The United States and its coalition partners were right to invade Iraq to depose and disarm Saddam Hussein and we are right to be staying to help the Iraqi people combat a ruthless insurgency and develop a stable, representative government. President Bush made the right strategic decision at the right time.
Why Iraq? This is the first of a very lengthy, four-part post on that question. (Like the Crank, I�m sorry to be short-changing baseball – which I do love – but I feel that these are important issues and that this may be the very biggest.).
As we live in the continuing wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks, America has a responsibility to aggressively confront rogue regimes, allies of terror and repressive dictatorships wherever and whenever it can. Saddam Hussein�s Iraq emphatically fit all three categories.
I strongly disagree with the argument that state sponsors of terror are irrelevant to the Global War on Terrorism simply because the specific terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 were sub-state actors. Following the successful invasion of Afghanistan and the fall of the Taliban, the United States was right to broaden its sights and to act to head off gathering threats, correct festering wrongs and enforce long-ignored international resolutions. The approximately 3,000 victims of September 11th deserve no less.
The main question is where, post-Afghanistan, should the next front have been? Let’s examine that.
Believing that war should be, if not a last resort, certainly not the first one, I reject the notion that our response should�ve been to attack one of our allies. Two examples come to mind.
Michael Moore has disingenuously suggested that, in response to (a) the fact that 15 of the 19 hijackers of 9/11 were Saudis, (b) other legitimately repugnant behavior and (c) several utterly facile conspiracy theories, the United States should have attacked Saudi Arabia. Following such thinking: would the occupation of Mecca and Medina serve as a disincentive to al Qaeda recruiting and win the U.S. support and respect in the Muslim world? Moore is not a serious figure and I will pay him the complement of not taking his ideas seriously.
Similarly, Kevin Drum, motivated by legitimate frustration with Osama bin Laden�s elusiveness as well as myopic partisanship, has previously suggested that President Bush has been irresponsible in not openly invading Pakistan. The invaluable cooperation the Musharraf government is giving the U.S., the very apparent risk of provoking a destabilizing Islamist coup and the resulting threat of nuclear war on the Indian sub-continent are apparently acceptable costs of an anything-but-Bush approach to foreign policy driven by impulsive frustration.
Should we demand, and are we demanding, more of untrustworthy allies like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan? Yes. Are there ways of doing that short of war? You bet.
On to more serious arguments.
During the period in question, the State Department�s list of state sponsors of terror included Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Sudan, North Korea and Cuba, all of which are objectively enemies of the United States.
However, some represented more realistic threats than others. Cuba is primarily a political and ideological enemy of the United States; its support for terror is somewhat incidental to its place on this list. Libya was a long-term enemy of the U.S., but one which had substantially mellowed its behavior, even prior to 9/11. Colonel Qadhafi was aptly characterized as �the rogue who came in from the cold� even before the Iraq invasion prompted his most dramatic reversal of behavior (more on that later) and eventual removal from the list.
Sudan and Syria are legitimate sponsors of terror which are receiving the increased pressure they deserve from the United States. However, Syria�s support for Hezbollah is primarily tied to Lebanese politics and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Most Americans would agree that that is a conflict we should seek to reconcile, not actively fight ourselves. Sudan, as the Darfur crisis indicates, is a repulsive state, but also an absolute basket case. As a hotbed of al Qaeda, it deserves our attention, but is a place where legitimate humanitarian concerns would likely subsume any military mission. In other words, both require vigilant attention, but would�ve been poor choices for immediate post-Afghanistan action.
Which brings us to the �Axis of Evil� � three states, North Korea, Iran and Iraq, which are not really an �axis� because they did not act in concert, but which were led by undeniably �evil� and threatening regimes.
Of the three, Iraq was, by far, the most logical choice to confront first.
In fact, I believe Iraq is the only one of the three that was a good candidate for direct military confrontation.
More on why in Part II.