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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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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.