The following post was written in late October 2002, after my earlier post about the Bali bombings, where I was still trying to work out just how the Iraq War would be related to terrorism. As the post makes clear, the connection did not exist, leaving really only the issue of WMD threat as a reason to support the war.
The question, “how does attacking Iraq solve the problem of terrorism?” is one that needs to be answered, and yet all those who support war on Iraq have shied away or evaded that question completely.
Possible answers that I have seen are:
Answer 1. “Remaking Iraq will bring democracy to the Middle East”
This is beyond speculation and approaches fiction. First, the proposed postwar plans all call for a significant military occupation, most likely a military government, with General Tomy Franks playing the role in Iraq of General MacArthur in Japan. It’s not clear how long or even how successful this will be – and Afghanistan is a great example. Previous imperial powers succeeded in winning the general battle in Afghanistan, but attempts at setting up colonial governments failed miserably. This was true of the British and it seems to be true of the American-supported Karzai government, which really only controls Kabul. And the airport, but that’s because we built an AFB there.
Second, most Arab governments in the middle east would rather see a weak and tyrannical Iraq than a strong and prosperous one. If anything, a strong Iraq (whose creation I am NOT conceding would be a guaranteed outcome of our military action) would cause those governments and regimes to crack down even harder. The most likely effect will be to intensify support of Islamic radicals which are the most effective means of pacification, because when your political authority is cast into religious form, it attains a measure of legitimacy that is very difficult to undermine, without being seen as an attack on faith itself. I think we would see a strengthening of the radicals’ hands, not a weakening.
Answer 2: “Iraq supports terrorism, therefore it is a legitimate target of the War on Terror”
The link between Iraq and 9-11 has been exhaustively researched and it’s fairly obvious at this point that no such link exists. The Bush Administration has admitted as such. Anyway that was a bad road for Bush to take, because if he argued that a weak link to Iraq justified all-out invasion, then what is implied about the much stronger, extensively documented, link between 9-11 and Saudi state-funded Wahabi extremism? All of Bush’s rhetoric about Iraq now centers on his Evil – “tried to kill my dad” etc. This rhetoric solves the problem of undermining his economic and political ties to Saudi Arabia, which he has never criticized, but makes him look like a petty fool, doling out foreign policy on the basis of a vendetta rather than a statesmanlike approach.
Answer 3: “This ISN’T part of the war on Terror, but Saddam is a bigger threat right now”
This answer makes me angry. It wasn’t Iraq that killed 3,000 Americans in NYC and DC, nor was it Saddam who killed 200 Australians (our noblest allies) in Bali. Nor the attacks on American servicemen in Kuwait, or bombing of oil tankers in Yemen.
This hasn’t stopped the Bush Administration’s fervent partisan supporters from asserting:
In truth, the men who “implemented” the “cold-blooded murder of more than 3,000 Americans” are not at large. They are dead; they died in the act of murder, last Sept. 11 … In truth, the “vast majority” of the men who “sponsored” and “planned” the crime are dead also, or in prison, or on the run.
Compare that fantasy to Gore’s speech. In the context of the Bali bombing, who is the disgraceful liar?
None of these answers do the job. If someone, anyone, has more to say that can sway me, I need to hear it. But right now the case is weak. And we will pay the price in the future for misdirecting our attention.
Original post, dated 24th October 2002: “still on the fence”