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The Bottom Line By: Bruce S. Thornton
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, August 20, 2002


According the New York Times last Friday, some Republican foreign policy heavyweights are advising the President against attacking Iraq. The reasons given are some of the ones we've been hearing for at least a year now-- the allies aren't on board, the Middle East "street" is too volatile, and there's no evidence of direct Iraqi aggression against our interests.

The worry over the Middle East reaction can, I think, be dismissed out of hand. The fabled Arab "street" has become a reflexive bogey trotted out every time the U.S. contemplates doing anything. Back in October we were warned against this fearsome force if we attacked the Taliban, and so far the "street" has been pretty quiet, unless there are some American news cameras around. If the "street" was as powerful as some believe, I think by now it would have gotten rid of those rulers who presumably quiver in fear at it.

As for the Middle Eastern regimes themselves, my guess is that their delight in Hussein's removal will be in inverse proportion to the volume of their protests against doing so. At any rate, I'm not sure it's very useful to take so seriously dysfunctional regimes that need us more than we need them. Flattering their pretensions to importance merely makes it more difficult for us to pursue policies that serve our interests.

Then there are those "allies" whom presumably we need so badly before we can act. Here we see patterns of thinking left over from the Cold War, when our power was roughly balanced by the Soviet Union's, and so the war had to be pursued through alliances, indirect conflict, and other strategic and diplomatic devices. But with the Soviet Union moldering in the ashcan of history, why do we continue to court NATO states that refuse to put their military dollars where their foreign policy mouths are? The main consequence of the Gulf War "coalition" some people tout as a model is that it compelled us to leave a murderous thug in power.

The big story in foreign policy is the failure of government and citizens alike to come to grips with just how radically American military dominance has changed the calculus of our dealings with the rest of the world. We need to have a public discussion of what we should do with that power, what ends we should pursue, what our place should now be in the world, and what our true interests abroad are. Instead we roll along in the same old balance-of-power grooves, inhibiting ourselves by constant fretting over the reaction of military pygmies like France or Belgium.

As for whether or not Hussein is a direct threat to the United States, that seems to me to be a no-brainer. A psychopath in possession of biological and chemical weapons, and feverishly working at obtaining nuclear ones, is very much a threat. Some will say we don't know whether or not he has such weapons. But how will we ever find out? The UN inspection approach is a bust. Even if inspectors were let back in, by now the facilities and weapons have been hidden and protected, and trying to find them would be like trying to pick the red card in a Times Square three-card-monte game. The only way to know for sure is to see with our own eyes, and that will require physical possession of the country, or a regime that allows unrestricted access.

The alternative? Keep our fingers crossed and hope that a coup or assassination happens before Hussein uses those weapons. No, he probably won't use them directly against the United States, though evidence of Iraqi involvement with some of the 9/11 murderers should give us pause. But he certainly will use them against Israel, as he proved in the Gulf War when he fired 39 scuds into Israel. And then what will we do? Turn our backs on Israel, when she retaliates? Or attack Iraq anyway, the only difference between then and now being thousands of dead and maimed Israelis? Or are we going to wager Israeli lives that such a contingency is beyond the realm of possibility?

Equally important, removing Hussein creates the chance for a more democratic, less aggressive government to take its place. For all its continuing problems, Afghanistan is a much better and less threatening country than it was a year ago. A legitimate government in Iraq could be another example of the benefits of a democratic and open society, another inspiration to other Middle Eastern peoples, and another wake-up call to their autocratic overlords. And the more democracy there is, the safer the world is, and the safer and more orderly the world is, the better for our all our interests.

Obviously, attacking Iraq is fraught with risk. Of course, something worse could take the place of Hussein. But that's a problem to deal with after he's removed, just as in Afghanistan getting rid of the Taliban was the first order of business. In World War II, stopping Hitler was the priority, even if it meant helping an equally oppressive regime, the Soviet Union, which survived to become a dangerous adversary. But no one can argue that gambling on Hitler's survival was a better bet than supporting the Soviet Union.

Right now the main problem we face is an ideology of terror and oppression whose most threatening embodiment is Iraq. If we are serious about our "war on terror," then Hussein has got to go. The only question is not whether, but how many people will die before he's gone.


Bruce Thornton is the author of Greek Ways and Decline and Fall: Europe’s Slow-Motion Suicide (Encounter Book}. He is 2009-2010 National Fellow at the Hoover Institution.


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