The Magazine

A Necessary War

Unless Saddam Hussein is removed, the war on terror will fail.

Oct 21, 2002, Vol. 8, No. 06 • By REUEL MARC GERECHT
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COULD A WAR with Iraq compromise America's war on terrorism? It would appear that many in the foreign policy establishment believe so. Senators Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican, and Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, certainly fear the ripple effect of striking Saddam Hussein. Both have echoed former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft's dire warning that an attack on Iraq would "jeopardize, if not destroy, the global counterterrorist campaign we have undertaken." Former secretary of state James Baker, another close adviser to Bush père, was only a little more conditional, urging the present administration to confront Iraq "in the right [multilateral] way" or risk damaging our relationships with Arab and European states and "perhaps even our top foreign policy priority, the war on terrorism." And if you spend any time with the working-level realpolitikers who staff the Central Intelligence Agency, the State Department, and the Pentagon, you'll quickly hit Scowcroftian resistance to a second Gulf campaign. "I think the war will screw up our liaison efforts against al Qaeda," remarked a CIA officer serving in the Near East Division of the Directorate of Operations. He agreed with Senator Hagel that "a coalition of common interest and intelligence" was the only way to beat Osama bin Laden's holy warriors. "I don't know that many people inside [the CIA] who think the war is a good idea," he added, after giving a tour d'horizon of Arab rancor over the coming campaign against Baghdad.

But these fears for the war on terrorism are unfounded. A war against Iraq will reinforce, not weaken, whatever collective spirit has developed among intelligence and security agencies working against Islamic radicals. Indeed, without the war to remove Saddam, it is likely that the counterterrorist efforts of "allied" intelligence and security services in the Muslim world will diminish, if not end entirely. And it shouldn't be that hard to understand why. Self-interest and fear of American power, not feelings of fraternity and common purpose, are what will glue together any lasting international effort against terrorism.

Let's first look at Europe, where Mohamed Atta planned the September 11 attack. In many ways, Europe is the front line in the battle against holy-warrior terrorism. European assistance against al Qaeda and its friends is essential, probably much more valuable than the aid we can receive from Muslim states in the Middle East and Central Asia. After all, travel to the United States on European Union passports is easy and probably will remain so until we get attacked by holders of E.U. passports. Without a European heads-up, it is virtually impossible to block committed al Qaeda militants like the Frenchman Zacarias Moussaoui from entering the United States or to track them after they're here. And although the Europeans have generally been somewhat hesitant to embrace publicly America's "war on terrorism," and have been overtly hostile to the Bush administration's bellicosity towards Iraq, European intelligence and security services are stuck with the fact that roughly 14 to 17 million Muslims now live within the European Union (the estimate is unavoidably imprecise given the large number of illegal Muslim immigrants and the reluctance of some European states to denominate the census by religion). Though you can regularly hear a wry sigh of relief from European security types about al Qaeda's targeting preferences ("Much better the Americans than us"), they aren't professionally comfortable hoping that Islamic militants will bomb only the American half of Western civilization. Attacks on the United States in Europe are hardly a solution--al Qaeda's plan, for example, to use the former Tunisian-German soccer player Nizar Trabelsi as a kamikaze against the U.S. embassy in Paris would have killed far more Europeans than Yanks.