the Iraq War Made Us Safer?
Is the answer absolutely, yes? Of course not. Wars don't work that way. Did the decision by the country to wage war on both Japan and Germany in the wake of Pearl Harbor make the U.S. safer at first? No. Even after critical successes at Midway, in North Africa and Italy, thousands of Americans still lost their lives. The war had to be won, and the cost was high precisely because our enemies knew it was going to be a fight to the death. And Americans understood that security could not be had in a piecemeal fashion given the nature of the enemies we faced.
Similarly, we should remember that the war on terror is not just about defeating terrorists. The larger meaning of 9-11 was the recognition that the mix of terrorists seeking weapons of mass destruction with dictatorial regimes who gave them support, and who themselves had or were seeking such weapons, was potentially too dangerous a brew for the United States to take a reactive stance toward. As such, the war to be waged requires not only taking on the terrorists themselves, but also the states that give them support or, through their governance, are spawning new cadres of jihadists.
On that broad front, America's record of success has been substantial, and we are the safer for it. Both the Taliban regime of Afghanistan and Saddam's Baathist rule in Iraq are history.
Two of the most brutal regimes in recent times can no longer call us their prime enemy. Libya's Moammar Gadhafi turned over his entire nuclear weapons program, while Pakistan's A.Q. Khan, once the world's leading purveyor of illicit nuclear technology, is no longer in business.
And while far from complete, the salve of political reform has begun to take hold in the region, with real elections in Afghanistan and Iraq, a dramatic reassertion of self-rule in Lebanon and even small but potentially significant changes taking place in the political systems of Egypt, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
For those who think
that invading Iraq was a distraction, the question they have to answer
is whether with the exception of the progress made in Afghanistan
the record outlined above would have been conceivable absent removing
Saddam and his henchmen from power. How power is used matters perhaps
more in the Middle East than in any other region of the world.
Moreover, the war in Iraq has not stopped us from reforming the CIA and the FBI to better enable them to wage the war on terror or, for that matter, disrupting al-Qaeda cells in South and Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Nor have the disagreements with key allies over Iraq prevented them from fighting alongside us in Afghanistan, sharing intelligence on terrorism, joining the administration's Proliferation Security Initiative and, increasingly, taking the lead in challenging Iran on its nuclear program.
Iraq was not some sideshow when it comes to the broader war on terror. The fact that no WMD stockpiles were found and the occupation poorly executed at times does not mean that it was the wrong war at the wrong time. As both David Kay and Charles Duelfer, the heads of the post-war inspection team concluded, Saddam Hussein was still committed to acquiring those weapons. He had had them in the past and the evidence indicates he wanted them again.
Complicating matters further was the judgment that, as Sandy Berger, President Clinton's national security adviser, stated, a policy of containing Iraq was not "sustainable over the long run." Given Saddam's own ambitions, his history of creating confrontations and the fact that the international consensus supporting the tough sanctions regime against Iraq was crumbling, the real issue is not whether we should have gone to war with Iraq but rather at whose time of choosing would we do so Saddam's or ours.
Nor was removing Saddam from power tangential to the war on terror more narrowly defined. Of course, Saddam's Iraq had always been a home for and supporter of various terrorists, including a key participant in the 1993 World Trade Center attack. But what the mainstream media have largely ignored is the evidence of contacts and an evolving relationship between Osama bin Laden and Saddam in the 1990s.
Focused on the narrow question of whether Saddam had any hand in the attacks of 9-11, they have ignored the reports coming from prisoner debriefs, uncovered internal Iraqi intelligence documents and, for that matter, declassified Clinton-era National Security Council memos pointing toward a budding "marriage of convenience" between Saddam and bin Laden. As Thomas Kean, the co-chairman of the 9-11 Commission, put it: "There was no question in our minds that there was a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda."
Indeed, given those growing ties, it's no surprise that the likes of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi were free to travel to Iraq and set up shop there in the wake of al-Qaeda's expulsion from Afghanistan.
And it is in Iraq and not the U.S. that the terrorists are now doing battle with us. If Iraq was a diversion, someone forgot to tell the jihadists whom we have killed or captured by the thousands there.
Whether it is a question of WMDs or support for terrorism, Saddam's Iraq was a ticking time bomb, and we are safer for having gotten rid of him.
In fact, despite the
very substantial difficulties we face today in Iraq, the question to be
asked is not simply whether we are safer today for having removed Saddam
Hussein from power, but just how safe would we have been in the future
if we hadn't?