The next stage of war
In his magisterial history of World War II, A World at Arms, Gerhard Weinberg interrupts his narrative periodically to explain how the worldwide struggle looked to the protagonists. What is striking is how different the conflict looked at each juncture. In December 1941, the Germans and Japanese seemed poised to link up their forces in India. In spring 1943, the Allies were advancing in North Africa, the Germans were reeling in Russia, and the Japanese were in uneasy possession of most of the Pacific. The field of battle shifts, the combatants change their focus, the character of the war changes.
So it is with our war against Islamic terrorists and the states that support them. At the moment, we have captured Khalid Shaikh Mohammed; we are also contemplating the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. As in 1943, when we were advancing on two fronts, the United States has shown it can walk and chew gum at the same time.
As this is written, military action in Iraq seems imminent. As George W. Bush made clear in his press conference last week, there is no question that Iraq has failed to live up to the requirements of U.N. Resolution 1441 that Saddam Hussein immediately disarm. So the United States and its coalition of the willing are entirely justified in taking action, even as France and others continue to misread the resolution they voted for. The course of military action is never completely predictable, and horrors may lie ahead. But few in Washington doubt that we can occupy Iraq within a few weeks' time. Then comes the difficult task of moving Iraq toward a government that is democratic, peaceful, and respectful of the rule of law. Fortunately, smart officials in both the Defense and State departments have been doing serious work planning for that eventuality for over a year now.
Further steps. What next? Suggestions come from two knowledgeable veterans of previous administrations whose views have not been aired much in public. Former CIA Director James Woolsey suggests that, once we are secure in Baghdad, the United States should send a special emissary to Syria's Bashar Assad. "He should say, `Look, you little so-and-so, you have to get out of Lebanon now. If your forces are not out of Lebanon within one week, there will be serious consequences.' " Then we should help the Lebanese uproot the Hezbollah terrorists who hold southern Lebanon. This will be a blow against the mullahs of Iran, who control Hezbollah, which many regard as a larger and more dangerous group than al Qaeda. Sen. Bob Graham, then chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, voted against the Iraq war resolution because it did not target Hezbollah; he had a point.
Ouster of the Syrians and Hezbollah from Lebanon removes one of the two impediments that keep Israel from reaching agreement with the Palestinians--an unsafe northern border. And their ouster would also put pressure on the Palestinians to remove the other impediment, the corrupt and terror-filled leadership of Yasser Arafat.
Another suggestion comes from former Reagan administration National Security Council staffer Michael Ledeen. And that is to aid the overwhelming majority of Iranians who want to oust the ruling mullahs. George W. Bush has spoken clearly about the need for freedom in Iran. But his government, so far as I can determine, has done little to bring it about. Thousands of Iranians have taken to the streets to protest the regime, at great risk. We should be getting in touch with those who are fighting for freedom in Iran, and aid and encourage them overtly or covertly in any useful way we can. The goal should be to bring the mullahs down peacefully, through something on the order of a broad-based general strike. As Peter Ackerman and Jack Duvall point out in A Force More Powerful, concerted nonviolent action can often topple evil regimes--like those of Nicolae Ceausescu in Romania or Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia. With American forces in Baghdad, we can assist such action and help convince the mullahs that their days are numbered.
It is important to act fast. There have been benefits from going through the United Nations on Iraq, but there have also been costs. One of those is time--time enough for North Korea to make trouble while we are preparing for major military action thousands of miles away. Now North Korea is threatening to manufacture and spread nuclear weapons. Quick success in Iraq, followed by success as soon as possible in Syria and Iran, will help us deal with that threat too, as soon we must.
This story appears in the March 17, 2003 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.