Monday, September 29, 2003

Iraq: hindrance or help?

Phil Carter courageously asserts that the invasion of Iraq may have made the United States less secure. He advances four arguments.

(1) Iraq helps Al Qaeda raise money by providing a 'cause'.
(2) Iraq also helps Al Qaeda build its logistical support infrastructure because it provides a focus for contributions.
(3) The war in Iraq will also produce a generation of trained guerilla fighters for Al Qaeda to recruit as terrorists.
(4) Finally, success breeds success insofar as the Al Qaeda can tout attacks against coalition forces as victories.

Fair enough. Mr. Carter asserts that really telling blows against terrorism are actually the less spectacular activities such as the shutdown of their financial networks and police-type operations against their cells, which he argues are critically dependent on the international sympathy which has been frittered away by the attack on Iraq.

Against this can be set a number of equally reasonable counterarguments.

  1. The Iraq operation has in practice actually enhanced US prestige, as manifested by the cooperativeness of Yemen, the apparent quiescence of Syria, the recent aggressiveness of Saudi Arabia's crack down on extremists and the servility of Libya, which not only agreed to pay compensation to the victims of the Lockerbie bombing, but who were actually willing to revisit an earlier settlement with the French.
  2. The availability of Iraqi basing arrangements which has enabled the US to withdraw its forces from Saudi Arabia, terminate the 'No-Fly Zone' arrangements with Kuwait and Turkey and generally free up its hands to to take a more agressive position vis-a-vis the House of Saud and anyone else in the region. Incident to this, the restoration of Iraqi oil production weakens the petro-power of the Wahabists in Saudi Arabia.
  3. It has been argued elsewhere that there was never any true 'sympathy' for the United States after September 11. However that may be, it may be that international opposition to the US has actually weakened after the Iraq operation because France has proved unwilling to risk another veto to oppose US resolutions in the Security Council; Germany has apparently broken ranks with France; and the UN now accepts its irrelevance and is in the process of drafting a reform package to restore some of its former influence.
  4. Elsewhere, Japan has practically agreed to build a missile defense shield; may participate in a naval embargo of North Korea and may even build its own nuclear weapons. In Korea, the United States is in the process of redeploying away from 50 year old positions in the DMZ. In Europe, the US is drawing down its forces.

All of these suggest that as a practical matter, actual 'sympathy' for the United States has increased as a function of an unspoken international desire not to anger America any further.

Whether the negative factors Mr. Carter lists overcome the effects going the other way is an empirical question, best answered by history than by bald assertion. The only honest thing to do is be aware of the tendencies operating in opposite directions and to revisit the premises a posteriori to assess which was the better call in hindsight.