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May 2004

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The author of the remarks below, Dr. Jim Abrahamson, is a member of the American Diplomacy Publishers board of directors and a long-time observer of the international scene. He takes issue with the journal editor's opinion on Iraq (see editorial following this one). -- Ed.

Free Should be the Four-Letter Word for Iraq's Future

During sixteen months as a political advisor to Iraq's Coalition Provisional Authority, Michael Rubin observed how coverage of the news affected Iraqis. By repeatedly broadcasting such laments as those from Senators Kennedy and Byrd, by hyping every media-inspired "frenzy of panic" over murders like those recently in Fallujah or al Sadr's failed uprising, Rubin wrote, al-Jazeera inspires the terrorists with hopes of ultimate success and causes our supporters to fear that the US will once again abandon them, as it did in 1991. When Iranian TV stations rerun scenes of our flights from Beirut in 1983 and from Somalia a decade later, they reinforce the message of the Mideast's leading TV network: The US is weak and unwilling to stay the course when the going gets rough.1

Mideast news sources will not likely exploit Editor Henry Mattox's recent lament, "Iraq Is a Four Letter Word." Nor will his editorial undermine our national determination. An admired colleague has nevertheless gone very wrong by declaring "Enough!" and urging what can fairly be described as an effective US abandonment of the Iraqi people.

The Editor mistakenly assigns Iraq's present violence not to those Rubin described as "Iranian-backed guerrillas, Saudi-financed Wahhabis, and Syrian-supported Baathists"2 but to long-standing ethnic, tribal, and religious tensions. Those tensions surely exist; Osama bin Laden lieutenant Abu al Zarqawi certainly thought to exploit them; and they complicate the Coalition response to terrorism. To date, however, there is little evidence that Iraqis are about to engage in a civil war across ethnic, tribal, or religious lines. Polls demonstrate that despite such divisions, the majority of Iraqis join in condemning terrorist violence and in hoping the US will not prematurely withdraw.

From the perspective of a year, the editorial also errs in claiming that the "situation deteriorates day by day." In terms of attacks and lives lost, April has been a very bad month, but it is only one of a dozen months. A fair description of the "situation" should also consider the progress that has been made in health care, education, transportation, communication, finances, oil output, power production, provision of clean water, and treatment of waste. The Iraqi economy is clearly recovering and, most important, Iraqis progressively gain control of the ministries that constitute their government.

Whether our invasion of Iraq has produced a "greater… level of danger to the United States and, indeed, Western nations generally" is simply unknowable and highly speculative. Alternatively, what might the level of global violence have been if the US had shown weakness by backing off in March 2003, possibly prompting the UN to end its corrupted sanctions program and freeing Saddam Hussein to finance and pursue production of the chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons needed for the longer range missiles that we have confirmed he was both building and attempting to buy from North Korea. In the realm of unsupported assertions, we can all imagine scenarios quite different from car bombs and mangled bodies in Iraq but nevertheless involving great danger to the US and the West, violence prompted in part by the conviction that we have no stomach for defending either our selves or our interests. Before accepting the Editor's judgment, we should ask which would likely have been the most "egregious national blunder" of March 2003: Going in or pulling out?

The charge that the invasion of Iraq has undermined our security also ignores post-invasion developments: Libya has abandoned a nuclear program that was nearing success and surrendered its existing chemical weapons; Iran's ayatollahs, fearful of their own restive people, are grudgingly yielding to the demands of the International Atomic Energy Administration; elsewhere in the Persian Gulf there are early signs of a slow movement toward more representative political institutions; and Pakistan has in effect switched sides and joined in destroying a criminal nuclear proliferation ring. Do not those developments make us more rather than less secure?

In conclusion, Editor Mattox advocates the involvement of the UN and other international bodies in the "faint hope" that others "can be persuaded… to manage a longer term in-country solution to the problem, replacing gradually the U. S. presence"—a faint hope indeed. The UN has no troops with which to maintain security in Iraq. With disastrous results, it refused even to secure its own Baghdad headquarters—and then fled the country. In a statement to the Security Council the Iraqi foreign minister has already made clear Iraqi distrust of a body that did nothing to protect his fellow countrymen against Saddam Hussein. Elsewhere in the Mideast, UNIFIL keeps the "peace" in South Lebanon by turning the region over to Hezbollah terrorists. The emerging Oil for Food scandal will surely further undermine Iraqi respect for the UN. Though NATO may be better regarded, its officials have made clear that it has all it can handle in the Balkans and Afghanistan. To expect from international organizations anything much beyond UN assistance with forming a temporary Iraqi government and the conduct of later elections is not a faint hope; it is no hope at all.

Readers who have yet to read Bernard Lewis' The Crisis of Islam are urged to do so. We cannot appreciate what we face without an understanding of the global scope of the Islamists' ambitions and how their appeal rests on the present shameful state of Arab society. We can run, but we can neither hide from the terrorists nor wish to satisfy their unreasonable demands and appease their unlimited ambitions. In the long term, defeating them requires a modernization and reform of Arab society, and Iraq is the place to begin. Rather than shout "Enough!" Editor Mattox might better have urged "Steady as she goes!"

James L. Abrahamson

1. Michael Rubin, "The Cost of Weakness," National Review, 3 May 2004, p.23.
2. Ibid.

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