Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Iraq and the War on Terrorism

I would like to restate the argument and then comment on some related points raised by Steve.

The argument rests on the proposition that the terrorists pose a more immediate threat to us than does Saddam. Neither Peter nor Steve has disputed this, as far as I can tell. Assuming that the terrorists are the more immediate problem, it seems to me that we ought to deal with them first and do nothing that will make it harder for us to deal with them. If invading Iraq makes it harder for us to deal with the terrorists, then we should not invade Iraq. On balance, I believe that invading Iraq will make it harder for us to deal with the terrorists, for the reasons I have given, so I would not now propose an invasion.

Steve objects that Iraq may have supported or even directed al Qaeda’s (AQ) attacks on the United States. He thereby implies that going after Iraq is a way of going after AQ. In my view, at most the available evidence shows that Iraq may have provided some support to AQ. I think that removing that support will not hurt AQ much but does risk making AQ’s job much easier. Weighing the pros and cons in this way leads me to think that going after Iraq now is not the right thing to do.

Both Peter and Steve suggest that attacking Iraq may have salutary consequences beyond removing some (possible) support for the terrorists. Both suggest (Peter citing Max Boot) that using force against Iraq will discourage Islamists and others from attacking us. Boot says “Islamists are emboldened by U.S. weakness (e.g., the pullout from Beirut in 1984 and from Somalia in 1993), not by U.S. strength.” This argument conveniently forgets that it was one of the most effective uses of U.S. strength (the Gulf War) that inspired bin Ladin to attack us.

To return to the issue that began this exchange, on balance, I still think that the Bush administration is pursuing the right policy. It should go without saying that any number of events or new evidence could change this picture. Also, at some point, we will have made sufficient progress against the terrorists that we can turn, for example, to the longer term problem of countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Some related points: Steve believes that the U.S. is too fettered in its use of force. He cites Vietnam to support this claim, saying that we used half measures there. This is not true. Those conducting the ground war got everything they asked for, and used it all. The Air Force was restricted with regard to the timing of its bombing but did eventually get to bomb just about everything it wanted to bomb. The problem in Vietnam was not a lack of force but a bad strategy. Vigorously pursuing a bad strategy does not lead to victory. It leads more quickly to defeat. This is the danger we face in the war on terrorism.

It is also important to point out that it was military leaders who thought up and pursued the bad strategy. Others in the Army—Chief of Staff Harold Johnson and Creighton Abrams, who eventually replaced Westmoreland—thought Westmoreland’s strategy was bad. It is not the case that civilians have fettered the military.

Steve also raises the issue of overt or latent support for the US in the Middle East, suggesting that if it is there, military action will encourage it. It may well be the case that lots of Iraqis would like us to get rid of Saddam. This does not mean that Iraqis will like having us in Baghdad five years later nor does it mean that liberal democracy will bloom in the desert. More generally, polling that has been done shows mixed sentiments toward the US. Iranians like our technology and movies and television, for example, but not our freedom and democracy or the American people. We should not believe that military action on our part will lead to greater support.

Discussions - 1 Comment

Mr. Tucker suggests that this argument "rests on the proposition that the terrorists pose a more immediate threat to us than does Saddam." I think this misses an important point: a danger is characterized not solely by its imminence but also by its peril.

It may well be true that the terrorists provide the more immediate threat; but Hussein’s potential possession of nuclear, radiological, chemical, and biological weapons constitutes the more dire threat, in that the consequences are more perilous to the viability of American policy and even our survival than the consequences of another airline attack or embassy bombing.

Mr. Tucker goes on to argue that "On balance, I believe that invading Iraq will make it harder for us to deal with the terrorists, for the reasons I have given, so I would not now propose an invasion." He does not repeat his argument here, but as I recall, it hinges on the idea that the Arab street will react with fury to our invasion of Iraq and we will lose the support that many consider vital to the success of the war against Islamic terrorism and Islamofascism.

This argument is already adequately answered, I believe, by the point Mr. Tucker cites from Messrs. Shramm and Hayward, who quote Max Boot: “Islamists are emboldened by U.S. weakness (e.g., the pullout from Beirut in 1984 and from Somalia in 1993), not by U.S. strength.” Mr. Tucker responds to this point that, "this argument conveniently forgets that it was one of the most effective uses of U.S. strength (the Gulf War) that inspired bin Ladin to attack us."

But this is paralogical, for the argument is not about what has so ticked off the (likely deceased) Osama Bin Laden -- who, it may be noted, broke with MaK because of Bin Laden’s hatred of the West, where the mainstream Mujahadeen were neutral about the West -- DURING the fight against the Soviets, long before the Gulf War and the presence of American troops on the "sacred soil" of Saudi Arabia.

Rather, the question is about what will "embolden" the Islamists in general... that is, what will motivate thousands of Moslems to take up jihad to fight (and die) alongside unpredictable fanatics like Bin Laden. In this point, Israel’s experience is not ungermane: the current Intifada began NOT after the Lebanon invasion, where Israel showed strength and victory, but rather during the Barak adminstration after Israel offered the Palestinians nearly ever concession they demanded, and after Ehud Barak pulled the Israeli troops out of Lebanon in so disorderly a fashion that it resembled a rout -- withdrawing with such rapidity that they even left armor behind and had to send Israeli warplanes to destroy abandoned Israeli tanks. Clearly, what the Arabs took from this retreat was the idea that Israel was weak... and their response was the wave of homicide bombings. The wave has ebbed and flowed in almost sinusoidal reflection of the flow and ebb of Israeli military action: whenever the Israelis have relaxed their hold and (yet again) tried to offer concessions to the Palestinians, the latter have responded with another brutal attack.

In fact, the previous Intifada began after Rabin brought Yassir Arafat back from exile in Tunisia to plant him in Ramallah and after Rabin began offering the long demanded goal of a Palestinian state. So Mr. Tucker has a tough row to hoe if he wants to persuade us that Arabs respond to concession with anything but escalation, or that they would respond to an American military victory in Iraq with anything but concession... all of which makes war against Iraq urgent not only on its own accord -- because those weapons are so perilous, all by themselves, to America and American interests -- but even in the war against terror, as well.

Dafydd ab Hugh

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