President Bush has declared the end of “major combat operations” in Iraq, but he has not declared victory in the War on Terrorism–and that’s a good thing, because the largest and most important battle in that war still remains to be fought.
The road to victory goes through Tehran.
An end to the threat of Islamic terrorism requires, not just the toppling of one state sponsor of terrorism in Iraq, but the toppling of the regime that is the Middle East’s most active promoter of terrorism–and the most virulent center of the ideology behind Islamic terrorism: the theocracy that rules Iran.
The most recent evidence for the urgent need to confront Iran is the simmering conflict in southern Iraq. Post-war Iraq has been touted by the administration as an attempt to create a free, peaceful, and prosperous society as a model to be followed by dissidents in neighboring countries like Iran. But Iran also wants to turn Iraq into a model–a model for American humiliation and the triumph of Islamic fanaticism.
The evidence of meticulous Iranian planning is everywhere. Note that Shiite demonstrators showed up just days after the fall of Baghdad carrying elaborate, professionally made banners proclaiming their theocratic agenda–with slogans printed in both Arabic and English, for the benefit of the Western media. This is not the work of poor, uneducated Iraqi peasants. It is the work of well-funded political operatives. Indeed, U.S. forces have already begun to capture Iranian agents in Iraq and believe that thousands more Iranian-backed fighters have flooded over the border in the past month.
A peaceful Iraq that respects the rights of its citizens–and allows the presence of U.S. troops or military bases–is a grave danger to Iran and to its co-conspirator in terrorism, Syria. So these two nations are trying to turn Iraq into “another Lebanon”–a quagmire of terrorist attacks and guerilla warfare. Their hope is that the United States will be so afraid of looking like a “bully” imposing an “occupation” that we will withdraw and abandon Iraq, letting Iran set up its own Khomeini-style regime there–in the same way that we abandoned Lebanon, allowing it to be colonized by Syria.
If we let this Iranian strategy work, we will have achieved “regime change” all right–we will have exchanged a fascist anti-American regime for a theocratic anti-American regime.
The nascent guerilla campaign in southern Iraq is a clear hostile act against the United States. Yet Iran is hoping that America will refuse to recognize this as an act of war. The mullahs hope we will once again put ourselves in the impossible situation of having to fight bands of guerillas among Iraq’s civilian population, while refusing to confront the terror masters they serve.
What makes them think they can get away with it? Ultimately, Iran is counting on the administration’s loudly proclaimed refusal to “impose our values” or our form of government on Iraq. But fighting for liberty is never an “imposition.” No one has a right to violate the rights of others–and so it is no limitation on the “freedom” of Iraqi Shiites or Iranian agents if we deny their ambition to impose religious strictures by force.
The vow that we will not try to influence the new Iraq is a declaration of America’s unilateral moral disarmament–our failure to fight for and protect the crucial values at stake in this war.
America needs to recognize that this war is inherently a conflict between two opposing value systems. Our enemies are driven by the theocratic philosophy shared, despite minor sectarian differences, by Osama bin Laden and by the mullahs who rule Iran. The destruction of the Iranian theocracy would do more than just eliminate the world’s largest supporter of terrorism; it would do more than end a nuclear-weapons program that is far closer to completion than Iraq’s ever was; it would do more than stop the Iranian-staged Shiite agitation in Iraq. The end of the Iranian regime would destroy the Middle East’s laboratory of theocracy–the leading example and exporter of a system of religious dogma enforced by terror.
President Bush called the military victory in Iraq “the turning of the tide” in the War on Terrorism. That may be true, but the tide won’t stay with us–or carry us to victory–until we are willing to take the war to Tehran and topple the most important material and ideological supporter of Islamic terrorism.