March 22, 2007
We must stand for victory In Iraq
(Page 2 - Previous Page)Even the often-repeated assertion that Iraq had nothing to do with al-Qaida is not correct -- or at least, is premature. It ignores, for example, the 9-11 Commission, which noted that two al-Qaida members reportedly met with Iraqi intelligence in March 1998, and that an Iraqi delegation went to Afghanistan to meet bin Laden in July 1998. Until the Iraqi archives are fully explored, truthful people will reserve judgment on the nature of the relationship between Saddam and bin Laden.
All these relationships with Islamists have been disrupted by the liberation of Iraq. If we succeed in helping Iraq toward a future of liberal democracy, the Islamists will have been robbed of an important state sponsor.
Liberating Iraq was justified. The Bush administration relied heavily on the threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction to support its ultimatum and invasion. But failure to find WMD does not mean that the war was retrospectively illegitimate.
After all, it's a fact that Saddam had chemical weapons at one time: he used them against the Iranians and against the Kurds in the 1980s. It's a fact that Israel thwarted his goal of becoming a nuclear power by bombing the Osirak reactor in 1981. It's a fact that he impeded the WMD inspectors after the first Gulf War. It's a fact that the infrastructure remained in place for the resumption of WMD development after the end of sanctions. It's a fact that the available intelligence was not definitive. The question thus isn't, "Were there in fact Iraqi WMD at the beginning of the war?" but rather, "Did Bush act reasonably?"
The claim that "Bush lied us into a war" is dishonest. It suggests that Bush knew that the search for WMD would come up empty, invaded anyway, and was wrong to do so. It would be more truthful to say that he believed Saddam was harboring WMD; that he wasn't alone in believing it; that there was good reason to believe it; and that, given the nature of WMD and of Islamists, it was prudent to resolve any doubt as he did.
Moreover, WMD were not the only justification for the war. Saddam was a monstrous tyrant, awash in blood, dangerous to his neighbors and his own people. And, as noted above, supporting liberalization in the Arab world should be a primary foreign policy objective. These considerations, too, justify the liberation of Iraq.
Critics raise the question: Why Iraq? Why not Iran, or Syria, or even Saudi Arabia? Frankly, after Sept. 11 there were a lot of valid targets in the Middle East. Since one can't do everything at once, one has to start somewhere. Since any choice could be criticized ex post facto as the wrong choice, one suspects that the criticism may be a veiled counsel to do nothing.
Bush's bungling of Iraq strategy does not invalidate the premises of the war. The above analysis is not refuted by the current situation in Iraq, because incompetent execution of a policy logically cannot invalidate that policy.
There has never been an error-free military campaign. Moreover, any risky policy is likely to be regarded as brilliant -- if it works; or idiotic -- if it fails.
Still, while "Bush lied" is doubtful, "Bush blundered" is undeniable.
The principal mistake has been that Bush never committed enough troops to simultaneously combat insurgents and jihadists, provide security to Iraqis, control the borders, and train the Iraqi military and police. The continuing emphasis has been on the "light footprint," even as it became clear that it wasn't working.
In addition, notwithstanding Bush's "stay the course" rhetoric, our posture in Iraq has always been poised to head for the exits. Almost from the moment we liberated Iraq, we regularly announced troop reductions that had to be hastily cancelled in the face of stepped-up violence. This does nothing but encourage our enemies to believe we lack the will to outlast them.
However, the theory of Muslim democratization has not been disproved in Iraq, because Bush never properly tried it. He seems to have imagined that instant elections would result in overnight democracy. In fact, elections should come as the culmination, not the starting point, of the process of liberalization. An efficient and non-corrupt police force, an independent judiciary, and a commitment to politics instead of violence -- these are among the prerequisites for liberal democracy. By short-changing this difficult evolution, Bush set the stage for illiberal forces to endanger Iraqi democracy.
Still, the need to confront Islamism, the propriety of promoting Muslim liberalization, the desirability of overthrowing Saddam -- these haven't changed, however badly the war has been executed up to now.
We have not been defeated in Iraq. We are unlikely to be defeated, unless we give up. Until recently, Bush has been unable or unwilling to learn from his mistakes -- the deadliest error of all. Finally, this is changing. The troop escalation, combined with a new strategy for using them, may turn the tide.
Or maybe not. If it doesn't work, we'll have to try something else. America surely has the resources, and the resourcefulness, to sustain the nascent Iraqi democracy and defeat its foes.
But nurturing a democratic transformation is not the work of a day, or a year, or perhaps even a decade. Our own democracy took many generations to mature, and remains imperfect. We must take the long view in the Middle East. Our enemies do.
Whatever happens in Iraq, the war against Islamism will continue. We must win. Many seem to believe that if we abandon Iraq, our lives will be tranquil again.