A different justification for the war in Iraq

Charles Allen Glenn

Most politically engaged Americans have heard the myriad justifications for the war in Iraq repeated ad nauseum. Most of these Americans (and Europeans, and Canadians, etc.) take one side or the other on this debate Ė some feel weapons of mass destruction might still be found, while others believe there were never any to begin with; some claim that Saddam was a threat to our security, while others feel he was adequately contained. And so on.

Perhaps the most pertinent question we can ask about Iraq is also the simplest Ė is Iraq a front in the Global War on Terror, or not? In order to ask that question, three other questions need to be addressed first: Who is the enemy? Where is the enemy? What should a front in such a war look like?

Identifying the enemy may not be as simple as many who are opposed to the war in Iraq might desire. We are engaged in a Global War on Terror, not a Global War on Al Queda. But to that assertion, many critics will reply "who says?" Well, common sense says.

One of the weakest aspects of the Global War on Terror is its name, which is too vague and sounds too much like the platitude-heavy (and action-light) "war on drugs" to American ears. Savvy Americans know our politicians like to declare "war" on things they donít like because they think the word itself galvanizes people, as if the "war" on drugs was going to prompt Americans to start building "victory gardens" (actually, maybe it did, but while one side was declaring war, it was probably the other side planting "gardens," but I digress) buy "war on drugs" bonds, or hang little white signs in their windows with pictures of x-ed out marijuana leaves instead of blue stars. Americans see through such charades, and realize that what the politicians are usually doing with such histrionics is simply diverting attention from their failures.

So we cried wolf too many times, and for whatever ill-advised reason, the administration declared war on "terrorism," rather than Al Queda, causing the cynics to crawl out from the woodwork and denounce it. But perhaps there was a kernel of wisdom in this decision amidst the pandering to oversensitive Muslims, because it wasnít just Al Queda who attacked us. Behind Al Queda are hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of Wahhabists and Salafists with the same funding, the same ideology, and the same intent. And behind them are the millions of aspiring young Islamic people being brainwashed in the Saudi-funded madrassahs that dot the globe. The rise of Ansar-al-Islam leader Abu Musab Zarqawi in Iraq and the nearly-identical organization headed up by Abu As-Seyf in Chechnya, are cases in point.

So in a sense, the administration had it partially right. It is a war on terror, but itís not a war on all forms of terror. Otherwise, we would be cracking down on Basque separatists and IRA gunmen. Itís a war on a specific strain of terrorism, and in the back of all our minds, we know its name -- regardless of how we try to hide it behind the faux multiculturalism of a heretofore big-government liberal ideology which has suddenly developed a deep and abiding concern for civil liberties.

Our enemy isnít one organization or one person. Our enemy is an ideology. In the second World War, we had the benefit of being able to personify the ideology in the hated figures of Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo. They held up as fascism personified because they led large and powerful western-style armies, requiring the deployment of our own such forces, but that doesnít mean that it was just their armies we defeated and that their ideology died on its own. It required huge sums of money and assistance in the form of the Marshall Plan to give the people of Japan, Germany and the rest of Western Europe a political and economic structure within which to build a lasting peace. Osama bin Laden doesnít hold up in that capacity, partially because he was never that powerful in the conventional sense, and also because there are many more fledgling bin Ladens than there ever were Hitlers, Mussolinis or Francos (in part, because militant Islamic leaders donít need to be powerful in the conventional sense in order to threaten our security, anymore).

Critics of the war often say that even if war were the proper course of action, we canít think of it in terms of World War II. Theyíre right, of course. We arenít facing Panzers, which out-matched our Shermans; or highly disciplined Japanese troops willing to engage in trench warfare to defend meaningless piles of rocks in the middle of the Pacific. Instead, we face a grass-roots, home-grown version of the kamikaze pilot, only without the code of honor the kept them flying into military aircraft carriers instead of civilian metropolises. We arenít facing an enemy that was trained to take orders in the heat of battle, was schooled in the Geneva Convention protocols, wears an identifiable uniform, or indeed one that would even know the difference between a personnel formation and a bread-line.

But they are our enemy nonetheless, and a formidable one. They are more widely dispersed, less easy to distinguish from the general population, donít use humanitarian tactics, and they specialize in extreme forms of brutality. But they must be fought, they must be defeated, and their ideology must be disgraced and replaced.

Which brings us to the second question: where is the enemy? This one is much simpler to answer. All one has to do is look at the number of roadside bombings, mortar attacks, RPG hits and beheadings in Iraq to realize that a large percentage, if not most of them, are there. They come from all over the Middle East to fight the Great Satan, because -- and this is key -- thatís where we are.

It didnít really matter which country we decided to occupy, as long as it provided a target-rich environment. The drawback of Afghanistan was its remoteness from the killers hiding out in Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, but any one of those countries would have sufficed to draw the wackos out from their neighboring nations. Iraq had the added benefit of being a rogue state on the outs with the entire civilized world, under UN sanctions, notoriously and uniquely brutal to both Iraqi citizens as well as other Muslims, and badly in need of new leadership.

The fact that a series of poor decisions on the adminstrationís part may or may not have turned Iraq into a target-rich environment for American soldiers more often than Islamic militants is better left to another discussion. Weíre talking here about the validity of our presence in Iraq in the context of the War on Terror.

But in that vein, we can move on to the last question: what would a front in this new kind of war look like? Well, it would look like Ö Iraq. Every day that passes, our troops are learning more about the enemyís tactics, their leadership, their funding, and their depth of popular support. Urban warfare is becoming something many of our troops no longer think of in the abstract as a training drill with OpFor. Itís reality, and they are becoming better at it every day. The enemy might win a few skirmishes -- might even have some success in the assymetrical sense -- but when they form into groups and try to stand against our troops, they invariably suffer humiliating defeats.

The terrorists are losing the war on terror, and they know it. It might seem on the surface that they have the advantage -- they have no scruples and they can strike at will from afar with a roadside bomb -- but they face an even greater enemy than us. They are fighting against time itself, and roadside bombs donít kill enough Americans to beat the clock. Every day in which the largely-peaceful 8,000 other villages and towns of Iraq outside of Fallujah, Najaf and Baghdad see the sun rise and set without the secret police, the child-prisons, and without the fear of tyranny, is a day closer to liberty and freedom. Every day that the thousands of rebuilding projects all across the country make progress is a day closer to clean running water for everyone, plentiful electricity in every home, and growing opportunities for Iraqis to be the arbiters of their own destiny.

If the terrorists lose Iraq, they will have lost more than a battle in the War on Terror. They will have lost the false confidence that such dramatic acts as 9/11 and the Chechen school massacre engenders in young Muslims all over the Middle East who are being fed a daily dose of anti-semitism, anti-americanism and bigotry. They will have failed to be the "strong horse" when it mattered the most, and they know it, which is why they are fighting so desperately to turn Iraq into another Somalia or Lebanon.