From a reader:
I was disappointed to read your latest column wherein you discussed your change of mind on the wisdom of invading Iraq. As a currently serving Marine in Iraq it was especially disappointing to find such a formerly strong supporter of our push to remove Saddam now claim that it was all just a big mistake. I admit that the depth of my disappointment might have been somewhat less if I had not read it after attending a memorial service for Marines of my unit recently killed in action. Nevertheless, without commenting on the wisdom of our current strategy in this theater, let me explain why the invasion was necessary.
The people of this part of the world respect two things; strength and weakness. They grudgingly respect the former while gleefully celebrating and exploiting the latter. When Saddam thumbed his nose at UN resolutions we championed, not to mention the terms of the first Gulf War ceasefire, he sent an unmistakable message to the dictators and terrorists of the world that America was not strong enough to promote, let alone maintain, its interests in international affairs. Our failure to remove him from power in the first Gulf War as well as our ham-fisted response to his refusals to comply with the terms of the ceasefire only supported this perception. As the world began to learn how the oil-for-food scandal was only enriching Saddam even our so called “containment” policy began to make us look weak. When one adds to these failures our less than adequate responses to Al Qaeda’s attacks throughout the 90s it is no wonder why thugs like Bin Laden saw America as a paper tiger. Saddam attempted to assassinate a former U.S. President and shot at our planes as they patrolled the no-fly-zones and our response to these acts of war amounted to nothing more than lobbing a few Tomahawk missiles into Iraq and harsh words at the UN. It is hard for me to imagine anything that would send a clearer message of weakness to the people of the Middle East.
Saddam repeatedly committed acts of war against us while brazenly defying the terms of the cease fire. For that alone he had to be removed, if for no other reason than to demonstrate to the other thugs in the region that such actions will have dire consequences. The only way our nation will remain secure is if the rest of the world sees aggression responded to with overwhelming power. If they believe that attacks of any sort will be met with swift, decisive, and violent action they will think long and hard before provoking us. It is no coincidence that the Iranian radicals that overran our embassy in the seventies left the Soviet Embassy untouched. They feared the Soviets while they viewed America as a weak has-been.
Leaving Saddam in power to strut and defy us would only have furthered the perception that we were weak. The perception of weakness is what invites the Bin Ladens of the world to think they can attack us with impunity. The World needs to be disabused of that misperception.
Me: I think I agree with the vast bulk of this analysis. Indeed, this mirrors many of the arguments I made in favor of the war. But the only place where I would disagree is that I think the the Iraq war has not resulted in the world seeing America’s strength. Or at least that impression has been diminishing over time. I agree entirely that leaving prematurely would send the worst of all possible messages to our enemies and I’m endlessly grateful to the men and women who are fighting both for America’s security and for the triumph of our ideals in Iraq and around the world.