The invasion of Iraq

"The invasion of Iraq I believe will turn out to be the greatest strategic disaster in U.S. history." -Former National Security Agency director and retired Army Lt. Gen. William Odom

People often say that the terrorist attacks on 9/11 changed everything. But as the years pass by, it has grown painfully obvious that the attacks have, in fact, changed very little. A prime example of this is what some consider to be President Bush's ill-advised, wasteful and foolish invasion of Iraq. In the aftermath of September 11th, one of the most common questions being asked was 'why'? Why do they hate us? What could possibly motivate these terrorists to commit suicide in order to inflict harm upon us? Why did so many women and children in the Middle East celebrate and dance in the streets at the news of the horrible attacks?

President Bush answered the question only hours after the World Trade Centers had crumbled to the ground. "America was targeted for attack," the President explained, "because we're the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world." Bush later expanded on his original statement when he addressed Congress and the American people shortly after 9/11: "Americans are asking, why do they hate us? They hate what we see right here in this chamber-a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms-our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other. These terrorists kill not merely to end lives, but to disrupt and end a way of life."

Other neo-conservatives and war hawks followed suit. Former Republican vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp wrote, "I would add...they also hate our democracy, our liberal markets and our abundance of economic opportunity, at which the terror attacks were clearly directed." National Review boasted in its October 1, 2001 editorial that America was the target "because we are powerful, rich, and good. We are resented for our power, envied for our wealth, and hated for our liberty." Two weeks later, National Review senior editor Ramesh Ponnuru expressed the same opinion in another article, stating that "the radical Islamists' broader quarrel is with American power: not with the uses of that power, but with the fact of it. We are infidels. And we are liberal, capitalist, modern, powerful, and rich; therefore hated." Columnist Paul Greenberg wrote that "the haters need no reason to hate us. It is enough that we are who we are-a free and powerful people. They can't bear our happiness, our prosperity, our power, and most of all the realization that others want to model themselves on us and build their own free societies." George Will chimed in, explaining that the terrorists "hate America because it is the purest expression of modernity-individualism, pluralism, freedom, secularism."

Certainly this view sounds good to American ears, which might explain why so many people, even moderate conservatives who should know better, have bought into it. But however nice this simplistic and self-congratulatory explanation sounds, it simply doesn't hold water. As Charley Reese once wrote in one of his columns, "It is absurd to suppose that a human being sitting around suddenly stands up and says: 'You know, I hate freedom. I think I'll go blow myself up.'" Former CNN journalist and terror analyst Peter Bergen is one of the few people in the world who has had the opportunity to interview face-to-face the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, Osama bin Laden. Bergen had a keen interest in the first attempt to destroy the World Trade Center in 1993, declaring that "there was always an unresolved quality to the U.S. government's investigation" of the event. Bergen's questions about who masterminded and funded the operation led him to further pursue the subject, and his efforts to contact bin Laden were rewarded in March 1997. Bergen wrote about his encounter in his book Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden, published in 2001. (Publication of the book, originally set for mid-summer 2002, was drastically sped up after the 9/11 attacks.) According to Bergen, once the interview began, "bin Laden began to rail in Arabic against the injustices visited upon Muslims by the United States and his native Saudi Arabia."

As one reads through bin Laden's lengthy criticism of America, it soon becomes clear that the terrorists do not "hate our freedoms," nor do they hate us because of our democracy, liberty, happiness or prosperity. Bin Laden instead lists specific political reasons why he and his followers have declared "jihad" (a Muslim holy war against infidels) on the U.S. government. Among the reasons:
-The U.S. government..."has committed acts that are extremely unjust, hideous, and criminal whether directly or through its support of the Israeli occupation of [Palestine]."
-The U.S. government is directly responsible for the death of large groups of people in Palestine, Lebanon, and Iraq.
-The U.S. government has occupied Arabia (a peninsula between the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf that politically includes Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Kuwait.)

"This U.S. government abandoned humanitarian feelings by these hideous crimes," bin Laden claimed. "It transgressed all bounds and behaved in a way not witnessed before by any power or any imperialist power in the word... For this and other acts of aggression and injustice, we have declared jihad against the U.S., because in our religion it is our duty to make jihad so that God's word is the one exalted to the heights and so that we drive the Americans away from all Muslim countries." According to bin Laden, "the collapse of the Soviet Union made the U.S. more haughty and arrogant..." As a result, our country has supposedly "started to look at itself as a master of this world and established what it calls the New World Order." "The U.S. today has set a double standard, calling whoever goes against its injustice a terrorist," bin Laden claimed. "It wants to occupy our countries, steal our resources, impose on us agents to rules us... and wants us to agree to all these. If we refuse to do so, it will say, 'You are terrorists.'" Bin Laden concluded his interview with Bergen with this statement: "If there is a message that I may send through you, then it is a message I address to the mothers of the American troops who came here with their military uniforms walking proudly up and down our land... I say that this represents a blatant provocation to over a billion Muslims. To these mothers I say if they are concerned for their sons, then let them object to the American government's policy."

Bin Laden is undeniably the de facto leader of the terrorist group al Qaeda, and was responsible for running numerous terrorist training camps throughout Afghanistan and Sudan in the 1990s. According to Bergen, he is considered to be a "hero throughout the Middle East" for his role in the war against the Soviet Union's occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Dr. Saad al-Fagih, a Saudi dissident whom Bergen also had contact with in his effort to find bin Laden, estimated that between twelve to fifteen thousand men served with bin Laden during the Afghanistan war, and that of those, over four thousand men are still "committed to bin Laden's cause around the world." Clearly, the views that bin Laden expresses are representative of the views of a vast number of people in the Middle East, including those terrorists who engage in "jihad." It is also clear that these people are truly motivated by hate. Bin Laden himself freely admitted this when he told Bergen that "the hearts of Muslims are filled with hatred toward the United States of America and the American president [at that time, Clinton]." But it is equally clear that President Bush and the neo-conservative war hawks either have no inkling of what actually motivates this hate, or they simply don't care or don't feel compelled to complicate the issue by telling the truth to the American people. Bin Laden's (and by extension, the terrorists and other Islamic extremists') "beef" with the United States is really quite simple. National Review senior editor Ramesh Ponnuru wrote that "the radical Islamists' broader quarrel is with American power: not with the uses of that power, but with the fact of it." But anyone who has a rudimentary knowledge of the situation and is being honest with himself knows that Mr. Ponnuru has it exactly backwards.

Some supporters of the war in Iraq, demonstrating an alarming lack of foresight, might be inclined to ask, "So what?" But what does it say about our leaders and those neo-conservative war hawks when they either cannot or will not identify the real reason why terrorists hate us? "Those who ignore the past are doomed to repeat it" is an old saying most of us are probably familiar with. It's a saying that Bush and the war supporters need to learn. They have either ignored the past, or simply refused to learn from it, and continue to commit the same mistakes that put us in the position we are today. In his farewell address to the American people in 1796, George Washington admonished our nation to maintain neutrality toward all nations and not get involved in foreign disputes of any kind. "Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all," he said. "The great rule of conduct for us, in regard to foreign nations, is, in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible."

Today Washington's wise advice is scoffed at by most people, even many who fancy themselves conservatives. Those who do believe our nation should return to the path touted by Washington are often labeled "isolationists" or worse. But our nation's first president knew what he was talking about. Over 200 years ago, he correctly predicted what would happen if our nation did not follow the principles he set forth: "Just and amicable feelings towards all [nations] should be cultivated," he said. "The Nation, which indulges towards another an habitual hatred, or an habitual fondness, is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest. Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable, when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur. Hence frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests. "So likewise, a passionate attachment of one Nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite Nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest, in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter, without adequate inducement or justification."

A study of American history shows that our nation has done precisely what Washington warned against, and that Washington was correct when he predicted the consequences of these actions. Except our situation today has become much worse than the situation that Washington describes. Millions of people across the world hate us. Entire generations hate us. Why? Not because of our supposed freedom, or liberty, or whatever other attributes Bush and the neo-conservatives pat ourselves on the back for. They hate us because for too long our government has interfered in the political, social and military affairs of other countries. While military action in Afghanistan was justified, this is one reason why invading Iraq was simply a mistake. By invading a country and toppling a government that had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks, our government is simply engaging in more of the same behavior that caused the attacks in the first place. This is corroborated by the fact that our invasion in Iraq has clearly created a new wave of people intent on inflicting harm upon the U.S. and U.S. forces. In a recent column by U.S. Representative Ron Paul, Paul cites a recent study by the Pentagon's Defense Science Task Force on Strategic Communications that concludes that in the struggle for the "hearts and minds" of Middle Eastern people on Iraq, "American efforts have not only failed, they may also have achieved the opposite of what they intended." As Paul writes, the Pentagon report "flatly states that our war in Iraq actually has elevated support for radical Islamists. [The report] . . . conclude[s] that our active intervention in the Middle East as a whole has greatly diminished our reputation in the region, and strengthened support for radical groups. This is similar to what the CIA predicted in an October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, before the invasion took place." [The report can be read at http://www.acq.osd.mil/]

Michael Scheuer, former chief of the CIA's bin Laden unit, reached a similar conclusion in his recent book Imperial Hubris. In his introduction to the book, Scheuer wrote critically about U.S. and coalition attempts to govern "apparently ungovernable postwar states" in Iraq and Afghanistan, noting that "in conducting these activities... U.S. forces and policies are completing the radicalization of the Islamic world, something Osama bin Laden has been trying to do with substantial but incomplete success since the early 1990s." Scheuer concludes that as a result, he feels the United States of America is, unbelievable as it may sound, bin Laden and al Qaeda's "only indispensable ally" in the world today. In addition, a February 17, 2005 article in the Washington Post reported that CIA Director Porter J. Goss admitted to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that "Islamic extremists are exploiting the Iraqi conflict to recruit new anti-U.S. jihadists." Goss also warned that "jihadists who survive will leave Iraq experienced and focused on acts of urban terrorism," and will "represent a potential pool of contacts to build transnational terrorist cells, groups and networks in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other countries." Some people advance the argument that "it is better to fight the terrorists in Iraq then over here." Perhaps these people should ask the citizens of England-victim of a series of attacks-how well this argument holds up. And perhaps this argument would hold more weight if the Iraqi insurgents were made up largely of foreign militants who have traveled to Iraq, as the Bush administration has repeatedly claimed. But in fact, a recent report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies shows that foreign militants make up less than 10 percent of the insurgents fighting U.S. forces.

In other words, the vast majority of people we are fighting in Iraq are not foreign terrorists; rather, they are Iraqis who have risen up against U.S. occupation of their country. Other people, even self-styled conservatives, argue that we should no longer follow the non-interventionist policy advocated by our Founding Fathers since "times have changed since then." But it is this very same argument that liberals have used for decades to advocate numerous abuses of governmental power that clearly went against the principles the Founding Fathers set forth-among these, our bloated welfare program, abortion and state-funded abortion, a constitutional right to sodomy, etc. This argument also ignores that while times do change, sound principles do not. That is why Washington was able to correctly predict what would happen if our country did not follow the Founding Fathers' view when it came to foreign policy, even though times did change. That's why today, countries like Switzerland are virtually completely safe from terrorist attacks or other military problems. They followed the principle we should have followed. Is there not a sense of embarrassment that just over 20 years ago the United States was supporting Hussein's regime in Iraq? Our government helped finance Iraq's war against Iran, and provided Iraq with intelligence and military support (contrary to our nation's official declaration of neutrality in the matter, needless to say). Today we have photos and video footage of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld greeting and shaking hands with Hussein.

Moreover, reputable sources have reported that Saddam was in league with CIA and U.S. intelligence officials since 1959, when he was "part of a CIA-authorized six-man squad tasked with assassinating then Iraqi Prime Minister Gen. Abd al-Karim Qasim." And in the mid-1980s, veteran CIA operative Miles Copeland admitted that the CIA had enjoyed "close ties" with the ruling Baath Party, while former National Security Council staffer Roger Morris recently claimed that the CIA had chosen the Baath Party "as its instrument." This is just one illustration of how a government meddling in the political affairs of other nations can come to no good. The current invasion and regime change in Iraq is no exception: war supporters are loathe to admit it, but the possibility of Iraq deteriorating into a full-scale civil war is becoming more likely day by day. Numerous polls show that support for the Iraq war have plummeted, and many Republicans and Democrats who previously supported the war are now bailing out, demanding some sort of "time table" or "exit strategy." But as Paul notes, "no attempt is made by either side to explain exactly why it is the duty of American soldiers to die for the benefit of Iraq or any other foreign country. No reason is given why American taxpayers must pay billions of dollars to build infrastructure in Iraq. We are expected to accept the interventionist approach without question, as though no other options exist. This blanket acceptance of foreign meddling and foreign aid may be the current Republican policy, but it is not a conservative policy by any means."

Then again, President Bush is not a conservative by any stretch of the imagination. Even Bush's dwindling number of supporters in the Republican Party can't argue this point. Bush openly declared his support for gay and lesbian civil unions on national television; he has participated in out-of-control government spending that would once have made Democrats blush; he has failed to veto a single bill in six years as president, including bills he previously said he considered to be unconstitutional; and he has repeatedly betrayed conservatives in numerous other areas, including immigration reform, Supreme Court nominees, gay rights and civil liberties. As a result, most Bush supporters cling desperately to the "war on terror" as the reason they still follow our current president. But nation-building and spreading "democracy" around the world at gunpoint is not a conservative policy either, and people who claim it is are not conservatives. It is not even a liberal policy. It is an imperialistic policy that usually fails miserably and ultimately leads to ruin.