and the mullahs. There’s Turkey, with a military that has destroyed its Kurdish rebellion, dominated Greece, and brought Syria to heel. Then toss in Syria, Jordan, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. Dreaming of Babylon redux can’t make it so.

Support for terrorists is not the same as support for terrorists who attack America. Hamas and Hezbollah murder, but they are focused on Israel, not the U.S. Is that evil? Yes. Is it a threat to America? No.

There are many brutal terrorists in the world, from the IRA in Northern Ireland to the Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines to the Laskar Jihad in Indonesia. Indeed, the bloodiest force which has most commonly relied on suicide bombings is the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka. They are all evil. However, they are not all enemies of America.

As for al Qaeda, desperate attempts to link its attacks on America have come to naught. Even Britain’s Tony Blair has acknowledged that the tie can’t be proved.

And as much as Saddam might like to hit the U.S., whether through al Qaeda or some other way, he knows that he would face catastrophic retaliation for doing so. He could never assume that cooperation with al Qaeda would not be discovered; he knows that he would be suspected in any attack; he is more interested in living than in killing Americans. But all that would change if Washington attacks.

As much as Saddam would like to develop nuclear weapons, he is not believed to possess fissionable material. So, Mr. Babbin worries, Iraq might buy weapons from North Korea and Pakistan. Pakistan, it should be noted, already has helped Pyongyang develop its bomb.

This raises the question why Washington is focused on Iraq when it believes that its own ally — an unstable dictatorship linked to Islamic radicals — is busy arming anti-American regimes? The most serious threats to America are outside, not inside, Baghdad. The Bush Administration has become fixated on a state that has been contained and deterred while ignoring others that pose much greater risks.

The bottom line for Mr. Babbin is that if we don’t bomb Iraq now, we might not be able to bomb it later. That’s an extraordinary basis for a purported republic with limited ambitions to go to war. Never before in America’s history has it expected to be able to attack any other nation at any time that it desired.

Certainly not during the Cold War. Then Washington faced nuclear-armed China and Russia. Preemption was suggested against both states (and tried, with conventional weapons, against the latter). But the U.S., almost certainly wisely, chose deterrence over war.

If preemption has become Washington’s new foreign policy goal, it means almost endless war. There’s North Korea and Pakistan. Perhaps a future, even more radical Hindu government, in India with nuclear weapons. A stronger, more hostile China threatening Taiwan. A left-wing nationalist government in Brazil considering pursuing nuclear weapons. And so on.

The U.S. must decide what kind of nation it desires to be. A globe-spanning empire prepared to meddle and make war to advance ever more distant goals. Or a republic determined to avoid unnecessary conflicts while remaining ready to destroy any threat to its survival and vital interests.

— Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. He is a former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan and visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation.



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