May 5, 2004

ED CONE ASKS what we’re trying to accomplish in Iraq:

What does it mean to stay the course? What are our goals there, now that Saddam is gone? When are we done? Haven’t we made the point we wanted to make to other governments that might support terror?

I recommend his post, and we’re pretty much in agreement (his question isn’t rhetorical, but he’s for staying and getting it right). Here are my thoughts, for what they’re worth. There was an alternate plan (the “low hanging fruit” strategy focusing on Somalia, Sudan, etc.). But we went to Iraq, I think, for several reasons:

First, we needed to make the point Ed describes. It’s dangerous to be on our bad side, even if you’re a powerful dicatator with a large army and lots of bribed foreigners. That point has been made.

Second, we couldn’t have a powerful, rich dictator with WMD programs and terrorist connections, who hated us, operating in the region without facing serious handicaps in our efforts elsewhere. That’s taken care of, too.

Third, invading Iraq let us credibly extend that threat to other terror-supporting nations like Syria, Iran and, to some degree, Saudi Arabia. There’s no question that they feel threatened — in fact, it seems likely that they’re sending fighters into Iraq as a way of mounting a “spoiling attack” intended to make us less likely to move against them. And we appear to be returning the favor in a lower-profile way. (And, on a more overt level, the Bush Administration is putting sanctions pressure on Syria.)

Fourth, over the longer term, we felt that a de-Saddamized Iraq provided an opportunity to produce an Arab state that would be neither a theocracy nor an autocracy, but a democratic model that would undercut Arab dictatorships (a root cause of terror, you know!) and terrorists themselves throughout the region. The dictators and terrorists certainly seem worried about that, as evidenced by their efforts — and the efforts of their propaganda arm, Al Jazeera — to undercut that project.

As mentioned below, there’s some indication that we’re succeeding in this. I’d like to see elections sooner, rather than later. The Zarqawi memo, which certainly seems to have accurately predicted the terrorists’ actions, indicated that the terrorists felt that democracy and self-determination in Iraq would be devastating to their cause. And elections in Iraq so far have indicated no great support for either theocracy or a return to autocracy.

This is a process, not an event. We can turn over sovereignty June 30, and (as I hope) have elections in July, but that won’t — as I said earlier — turn Iraq into Connecticut overnight. (Then again, maybe we should aim higher. . . ). But by the standards of the Arab world, things are already improving there — charges of torture are actually newsworthy! — and as I noted earlier, the U.S. strategy seems, wisely, to be to get the Iraqis involved in solving their own problems as much as possible.

I agree with Ed that we will, and should, have troops there in significant numbers for quite a while. But their role should be, more and more, as ultimate guarantors, not day-to-day police. Iraq is, by the standards of much of the world, well-off and well-educated. Its people, though still shell-shocked by a Stalinist state, have been pretty sensible — despite early reports to the contrary, they weren’t rising up in big numbers to back Sadr and the Fallujah revolt, but rather the contrary.

The goal should be a self-governing Iraq, under a legitimate government and a reasonable constitution, as soon as possible. At least, that’s how it looks to me.

UPDATE: Reader Richard Jahnke emails:

One more thing needs to be added to your list of reasons for going into Iraq. That is this: The pre-war situation in and around Iraq was unstable and unsustainable. The 10-year-old sanctions and no-fly-zone regime was about worn out. The requirements for policing the no-fly zones were a destabilizing force in the region and the sanctions were blamed for the deaths of thousands of Iraqi children each year. Demands to lift the sanctions were increasing (partly, as we now know, under the influence of massive bribes). Truly, the incomplete 1991 war needed to be ended. Either Saddam or the sanctions had to be taken down. In the wake of 9/11 and amidst Afganistan, we simply could not afford to give Saddam such a victory.

Good point.

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