If anything definitive can be said of the presidential debates of September 30 in Coral Gables, Florida, it is that this election is and ought to be a referendum on the execution of the War on Terror. Is the United States’ presence in Iraq a “profound diversion” as John Kerry claims or is it a centerpiece of the War on Terror as George W. Bush argues?
Kerry stated in the debate that “Iraq is not even the center of the focus of the war on terror,” but rather “the real war on terror [is] in Afghanistan against Osama bin Laden.” Bush, in stark contrast, stated that “to say that there’s only one focus on the war on terror doesn’t really understand the nature of the war on terror. … And, of course, Iraq is a central part in the war on terror.”
Nobody can deny that Iraq has now become central to the War on Terror, with terrorists like Zarqawi wreaking havoc against the Iraqi people and humanitarian aid and reconstruction workers from foreign countries. However, Kerry stated, “Iraq was not even close to the center of the war on terror before the president invaded it.” But is that true?
Kerry argues that Iraq was not an imminent threat to the United States. Saddam Hussein was not guilty of the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. The purpose of the War on Terror is to catch Osama bin Laden – the actual culprit of the Sept. 11 attacks – and dismantle the al-Qaeda network. Therefore, the war in Iraq is a diversion from the War on Terror. Is it really that simple?
Bush has argued that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was a rogue regime with weap-ons of mass destruction, a historically demonstrated willingness to use those weapons, and ties to international ter-rorism. Besides the retributory nature of the War on Terror, which is to bring to justice al-Qaeda for the attacks on the U.S., the goal is also preemptive – to deny terrorists safe havens and to hold accountable rogue regimes which harbor terrorists. The aim is also libertarian – to advance liberty, democracy, and human rights as a peaceful antidote to the tyranny of Islamo-fascist terrorists. For these reasons Bush calls the war in Iraq a centerpiece of the War on Terror. But what does Iraq have to do with Sept. 11, 2001?
In order to assess the validity of these arguments, we must have some criteria by which to evaluate them. I propose viewing the War on Terror as fivefold.
First, the people perpetrating the atrocities against the U.S. – the Islamo-fascist terrorists – must be brought to justice. There is little disagreement between Bush and Kerry on this retributory aspect of the War on Terror.
Second, the most dangerous weapons that the terrorists could use must be contained. Kerry articulated “nuclear proliferation” as the greatest threat to national security facing the United States today. Bush concurred, saying, “I agree with my opponent that the biggest threat facing this country is weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a terrorist network. And that’s why proliferation is one of the centerpieces of a multi-prong strategy to make the country safer.”
Third, the War on Terror requires strong defenses at home, including secure borders, strengthened intelligence, and an effective Department of Homeland Security. Neither Kerry nor Bush differs substantially on the importance of these preventative measures.
Fourth, the states in which the terrorists reside must cooperate with their extirpation so as never to become safe havens and breeding grounds for more terrorists. Only Bush appears to take this aspect of the War on Terror seriously. He continually argues that “September the 11th requires our country to think differently.” No longer will the U.S. sit idly while terrorists are allowed to take refuge, train, and plan other attacks in any part of the world. The U.S. must be allied with those states in which terrorists are known to reside, and those states must actively pursue the eradication of those terrorists. Bush can justifiably assert, as he did before the U.N. on Sept. 21, “Instead of harboring terrorists, they’re [Iraq and Afghanistan] fighting terror-ist groups. And this progress is good for the long-term security of us all.”
Fifth, the U.S. must conduct its foreign policy strategically to eliminate the root causes of terrorism against the U.S. That is, if Osama bin Laden ought to be the center of the War on Terror as Kerry claims, it would make sense to investigate bin Laden’s motivations for attacking the U.S.
In 1998 Osama bin Laden urged Jihad against Americans in a fatwa (published in Al-Quds al-’Arabi on Febuary 23, 1998) declaring, “[T]o kill the Americans and their allies – civilians and military – is an individual duty for every Muslim.” Bin Laden highlighted three grievances against the United States: U.S. occupation of the Arabian Peninsula, U.S. aggression toward Iraq, and U.S. favoritism toward Israel.
Interestingly, in April 2003 as a direct consequence of ousting Saddam Hussain, the U.S. announced its inten-tions to remove most of its troops from Saudi Arabia, essentially satisfying the first of bin Laden’s three demands.
Even more interesting, in May of 2003, as a direct consequence of oust-ing Saddam Hussain, the U.N. Security Council ended the sanctions on Iraq at the behest of the U.S. Incidentally, the sanctions were one of the chief complaints of Osama bin Laden, as he articulated in an earlier fatwa from 1996, “More than 600,000 Iraqi children have died due to lack of food and medicine and as a result of the unjustifiable aggression (sanction) imposed on Iraq and its nation.” Furthermore, the U.S. is now allied with Iraq and heavily engaged in reconstruction efforts, and the only aggression occurring is against insurgents and terrorists who are themselves antagonizing the Iraqi people.
Finally, in June of 2002, Bush became the first U.S. president to endorse the creation of a Palestinian state. In his most recent address to the U.N. on Sept. 21, Bush again admonished Israel, saying, “Israel should impose a settlement freeze, dismantle unauthorized outposts, [and] end the daily humiliation of the Palestinian people….” While it is not entirely clear how any U.S. president could fully appease bin Laden’s demands with regard to Israel, at least Bush has attempted to assuage the perception that the U.S. is acting as bin Laden writes with “the aim … to serve the Jews’ petty state and divert attention from its occupation of Jerusalem and murder of Muslims there.”
Both Bush’s declarations and his actions support his vision toward a peaceful Middle East. As a consequence of ousting Saddam Hussein and the Taliban, Bush can credibly claim, “These two nations [Iraq and Afghanistan] will be a model for the broader Middle East,” the beginning a “community of peaceful, democratic nations.” He maintains, “This commitment to democratic reform is essential to resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict.” The Islamic Middle East is the hub of international terrorism, but the libera-tion of Muslims in that region and the normalization of relations with the West would greatly decrease interna-tional terrorism.
Kerry avows, “I would not take my eye off of the goal: Osama bin Laden.” He is preoccupied with retribution for Osama bin Laden, the man. Bush, on the other hand, is concerned with the ideas motivating the Islamo-fascist terrorists of which bin Laden is merely one manifestation.
Even prior to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Iraq was central in the minds of our enemies – Osama bin Laden and the Islamo-fascist terrorists – as a primary reason for attacking us. Osama bin Laden made Iraq the focus of his war against the U.S. in 1996 and again in 1998. Why should we care what bin Laden thinks? Answer: Sept. 11, 2001. Of course it would be foolish of the president to publicly declare that the direction of foreign policy is a response to the claims of the enemy. Indeed Bush stated emphatically in the debate, “Osama bin Laden isn’t going to deter-mine how we defend ourselves.” But it would be equally foolish not even to try to undercut the raison d’être of the enemy. The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was essential to that end and therefore is undeniably central to the War on Terror.