What will it take to win the second great battle of Iraq, the battle against terrorism on Iraqi soil? Thousands of additional Coalition troops and billions of dollars in donor aid will make it easier to hold the line, but I’m afraid it won’t be enough, by itself, to ensure another Coalition triumph there in a year or two. We have to add a new element to the mix, and it’s not another U.N. resolution. It’s another “shock and awe” campaign, this one designed to convince Iraq’s neighbors that when we say they must shut off the flow of foreign terrorists into Iraq, we mean it.
In saying this, I am emphatically not joining the chorus of irresponsibles who constantly repeat the lie that “we have no plan.” We have one, and it’s working: It’s why we defeated the Baathist armies in three amazing weeks. It’s why all the disasters that the naysayers had predicted–millions of civilian casualties, millions of starving refugees, widespread famine and disease, and an oil-related environmental disaster–never happened. It’s why reconstruction is proceeding faster and better in Iraq than it did in Europe after World War II. It’s why all the polls show something like 70 percent of Iraqis are glad we liberated them and hopeful about their future. But when it comes to fighting the terrorist onslaught in Iraq, I’m afraid we’re not winning, not yet. We seem to be holding the line, not gaining ground. Our forces are brave and smart; they score many genuine successes. But somehow, the threat does not diminish. At best, it remains constant.
The problem, I think, is that we’re fighting two terrorist enemies in Iraq: Local, mainly Baathist terrorists, and foreign terrorist infiltrators. Our plan–”hunting them down, one by one”–is the right plan for the locals, but for the foreigners, something more is needed. Foreign infiltrators don’t just increase the number of terrorists attacking Coalition forces and the Iraqis who fight beside them. They also bring in foreign state influence and subversion, targeting Shiites as well as Sunnis; and they bring expertise–the latest in terror warfare methods from all over the Middle East and beyond. They attack us in better-planned, more-lethal ways, and they cooperate and compete to organize and train the locals. At best, the inflow of foreign terrorists into Iraq makes our job harder, longer, and bloodier than it would otherwise be. At worst, it threatens to make our job endless. After all, the supply of local terrorists may be sizeable, but it’s intrinsically limited and, thanks to the hard, steady work of our forces, it’s shrinking. The supply of foreign terrorists is vastly larger, and it’s not shrinking. In fact, it’s growing, because failed despotic states in the Middle East and beyond see a free and prosperous Iraq as a threat, and are working feverishly to prevent its emergence. Protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, many states are encouraging the flow of foreign terrorists into Iraq.
President Bush replies that no matter where terrorists come from, it’s better to fight them in Baghdad and Tikrit than in New York and Washington, and of course he’s right. I’m grateful, as all Americans should be, to President Bush and our military for moving the main terrorist battleground away from our shores and back into the region that spawned these monsters. But it would be better yet to move them out of Iraq too, because we don’t want only to kill terrorists, but also to turn Iraq into a proof that Arabs, too, can enjoy the blessings of liberty. And it will be hard to achieve that goal if Iraq remains a battleground where terrorist gangs from all over the Islamist world compete to see who can kill the most Americans and American allies.
Can we shut off the flow, or at least reduce it to a trickle? I think we can. Foreign terrorists may come from all over the world, but almost all of them enter Iraq through only three of her border states: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Syria. All three are police states. They could pretty well seal up their borders if they wanted to–and we need to make them want to, by convincing them that the cost of not doing so is more than they can afford. Some members of Congress have been moving in the right direction on this score for a while now. The Syrian Accountability Act, long championed by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R., Fl.) and other American stalwarts, will raise the price that Syria-the most financially vulnerable of the three terrorist-harborers-must pay (in sanctions) for its intransigence. It’s a good first step, and this time, President Bush the White House is behind it this time (it had previously withdrew support from a similar bill).
But the odds that this act alone will be enough to make the terrible trio stop funneling terrorists into Iraq are near zero. Saudi Arabia is the fatherland of the Sunni brand of Islamofascist terrorism; Iran (as well as Lebanon) is run by practitioners of the Shiite brand; and Baathist Syria, home of secular Islamofascism, rents space to them all, on her own lands and in Syrian-occupied Lebanon. If the trio respond to our latest demand to shut off the terrorist inflow as they have to all our past demands, they’ll play out a script that reads something like this: Iranian mullahs and Saudi sheiks will increase the large sums they already pay Syria for hosting so many of the remaining terror training camps in the Middle East; thus fortified, Syria will respond to our demands with phony promises and a few insulting token gestures; and the terrorist inflow will continue.
When that happens, I don’t think we should respond by going to the U.N. again, or otherwise telegraphing our punches. I think we should launch a shock-and-awe campaign aimed at demolishing all the terror training camps on Syrian-controlled turf. Can we do that while still engaged in Afghanistan and Iraq, without stretching our resources too thin? I think we can, because we don’t have to invade Syria or Lebanon to do the job. If ever a task was tailor-made for air power alone, this is it. Syria has no oil, no significant homegrown freedom movement, and no effective air-defense system. What it does have, in the Bekka valley and in the parts of Lebanon that Syria leases out to Hezbollah and its many sub-lessees, is a superabundance of terrorists massed together in places where there are few or no innocent civilians. There, we wouldn’t have to limit ourselves to hunting down terrorists one by one, inevitably losing American lives and the lives of our friends in the process. Rather, our bombs could take out large numbers of terrorists all at once. Such a victory would dry up the flow of terrorists into Iraq from Syria and make Saudi Arabia and the mad mullahs who misrule Iran understand, at last, that they too must stop funneling terrorists into Iraq. It would give new hope to the millions of Iranians who are dying to overthrow the corrupt clerics who oppress them and dishonor their religion, and it would have a sobering effect on all those who harbor terrorists, anywhere in the world.
Of course, if George W. Bush does decide to strike Syria, there will be howls of protest from the Franco-German-Belgian axis and from all the U.N. bureaucrats and hangers-on who join them in flattering and appeasing the world’s tyrants and terrorists, in the Middle East and elsewhere. Here at home, the multi-lateral appeasement crowd will provide an amplifier of foreign hysteria. Together, they will accuse President Bush of widening the war, risking the “Armegeddon in the Middle East” that Brent Scowcroft’s think-alikes keep predicting. But if our president decides to strike Syria, he won’t really be widening the war, let alone unleashing some earthshaking new Arab uprising. He’ll be facing up to the war’s actual scope, doing what we must do to win–and the “Arab street” will not “explode.” The hate-crazed Arab mobs will be cowed, as they were the last two times our 43rd president made it clear that the policy of the past–Rich Lowry calls it “McGovernism without the conscience”–died on September 11 and won’t be resurrected during this president’s term. State Department siren-songs notwithstanding, nothing we can ever do will make fascist fanatics love us. But we can and must make them fear us.
Syrian-occupied Lebanon–Hezbollah land–is important symbolically as well as strategically, because the terror war began there 20 years ago. American marines were in Lebanon then, in Beirut, serving as peacekeepers in a land where there was no peace to keep. Lebanon, once the freest, most progressive, and most democratic state in the Arab world, was in the midst of a civil war: Islamists were battling moderate Arab Muslims, Arab Christians, and an international medley of entrepreneurial others who once found Lebanon a safe and congenial place. Hezbollah, a Shiite terrorist group, had a population larger than that of its opponents, experienced terrorist allies from Sunni terror groups like the PLO, and a steady supply of money and weapons from the terrible trio. Hezbollah had no interest in compromise or peace. Its jihadis were determined to seize control of Lebanon, subjugate all local Arabs who opposed them, and drive the Americans out–and they succeeded. Hezbollah terrorists launched a brutal attack on our marines, asleep in their barracks, massacring 241 of them. And we collected our dead and went home.
Most Americans saw this dangerous retreat as an isolated event; many recall it only vaguely now. But terrorists everywhere remember it well. They still celebrate it as a great victory for their side and a precedent-setting defeat for ours, proof-positive that, despite our size, we are a weak, confused, and cowardly nation, easily defeated by smaller, more courageous and committed Islamist warriors. That false belief was reinforced again and again in subsequent years, most dramatically, perhaps, in Somalia. But most Americans didn’t connect the dots, didn’t grasp the fact that we were at war, until terrorists from a copycat Sunni terrorist group, al Qaeda, mounted an even bloodier attack on us on September 11, 2001. Afterwards, most of us understood that war was upon us. But we have tended to focus exclusively on the threat from al Qaeda and its offshoots, forgetting Hezbollah altogether or seeing it as a menace to Israel only. In Afghanistan, we deposed al Qaeda and its Taliban allies, and now its terrorist forces are scattered and its leaders are dead or in hiding, while the men who despoiled Lebanon, murdered our sons, and drove us out of Lebanon still strut about, free and unafraid, and rule openly. Hezbollah isn’t in hiding; it’s in parliament. It has big, secure bases in Lebanon and Syria; it’s hurting our efforts to stabilize Iraq; and it’s expanding its global reach in places like the tri-border region of Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil.
It’s time, I think, to make Hezbollah and all its admirers understand that there are no exceptions to the rule: If you attack Americans, America will bring you to justice, or bring justice to you.
–Barbara Lerner is a freelance writer in Chicago.