Jewish World Review Dec. 2, 2003/ 7 Kislev, 5763
War on terror can't stop with Iraq
One or two loyal readers may recall that a year and a half ago I was arguing that the invasion of Iraq needed to take place in the summer of 2002 before the first anniversary of 9/11.
Unfortunately, President Bush listened to Tony Blair and not to me, and the prime minister wanted to go ''the extra mile'' with the UN, the French, the Guinean foreign minister and the rest of the circus. The extra mile took an extra six or eight months, and at the end of it America went to war with exactly the same allies as she would have done in June 2002.
The only difference was that the interminable diplomatic dance emboldened Jacques Chirac and the other obstructionists, and permitted a relatively small anti-war fringe to blossom into a worldwide mass ''peace'' movement. It certainly didn't do anything for the war's ''legitimacy'' in the eyes of the world: Indeed, insofar as every passing month severed the Iraqi action from the dynamic of 9/11, it diminished it.
Just as important, taking a year to amass overwhelming force on the borders of Iraq may have made the war shorter and simpler, but it's also made the post-war period messier and costlier.
With the world's biggest army twiddling its thumbs in Kuwait for months on end, the regime had time to move stuff around, hide it, ship it over the border to Syria, and allow interested parties to mull over tactics for a post-liberation insurgency.
So, as far as timing's concerned, I think I was right, and Tony and Colin Powell and the other ''voices of moderation'' were wrong.
Now Blair seems to have secured an understanding from Bush that he won't rush off and invade anywhere else, lest it place further ''strain'' on the ''vital'' ''alliance'' with France and Germany. In that sense, another prediction that ''Iraq is the last war'' seems to be proving more accurate: Henceforth, I reckoned, ''engagements in the war of terror will be swift, sudden and as low-key as can be managed.'' Thus, the U.S. Combined Joint Task Force in Djibouti announced last week that they'd scuppered several planned attacks on Western targets in the Horn of Africa and killed or captured at least two dozen plotters. The American troops arrived without fanfare in June last year, set up shop in an old French Foreign Legion Post and operate in seven countries in a region that's fertile soil for terrorist recruiters. Nothing the Task Force does will require UN resolutions.
The difficulty with this approach will be ensuring it stays focused, is ambitious enough, and moves quicker than the terrorists can adjust to it. The trick is to keep your eye on the big guys rather than this or that itsy-bitsy plotter. In other words, don't let the war on terror shrivel into a Wesley Clark-sized police operation, reacting to each individual atrocity, such as the recent slaughter in Istanbul. We ought to be clear that, though this isn't a conventional war, a victory for America will require the defeat of certain other countries. Among them:
- Syria. Boy Assad is in the unusual position, for a Middle Eastern dictator, of being surrounded by relatively civilized states: Turkey, the new Iraq, Jordan and Israel. He has, by common consent, an all-but-worthless military. His Saddamite oil pipeline has been cut off. And yet he continues to get away with destabilizing the region and beyond.
There's a credibility issue here. If Washington cannot impress its will on Assad when it's got 140,000 troops on his border, more distant enemies will draw their own conclusion. The United States should not be negotiating with Damascus, and should nix the plans to build Syria a new pipeline from Iraq. Assad can have a terrorist state or he can have oil, but he can't have both. I was up on the Iraq/Syria frontier in May and, although it's certainly porous, porousness cuts both ways. It would concentrate Assad's mind wonderfully if American forces were to forget where exactly the line runs occasionally and answer Syria's provocations by accidentally bombing appropriate targets on Junior's side of the border.
- Iran. CNN had a headline this week: ''Compromise Struck On Iran's Nukes.'' Not all of us are reassured to see the words ''Iran,'' ''nukes'' and ''compromise'' in the same sentence. A nuclear Iran will permanently alter the balance of power in the region. America needs to do what it takes to prevent that happening, including helping the somewhat leisurely Iranian resistance reach tipping point.
- Saudi Arabia. The war on terror is, in one sense, a Saudi civil war that the Royal Family has successfully exported to the rest of the world. The rest of the world should see that it's repatriated.
First, their longtime man in Washington, Prince Bandar, should be returned to sender, and replaced by a ''normal'' ambassador i.e., one who's not a member of the royal family and who clears off after five years. Second, Washington should clamp down on the Saudis' bulk purchase of its diplomatic service: No U.S. diplomat should be allowed to take a position with any organization funded directly or indirectly by Riyadh. Third, Washington should also put the squeeze on the Saudis financially: There's no reason why my gas-guzzling SUV should fund toxic madrassahs around the globe when there's plenty of less politically destructive oil available in Alberta, Alaska, Latin America and Iraq.
Profound changes in the above countries would not necessarily mean the end of the war on terror, but it would be pretty close. It would remove terrorism's most brazen patron (Syria), its ideological inspiration (the prototype Islamic Republic of Iran) and its principal paymaster (Saudi Arabia). Closing down regimes that are a critical source of manpower (such as Sudan) and potentially dangerous weapons suppliers (such as North Korea) will also be necessary. They're the fronts on which the battle has to be fought. It's not just terror groups, it's the state actors who provide them with infrastructure and extend their global reach.
Right now, America and Britain, Australia and Italy are fighting defensively, reacting to this or that well-timed atrocity as it occurs. But the best way to judge whether we're winning and how serious we are about winning is how fast the above regimes are gone. Blair speed won't do.
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JWR contributor Mark Steyn is North American Editor of The (London) Spectator and the author, most recently, of "The Face of the Tiger," a new book on the world post-Sept. 11. (Sales help fund JWR). Comment by clicking here.
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© 2002, Mark Steyn