Opponents of the war in Iraq, both original critics and the mea culpa recent converts, have made eight assumptions. The first six are wrong, the last two still unsettled.
1. Saddam was never connected to al Qaeda, the perpetrators of 9/11.
2. There was no real threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.
3. The United Nations and our allies were justifiably opposed on principle to the invasion.
4. A small cabal of neoconservative (and mostly Jewish) intellectuals bullied the administration into a war that served Israel’s interest more than our own.
5. Saddam could not be easily deposed, or at least he could not be successfully replaced with a democratic government.
6. The architects of this war and the subsequent occupation are mostly inept (“dangerously incompetent”)–and are exposed daily as clueless by a professional cadre of disinterested journalists.
7. In realist terms, the benefits to be gained from the war will never justify the costs incurred.
8. We cannot win.
First, notice how the old criticism that Saddam was not connected to al Qaeda has now morphed into a fallback position that “Saddam was not connected to September 11″–even though the latter argument was never officially advanced as a casus belli.
Opponents have retreated to this position because we know that al Qaeda cadres were in Kurdistan, and that al Zarqawi fled to Baghdad, as did a mastermind of the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, Abdul Rahman Yasin.
The Clinton administration in 1998 officially cited Iraqi agents as involved in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. That is part of the reason why the U.S. Senate, not the Bush administration, authorized a war against Saddam in October 2002: ” Whereas members of al-Qaeda, an organization bearing responsibility for attacks on the United States, its citizens, and interests, including the attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, are known to be in Iraq.”
From the slowly emerging Baathist archives, we are learning that for more than a decade Saddam’s agents had some contacts with, and offered help to, al Qaeda operatives from the Sudan to the Philippines.
The issue is closed: Saddam Hussein’s regime had a mutually beneficial association with al Qaeda. All that remains in doubt is the degree to which Iraq’s generic support enabled al Qaeda to pull off operations like September 11. It may be that Saddam and Osama, in their views of Islam and jihad, were as antithetical to one another as Japanese and Germans were in attitudes about racial superiority. But in both cases, rogues find common ground in their opposition to hated Western liberalism
Second, we know now that worries over Iraqi weapons of mass destruction were both justified and understandable. Postwar interviews with top Iraqi generals reveal that Saddam’s own military assumed that his stockpiles of WMDs were still current–confirming the intelligence estimates from Europe and most of the Arab world.
In addition, Iraqi arsenals of WMDs, in the judgment of both the Clinton administration and the United Nations, were still unaccounted for in March 2003. And even if the stocks were moved or destroyed, the prerequisites for the rapid mass-production of biological and chemical agents–petrodollar wealth, scientific expertise, alternate-use facilities, and a will to produce and use them–were met in Saddam’s Iraq.
Third, the opposition of the United Nations to the invasion lacks any moral significance, given the postwar revelations that the $50 billion Oil-for-Food scandal not only led to thousands of starved Iraqi civilians, but also enriched both Saddam’s family and U.N. insiders themselves. Europe’s opposition may have seemed ethical, but when one learns of French and Russian oil deals with Saddam, and German construction projects that fortified Saddam’s own Führerbunker, European principle too evaporates into nothing.
Fourth, the charge of neocon plotting has now reemerged under a patina of academic respectability in a recent paper by Professor John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Harvard Kennedy School of Government academic dean Stephen Walt. “Some Americans believe that this was a war for oil, but there is hardly any direct evidence to support this claim. Instead, the war was motivated in good part by a desire to make Israel more secure.” At the tip of that Jewish spear was a “band” that was “small,” but of course still “a driving force”: “Within the US, the main driving force behind the war was a small band of neo-conservatives, many with ties to Likud.” Instead of silly allegations of conspiracy theories, we are lectured ad nauseam that an “Israeli lobby” got us into Iraq.
This recrudescence of blaming Israel first is false for a variety of obvious reasons. Likud opposed much of American strategy. That is why Ariel Sharon was hated by his former base–and why there is now a new political party in Israel that suffers the same charge that it caves to American pressures all too easily. And far more influential than Israel in American academia and politics is the role of Gulf State petrodollars and worry over Middle East oil.
There is no need for an Israeli lobby in the United States, not when nearly 70 percent of the American people support Israel because it is an atoll of Western democratic values in a sea of theocracy and dictatorship. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, Rice–no Jews there, just plenty of hard-headed veterans who are not easily hoodwinked by supposedly clever Straussians in the shadows.
Our point man in Iraq, who prior to the war urged the removal of Saddam Hussein, is Ambassador Zalmay M. Khalilzad–a Muslim and an Afghan-American. And our current general in charge of all American troops at Centcom in the Middle East, General John Abizaid, is an Arab-American. Meanwhile, the U.S. pressured Israel to get out of Gaza, to support elections on the West Bank that led to the victory of Hamas, and to dismantle more settlements.
Fifth, after the three-week victory of April 2003, we have now forgotten the earlier prognostications of millions of refugees, oil wells afire, and thousands of dead that were to follow in Iraq. Twenty-three hundred American fatalities are grievous losses, but must be weighed against three successful elections, and the real chance that such sacrifice might result in the first true Arab democracy emerging in Iraq, with ramifications beyond the Middle East for generations to come. Currently, tens of thousands of Iraqis are the only Arabs in the world who daily risk their lives to fight al Qaeda terrorists–something that just may be in America’s interest.
Sixth, we have not had another September 11. Two-thirds of the leadership of al Qaeda is dismantled. Fifty million people have voted in Iraq and Afghanistan. Syria is out of Lebanon. The Middle East is in democratic turmoil from the Gulf to Egypt and Libya, not mired in the old autocratic stasis. The Europeans are waking up to the dangers of Islamism as the Western world seeks to deal with a nuclear Iran.
Weigh that success against the behavior of the media that sees mostly American incompetence. At CBS, Dan Rather insisted to us that a clearly forged memo, but one that fit his own ideological agenda, was authentic. Michael Isikoff relied on one anonymous–and unreliable–source about the purported desecration of a Koran that had serious consequences for thousands in the Middle East. CNN’s executive Eason Jordan admitted that his network passed on coverage of a mass-murdering Saddam Hussein–and later he wrongly alleged that the American military deliberately targeted journalists in Iraq.
Now we hear Time Baghdad Bureau Chief Michael Ware, in a drunken, live interview (“In fact, I’m drinking now…I try to stay as drunk for as long as possible while I’m here”) from the heart of dry Muslim Iraq, recklessly throwing around charges that American soldiers are guilty of manhandling Iraqi women (“We’ve seen allegations that women have been mishandled or roughly handled. That always inflames passions”) and terrorizing civilians (“We’ve also seen insurgents criticize other insurgent groups, ’cause you’re not doing enough to get the chicks out! I mean, that’s how important it can be, this is a matter of great honor, and it’s a spark”). Ware’s are precisely the lies and fantasies that feed the Islamists.
Indeed, the better example of ineptitude in this war lies with the media that demands from others apologies for incompetence that it will never offer itself. Few professions today ask so much of so many others and so very little of themselves.
Seventh, we won’t know the ultimate judgment of costs and benefits in Iraq until its parliament convenes and the executive government is formed and operates. If we leave now and a Lebanon follows, then, of course, the invasion was a costly mistake. If we secure the country for a constitutional government that brings freedom, order, and prosperity to its long-suffering people, then it will be the most welcomed global development since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Had the British and Americans quit in 1943–after Pearl Harbor, the fall of Singapore and the Philippines, the Kasserine Pass, Tobruk, and other assorted disasters–then the carnage of 1939 to 1943 would have properly been seen as a tragedy that led not to emergence of a free Europe and a reborn Japan, but as needless sacrifice against the unstoppable juggernaut of Asian and German fascism.
As for the eighth complaint that we cannot win (or “the war is lost”), the verdict is still in the future and depends mostly on us.
Our military cannot be defeated by either the Islamists or their autocratic supporters. We have the right strategy of hunting down terrorists, securing the homeland, and insidiously, but carefully, promoting democratic reform in the Middle East (an impossible notion, by the way, with the sinister presence of an oil rich and genocidal Saddam Hussein, given his history of attacking four of his neighbors.)
We have even articulated, at last, an exegesis of the dangers of radical Islam–why it hates Western freedom and how it thrives on the oil, misery, and dictatorship of the Middle East.
There remains this last unknown–how well can a liberal democracy, in its greatest age of affluence, leisure, and self-critical reflection, still fight a distant war against emissaries of the Dark Ages who seek to behead apostates, blow up democrats, and silence with death writers, journalists, and cartoonists. It is not just our democratic values versus their IEDs, but whether our idealism still has the resilience to defeat their nihilism.
Or put more directly: Can Western enlightenment and power, embedded in deep cynicism, still prevail over ignorance and self-inflicted pathology energized by fanaticism?