At Large

A Sober Dissent

The Iraq war will have unintended consequences. Instead of deterring terrorism it more likely will promote it -- particularly by providing Al Qaeda access to weapons of mass destruction.

By 3.4.03

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Let us try first to clear the air, and list some areas where we agree: For example, Saddam Hussein is evil, but much of the peace movement is fueled more by anti-Americanism than anything else, and is willing to excuse his behavior; also, the French, as they so often do, are acting badly, and while it is good to have allies, the U.S. must never renounce its right to take unilateral action. There are other areas where we can agree, but those will do for a start, and they are cited now to show that conservatives need not march in lockstep. That is, no matter what neocon editorial writers and other ideologues may say, opposing the Iraqi invasion and regarding Administration foreign policy in general as a mistake does not automatically make you a peacenik or lefty; you may only be an intelligent conservative.

It should not be necessary to point that out, but it is. Little dissent is tolerated these days in official conservative circles, and so very little is found. The bully boys are in charge, and watching foreign policy unfold is very much like watching a train wreck in slow motion. Disaster seems inevitable, but still the train moves on. It has been clear for some time now that no matter what the inspectors find, the White House will have its war.

But the war will have unintended consequences. The invasion of Iraq is supposed to deter terrorism, although more likely it will promote it. There are some 1.2 billion Muslims in the world, many of them restless young males already indoctrinated with the idea that America wants to wage war against Islam. The invasion, of course, will confirm their belief.

Meanwhile many of the restless young males live in unstable countries where the governments tend to support the West -- think Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Jordan -- but the general populations do not. The leaders of these countries fear, with good reason, that the invasion will increase the pool of recruits for terrorist organizations. Bear in mind now that terrorism is a low-tech operation, and that terrorist organizations do not need many participants to carry out their missions. The old-fashioned bomb that killed at least 19 people in the Philippines yesterday was carried in a backpack.

The Egyptian, Pakistani, Saudi and Jordanian leaders also fear, with equally good reason, that in the wake of an invasion they may be overthrown by an inflamed Muslim leadership unless they alter their pro-Western policies. The fragile Pakistani government, which has nuclear weapons and the rockets to deliver them, is at particular risk. And if the government there is overthrown, radical Muslims will have access to what so far has been denied them: weapons of mass destruction.

But the bully boys will not be deterred, and they insist on pressing ahead, even as they show a stunning ineptitude in carrying out their plans. The miscalculation on Turkey that left 26 ships wallowing in the water outside the port of Iskenderun is almost black comedy. The ships apparently have now turned around, and will go to Kuwait. The Pentagon, however, insists this is of no importance, and that it will now institute Plan B.

The bully boys, meanwhile, are angry with perfidious Turkey. How could it have sold America out? Various explanations are now being offered, although the most logical one is ignored. Islamic Turkey is a democracy, and in declining to accept the ships and U.S. troops, the Turkish Parliament was simply listening to the Turkish people. They overwhelmingly oppose a war.

But the hawks both inside and outside the White House are staying firm. Plan B may not be optimal, and the schedule may be delayed, but the war will still take place. Iraqis supposedly will throw flowers at our Marines, and we will have a quick and easy victory. Then we will transform Iraq into a model democracy.

And, in fact, many Iraqis, grateful that Saddam is being overthrown, may welcome the invasion, and there may even be a quick and easy victory. The confident assertion, though, that we can plant a democracy in a region that has never known one is an exercise in neocon self-delusion. The idea that Iraq's disparate population -- Kurdish, Sunni and Shi'ite -- will put aside their bloody differences, and under the tutelage of an American military occupation embrace one-man, one-vote, is fanciful to say the least. The Sunni are fearful that a Shi'a government in Baghdad would ally itself with Iran, while Iran has said that it would rather have Saddam in power than an American military viceroy. Even the Saudis have said they do not want us in the area.

The bully boys, however, decline to recognize complications. After Gen. Eric Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he thought a military occupation of Iraq would require "several hundred thousand soldiers," Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense, shot him down. He told a House committee that Shinseki's estimate was "wildly off the mark." Shinseki, though, is a former commander of the peacekeeping operation in Bosnia, and he has had some experience in these matters. Wolfowitz also told the House committee, unbelievably, that Iraq has no history of ethnic strife.

But it is clear now that we will go into Iraq, presumably with Britain as an ally, although if we have to we will do it alone. Our principal reason for this, frequently stated, is that only by invading and occupying Iraq can we prevent Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations from getting weapons of mass destruction. But much of the rest of the world, including some of our traditional allies, takes issue with this, and as hard as it may be for the bully boys to acknowledge this, it seems they have a point.

No Western intelligence agency has found evidence that Al Qaeda has ever been able to obtain weapons of mass destruction, although no doubt it tried to buy them, and approached Iraq as a likely seller. Given Osama bin Laden's wealth and the support Al Qaeda apparently received from rich Saudis, it was under no financial constraints. Nonetheless Al Qaeda was never able to get the weapons it wanted. Whatever his hatred of the West, Saddam Hussein turned Al Qaeda down.

Consequently the attack on September 11 used the same tactic that terrorists had employed for years. The terrorists brought explosive material close to the targets, and ignited it. In the attacks on the American embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam they used cars or trucks packed with bottled gas or conventional explosives. In the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, they used aircraft as delivery vehicles for the aviation fuel.

And the attacks were devastating, although none of them involved weapons of mass destruction. But as devastating as they were, they would pall compared to the havoc al Qaeda could unleash with weapons of mass destruction. It is a supreme irony now that in the apparent attempt to prevent that from happening we may, in fact, be bringing it about. If Saddam Hussein knows his regime is ending, all constraints on his behavior will evaporate, and he may give Al Qaeda what it wants. After all, he no longer will have anything to lose.

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About the Author

John Corry is a former New York Times media critic and reporter.