It will not end with Iraq. The toppling of Saddam Hussein will make the Middle East a better place, free a nation that has suffered unspeakable cruelty, and shame the illiberal “peace movement” that even now counsels appeasement and willful blindness in the face of evil. Iraq should have been liberated during the first Gulf War; it cannot happen soon enough.
But this is about more than Iraq. We are in a war against terrorism — more accurately, against radical Islamist terrorists and their state sponsors. Saddam’s regime is one of those sponsors and its downfall will mark an important milestone on the road to victory. But there are other sponsors, and they too must be replaced.
“First and foremost,” writes Michael Ledeen in The War Against the Terror Masters, an absorbing guide to the war and our objectives in waging it, “we must bring down the terror regimes, beginning with the big three: Iran, Iraq, and Syria. And then we have to come to grips with the Saudis.” Those are the worst of the terror sponsors, but there are others, including North Korea, Sudan, and the Palestinian Authority.
Of course it is important to kill or capture terrorists, to choke off their finances, and to disrupt their conspiracies. But terrorist movements are not self-sufficient. They need territory for camps and safe havens, access to money and financial networks, weapons training, communication technology, travel documents, and more. None of those can reliably be had without institutional support — government support. Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and Hamas would not be nearly so deadly if it weren’t for the regimes that sustain them. One of those regimes, the Taliban dictatorship in Afghanistan, is no more. Only when the rest of them are defanged will the terror threat be vanquished.
That doesn’t mean the invasion of Iraq must necessarily be followed by other invasions across the Middle East. As President Bush told Congress in his State of the Union address, different threats call for different strategies.
For example: Iran, the foremost sponsor of Islamist terrorism, already seethes with antigovernment anger. The nation that has lived under radical Islam the longest hates it the most; what the Iranian people need from Washington is not a military incursion but clear moral support. Bush’s words of encouragement on Tuesday were good, but they must be followed up by more: repeated condemnation of the mullahs’ repression, pro-freedom radio and TV broadcasts to Iran, and clandestine support to the opposition.
In Syria, by contrast, public signs of dissent are few. Bringing down Bashar Assad, the country’s dictator, will take more than fanning the flames of an already-smoldering revolution.
Washington might begin by reversing its long and perverse courtship of Damascus. Instead of treating the Syrian regime as a partner in combating terrorism, we ought to be bluntly spelling out the facts of the Syrians’ murderous record. Twenty years ago, they were involved in the terror campaign against Americans in Lebanon, a Syrian-occupied satellite. Today they openly support Hezbollah and shelter units of Al Qaeda. “The Syrian regime must join the Iranians and the Iraqis on the heap of failed Middle Eastern lies,” says Ledeen. International terrorism will remain a menace until it does.
The terror regimes supply the meat and drink of international terror, and for that reason must be overturned. But that isn’t all they provide.
As it did in the Cold War and the war against Hitler, America is fighting not just a military enemy but an ideological one. Moscow commanded armies of soldiers and armies of true believers. Communism was both a seductive economic creed and a doctrine of totalitarian control. Islamism — radical, violent Islam — offers the terror masters and their legions much the same thing. Though outwardly a religious movement, it is as totalitarian as communism was, and no less bent on conquest.
What broke the Soviet stranglehold on half of Europe and drained its influence around the globe was more than US military pressure. So long as the tide of history ran with the communists, their empire appeared invincible, and that seeming invincibility was a lure to radicals the world over. But in the 1980s, the tide of history turned. Grenada and Afghanistan left the communist camp. Soviet dissidents won international acclaim. An independent Polish trade union, emboldened by a Polish pope, stared down the dictator in Warsaw. It became increasingly clear that the communist vision was not, after all, the wave of the future. The communist cause died, and with it the regimes that embodied that cause.
Our mission now is to kill the Islamist cause. We can do so only by killing the tyrannies that sustain it — by demonstrating that Islamism leads not to triumph but to defeat, not to power but to degradation. Crush the Islamists’ dream, and we crush the terrorism it feeds. We made a good start in Kabul and Kandahar. Next stop: Baghdad.