Saturday, September 18, 2004

The Iraq War (op-ed piece)

Defend, Extend...and Relax
September 18, 2004


I know plenty of people who typically lean more toward the right, politically, but remain undecided about the upcoming election. The reason? Extreme paranoia over the situation in Iraq. “We were wrong about weapons of mass destruction,” they say. “Our Middle East presence is producing and inflaming terrorists, and our actions have alienated the rest of the world.” Perhaps there are those who, as a poster sarcastically reads, believe that “liberating Iraqi children from tyranny” is “co$ting too much!” Some even claim the Iraq war was illegal and unconstitutional.

Dismissing that last group for now, the question is this: Will our intervention in Iraq end up being worth it? Let’s look back at what this war was about.

The two broad reasons for war are both pillars of President Bush’s foreign policy platform: defending and extending the peace. Bush emphasized the former in the build-up to war, Iraq being in large part a response to 9/11 and a component of our global war on terror.

Iraq, he said, was a threat to peace. Saddam Hussein had:

• defied the world and deceived inspectors in the face of years of U.N. resolutions;
• possessed, used, and pursued WMD (and the entire world, including all the best intelligence agencies, believed strongly that he still held them – an assumption necessitated by his failure to comply with the U.N.’s demand for their public destruction);
• supported and trained terrorists;
• invaded his neighbors Iran and Kuwait without justification, resulting in tremendous bloodshed and the further destabilization of the Middle East;
• publicly applauded the events of 9/11;
• attacked and killed Americans;
• and attempted to assassinate former president George H.W. Bush.

Saddam wasn’t just a threat to the surrounding region. For our own security here in America, the war on terror must move beyond the isolated hunt of individual terrorists and groups; it must prevent corrupt regimes from aiding and spawning them in the first place.

Now, some argue that maintaining a military presence in another culture – though temporary – breeds misunderstanding and anger, spurring the recruitment of more terrorists. And undoubtedly, some of this is probably happening. But consider: What would the terrorists prefer? 1) A U.S. presence on the ground in Iraq and around the world – fighting, killing, hunting down and disrupting the plans of terrorists on a daily basis, while working to secure new, anti-terror governments in Iraq and Afghanistan, or 2) U.S. soldiers “safe” at home in America, allowing terrorists to do as they like?

Now that Saddam’s regime is destroyed, other terrorist-sponsoring nations are rethinking their actions; Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Libya are powerful examples of our “you are either with us, or you are with the terrorists” influence. Nefarious governments like these were a key source for dangerous weapons, financial support, and recruits. Is this what the terrorists want?

Besides alleviating a foreseeable threat, some theorize that a new democracy in the Middle East could be the first step en route to greater change toward freedom and away from tyranny and religious delusion. Thus, the very root causes of terrorism would be nullified.

Tyranny, incidentally, is the second major reason for war: extending the peace. Literally hundreds of thousands (to perhaps a million) of Iraqis were murdered at the hands of Saddam’s Ba’athist regime, which was characterized by genocide, torture, execution, repression, and systematic rape. The U.N.’s sanctions, meanwhile, were unfortunately responsible for the deaths of hundreds of children each month from starvation or illness. Undeniably, the Iraq war was a humanitarian effort – the toppling of a brutal dictator to further the cause of freedom.

It is this type of operation, however, that some Europeans abroad and pacifists at home seem averse to. Granted, the fair-minded opposition simply worries about the negative consequences and cost of our well-intentioned actions. Others – including wrong-headed “paleo-conservatives” – obsess about the notion of “state sovereignty,” violation of which is apparently the worst moral crime imaginable. In blind adherence to the ultimate supremacy of a limited principle, these people believe it would be “wrong” not to sit idly by while aliens enslave and persecute the rest of the planet – as long as they don’t go after us, too. Then there are those secularized opponents who have trouble acknowledging the existence of evil. Attempting to advance the ideas of cultural relativism, they fearfully resist those who speak of good and evil – and who wish to act accordingly.

But action stemming from moral resolve is necessary in the global battle against terrorism and despotism. Since 9/11, President Bush has maintained a commitment to targeting terror (terrorists and the threatening regimes largely responsible) and tyranny (which itself breeds terror), fighting for our own freedom and for the freedom of others. It’s about making the world safer, better, and more just.

Bear in mind that a great deal of pragmatism must inform this (neocon?) doctrine, or we might drown from massive ramifications in a complex world. And, of course, we’re very limited in what we can realistically do anyway. (Note that we haven’t intervened militarily in Iran or North Korea.)

But we cannot be unnerved when it comes to protecting civilization by actively defending and extending. Those alarmed by the difficulty of war should keep things in perspective. As President Bush eloquently stated, our actions epitomize what America is all about: “Like generations before us, we have a calling from beyond the stars to stand for freedom. This is the everlasting dream of America…”

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