Maintaining Optimism in the Face of Reality. Occasional observations on the state of the world, society, business and politics. Usually anchored by facts, always augmented by opinion.

A Pragmatic Reason for Invading Iraq  | e-mail post

I am surprised I have heard no one mention this, and while it may sound to some a tad bit Machiavellian, I thought I would throw out my opinion of why going to Iraq makes sense from an American security perspective, assuming one does not believe that Saddam Hussein was an imminent threat or that his presence as a destabilizing force in the Middle East was a sufficient reason to use military power to effect Iraqi regime change.

Just in case you want a map to follow along, you can open one in a new window. There are also some handy Iraq facts at AllRefer.com about border lengths, etc.

After 9/11, the U.S. went in and basically made Afghanistan an unsuitable place for Muslin extremists to maintain a base of operations. From all accounts, the ones that weren't killed fled to Pakistan. Pakistan has turned out to be a very staunch ally of the U.S. in the war on terror, making it a pretty poor base of operations. OK, that's two places that are now out of the question for Al Qaeda to operate comfortably.

Iran, another Afghan neighbor, despite continuing deep differences with the U.S. in a number of areas, has enough of a civil society at stake to not want to overtly harbor terrorists. (That is, while Iran would be worried about being bombed into the stone age if it was discovered they were harboring a large terrorist group, Afghanistan was already in the stone age, thanks to Russia.) In addition, democracy is trying to gain a foothold in Iran, despite the theocratic stranglehold, and democracies are not good places for terrorists. Not to mention, the historical tension (i.e. 1998's border skirmishes) between Iran and the Taliban , Al Qaeda's sponsor probably made Iran unappealling. (Certainly Iran claims to have incarcerated numerous Al Qaeda players, but we can't take that as absolute fact, although it is likely.)

India's clearly out of the question, so let's just forget about that option. Al Qaeda attacks against Former Soviet republics like Turkmenistan are largely Muslim, but not entirely so and it seems to be tempered by a more secular aim of the populations of bring their countries forward. In the case of Uzbekistan, the state has very tight controls on the practice of religion. China? Yeah, good one; India's a better choice.

So, if you're a terrorist who needs a base of operations, where should you go? I think you would probably start looking at a primarily Islamic state and one that obviously has no concern whatsoever what the United States might think of your nation. Hmmm?

While the new CIA report suggests that there is no conclusive link between Saddam Hussein himself and Al Qaeda, it seems Zarqawi thought Iraq looked good enough to make at least a common resting point,if not base of operations. And it doesn't seem unreasonable to me that other Al Qaeda operatives would have drifted there.

So, now you have Al Qaeda operatives in a country with the known intellectual capital for creating all kinds of WMDs from mustard and sarin gas to nukes. Whether or not Saddam was on board, or even aware, simply the fact that Iraq would become the nexus of WMD expertise and an organized network of Muslim extremists is very disturbing, and it certainly seems worth breaking up that party, particularly given that there was certainly more than window dressing for doing so, given Hussein's behavior over the prior 12 years.

But, that risk isn't the only reason, that is a preemptive reason. A U.S. military front in Iraq also offers a proactive opportunity in fighting terrorism, using in essence a "roach motel" strategy.

Look again at the map. Iraq is in a pretty central location. It is nearly landlocked other than a 58 kilometer coastline. There are nearly 2,300 miles of border Iraq shares with six Muslim states. They say the Iraqi borders can't be controlled, and terrorists are crossing into Iraq each day? Could someone tell me how that is not to the advantage of the United States? In fact, the more porous the border the better. In a perfect world, every Islamic militant around the globe (and elsewhere, as Mr Kerry might suggest) would flood into Iraq, and with border with six countries, they should all have pretty good access one way or the other.

Might some miltary personnel die? Very likely, yes. Is this tragic? Obviously, however, I feel like the kill ratio is definitely in our favor when we have the best trained military on the offensive fighting terrorists on the defensive in Iraq rather than having terrorists coming into the United States and catching us unaware.

So far, over 1,000 Americans have died in Iraq since the war began. In 2001, over 3,000 Americans died in New York one day before noon. Right now, I think our numbers are still looking pretty good. Good foreign policy must look to long-term national interest, not the short-term, very personal, though admittedly very intense, pain felt by the loss of any American life.

If the loss of American lives were a trump against taking proactive foreign military action, America would not have fought a war in the past century. If a direct attack on America was the only allowable reason for proactive military action, we would only have taken up arms against Japan and Afghanistan in the past 100 years. Hopefully no one will disagree to loudly to my claim that the world would be much, much worse off if that had been our historic policy.

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  |  | Tuesday, October 05, 2004
I will take an adverse approach to your rationale but putting forth an alternative method (obliviously hypothetical since it is too late).

First, I agreed with the war in Afghanistan. It needed to be done, but it should have been finished before moving on. The political atmosphere is still very tenuous and Kazai is more the mayor of Kabul than the president of Afghanistan. If we would have sunk our resources into Afghanistan then we would have had a better "model house" for which to base our arguments. Unfortunately, we over extended ourselves and didn't finish what we started. Opium production is the highest level in 10 years (which funds terrorism) and warlords control most of the country.

After Afghanistan, the US could have taken a diplomatic approach elsewhere. First, we needed to deal with Saudi Arabia. This is really the hot bed of Islamic fundamentalists. We should have pressured democratic changes there without military intervention. We had the justification to exert huge pressure due to the amount of fundamentalists coming out of the country. Without American support, the royal family would have been doomed to destruction by the same Islamic forces that threaten us. Because we claim to spread democracy elsewhere and support a royal family in SA, we lose credibility in respects to perceived motives. Democratic reform in SA would have accomplished many of the same goals that invasion of Iraq without the economic and human costs. and there is always Israel/Palestine that will continue to cause us problems until it is dealt with.

The case against Iraq. Saddam was contained. He was not an immanent threat, nor did he really appear to be a long term threat (3-5 years). Saddam and his sons were survivalists. When it came to WMD inspectors, we saw that when push came to shove, he let them in. He also knew that allowing fundamentalists to train in his country was a destabilizing agent both internally and externally. That is what the suspected reasoning to turning down working with Al Queda in the 90's. Saddam ran a secularist government and suppressed religion, not encouraged it. If anywhere, the terrorists would have been going to countries like the Sudan and other east African nations, where they could have trained in relative safety. These are countries that we have left unchecked in more than one way (darfur).

Invading Iraq sapped our world goodwill and our ability to build global concessions. As much as we say we can go it alone, the rest of the world is our first defense eyes and ears.
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