The media's obsession with the bad news coming out of "occupied" Iraq has obscured the incredible progress that has been made in stabilizing Iraq, ending the regime's sponsorship of regional terrorism and stopping its ongoing quest to build WMDs. Active hostilities continue, and they threaten to undermine the hard work America has exerted to bring democracy to Iraq. But to fully appreciate the difference between Iraq post-liberation and Iraq under Saddam's Ba'athist tyranny, a look back is in order.
Where We Were Then
Seven months ago, U.S. and Coalition forces brought down the regime of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in a remarkably short period of time (at least, compared to the pre-war claims of some critics), with a historically low level of civilian casualties and destruction.
The United States claimed that the invasion of Iraq was necessary for two reasons: first, that the Hussein regime was in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions in effect since the First Gulf War. These resolutions required the Iraqi government to declare and destroy all Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) materials and programs and to make the evidence of their destruction available to international inspectors. Second, regime change was necessary as part of the Bush Administration’s Global War on Terror, declared after September 11. Hussein’s government sponsored terrorism and terrorist groups.
Opponents of the Administration have claimed that neither of these reasons had a firm enough basis in fact to justify the risk and expense of war and occupation of Iraq. In reality, however, there was more than enough reason for the invasion.
Weapons of Mass Destruction
We know, thanks to the work of UN inspectors in years past, that the Hussein regime had manufactured huge amounts of chemical and biological materials that could be used as weapons. 9,000 liters of anthrax toxin, 19,000 liters of botulinium toxin, and large stores of mustard gas and nerve gases such as Sarin and VX. Those inspectors admitted then that they could not have found all of Saddam’s forbidden weapons caches.
Currently, teams from the coalition forces are working to find those hidden WMD stores. As yet, they have not been currently successful, but work is continuing. The search teams face a daunting task. Recall, if you will, the final scene in the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark. The fabled Ark of the Covenant has been sealed into a wooden crate, identified only by a mysterious serial number and, for all intents and purposes, buried anew in a colossal government warehouse, lost perhaps forever among the other identical crates. Now, imagine that the Ark was in one of dozens of identical warehouses. Finding it would deflate the hopes of even Indiana Jones. This is the sort of search which awaits David Kay and his teams, for Iraq has dozens of immense weapons and materiel storage sites, any one of which might hold the weapons they seek.
What we know already, of course, shows clearly that Saddam and his government was working on chemical and biological weapons and concealing that work from the eyes of the United Nations. No record was ever produced showing the destruction of the materials noted above. It would have been very simple for the Iraqi government to produce. Yet, rumors came out in the build-up of the coalition invasion that Saddam had released control of his chemical weapons to his local commanders. If this was a hoax meant to lower the likelihood of the invasion, it was extremely foolish on his part. Rather, it is highly likely that the psychological and covert operations of the coalition forces prior to the invasion – working through contacts with Saddam’s field commanders – prevented those weapons from ever being drawn from their armories.
Weapons of Mass Destruction, though the most cited reason for the invasion, was not the only or even the most important reason, the official purpose in removing Hussein from power notwithstanding. Saddam’s Iraq was known to be a key supporter of terrorism, particularly in the Middle East, though there were also links to other groups.
Opponents of the war in Iraq have argued quite vehemently that Hussein had no links to al-Qaeda, the group led by Osama bin Laden and responsible for the September 11 attacks. They assert that al-Qaeda is based on a strict reading of Islam, and that working with Saddam – a staunchly secular ruler – would be contrary to their principles. This argument ignores that all the Islamic terrorist groups will work with anyone who serves their purposes. Michael Ledeen, in his work The War Against the Terror Masters, compares the various terrorist groups and the governments which support them to Mafia families: Yes, they will take shots at each other when they can, but they will always combine to fight an outsider. For example:
* Iraq helped al-Qaeda members flee to Lebanon from Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban there;
* Saddam’s government supported Hamas and Hezbollah suicide bombers in Israel – paying the families of the bombers a bounty after their child’s “martyrdom;”
* The Iraqi government worked with the Iranian government, another “enemy to the death,” while coalition forces were fighting in Afghanistan. Their purposes? To find ways to assist the Taliban and al-Qaeda as well as to develop contingency plans in case one or the other terror state found itself the next target.
* We know that Saddam and other high Iraqi officials sent most of their immediate families out of Iraq as coalition forces neared Baghdad. Where? Syria and Iran.
In the months leading up to the Iraqi invasion, Saddam did his best to appear more religious, in an attempt to appeal even more to his terrorist allies. He even claimed to have donated fifty pints of his own blood to make the special ink used to create a handwritten copy of the Koran, the writings of the Islamic prophet Mohammed. One might easily suspect that Saddam, himself, was not the sole source of that blood.
Where We Are Now
What the Bush Administration has called “the active combat” phase of the war ended months ago. We won; the Hussein regime lost.
Yet our coalition forces have continued under intermittent attack from Hussein loyalists for the length of the occupation. The losses have averaged one American life per day. While the casualty rate is nowhere near as heavy as in Vietnam, the Administration’s opponents have spared no effort in making the comparison as closely as possible. This talk of “quagmire” plays right into the strategic hands of our enemies in Iraq and the region.
Saddam and his allies have used the American experience in Somalia as an example of how the U.S. is little more than a “paper tiger,” a superpower with a glass jaw. Osama bin Laden has asserted that America will not sustain losses in fighting them, while they are filled with “martyrs,” just waiting for the opportunity to pounce. Bin Laden has boasted that al-Qaeda was involved in the attacks on our troops in Somalia which drove the withdrawal of our forces, to our great shame. The enemy hopes that our casualties, along with the heavier nature of their recent attacks – including surface-to-air missiles and mortar bombardments into compounds previously thought of as safe – will drive us into withdrawal. This tactic has already worked with the bureaucrats of the United Nations and the International Red Cross; which are withdrawing their Iraqi-based officials.
Yet, the attackers have no deep-based support among the Iraqi people. It might be assumed that the Sunni minority would support the deposed regime, but it is as likely as not that the “man-in-the-street,” even in the “Sunni Triangle” doesn’t want the Ba’athist Party returned to power. Certainly the Shi’ite majority and the other ethnic groups of Iraq do not support Hussein. Even the Iranian-supported Shi’ite clerics are not truly reflective of the Iraqi populace’s support for the Coalition forces that liberated them from Saddam. Not surprisingly, poll after poll of the Iraqi people show their support for the Coalition and American efforts.
Even within the United States, support for our efforts remains high. Recent polls show that the American people think that continuing our work in Iraq is important, even recognizing the necessity of suffering further losses among our military personnel.
What We Must Do
Our resolve must remain firm: we will stay the course in Iraq and accomplish the first steps toward liberalizing the Arab states most responsible for terrorism. Yet we must not be so naive to think that only the might of our troops and depth of our pockets will prevail. It will take much more than just that.
Force is, no doubt, important in our efforts. However, our forces must be judiciously used. We have entered into a phase of the conflict in Iraq where we face a guerrilla force, not merely terrorists. We must respond as if we were fighting guerrillas. We must make more of an effort to put our troops into the field, working as closely with the Iraqi people as possible to win the “hearts and minds” of the people. The more the common Iraqi trusts coalition forces, the more likely that they will be able to provide intelligence to our forces that will enable us to find and defeat the guerrillas before they can strike.
We must also recognize that those opposed to us are working with their allies as well. There are indications, clear indications, that the guerrillas we face are being supported and reinforced by both Iran and Syria. This must not be allowed to continue. Coalition and Iraqi forces must work to secure Iraq’s borders against the infiltration of enemy fighters and terrorist supplies.
We must also take a hard line diplomatically. Neither Iran nor Syria is in the same position as the Soviet Union or China were during the Vietnam War; neither is a world-class power which we cannot afford to call to account for its actions. We must inform both governments, in no uncertain terms, that their involvement in Iraqi affairs continues at the risk of the survival of their own regimes. We are still the world’s only superpower, and more than capable of targeting the authoritarian rulers of either or both countries. If necessary, we can easily supply additional troops from our NATO contingents. This would also serve the purpose of sending a message to Europe that our alliance is based on mutual interests, not merely the interests of France and Germany.
Finally, we must move forward in light of President Bush’s mandate: we must continue to light the beacon of democracy in the Middle East, for only through political and societal systems that respect the rule of law and the individual can the rule of terror finally be overthrown.