Iraq: We’re Picking on the Wrong Guy

Anybody who knows me knows I’m not an anti-war type by design. As noted in my earlier piece, while war is a Bad Thing©, it is also occasionally necessary (see also, Harbor, Pearl).

I do not, however, agree that the current “Showdown with Saddam” (“Hoedown with Hussein”?) presents us with a satisfactory case for the application of those principles. My friend Greg Stene has articulated a rationale for the coming war, and while I could go line by line through his analysis, ultimately there is one passage that seems the center of the argument:

We will induce fear in the leaders of other countries who harbor terrorists. And we will gain the implied right of our country to invade and special-op any country or leader who harbors them.

The problem with this is that so far we have no evidence suggesting that Iraq is harboring, hosting, helping, or nurturing al Qaeda. As I said last week, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that they have, but the fact is that we have no intelligence suggesting any such thing. And even if we believe that al Qaeda has people on the ground in Iraq, that doesn’t demonstrate sponsorship – according to our own office of Homeland Security, we also believe that there are potentially hundreds of people with al Qaeda ties in the US, so does this mean we need to invade Poughkeepsie?

I’m even less convinced that there’s a significant tie between Iraq and al Qaeda after Osama bin Laden’s radio address last week. I was fully expecting bin Laden to implicate Iraq, to publicly thank Iraq for all its help, really, to pull up just short of giving Saddam credit for personally masterminding the WTC attacks. Not that I think any of that is true, but I figured Osama would do all he could to enable our war planning, even if that meant lying. Why? Simple – bin Laden is possibly the only person on Earth who wants the US to invade Iraq more than George Dubya Bush. bin Laden wants a global war between Islam and the West, and right now nothing would further progress toward that goal than Operation Whaq Iraq. (I don’t know if you’re made uneasy by the fact that our president and our worst enemy are on the same page regarding American military strategy, but I sure am.)

So when bin Laden said no more than he did, basically urging Islam to rally around the people of Iraq (not Saddam, mind you), well hell, he might as well have announced that Iraq had been no damned help at all in the war on America, a point that was supported even further in this morning’s Face the Nation appearance by Sen. John McCain. Understand, McCain is being trotted out to generate an illusion of credibility around the whole invade Iraq program, since he (unlike damned near everybody in the Bush camp) actually knows what war is first-hand. Looks like the White House may be getting tired of all this sniping about “chicken hawks.”

The question was put to him directly – is there any linkage between Iraq and al Qaeda? His response was as telling as anything you will hear on the subject. He skirted the question, answering that there was no doubt that Iraq would provide weapons of mass destruction to terrorist organizations, because their goals were in line with each other. Okay, let me translate that answer into plain, non-partisan English: “No, there is no relationship at all between Hussein and bin Laden. None. We have as much evidence linking al Qaeda to the government of Delaware as we do Iraq.”

So, Greg’s assertion that invading Iraq will send a message, that it will “induce fear in the leaders of other countries who harbor terrorists,” well, it seems a little off point, because Iraq appears to be not guilty of this particular crime, at least as far as we can demonstrate. Invading Iraq won’t prove that we’ll spank those who harbor terrorists, it will prove that when terrorists target us we’ll respond with the moral equivalent of kicking the dog after a bad day at work. Next time we can’t get our hands on those who are actually guilty, we’ll cast a sullen eye around the globe, find somebody who has displeased us, and let’s just say that if al Qaeda attacks us in the next week or two, you wouldn’t want to be Belgium, would you? I mean, we’re pretty sure bin Laden and company snuck into Pakistan, right? So why aren’t we invading the Pakis? We know they’re harboring terrorists.

No, this is all way off target, and it points up the gutlessness of the Dubya administration, because the fact is that there is a nation we know has harbored al Qaeda, has nurtured them, has supplied them with soldiers and cash and resources. This nation is the breeding ground of the radical Wahabbist Muslim sect whose ideology drives fundamentalist nuts like bin Laden. In fact, without the contributions and extensive support of elements within this nation, it’s unlikely 9/11 would have ever happened at all.

Yup. I’m talking about our good friends, our staunch allies, the Saudi Arabians. You remember Saudi Arabia, right? That’s where a vast majority of the 9/11 hijackers were from. And we’re doing not a damned thing about them. Why not? Because oil is thicker than blood, folks. Despite all the evidence, we have decreed that Saudi Arabia is our partner in justice, and of course that makes good economic sense, given the vastness of their oil fields.

If I believe that the principles Greg outlines justify a war, I’d have to suggest that we’re attacking the wrong country. In fact, given the stated goal of discouraging nations from harboring terrorists, I’d suggest that invading Iraq would be counter-productive. If we had the courage to address the problem head-on, maybe. But when you single out the little guy for punishment, the one who’s been isolated and weakened, and you jump him when everybody knows he’s not the real problem, well, all that teaches everybody is that you’re a coward. It doesn’t make them respect you, it makes them hate you even more. It doesn’t intimidate them, it inflames them.

It doesn’t deter terrorism, it fuels it.

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