Forget about the WMD, it was a smokescreen. The President knew it, the VP knew it, the Republicans knew it, and the Democrats knew it. It was a sales tool to get the world to accept the invasion of Iraq. WMD was one of several reasons for the attack. The others were complicated, difficult to sell to the American public and ‘unmentionable in public. Iraq was the second stage of a long range plan to transform the Middle East and destroy Al Qaeda in the process.
We often think of foreign affairs in a simplistic terms. Someone hits us, we hit back. I don’t think we, as Americans, are well known for subtle diplomacy. However in this case it might help to take a longer view. It is not hard to think of the Middle East as a social and political sewer, where dictators and extremists control almost all aspects of society.
Yes, there are some exceptions, but not many. Most countries are breeding grounds for Muslims extremists. Iran is a growing problem. Saudi Arabia was the home of most of the hijackers and is the center of Wahabi Islam, the most extreme of the extremists. Syria supports terrorists and, at the time of 9/11, completely dominated Lebanon. Egypt practices a dictatorial “democracy” with a growing militant populace. Libya was developing nuclear weapons and supporting supporting terrorism, and Pakistan was a strong supporter of the Taliban. There is more, but you get the idea.
After deposing the Taliban, the U.S. faced a next-move problem, what to do? Bush and the neocons were not blind to history in Afghanistan. They had no intention of making the same mistake the British and Russians made. The U.S. wanted a friendlier government in Afghanistan, not necessarily a Western style democracy. Capturing bin Laden was less important than destroying the foundation of his support. Looking at the long term, the government, led by the White House, saw Iraq as the next logical step. They would eliminate Saddam, a truly bad guy, begin the transformation of the region by installing a democracy, assuming they were successful.
By invading Iraq, eliminating Saddam, and setting up a democratic government, they would achieve a number of goals. One, a developing democracy and the military presence of the U.S. would force the Saudis to make some substantial internal changes. They would clamp down on extremist groups and stop the transfer of money to terrorist groups. There was also the hope that they would implement some more personal freedoms, especially for women. Two, Iran might throttle back its support of terrorism with the U.S. right on its border. Three, Syria, Libya and other problem states would change policies if they thought the U.S. might target them next. Fourth, countries in the region could institute political reform. This is a very broad brush stroke view, but it does provide a wider perspective of the invasion.
The result is obviously tainted by the disastrous implementation of the war. However, there have been some successes. Libya definitely changed its policies very quickly. Syria moved out of Lebanon, and has been cooperating with the U.S. in several ways. The Saudis made a couple of gestures to political freedom and are cracking down more on extremists. Pakistan is now our ally, as is Afghanistan. Palestine had democratic elections. We certainly don’t like the result, but they were fair according to official observers. Who knows how the long term might work out? The situation with Iran is a mess, but that seems more a case of our ineptitude than their genius. If we had managed the invasion properly, the situation with Iran could be vastly different.
I don’t want to minimize the problems with this war, as Iraq totters on the brink of chaos. I think we all know the nature of the Bush Administration’s management skills by now. Say what you will about Our Illustrious Leader (OIL), I don’t like him, but if you think in the longer term, 20-30 years, and as something exceedingly complex, covering a whole region, with numerous players, and the U.S. having many shifting alliances with not so perfect partners, the invasion makes sense.
The American electorate would never have bought this involved reasoning for war. The policy didn’t fit 5-word sound bites they can understand. One only has to read the various surveys indicating things like 20% of America still think Saddam had direct involvement with bin Laden and 9/11, or that only 40% of Americans believe in evolution, 13% do not know what a molecule is, 1/5 of Americans still think the Sun circles the Earth, and only about half know that humans did not live during the time of dinosaurs (NYT) to understand why some of our leaders have little respect for the intelligence of the public. They have good reason.
Congress agreed to the smokescreen because they understood the issues. We face a truly dangerous foe, requiring new tactics. This war is one move in a high stakes chess game, destined to last many years. Bush told us this would be a long war, fought on many fronts, across more than his administration. He knows it, so does Congress. Many of us, including the media, forgot his words. The Democrats and Republicans are now using the WMD issue for their own political purposes with the upcoming Congressional elections. They still cannot tell us why they voted to support the President after 9/11, but they can use the smokescreen against G.W. for his mismanagement, which is substantial.
We should keep this long term view in mind before we uncategorically demand a withdrawal of troops. We are trying to do more than install one democracy in the Middle East. The longer goal is right, though our methods are faulty. That is what needs to change.