Over the past few months, the Bush administration has greatly shifted the focus of the war on terrorism from destroying the infrastructure of terrorism in Afghanistan and elsewhere to attacking countries with the potential to develop weapons of mass destruction. Our new target is Iraq, where President Bush has pledged to send hundreds of thousands of troops to fight what could be considered a more conventional war.
There’s one problem with the administration’s current focus on Iraq: it’s likely to increase terrorism, not prevent it. Attacking Iraq may in the short run help make the world safer by eliminating a major source for weapons of mass destruction, but it will do nothing in the long run to address the concerns of the disaffected in the Arab world. It could even backfire by providing weapons of mass destruction to al-Qaida and other terrorist groups. A recent National Intelligence Estimate released by the CIA suggests that an attack by the United States will simply give Hussein more reasons to support al-Qaida. Even though he currently has little or no link to anti-American terrorism, a threatened Saddam may give weapons of mass destruction to al-Qaida, thus raising the threat level posed by terrorists exponentially.
In the long run, attacking Iraq will simply give more credence to those in the Middle East who suggest that the United States has it in for Muslims, cares only about oil supplies, and supports dictatorships while talking democracy. The Sept. 11 hijackers were acting in response to our policy in the Middle East, which backs tyrannical governments that promote our short-term interests, including oil. There’s a good reason why the Sept. 11 hijackers were Saudi and Egyptian. Bin Laden and his followers hate the United States because of our support for the cruel and repressive Saudi and Egyptian governments. Rather than attacking their own governments, however, al-Qaida chose to launch an attack upon those they see as complicit in their own oppression.
Bin Laden and al-Qaida seem to believe that the United States has plans to dominate the Arab world. Our plans to invade Iraq play into those fears. Al-Jazeera received a statement Monday allegedly written by bin Laden. “America is getting ready for a new round of its crusade against the Islamic world,” it said, “this time — against the Muslim Iraqi people, aiming at completing its plan to divide the Islamic nation and tear it apart, looting its wealth.” We need to be honest with ourselves and realize that an attack on Iraq could spawn a whole new wave of terror from al-Qaida. The Saturday bombing in Bali, suspected to be the work of al-Qaida, is proof that the group is still active.
One of bin Laden’s greatest incitements was the presence of American troops in Mecca and Medina. It could take years of American occupation for Iraq to rebuild as a democracy. Who knows what kinds of fanatics will arise if the United States occupies and administers an entire Arab country?
Instead, the United States should focus on improving human rights for those who live in countries that are our allies. Egypt receives nearly $2 billion a year in U.S. foreign aid; we have leverage to push for democratic change and free speech and, at the very least, demand that Egypt stop spewing anti-American venom from its state-run media outlets. The Bush administration has done little to effect such change. When Egypt sent a dissident professor to prison on trumped-up charges, the administration announced its “deep disappointment” and merely rejected Egyptian requests for additional aid.
Pushing our allies in the direction of freedom certainly can’t be as difficult as invading Iraq. Such an endeavor would involve toppling the government, replacing it with a liberal democracy — in a country that has only known despotic rule — while simultaneously trying to keep Iraq’s many religious and ethnic groups from killing each other and, oh yeah, making sure no one gets angry enough at us during the process to decide to blow up any buildings. Furthermore, all this needs to be done without putting American soldiers at too much risk or allowing Hussein to give his weapons technology to another fanatic.
Rebuilding Iraq could take years, and if American policy in post-Taliban Afghanistan is any indication, we won’t have the patience to see the mission through.
President Bush seems well on his way to ignoring the lessons of history with his planned invasion of Iraq. He is forgetting that the Sept. 11 attackers existed not because of nasty dictators unfriendly to the United States, but because of tyrants nominally friendly to us, such as the Saudi royal family and Mubarak in Egypt. If we can’t prove to the people of the Middle East that we care about their well-being, then military action against Iraq won’t make us any safer.
Daniel K. Goff is a junior in Ezra Stiles College.