Why are we in Iraq?

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Arnold G. York /From the Publisher

I’ve resisted writing about Iraq because I’m not sure what to make of it all. Or maybe, to put it another way, I feel so conflicted about the entire war it’s difficult to know exactly what I believe.

There is a great danger in over-generalizing, and comparisons to Vietnam don’t seem to fit well in the Iraqi situation. Yet, the news comes in daily from Iraq and, try as I might not to make the comparison, it feels more and more like Vietnam. The same official-type assurances of ultimate victory. The same uneasy feeling that we’re only getting part of the truth. The same native population that, in the main, appears hostile to our objectives. It seems that they’re very dubious about our objectives, and I can’t really blame them because I have the same problem. When I try to define those objectives, I end up with more questions than answers.

I’m not sure I understand why we’re there, what we hope to accomplish and, even more important, how we intend to get out.

For a writer putting it down on paper, it’s just thinking out loud, so I’ll give it a try.

Why are we there?

The original reason, the principal reason cited by our government, was that Iraq had or was about to get weapons of mass destruction. The implication was Iraq was unstable and highly dangerous and, given those weapons would drag us all into a holocaust. Rapid action was essential. It turned out we were probably wrong about the weapons of mass destruction, but that doesn’t mean we were necessarily wrong about Iraq’s dangerousness or the need for quick action. I know many people who deeply believe that “war is not the answer.” Unfortunately, in many parts of the world, I’m afraid it is the answer. In fact, it may be the only answer. In many instances, the only way governments change is through war. A great many governments and groups don’t share the belief that war is not the answer. They see any flat-out assertion by us that we will not go to war as an invitation to commit genocide in their own country or as an indication of vulnerability on our side.

Before 9/11, how many of us really believed there were some segments of the Muslim world that were angry enough at us to attack us, in the manner they did? There had been incidents but they were always described as aberrations, actions by small radical fanatical groups, nasty but relatively powerless. Getting attacked occasionally was one of those things that come with being the preeminent World Power. Then 9/11 happened and certain things became quickly apparent. First, it was clear there was vast hostility toward the Western world, with a great deal of it focused on us as the preeminent Western nation. The hostility crossed all sorts of national borders and appeared to be as global as the globalization it was railing against. There is also a strong wave of religious fundamentalism sweeping across the world, and this is something you see in Christianity, Judaism and Islam. That fundamentalism is not particularly tolerant of other religions and beliefs.

What also became apparent is that there was no way we could go into a defensive posture and still protect ourselves. More attacks were probably coming and we could try to watch every airport, every port, every arms dealer, everyone who entered our country, and everyone they contacted, and everyone who traveled abroad to certain countries, and still we wouldn’t be safe. We knew we had to take the war to them. In a global world, with national boundaries, and international treaties and many third world governments barely in control of their own countries, that’s not easy to do, but I don’t believe we have much choice.

That’s why I believe we started in Afghanistan. They were running training camps in that country. Osama Bin Laden was practically the government, and I genuinely believe he had a reasonably broad base of political support. But what was most important is that it was his gigantic safe house and we had to remove it, which we did. Are we bringing democracy to Afghanistan? I doubt it. All we’re doing is protecting ourselves.

But compared to the larger problem, Afghanistan was easy. The bigger problem is the countries or groups that are funding the militant groups, providing them with intelligence, safe havens, places to rest, phony documents and transit through other countries. That takes vast amounts of money, intelligence services, diplomatic passports and pouches. It takes a cover of national legitimacy. I think there were a multitude of possible terrorist targets all participating to one degree or another, and for a variety of reasons. Saudi Arabia went along to buy its own peace, although that doesn’t appear to be working very well anymore. Countries like Indonesia just looked the other way because Bin Laden and his followers were popular. Syria has been the home and safe haven for many radical groups over the years, which may have kept Syria from being attacked.

I suspect we chose Iraq for a number of reasons. We had a history with Saddam Hussein and a historical sense of unfinished business. He was fairly provocative going to the brink then pulling back at the last moment. Perhaps we had some veterans of Desert Storm looking for another shot? And, most of all, it was doable. Are those reasons good enough? I don’t know, but I do know there are now lots of countries that will think long and hard and carefully before letting anyone launch an attack against us from their shores.

Will our policy ultimately succeed and protect us?

Only time will answer that. I do know that the people on the ground, our troops, are paying, and will continue to pay, a tremendous price. They are virtually sitting ducks and are very limited in the type of response they’re allowed.

Do we have the staying power to reorganize the country?

Again, I haven’t the faintest idea.

What I am sure of is that we have to try and internationalize the solution, particularly getting Muslims into Iraq. I think it’s nonsense to talk about setting up a democracy. That’s something the people of Iraq are going to have to do. The only thing we can require is that no one give support, or launch an attack against us from that country. The quicker we can neutralize Iraq and get our troops out of there, the better off we’ll be.