Before Operation Iraqi Freedom, there have been critics. Some of these critics are now saying, “I told you so.” The critics are wrong. Iraq was becoming a serious problem. The sanctions were collapsing. It is now known that the Oil-for-Food program was, at best compromised, if not thoroughly corrupted. Saddam was also attempting terrorist attacks – including an operation whose target was former President George Bush. Saddam Hussein was not rehabilitating by any stretch of the imagination. If anything, he was determined to strike back, and he was seeking help to do so. As Stephen F. Hayes documented in The Connection, there were contacts (at a minimum) between Saddam’s regime and some al-Qaeda operatives.
First, let’s state for the record that 9/11 changed how threats have to be viewed. We saw what terrorists were able to do with boxcutters and knives – they were able to turn four wide-body airliners (767s and 757s) into makeshift cruise missiles that killed 3,000 people. What fiendish result could occur from a weapon of mass destruction (WMD)? Imagine what the reaction from the American people would be had WMD been used. American policy should the United States be attacked by WMD is to respond in kind. For the record, America’s only WMD are nuclear. I’m no dove, but I have an aversion to killing innocent people who just happen to live in the wrong city because a dictator (be it a theocratic dictator or the garden-variety dictator) decided that providing terrorists WMD was an acceptable course of action.
So, how should the United States avoid being placed in the position of having to kill millions because a state sponsor of terrorism provided al-Qaeda or some other group (say, Hezbollah or Hamas) with WMD? Well, one option is to trust to the good graces of these dictators – the good news being that if nothing happens, things go great. The problem is, history has shown that dictators tend to not have good graces –to say nothing of having morals or judgement. The second option is to try to hunt down the terrorist cells. The problem is, these groups are tough to find, and they may have active cells in cities across the globe. Also, for each terrorist cell rounded up, others go to ground – and the groups usually keep training and producing new terrorists. Option three is to roll back the state sponsors of terror. While this can cause greater terrorist activity early on, these state sponsors provide places where terrorists can train – and acquire weapons. Of course, these options can be combined.
But which to take? We need to decide where we wish to fight al-Qaeda and these other groups: Do we fight them in their back yard (Afghanistan and Iraq), or do we fight it out in our shopping malls, bus stations, pizza parlors, and schoolyards? It’s better, particularly given the risks of allowing terrorists to get WMD, to roll up the state sponsors, and fight them there while using other resources to round up the cells as quickly as possible.
Which leads us to Iraq. First, it was necessary to deal with Saddam one way or the other. Allegations of links between Iraq and al-Qaeda (particularly the Prague meetings between Mohammed Atta and Ahmed al-Ani, and the case of Ahmed Hikmat Shakir) have not been disproven. There really are only two explanations for these two cases: Either Saddam and al-Qaeda were cooperating to some extent, or al-Qaeda had the Mukhabarat penetrated. Either way, Iraq was becoming a threat – the cooperation would be a way for Saddam Hussein to break containment, the penetration meant that Iraq was being subverted by al-Qaeda. Either way, the nascent WMD programs (which the Iraq Survey Group has documented), could have fallen into the hands of Osama bin Laden.
The second reason the critics are wrong about the decision to enact regime change in Iraq is simple: By liberating Iraq, the United States and her allies have seized the strategic initiative. A functioning democracy in Iraq is fatal to al-Qaeda. While liberating Afghanistan was a start, it was merely a counter-attack, a response to 9/11. Liberating Iraq was seizing the strategic initiative – opening a new front in the war on terrorism – and removing one of the most likely states to hand over WMD to terrorists (Saddam used WMD against his own citizens, does anybody really think that he would have had any objection to handing over WMD for use against “infidels”?).
The initiative is important. A war cannot be won on defense – it is won on offense. On offense, you only need to get lucky once – on defense, you must be lucky every time. Critics of liberating Iraq should explain to the American people why they want to rely on luck to protect this country as opposed to action.