When we began shipping captured al Qaeda and Taliban to Cuba, the effeteniks whined about the unfashionable measures we used to restrain the prisoners in transit and later. The best riposte came from Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Richard Myers, who described the prisoners as so rabidly fanatic that they would “gnaw through hydraulic lines in the back of an aircraft to bring it down,” just to kill the Americans flying it.
In Afghanistan, between two and four thousand of these Hannibal Lecter wannabes were captured by the Northern Alliance and now sit in dozens of prisons. Last week, Fox News broke the story of the plan by Afghan president Hamid Karzai’s government to release them. In Fox’s interviews with the prisoners — who are off limits to American military and law enforcement people — they had a lot to say. One said he was “very happy” that the September 11 attacks occurred. Another said we committed the attacks on ourselves and now unfairly blame bin Laden. Several said they had gone to Afghanistan to fight against America, and would renew their attacks as soon as they could. Fox reported that the Afghan government considers the prisoners “dangerous terrorists” but nonetheless will release them. Afghan intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh told Fox that the decision to release these mufsidoon was made by Karzai and his cabinet. How we are allowing this to happen is inexplicable, and inexcusable.
In part, Karzai is relenting to pressure from Pakistan, where most of these terrorists came from. Pakistani President Musharraf — so far an ally — should be under heavy American pressure to back off on this. But there is no report of American objection to the Afghan or Pakistani actions. It would be wrong to label these events just another failure of American diplomacy. In truth, these events are a part of our larger failure to be involved deeply in the reformation of the Afghan government. That, unfortunately, is what is called “nation building.”
American conservatives don’t like nation building because we reject anything that smacks of colonialism, and have accepted the idea that we’re bad at it. But we didn’t make post-World War II Japan an American colony, and we built its democratic government almost from scratch. Military conservatives relegated the term “nation building” to the status of a cuss word during the Clinton years because Mr. Clinton mis-defined it, as he did so many other things. To Lil’ Billy, nation building meant turning our military into the world’s most heavily-armed social workers.
Karzai’s biggest problem is the entrenched radical Islamists who still preach holy war and terror against America. By not being fully engaged in nation building there, we are guaranteeing that Afghanistan will remain unstable for the foreseeable future. We need to build and stabilize a Muslim government that will refuse Islamism in Afghanistan, and then apply the lessons learned there in every other terrorist nation in the region. If we don’t, those nations that now produce and harbor terror will continue to do so no matter how many times we defeat them militarily.
As terrorism expert Daniel Pipes says, Islam is a religion. Radical fundamentalism — Islamism — isn’t a religion; it’s an ideology. Its goal is imposing its tyrannical rules on all nations, just like Communism and Nazism before it. Karzai, left to his own devices, will have to deal with the symptoms without being able to deal with the disease. In Afghanistan, the process of rebuilding started nearly from scratch, so we need to be both helpful and intrusive.
We can guide the Afghans’ work in crafting the mechanisms of their new government. We shouldn’t be reticent in recommending our own. We have to be intrusive — at whatever level of intensity is required — to impose freedom and the means of maintaining it so that when we walk away we don’t leave the mullahs in charge.
We want a free Afghanistan, but not if it means freedom for al-Qaeda and Taliban who swear to renew their terrorist campaign against us. American lives were spent there, not for the purpose of making Karzai president, but to destroy a terrorist regime. If Mr. Karzai’s government is incapable or unwilling to keep the terrorists in jail, he should be made to understand that he must either surrender them to us, or surrender power. There should be no third choice. In Iraq, the game will be much more difficult because it will be a crowded playing field.
Our strategy for removing Saddam should minimize damage to the Iraqi infrastructure so that post-war Iraq would not need to be rebuilt from the ground up. Iraq is a far more modern nation than Afghanistan, and its people much better educated. Its economy can function soon after the war if the oil fields are not destroyed. But those oil fields make Iraq the big prize in the new oil-soaked “Great Game.” Russia and the European Union are already positioning themselves to profit economically from Saddam’s fall without risking their influence, blood or treasure. Those nations will try to shape the new Iraqi government in terms of rubles and francs, without regard to the danger of Islamism.
Many — including some of the 30,000 well-armed Iraqi Shiite expatriates in Iran who promise to return to fight Saddam — will try to impose the Islamist ideology. If we establish an American occupation government — regardless of our motives — the Islamists will proclaim it proof of an infidel conquest of Muslim land, and use it as a symbol to inflame terror against us everywhere. This is the hard part. It’s a big risk, but one we will probably have to take.
When the Iraq campaign begins, and the first American soldier sets his foot in Iraq, the terrorist leaders can and will call for attacks on Americans everywhere, and such attacks may occur. Regardless of any threats or attacks, when we free Iraq we can’t just let the chips fall where Russia and the EU — and others — decide. Some suggest that Iraq may rebuild itself very quickly when Saddam bites the dust. That seems unlikely, given the disparate factions that will want to take power when Saddam falls, and their various international sponsors. And we can’t risk Iraq falling under an Islamist regime.
We need to be thoroughly engaged in the reformation of post-Saddam Iraq, and prepared to stay for as long as it takes. Our goal is a modern democratic Iraq, its people free from Islamist tyranny, and enjoying a sound economy. Iraq’s next-door neighbor, Iran, is inflamed nearly to the point of open revolt against its Islamist government. Either Iraq or Iran — whichever is first to join the ranks of free nations — can be our lever to move the whole Middle East. If either government can be rebuilt on modern, westernized principles, Islamism will be on the path Communism traveled into the trash heap of history. Which is where it has to be if the war on terror is to be won.
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