is an opportunity, not merely a problem.
The basic U.S.
strategic goal in the Middle East is to disable the anti-Americanism
that sustains dangerous terrorism. Sometimes, that anti-Americanism
is popular outrage, which, over time, can be eroded by better propaganda,
free markets, and reasonably democratic polities. But those hostile
feelings don't much matter unless harnessed by terrorist groups
and hostile states, and more importantly, they can't be soothed
until we contain those anti-American terrorist groups and states.
by themselves and without the protection of states, can be crushed
by old-fashioned police work, diplomatic pressure, economic tools,
and military force. Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines, the Armed Islamic
Group in Algeria, and others like them will be suppressed over time,
just as the Shining Path in Peru and the deep-rooted IRA in Ireland
were slowly choked to death.
source of anti-Americanism comes from failed and hostile Arab states.
We're already going after the terrorist government of Afghanistan,
which will be difficult, even if the local Pashtuns are cooperative.
It will be much more difficult, and expensive in lives and cash,
if the Pashtun tribes provide a haven for Osama bin Laden. Moreover,
the longer he eludes us even if he is stuck in a rat-infested
cave with few offensive successes to advertise on al Jazeera
the stronger his cause becomes and the weaker ours becomes, both
domestically and overseas. And when we do kill him, and metaphorically
stick his head on a pike in downtown New York, he will still live
on as a martyr, albeit a failed martyr.
state that fosters anti-Americanism is Saudi Arabia, which has funded
Islamist ideology for its own purposes. Some argue this funding
is done by rich Saudis for personal religious reasons, others say
it is done with the connivance of various factions and clans within
the ruling family trying to succeed the existing King. Whatever
version is true, we can't stop that funding by military or diplomatic
threats because such pressure would cause a severe breach with the
oil-rich kingdom and the broader Muslim world. In turn, that breach
might lead to greatly increased oil prices and a Saddam loosed upon
Saddam with his weapons, his large and rich Iraqi stronghold, his
manipulation of Arab sympathies, and his hatred of us. He undermines
our position in the Gulf region by forcing us to maintain troops
in Saudi Arabia, by starving his people and them blaming us before
a receptive Arab audience, by slowing Iran's move towards democracy,
and by maintaining false hopes among Palestinians and their supporters
that there is yet hope of a victory against Israel. In comparison
to Saddam, Osama, the Saudis, and the Israeli-Palestinian death-grip
are minor fronts in this evolving war against terrorism. Yet Saddam
is also more vulnerable that Osama or the Saudis. He has little
popular support, his country is a flat-desert ideal for U.S. Army's
mechanized warfare and the U.S. Air Force's bombers, and his army
is weakened by years of sanctions and defeat. The response suggests
itself; destroy Saddam first, and the rest of the anti-American
structure will collapse, regardless of bin Laden's whereabouts or
is becoming more prominent, and in recent weeks, Richard Perle has
been arguing for a Saddam-first strategy, while Newt Gingrich says
that a secular Iraq makes it a good prospect for democracy. Most
recently, New York Times columnist William Safire floated
the idea in his Monday column. Here are a few reasons why the Saddam-first
approach is promising:
of Saddam's dead hand from the Iraqi economy would allow it to be
deregulated and reinvigorated. That will simultaneously reduce world
oil prices and increase employment in the Middle East especially
of the young men who are needed for reconstruction jobs.
sanctions that Saddam imposes on Iraqi's population but that
the Arab world bitterly blames on the United States will
be immediately replaced by foreign investment in the oil industry
and in reconstruction. The painful images of starving Iraqi children
will be replaced by alluring Baghdad city lights, smiling wages-earners
and Palestinian job seekers.
of 23 million is not fertile ground for the radical Islam of its
neighbors in Iran and Saudi Arabia. That's good for modern democracy,
for women, education and economic growth, and it can help Iraq become
a second secular success after Turkey in the heart
of Arabia, forever reminding Arabs and immediate neighbors in restive
Iran, that freedom and capitalism are far better for the average
person than bin Laden's 11th-century Wahhabi theocracy.
gone and oil prices assured, who needs Saudi Arabia? Their airbases
will be pointless, their oil will be partly offset by Iraqi supplies,
and their opaque succession battles of no great concern. Moreover,
with the main pillar of anti-Americanism fed to the Iraqi geese,
the Saudis' anti-American faction would likely lose credibility,
clout and power, perhaps helping the somewhat pro-American faction
in Saudi Arabia keep power. With or without that faction in charge,
the demise of Saddam would allow us pressure the Saudis to cut off
further financial, strategic, and theological aid to bin Laden in
in Iraq would allow us to push hard for democratization of the Arab
world. That effort is now stalled by the vital need to contain Islamic
political parties, Saddam, and oil prices. Once those factors are
removed by Saddam's demise, and our power is enhanced by our remaking
of Iraq and the simultaneous ruination of Islamic moral-clout, we
can give history a nudge by cheerfully supporting democracy in Syria,
the Gulf, and Egypt, perhaps with a new pro-American al Jazeera
even if still evading us in the mountains, would automatically become
a sideshow once the Iraqi campaign began. He has chosen to ally
himself with Saddam, and once Saddam falls, Saudi Arabia becomes
manageable and his prestige is ruined by American democracy's victory
in Baghdad, then bin Laden will fall into our power all the faster.
Moreover, his memory will soon be swamped by regional economic growth,
just as the memory of that Cuban egomaniac Che something
or other, who slipped on a bar of U.S. Army soap after his capture
in Bolivia in 1967 has been drowned by Latin American prosperity.
Even the Palestinians
might learn something from the destruction of Iraq. They're still
refusing to make peace albeit a bitter peace of the defeated
-because they're still hoping to push Israel into the sea.
This forlorn hope has survived repeated debacles, disasters, and
defeats, so there can only be a modest prospect that the destruction
of their terrorist and Iraqi allies will reconcile them to peace.
Maybe all those construction jobs in Iraq will serve as compensation.
In all of
this, I don't mean to be blasé or belligerent, just optimistic.
Destroying Iraq would be difficult, especially if the Saudis object,
even more so if the Kuwaitis and the admirable Turks balk. The mechanized
combat that it would require is an American strength vice
infantry battles in Afghanistan's caves so the battle should
be quick, yet it could be bloody, especially if we cannot contain
Saddam's weapons of mass destruction or if we choose not to the
stop the post-victory slaughter of Saddam's brutal apparatchiks
and their families by vengeful Iraqi population. Rebuilding the government would be expensive and lengthy, especially because the U.S. would have to create a government structure amenable to Iraq's Kurds, Sunnis, and Shias. There are also risks, including the possible
emergence of Islamicist regimes in other states, but there does
seems little reason to fear military defeat given the rottenness
of Saddam's political system as illustrated by the failed rebellions
in 1991. But, just as importantly, there is also risk in doing little;
terrorist plagues will kill around the world regardless of color,
Iraqi nukes will kill Muslims and Jews alike, Islamist conquests
will drive women and truth from the street together, and autocracies
will continue to murder advocates of democracy.
In 1942, FDR,
Churchill, and the G.I.s did not paralyze themselves with worry
about the inevitable problems of post-war Europe, about German saboteurs,
Luftwaffe raids, "Nordic supermen," Japanese Kamikazes,
and secret V-weapons. They confidently pushed ahead, solved each
problem as it appeared for example, the creation of a post-war
German government amenable to the French, British, Russians, and
Germans. Indeed, by pushing for unconditional surrender and subsequent
reconstruction of Germany and Japan, they also showed that they
had learned from their immediate predecessors who had mistakenly
rushed to end World War I before devising an acceptable, permanent
solution to Germany's grand ambitions.
Our great and
good grandparents helped Europeans and Asians remake their lands,
and so created a far better world for all of us. Why can't we help
Arabs remake Arabia and again make a better and safer world? Are
the Arabs somehow not good enough for democracy?
Tokyo '45. Baghdad '02.