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What's Next in the War on Terrorism?

William Kristol's prepared testimony for the February 7, 2002 hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

11:01 PM, Feb 6, 2002 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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THANK YOU, Chairman Biden, Senator Helms, and members of the committee, for inviting me to testify before you today. You have asked me to address the question, "What's next in the war on terrorism?"

The short answer is that Iraq is next. I am not simply saying that Iraq should be next--although I think it should be. I am rather drawing a straightforward conclusion from President Bush's State of the Union speech, and from the logic of the war itself. The president sees this war differently from our European allies and differently, I think, from the way his predecessor or even his father might have seen it. The president has chosen to build a new world, not to rebuild the old one that existed before September 11, 2001. And after uprooting al Qaeda from Afghanistan, removing Saddam Hussein from power is the key step to building a freer, safer, more peaceful future.

To explain my answer, let me address the basic questions about the nature of the war. Have the events of September 11 fundamentally changed the world? Is our aim to restore the status quo through limited actions or is it a broader attempt to reshape the Middle East and the other breeding grounds of terror? And how and when should we deal with our enemies who possess or will soon possess weapons of mass destruction?

Reviving the status quo would mean that we would be satisfied at having deposed the Taliban, and at having dealt with Osama bin Laden--presuming we eventually find him--and having crippled his al Qaeda network. We would not overly concern ourselves with who's in power in Afghanistan, or Pakistan, or in Central and South Asia. We would continue to try to keep Saddam Hussein "in his box" and similarly to contain Iran. We would return to the old Israeli-Palestinian "peace process." We would regard North Korea not as a Stalinist state organized for war but as an arms control problem amenable to an "agreed framework."

This has been the "post-Cold War status quo." It has been a period of unprecedented great-power peace. The great international questions of the 19th and 20th centuries, of Napoleonic France, imperial Britain and Japan, the Kaiser and Hitler's Germany, of Tsarist Russia and the Soviet Union, have all been largely settled. Indeed, the only real unresolved great-power issue is that of China.

Yet this has also been a violent time, especially in the region from the Balkans through the Middle East to Southwest and Central Asia. Even before the final collapse of the Soviet Union, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. Though his army was defeated and driven back to Baghdad, the failure to remove the Iraqi tyrant left a problematic legacy. Since then, the pace of major terrorist attacks--now directly aimed at America--has increased, as Norman Podhoretz has chronicled in the most recent issue of Commentary magazine. The initial attempt to bring down the World Trade Center was in February 1993; two months later, Saddam tried to assassinate President Bush when he visited Kuwait. In June 1996, nineteen U.S. airmen were killed and 240 wounded in the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia. On August 7, 1998, the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were simultaneously attacked, killing 12 Americans and more than 200 Africans. On October 12, 2000, the USS Cole was struck while docked for refueling in Yemen, killing 17 sailors and wounding 39. And during the past decade, there have been dozens, if not hundreds, of smaller attacks--as well as untold numbers of foiled, failed or postponed assaults.

Despite these escalating costs, American policy has implicitly considered the costs of significant U.S. action against terrorists as higher still. As Podhoretz points out, this is a tradition that began during the Cold War. But it has persisted through the Soviet Union's final days and through the Clinton Administration. Even as terrorists and rogue regimes lost their superpower sponsor, they learned there would be few consequences from attacking America. President Clinton's policy was, as his first CIA director James Woolsey has said, "Do something to show you're concerned. Launch a few missiles into the desert, bop them on the head, arrest a few people. But just keep kicking the ball down the field." Maintain the status quo.

Is that the goal of this war?

No. Since September 11, President Bush has been clear--and increasingly detailed and articulate--that there has been a fundamental shift in U.S. policy and strategy. On the evening of the attacks, he vowed to bring to justice "those who are behind these evil acts." Yet by September 20, when he addressed a joint session of Congress, he had determined that we were at war not only with a group of terrorists directly responsible for the attacks but with "every terrorist group of global reach" and with the "nations that provide safe haven to terrorism," as well.

Over the past few months, the president's views of "our mission and our moment" have progressed further still. On November 6, he assured the Warsaw Conference on Combating Terrorism that the United States would wage war on terror "until we're rid of it." He also saw the potential threat of terrorists armed with chemical, biological, radiological or even nuclear weapons: "We will not wait for the authors of mass murder to gain the weapons of mass destruction." And shortly afterward, the president shifted his emphasis from terrorist groups to terror-loving states: "If you develop weapons of mass destruction [with which] you want to terrorize the world, you'll be held accountable."

The State of the Union address marked the maturation of the Bush Doctrine. This war, according to the president, has "two great objectives." The first is defeating terrorism. The second objective, marking the most significant declaration by an American president in almost 20 years, is an unequivocal rejection of the international status quo. "The United States of America," said President Bush, "will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons."

And President Bush singled out three regimes, North Korea, Iran and Iraq, as enemies; they constitute an "axis of evil" that poses "a grave and growing danger." Nor will he "stand by, as peril draws closer and closer." Time, he said, "is not on our side." The president is thus willing to act preemptively and, if need be, unilaterally. This is a matter of American self-defense.

The Bush Doctrine seeks to eliminate these weapons and the dictatorial regimes that would use them. The president also seeks to challenge tyranny in general. "No nation is exempt," the president said, from the "true and unchanging" American principles of liberty and justice. Moreover, our role with respect to those principles will not be passive. According to the president, "America will take the side of brave men and women who advocate these values around the world, including the Islamic world," and will do so because it is the only lasting way to build "a just and peaceful world beyond the war on terror." This is now a strategic imperative as much as a moral one.

The president's words augur a fundamental departure from the U.S. policies of the past decade, from the pseudo-sophisticated "realism" of the first Bush Administration or the evasive "multilateralism" of the Clinton years. The Bush Doctrine rests on a revived commitment to the principles of liberal democracy and the restoration of American military power.

If the president has defined a new goal--or reminded us of what Americans have always regarded as our true purpose in the world--how do we get there? The president and his lieutenants have suggested answers to what the next steps should be.

Since September 11, we have all understood that this will be a large and long war. Already it is being waged on a variety of fronts. The campaign in Afghanistan is far from complete. The Taliban has been routed, al Qaeda's safe haven destroyed. But while bin Laden is on the run, he is still on the loose. The initial battles have been successful, but true victory in Afghanistan will be measured in the long-term effort to create a viable and stable state that protects individual liberties and promotes justice. Nor can victory in Afghanistan be ensured without securing Pakistan.

The campaign against al Qaeda now is taking American soldiers into Southeast Asia. More than 600 troops have been deployed to the Philippines to help the government of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in its war against the Abu Sayyaf group of Muslim extremists. Singapore and Malaysia both have arrested terrorists with al Qaeda connections and the Bush Administration is stepping up pressure on the Indonesian government to do the same. The trail is also likely to lead into Somalia and elsewhere in Africa.

The presence of North Korea in President Bush's "axis of evil" underscores his larger view of this war. The administration previously has taken somewhat contradictory stands on North Korea, first suggesting it would overturn the Clinton Administration's policy and then to maintain it. North Korea may be impoverished and isolated, but it is extremely dangerous. American policy must be to change the North Korean regime, not simply to contain it and coexist with it.

The president also makes it clear that he regards the Middle East as occupying the central front in this war, and that the problem is political, not religious. What links Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, and the mullahs in Tehran is a common hatred of America and a desire to drive America out of the region. President Bush wishes to promote the principles of liberty and justice especially in the Islamic world.

The principal obstacles to that goal are the regimes in Iran and Iraq. Ever since the revolt against the shah, experts have been arguing that eventually shared interests would create a rapprochement between Washington and Tehran. "Openings" to Iran are like the first blooms of spring. But they are just as ephemeral. Iran's offer to rescue American aviators hit in Afghanistan has been more than offset by the discovery of its arms shipments to the Palestinian Authority. The character of this Iranian regime is obvious, and implacable.

But, as Charles Krauthammer wrote in The Washington Post last Friday, the good news is that Iran "is in the grips of a revolution from below. We can best accelerate that revolution be the power of example and success. Overthrowing neighboring radical regimes shows the fragility of dictatorship, challenges the mullahs' mandate from heaven and thus encourages disaffected Iranians to the rise. First, Afghanistan to the east. Next, Iraq to the west."

This summarizes the strategic implication of President Bush's war aims. We may never definitely know, for example, whether Saddam had a hand in the events of September 11; the relationship between Mohamed Atta and Iraqi intelligence may be lost in the mists of Prague. But Iraqi involvement would come as no surprise. After all, Saddam Hussein has remained at war with the United States since 1991. Every day, his air defenses target U.S. and British aircraft enforcing the no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq. He flouts the UN resolutions agreed to following the Gulf War. And we know that Iraqi-sponsored terrorists have tried to kill an American president and Saddam's agents were likely involved in the effort to bring down the World Trade Center in 1993.

And Saddam's efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction have ruled out a return to the status quo strategy of containment. President Bush has asked himself how this man will behave once he acquires these weapons. The delicate game of nuclear deterrence, played with Saddam Hussein, is an unacceptable risk.

A military campaign against Iraq is also something we know how to do. Other than the Euphrates River and Saddam's palace guard, nothing stood between the U.S. VII Corps and Baghdad in March 1991; the Army even developed a plan for encircling and reducing the city in one move. Despite the weakness of the sanctions regime over the past decade, and Saddam's care and feeding of his army at the expense of the Iraqi people, the Republican Guard is probably less formidable now than it was then.

Moreover, as operations in Afghanistan show, the precision-strike capabilities of U.S. forces have improved. While the Iraq campaign would be far larger and would demand the immediate and rapid commitment of substantial American ground troops--and though we should not underestimate the lengths to which Saddam will go once he understands that the goal is to remove him from power or kill him--the military outcome is nearly certain.

The larger question with respect to Iraq, as with Afghanistan, is what happens after the combat is concluded. The Iraqi opposition lacks the military strength of the Afghan Northern Alliance; however, it claims a political legitimacy that might even be greater. And, as in Kabul but also as in the Kurdish and Shi'ite regions of Iraq in 1991, American and alliance forces will be welcomed in Baghdad as liberators. Indeed, reconstructing Iraq may prove to be a less difficult task than the challenge of building a viable state in Afghanistan.

The political, strategic and moral rewards would also be even greater. A friendly, free, and oil-producing Iraq would leave Iran isolated and Syria cowed; the Palestinians more willing to negotiate seriously with Israel; and Saudi Arabia with less leverage over policymakers here and in Europe. Removing Saddam Hussein and his henchmen from power presents a genuine opportunity--one President Bush sees clearly--to transform the political landscape of the Middle East.

Conversely, the failure to seize this opportunity, to rise to the larger mission in this war, would constitute a major defeat. The president understands "we can't stop short." But imagine if we did: Saddam and the Iranian mullahs would be free to continue their struggle for dominance in the Persian Gulf and to acquire world-threatening weaponry. Our allies in the region who have truly stood with us--like Israel, Turkey and now Pakistan and Hamid Karzai's nascent government in Afghanistan--would feel a lonely chill. And our allies in Europe, who may enjoy a moment's smugness at the defeat of the U.S. "hyperpower," would soon begin to worry about their own prospects in a world in which terrorists and terrorist states have acquired weapons of mass destruction. Very shortly, for lack of confidence in America's willingness to preserve and shape a global order, our friends would start appeasing our adversaries, and our adversaries' ambitions would grow even greater. Whether we want it or not, we are at a crossroads. We can either take up the task the president has laid out before us, or we can allow the development of a world that will soon grow far more unstable and dangerous.

In short, even if we wished to, it is now impossible to recover the world of September 10, or to find a stable balance of power with the likes of Iraq, Iran and North Korea. Nor can we afford, as the president said, to "wait on events, while dangers gather." And while there are risks involved in carrying out the president's strategic vision, the risks in not doing so are all the greater.

William Kristol is chairman of the Project for the New American Century.