Yesterday, I heard a guy on the radio saying that there is more terrorism in Iraq now than when we invaded. In fact, he might have gone so far as to say that there “was no terrorism” in Iraq under Saddam.
It struck me as a common thread among some anti-war factions, and it got me thinking.
There was plenty of terrorism under Saddam, but it was of an entirely different nature.
Under Saddam, terrorism was very tightly controlled by the government. It was parceled out in measured doses to keep the populace under control. Random arrests and disappearances, the rape rooms, the maimings, the attempts at genocide — all were calculated to keep the general Iraqi public cowed, too afraid to speak out — let alone rise up against Saddam.
More conventional terrorism was also controlled, too — limited to training camps, funding, and other forms of support. But this was kept carefully firewalled from the public, and immediately exported. Saddam didn’t train terrorists to wreak their havoc in Iraq, but other places; he didn’t fund suicide bombers in his own borders; he didn’t let his people know that there were extensive terrorist training camps around the country. Totalitarian regimes simply don’t have problems with terrorism. Such things tend to be the complications of more enlightened states.
What happened when we toppled Saddam was that the means of control and exporting of terrorism were destroyed, and the forces he had reined in were set loose. They no longer had to depend on Saddam’s largesse, nor fear his wrath. Further, the enemy they had psyched themselves to fight — the West — was there, among them, and available for attack. To take on the warriors of the West fed into their own self-image as mighty, noble warriors, and the idea of traveling hundreds, thousands of miles to fight the great enemy when they were just across town lost its appeal.
It’s eminently debatable how things are going in Iraq. Personally, I think it’s going all right. The recent outburst threatened to degenerate into outright chaos and anarchy, with factions more intereated in slaughter than conquest, but it was averted and ultimately fizzled — and the leaders of the various factions in the nascent Iraqi government were largely responsible for that event. (This despite the cheerleading of several elements of the anti-war left and the media to hype the “civil war” that would prove their point — but at the cost of an ungodly butcher’s bill. Look how fast the 1300 body count myth fell apart.)
In the long run, I think what is happening to Iraq will ultimately prove beneficial to the Iraqi people — and the world in general. The pre-existing status quo was obscene — it tolerated a certain acceptable level of terrorism, carnage, mayhem, and slaughter in the name of “stability.” As long as the killings didn’t happen TOO frequently, and didn’t claim TOO many lives at once, the world was fine with the “low-intensity conflict.”
The removal of Saddam could be an abject lesson for others: it is NOT acceptable, and actions WILL be taken. Terrorism must be fought, not harnessed. And those who seek to hold the reins on it WILL be brought to account.
That appears to be the message being sent, and Libya heard it loud and clear. Syria also caught a little of it, and is scrambling to find a new accomodation with that reality. Iran heard it as a threat, and is looking to get its hands on the biggest gun it can find (nuclear weapons) to threaten back with.
I’ve never really felt comfortable with “The Iraq War” as a title. It’s a campaign in a larger conflict. During World War II, we had “the war in Europe” and “the war in the Pacific,” with little side-adventures in Africa and the Atlantic. Hell, there were even battles in Alaska and the Indian Ocean, to name just a couple of other fronts. But they were all part of the overall battle — the democracies (and the Soviet Union, as an ally of convenience at the time) versus the totalitarian states. The Allies versus the Axis.
Iraq is merely a part of that bigger picture. It is essential that we win here, and by “win” I mean make sure Iraq has a government and a largely free people. That is the biggest guarantee that Iraq will never again be a factory for terrorism, as it was under Saddam.
And it is even more essential that the winning (or, god forbid, the losing) of a single battle does not herald the end of the fight.