Incite -- (v) 1: give an incentive; 2: provoke or stir up; "incite a riot"; 3: urge on; cause to act
Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Dr. Wolfowitz, or How I Supported the Right War Waged in the Wrong Way for the Wrong Reasons
Written by: Answerman

The Iraq War was a necessary war waged to protect vital national security interests of the United States. But the manner in which it was explained to the American public and to the world was atrocious. And it was waged in the wrong way.

Let me begin by saying I will make no attempt to question any of the various operational and tactical decisions made by the military in prosecuting this war. I have no knowledge to bring to the table in those debates, so I will leave them for others. I will say that I am strongly of the lay opinion that we have always needed and still need more troops in Iraq. Of course, if you consider that (1) we have lots of troops busy herding goats somewhere in the mountains of Bosnia and Kosovo for reasons staggeringly unapparent to me, and (2) Don Rumsfeld still hasn't quite lost his raging hard-on for proving he can invade far-away lands with about 13 soldiers and a real powerful computer, you'll understand some of the factors that have prevented us from committing the necessary resources. That aside, I'd like to focus on Iraq's place in our larger post-9/11 grand strategy, such as it is.

When we were attacked on 9/11, we realized we needed a new grand strategy based on the newly-recognized (though certainly not new) and powerful threat posed by Radical Islam. Conceptually, we faced three aspects of the broader threat -- (1) the direct threat posed not just by Al Qaeda, but also by other Muslim terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah; (2) the more subtle but still fairly direct threat posed by Middle Eastern state sponsors of terrorism, such as Iran and Pakistan (and, importantly to a lesser extent, Iraq); and (3) the indirect threats posed by states whose governments permitted anti-American groups to operate within their borders as an outlet for impermissible domestic dissent, such as Saudi Arabia.

As to the direct threat posed by terrorist organizations, we attacked Afghanistan (basically run at the time by Al Qaeda) and rooted out Al Qaeda. Strategically this policy is unassailable, although there are tactical issues that remain, such as the failure to provide enough troops and potentially the failure to do what was necessary at Tora Bora in March 2002. We stepped up our rhetorical war against groups such as Hezbollah and executed a more general policy tilt toward Israel. Again, this was sound strategy for dealing with the threats posed by terrorist organizations more difficult to "get at" than Al Qaeda. We all may have some quibbles, but the Bush administration has generally followed a sound strategy with regard to the first aspect of the Radical Islamic threat.

As to the more subtle threat from state sponsors and the indirect threat of hated authoritarian regimes in the Middle East, we have confused the analysis and committed a series of strategic blunders. As to both issues, we paraded Saddam Hussein's Iraq as the primary threat. And in both instances, this was misguided and wrong. The biggest threat from a state sponsor of Radical Islamic terrorism is easily the Islamic Republic of Iran. Iran has supported Hezbollah throughout its existence and has been at least partially responsible for most of the acts of Radical Islamic terrorism perpetrated against the United States with increasing frequency over the past two decades. Meanwhile, the biggest threat from an authoritarian regime fostering and permitting anti-American dissent as a substitute for domestic dissent is easily the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Al Qaeda sprung up there, gets lots of its troops from there, and the United States presence there after the Gulf War in 1991 immeasurably exacerbated anti-American feelings in the Middle East.

Which brings me to Iraq and the war. The war was necessary and justified in a direct, non-strategic sense for one reason -- Hussein was repeatedly violating the 1991 ceasefire, which our allies from the Gulf War cared less and less about, and we had a stark choice between resuming that war or retreating and losing tons of credibility at a critical time for our regional policy in the Middle East. We chose to invade, and it was clearly the right choice. I have never heard a single person articulate an even slightly-sensible refutation of this particular case for war.

But the necessity for war with Iraq also offered the United States a wonderful opportunity to achieve strategic advantages by addressing both of the two remaining aspects of the Radical Islamic threat discussed above. By invading Iraq, we could remove our troops from Saudi Arabia and remove a major irritant to Muslim Middle Easterners. And by invading Iraq, we would likely help hasten the impending counter-revolution against the mullahs in Iran. As we had no particularly appealing direct options available for dealing with the Iranian and Saudi problems, the opportunity posed by the lesser (on its face) Iraqi problem was a godsend. As long as we didn't lose perspective and make things worse.

Naturally, we lost perspective and made things worse. By focusing on talking up the broader strategic threat posed by Iraq and waxing poetic about bringing democracy to the Middle East, the Bush administration lost sight of what should have been its real purpose in Iraq -- the removal of the Hussein regime followed by stablization. Now, stablization could have meant a lot of things, perhaps even the installation of some semblance of a liberal democracy. But I doubt it. In any event, democratization, a more difficult task both as a matter of cultural history and military and psychological resources, became the stated goal. And as a result, not only have we missed two golden opportunities, but we have worsened those two aspects of the wider threat from Radical Islam (my guess is that the somewhat troubled and confidence-lacking American presence in Iraq will slow the arrival of the Iranian counter-revolution, and it is certainly causing some of the same problems as our former presence in Saudi Arabia).

Who's at fault? Why, Paul Wolfowitz and the neocons, of course! They wanted to attack Iraq because (1) they like the idea of jaunting about the world experimenting with civics lessons, and (2) they thought it would help out the Israelis. So they used 9/11 as an excuse. While I agree with several Republican commentators that the war was a just and necessary one, we had the wrong reasons for starting the right war. And as a result, our broader strategy for fighting Radical Islam has been harmed in terms of domestic support (which is suffering because of the Bush administration's bad sale of the war) and international purpose (even if we succeed in Iraq, this fiasco has taken so much out of us that we will be unable to respond to multiple other challenges in terms of the broader war in an effective way; we will be "spent" as a society). This is a shame, and Bush deserves a lot of blame for it.

Too bad the only credible alternative to Bush is someone I wouldn't trust to run a grass-cutting business, much less my country.

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John Beck

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