Of all my posts--both political and pop cultural--the one that has drawn the most attention is the first one. Written over a year ago, my positions on Iraq were, I felt, based on principles. I have watched with great interest the developments in Iraq over the last year and wondered at some of the difficulties and wrong turns. The questions posed me by some of my anonymous critics are questions I had long since asked myself. They are questions I neither took lightly nor dismissed quickly. If my thoughts on the topic seem somewhat disjointed, I apologize, I want to ground my statements in sound reason and logic.
One of the early and continuing criticisms of the war in Iraq was that it was not a war against terror. I think that this critique is fundamentally wrong and misguided for several reasons. At the outset of the war on terror, the stated litmus was any organization or state that sponsored, harbored or aided and abetted terror groups like al-Qaida. In direct response to 9/11 we took the war on terror to the first and most obvious location--Afghanistan. Nearly four years after the invasion and eviction of the Taliban, a stable, democratic, "fiercely anti-terrorist" government is in place and assisting us in our cave to cave manhunt for Osama. Granted, we have not killed Osama, but I think a strong argument can be made that he has been marginalized. We also cannot ignore the fact that since 9/11 there has been no terrorist attack on the US--think about that. In the 4+ years since 9/11, we have been safe from threats on the homeland. I think that is significant. Now, if the goal were simply to kill Osama, we have failed. But remember, the goal was reduce/eliminate the terror threat to the US. Unfortunately that threat neither began nor will it end with OBL. To suggest that our war on terror has been a failure because of our inability to kill OBL ignores the obvious fact that, 'yes Virginia, there are other terrorists.'
It is just this recognition that took us to our next most obvious terror sponsor. It's generally understood in foreign policy studies that those wars that are most successful find themselves grounded in self interest (in this case, for the US) and virtue. This explains why, when given justification for going to war in Iraq we were told that they possessed WMD--at the very least that they had the capacity to produce WMD (still not denied) and there were a list of links between Saddam and terror groups. I mentioned these thoroughly in my first post (remember, money for palistinian suicide bombers, meetings between al-Qaida and Iraqi officials, agreements between the two groups, harboring al-Zarqawi etc.) The virtue portion of the argument was the desire to liberate the oppressed, freeing them from a reign of terror, mass murder, rape and subjugation.
A recently declassified letter from al-Zawahiri to al-Zarqawi confirms what Bush has been telling us all along:
- al Zawahiri explains, the centrality of the war in Iraq for the global jihad
- That, from al Qa'ida's point of view, the war does not end with an American departure.
- He acknowledges the appeal of democracy to the Iraqis.
As well as these points, he shows that he understands the war to win the "hearts and minds" of the Iraqis and that they must fight for popular support until they can gain jihadist rule. He further admits that more than half the struggle is taking place in the "battlefield of the media,"--not the least of which is our own media and its portrayal of the Iraqi struggle for democracy. If, after considering these things, you still doubt the efficacy of fighting the war on terror in Iraq rather than the US, ask yourself, what aren't we doing in the war on terror that we could? Is there some pocket of terrorists hidden away somewhere that we are not fighting? Two of the most important and notorious al-Qaida leaders acknowledge that the fight is in Iraq. This letter brings a lot of vindication to the Presidents stated goals in the war on terror and should be getting more press--unfortunately most major news networks have given it only passing mention.
In the long list of rhetorical questions posed about the situation in Iraq it is suggested that the ongoing struggle in Iraq somehow indicates that it was not the right fight. I could use the same reasoning to suggest that it is. Because we are fighting terrorists and because of the emphasis placed there by al-Qaida (al-Zawahiri and al-Zarqawi), we are engaged in exactly the right battle. The vast majority of Americans, though still unsure about the reasons for going to war, understand the need to stay the course. In a Senate vote this last week, members voted overwhelmingly (97-0) in favor of increased funding for the war. They (dems and reps alike) may spew anti-Iraq rhetoric, trying to distance themselves from the decision to go to war, but they understand that it is important that we finish the job. In a recent article written by George Melloan, he notes that it is important that we don't let the fanatics derail the democratic process. In January Iraq had their first free elections and they were an overwhelming success. Images and stories of Iraqis defying threats and showing their thumb stamps (sign they had voted, symbolic of their stand for democracy) were many, and in many cases overwhelming as we watched the story of democracy unfold. Melloan notes that we dealt with similar religious fanaticism in Japan. There the suicide bombers were called kamikazes and they were responsible for killing 4,900 US servicemen. Even after occupation of Japan, we still spent many years helping Japan to build a democracy. They transformed from our most bitter enemies to being one of our closest allies--an ally with whom we trade heavily and who has supported us if not militarily, then financially and in non-combat support in Iraq.
The refrain that our war in Iraq has created more terrorist than it has killed is repeated ad nauseum. Just because you say it doesn't make it true. Charles Krauthammer points out in an article from Time magazine dated July 18, 2005 that al-Qaida's terror network was established and their terrorists recruited during the 1990's. All this occurred during the "successful" term of President Clinton. He further notes that it was during this period that we came to the aid of three muslim groups, the Bosnians, Kosovars, and the Kuwaitis. "Yet," he notes, "it was precisely during that era of good feeling that al-Qaeda not only recruited for but also conceived, planned and set in motion the worst massacre of Americans in history. So much for the connection between American perfidy and anti-American terrorism." His column merits quoting at greater length. He continues, " let's assume, for the sake of argument, that there are Muslims energized by Iraq--who were not energized by Western colonialism, American imperialism, Hollywood decadence, the Roosevelt-Saud alliance, the Afghan war, Zionism, feminism or other alleged outrages against Islam. They were living contentedly, tending their shoe shop in Riyadh, and all of a sudden they discovered the joys of jihad and the lure of heavenly posthumous sex awaiting them at the other end of a suicide bombing. The fact is that the war on terrorism is a very long war. It is not decided by a battle here or there. It would not have been won by stopping in Afghanistan and spending the rest of our lives going cave to cave looking for bin Laden and his henchmen. Kill him and shut the cave, yet jihadism would continue. It would continue because it is a sickness incubated within Arab/ Islamic culture, a toxic combination of repression, corruption, intolerance and fanaticism, fed by tyrannical regimes eager to deflect popular anger from themselves onto the American infidel. Until that political culture changes fundamentally, jihadism will thrive."
He concludes (and I wholeheartedly and in very principle agree) that the the only long-term answer in the war on terror is the spread of democracy. Today, instead of listing Iraq and Afghanistan as threats we can list them as allies, catalysts, examples of democracy and defiance--defiance against religious fanaticism as our allies in the war on terror, and catalysts for change in the Middle East. Already we have seen voluntary disarmament by Libya, democratic uprisings in Lebanon, freer elections in Jordan, Egypt and even Palestine. Rather than cause instability, I firmly believe that staying the course in Iraq and Afghanistan will lead to greater stability--not a deceptive stability like the stability of the '90's that lead to 9/11 but the stability that comes from the spread of democracy and the eradication of the very things that foster and cultivate radicalism and terrorism. We can, as some have suggested, cut our losses and get out of Iraq. This would, I think, be a huge mistake. The consequences of withdrawal, as Caleb Carr, a professor teaching military history at Bard points out, is a loss in the war on terror. Pulling out of Iraq would simply show fear and disunity and would only serve to feed terrorists desire to thwart the spread of democracy and appease them in the tradition of Chamberlain and Hitler. Democracy, liberty and freedom--all too often nebulous or amorphous and taken for granted in the US--are being felt and experienced for the first time by Iraqis. This week they will vote to ratify their Constitution--one conceived and written and debated by their own elected representatives. That is power terrorists cannot mimic.