A favorite aphorism of many lecturers, is the cautionary pronouncement; “Those who do not learn from History are condemned to repeat it.” For some reason, however, I cannot remember anyone following through to the obvious counterpoint: What happens when a leader does learn from History, and applies what he knows to his plans? We may very well be seeing the answer to that question, in President Bush’s plans for the Middle East.
The 2003 invasion of Iraq by the US-led coalition has been widely ridiculed and derided in many places. The most common charge claims that Bush had no idea what he was getting the nation into, or what consequences his decision would bring. Both claims, like so many attacks against the President, are false, and demonstrate only the inability of Bush’s critics to see beyond their own subjective opinions. The actions taken by the Bush Administration in Iraq, are essential components of a policy which not only has the potential to revolutionize the notion of representative democracy in the Middle East, but also to render obsolete the use of terrorist attacks as a tool for political position.
The first point to make, is that it was unavoidably necessary to invade Iraq. Iraq under Saddam Hussein represented a triple threat: First, Saddam Hussein supported Terrorism. He paid money to terrorist organizations and to the families of suicide bombers who killed Israelis. He stockpiled thousands of explosive vests in military warehouses, where US forces discovered them. He established and supplied terrorist training camps in Iraq, such as Salman Pak . He hosted and sheltered terrorist leaders such as Abu Abbas , Abu Nidal , and Carlos “The Jackal”. Saddam’s Baath Party officials had direct meetings with leaders from Al-Fatah, Islamic Jihad, and other international terrorist groups . Second, Iraq tried to invade Iran, and followed up with an invasion of Kuwait. He mobilized his army twice during Clinton’s terms as US President, forcing Clinton to deploy troops each time . Third, He used WMD against Iran , and against the Kurds , as well as using prisoners to develop bioweapons , including two previously unknown weaponized strains (Brucella and Congo Crimean Hemorrhagic Fever (CCHF)) discovered by David Kay’s inspectors. Saddam broke the terms of his cease-fire by hiding his WMD from inspectors for 12 years, committed an act of war by attempting to kill former President George HW Bush , and used the UN’s own Oil-for-Food program to buy prohibited weapons . Saddam Hussein represented a grave threat to the region, a man with a track record of aggressive violence, a pathological hatred of many enemies, and an utter ruthlessness to use any means at hand to advance his aim. The second point then, comes down to method. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan tried to buy out Saddam Hussein, to the tune of ten billion dollars. Saddam preferred power to luxury, and so ignored the offer. A number of Imams approached Saddam in the name of Islam, but since Saddam was a Muslim in name only, this went nowhere. President Clinton warned Saddam off, including air strikes to emphasize the point, but Saddam continued his preparations. All the possible options were explored and removed from consideration, until only 4 remained: Sanctions, Assassination, a UN-approved invasion, or unilateral action by the United States.
Sanctions were tried for 12 years, and by now everyone has heard about the UN’s Oil-for-Food scandal, so there is no point going back to that failed attempt, except to note that twelve years is quite long enough to have tried the option. Assassination may or may not have been approved by President Clinton, but in any case it would have proved a poor measure; If one of his sons (the noble qualities of Uday and Qusay rivalled the meanest attributes of the Marquis de Sade) had not simply become the new Thuggus Maximus, it’s entirely possible the vacuum would have been filled either by another Baathist despot, or else an angry mullah in the mold of Khomeini could have taken the reins of Iraq. One can only imagine an evil comparable to Hussein’s, but in the form of an even less predictable enemy. As for anything by the United Nations, Bush knew early on the track record of the UN’s military actions. In over a half-century of existence, the UN has sanctioned exactly two military actions: the response to the Communist invasion of South Korea, and the first Gulf War. In neither case was peace ever accomplished by anything done by the UN . Korea remains split to this day, to the happiness of no one. And the failure to resolve the Iraq issue in 1991 is the source of the present difficulty. The UN did nothing to stop the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan or to protect fleeing refugees from Somalia and the Sudan. And the massacre in Rwanda is a landmark of UN indifference. There is absolutely no reason to believe that the United Nations is capable or willing to resolve any sort of military conflict, or effectively address any sort of threat to the region. That leaves what happened, direct military action, led by the one nation able to lead such an effort, as the irreducible option.
At this point, the critics start up again, this time insisting that the US is doomed to failure in Iraq, for a variety of reasons. But there are a number of reasons to believe that, as before, Bush’s critics are wrong. Some people actually seem to believe that the Arab people are unable or unwilling to pursue Democracy. Besides the blatant racism and bigotry of such thinking, it can be quickly disproven by simply pointing to the many Americans of Arab descent living quite well in the United States . And there’s more. When the FBI arrested Ahmad Musa Jibril and his father Musa Abdallah Jibril on September 9, 2002, it was on tips from Muslims in Dearborn Michigan, alarmed by the tone and message of the militants. Mahmoud Youssef Kourani raised money for the terrorist group Hezbollah, but his American brother discovered his activities and turned him in. OK, some say, but what does that prove about Iraqi Muslims? Well, consider the capture of Saddam Hussein last November. He was caught hiding in a spider hole, and it sure looked sweet finding him huddled in the mud, but seriously, just how do you suppose the troops knew where to look? Yeah, they’re thorough, but the fact is clear that someone tipped off the troops. All right, that’s a big-time loser worth a big reward, but it tracks with local warnings to US forces about planned attacks , and informants' directions to hidden weapons and wanted leaders. The simple fact is, more and more Iraqis are sick of the fighting, and they realize the US forces are the key to resolving the conflict. Now, Iraq has held the first truly free elections in its history, with a growing number of Iraqis not only optimistic about their future, but grateful to the United States for the way it is handling the rebuilding of Iraq, and the organization of its future government. This is happening because of a fundamental mistake made by bin Laden.
Bin Laden correctly understood the lesson of Khomeini, that many Muslims saw the United States not as an empire, but as a seducer. But bin Laden soiled the teachings of Islam by advocating violence as Jihad, even when used against women and children, even when used against people who had done no offense to Islam, even when done against other Muslims. Bin Laden has already lost the support of most Muslims, provided the U.S. does one thing, which it is doing now: Keep its promises to return Iraq to the Iraqis, and leave the Hajib alone, especially Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem. It is beginning to dawn on many Muslims, that even if the U.S. keeps a military presence in Iraq, it will likely lead to removing troops from Saudi Arabia, which is exactly what two of the most important groups of Muslims, the Fundamentalists and the Conservatives, want most. The war in Iraq is also paying dividends in other countries. Following the success of the US-led Coalition into Iraq, Libya announced a sudden decision to cooperate fully to disarm from its WMD programs. Iran followed by announcing it would unilaterally accept IAEA inspectors, even though those were often led by American scientists. That’s progress by any standard, and it came directly as a result of the US actions in Iraq. Bin Laden also accidentally gave an insight into Arab mistrust of the US plan. On his October 7, 2001 tape, bin Laden claimed that Islam had suffered “humiliation and disgrace” for “more than eighty years”. That brings us back to 1918, when the Ottoman Sultanate lost to the Allied powers in World War I.
As a consequence of the war, Britain claimed the provinces named as Iraq and Palestine, while France took a region named Syria. “Palestine” was later divided into sub-regions named Trans-Jordan (present day Jordan) and Cis-Jordan (which includes present day Israel); “Syria” was divided into sub-regions named Syria and Lebanon, which later became the countries by those names. After World War 1, the Arabs discovered to their anger that they had been lied to by Britain in the Balfour declaration. The only clear winner in the region was ibn Saud, whose private agreement with Britain secured his control over al-Hasa and most of the Nejd. Other men in power would take his example and make their private agreements to establish their thrones. In March 1920, an elected assembly proclaimed Feisal king of the sovereign state of Syria. France’s response was to invade Syria, seizing Damascus on July 25. France followed up in 1925, dividing its territory into four parts, including Lebanon, a Syrian republic, present-day Libya, a district of Latakia. The Arabs revolted against the new foreign rulers, but were suppressed ruthlessly. Britain gradually began to relinquish its hold on Arab lands, especially Egypt in 1936, and recognized Shah Pahlavi in Iran and ibn Saud in the Hejaz. After World War 2, the fate of the Middle East fell into the hands of the victors, including Britain and France. So, as recently as a generation ago, the Middle East found itself unable to decide its own affairs, relegated to the status of pawns. From there, the condition of Arabs, Jews, and other peoples in the region have taken one of three broad paths.
Some, mostly those nations which were Soviet client states, were run by despots and ruthless dictatorships. Countries like Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and Syria all learned their ways of government from Soviet patrons, who preferred to keep the people in those nations from ruling over themselves, especially after Egypt found it did not need the Soviets, and threw them out of the country in 1974.
The second path is of religious radicalism, as evidenced in Iran, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia, where groups of religious ‘purists’ have risen against American and other Western nations and people; cooperation and mutual benefit is rejected as no more than lies and imperialism.
The third path, however, is very real. It shows up in Jordan’s restraint in their relations with Israel, a thing not mentioned much in the news. It shows up in Egypt, which has shown remarkable stability, even in the face of the assassination of President Anwar el-Sadat; most people are unaware that Hosni Mubarek was Sadat's Vice-President, and succeeded Sadat in much the same way that LBJ suceeded JFK. When George W. Bush speaks about the Middle East, he is in large part speaking of these nations which are the foundation for the future Arab world. In Islam, 'Fitnah' is a test for the faithful, one with special significance. Iraq is just such a test. If (I think when) the United States shows it can and will do as it promised, the whole region will come to a better understanding not of the United States, but also of Islam's proper role in its future. George W. Bush already knows that lesson of History.