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Even in the worst-case scenario of endless civil wars and intra-ethnic/intra-religious fighting, Iraq would at worst emerge as the new Afghanistan, a primitive training ground and sanctuary for terrorists. While this would be a negative development (9-11 was an example of what these primitives can do), it would still be a far cry from a new 100-fold 9-11 by means of nuclear or chemical attack. A mega 9-11 is only possible when there is a developed Islamic state capable of acting as an agent for these types of attacks. In this sense the American invasion of Iraq was a win-win proposition. All that is left to be determined is the scale of the victory.
While it is true that there are many Islamic states that are more than capable of financing and developing a WMD program, not all Islamic states operate under the same socio-economic model. Saudi Arabia is perhaps the greatest example, a hotbed of Islamic extremism and the primary source of the 9-11 terrorists. Saudi Arabia’s inherent contradictions as a state work to keep them as a lesser threat to the United States. In spite of its distinction as the birthplace of Osama bin Laden, the Saudi state exists as a Monarchy whose greatest threat to its own power lies in the hands of the same people who pose the greatest threat to the West. The leadership is forced to walk the tightrope between East and West. And so one sees the spectacle of a Saudi Arabian government crushing some terrorist cells, while simultaneously turning a blind eye to Wahhabist schools indoctrinating children into an ideology of hate.
Examples like the above are endless. The loss of Musharaff as the leader of Pakistan or a turn-around by Qadhafi in Libya could create a sudden security crisis for the United States. As in the case of Saudi Arabia, neither of these states presents the same level of immediate threat as did the Iraq of Saddam Hussein. In fact there is even room for hope in a more moderate and reformist ascendancy in all three of these nations. In the case of Iraq this was not a government seeking to hold back a tide, walk a tightrope or reform a system, but actively engaged in trying to procure weapons in order to strike out at America and/or its interest abroad. For Saddam the tightrope was solely defined by the degree of pressure that we maintained on his nation - a pressure that was being undermined at every turn by the UN and the more treasonous of western leaders. The danger of Saddam was in that there was little internal contradiction within his nation; his was the danger of consistency.
The question is not whether any particular Islamic state possesses nuclear weapons (Pakistan does, and Turkey soon may), but whether that state's leadership and internal social forces are such that their possession of these weapons makes their use highly likely. In a perfect world none of these states would possess them at all, but within the context of the present political reality, this is not the case. Unfortunately, the past pacifism and indecisiveness of the United States has put them in the position of not being able to choose whether to maintain that none of them will possess WMDs, but whom we can we least tolerate to possess them.
Which brings us to the present day. Our television screens are filled with images of Iraq and the current battle against the extremist elements there. And yet, to a great degree what we see occurring there has already faded in importance in relation to the much greater threat that is developing on Iraq’s border. While I have every confidence in the ability of the United States to accomplish most of its goals in Iraq, our most important goal has already been more than accomplished. The complete destruction of the military infrastructure of a nation that was in the hands of a man who desired to use it. As the current struggle in Iraq continues to proceed, what emerges is a new and even deadlier threat: Iran.
There was some hope that the internal forces in Iran were such that a new wave of moderate Islam and progressive reforms were soon to be seen. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the case. In fact, in my opinion the current brinksmanship on the part of the Iranian government is primarily a means to divert the attention of the nation's populace from demands for reform, to nationalistic fervor. Whatever their true intentions may be is inconsequential. What does matter is the reality that this state is a genuine Islamic Theocracy in the truest sense of the word, and is run by cabal of corrupt and evil men. These elements combine to form a prescription for horrific tragedy.
There is a naïve part of me that would like to believe that the United States would manage to secure the support of all of NATO (France & Germany included) and even a ‘green light’ from the UN Security Council to smash Iran’s nuclear threat. (Yes I know, who cares what the UN thinks?! That sentiment notwithstanding, it would be a nice signal that the world is waking up.) But I believe the script just won’t be written that way. What I realistically predict is that within a year of the Iraqi elections, the United States will almost unilaterally launch a pre-emptive strike against the nation of Iran. A massive Anglo-American air strike will be launched against all of the nuclear research and production stations within Iran.
No doubt Iran will make many diplomatic noises prior to our pre-emptive strike. So, the hue and cry from the UN and nearly the entire world will be deafening. Chirac will make his obligatory disparaging remarks about Bush, the Russians will scream in public (but rejoice in private), the Israelis will breath a little more freely, and most importantly Michael Moore will be able to film civilian suffering from the collateral damage in Iran.
I would like to add one caveat to the thrust of my article. The scenario given is a highly optimistic one, one in which President Bush comes through. I believe that my optimism is not misplaced and that America will act decisively (though as usual, belatedly) on the looming Iran crisis. BUT, there is an alternate scenario, which a friend pointed out to me - it is a scenario of forceful American posturing in words with complete passivity in deeds.
His scenario is one where Mr. Bush ‘calls it a day’ on the War against Terror. He focuses on finishing in Iraq and beginning the process of extricating our troops prior to his term being finished. He joins the chorus of European appeasers, albeit in a manner that does not seem as appeasing as theirs. My friend's scenario sees Bush focus primarily on the domestic front and preserving his ‘legacy,’ while reshaping his foreign policy to a more ‘bunker’ mentality. All defense, and no pre-emptive offense. In other words, George Bush pulls a ‘John Kerry’ by stealth.
Personally I do not see it playing out that way. But if my friend is indeed correct, then I will curse the day I ever made a single pro-Bush comment. When one considers the myriad of errors and flaws that many were willing to overlook in support of this man, for the sake of his greatest perceived virtue of being the stronger and more proactive defender of American security, then a move of this type would leave me speechless. It would be like marrying a hideously ugly woman because you're told she’s a millionaire, only to find out on your wedding night that she is dead broke financially.
Let's face it folks, millions of those who voted for Bush did so for the most part because within our hierarchy of values, the security of America trumped all other issues. Remove this issue, and what you have left is a betrayal of enormous magnitude. If 4 years from now theocratic Iran is simply one more ‘nuclear’ power in the Middle East, and North Korea is receiving extortion money from the United States while continuing to export arms throughout the world; then our nation will face the grim reality of yet another 9-11 that will dwarf the original in terms of human tragedy.
So Chris Matthew Hegel, if you’re out there and reading this - I hope this is one “I told you so” that I never have to hear you say.
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