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What gives America the right to attack Iraq? It's simple...
By Steven C. Den Beste
It's dangerous to take ideas which work in one place and try to use them somewhere else. We prefer to deal with our fellow countrymen in a spirit of friendship and fairness, and to have each of us deal with all the others as equals.
But if you try to negotiate with a bear, you'll get eaten. Bears don't think like that.
And if you try to negotiate with a wild man, he'll leave a trail of dead bodies and raped women behind him. With some people, only force will do.
There's no fairness or symmetry in international affairs. There never has been. Within our nation we try to live as civilized beings, but the world is a jungle, and despite what we'd all like to believe, it is a hostile and dangerous place where only force or the threat of force are truly effective. In a better world this would not be so, but we don't live in a better world. We live in a world full of Mugabes and Saddams.
Asking what "right" the US has to attack Iraq is not a meaningful question. Wars aren't based on right and wrong, or on entitlement. Participation in wars is always, always based on rational self interest by the nations in question.
We will attack Iraq because Iraq is dangerous to us, and because if we don't fight there, then we'll fight them or their weapons here and a lot more of us will die. Since I am partisan for my nation and since I don't want my countrymen to die, I'd prefer that if fighting must be done that it be done elsewhere. No fighting at all would be even better yet, but that's no longer a choice available to us.
The problem is that Saddam is a monster, and he is set to be followed by a son who is even worse. He has weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), and despite certain claims to the contrary, we cannot be sure that he will not give, or otherwise provide, them to groups who will smuggle them into the US. I do not want 500 kilos of VX being released in downtown Atlanta. I do not want Pittsburgh getting nuked. I do not want thousands of people in Seattle dying from anthrax. And I don't want New York to bleed anymore.
Nothing in the future is certain, but in my opinion the chance of this happening is too high if the Baath regime in Baghdad is permitted to continue to rule. So we'll have to go take it out, and put a better (for us) regime in place. We did that in Japan, too, and it's a damned good thing both for us and for the Japanese. Yes, we meddle in the world. It's part of the role one takes on by being rich and strong. And it does make us hated.
But that's not why we were attacked last September.
It isn't American politics, or American military power, or American economic influence which motivated al-Qaida. What they really fear is much deeper, much more subtle, much much more insidious.
Their leaders are (or were, since many are now dead) religious zealots. Their goal is to establish a world-wide Islamic republic, with everyone everywhere living according to the tenets of their faith. Their view of the world is the Islamic equivalent of millennialism; and in a sense they think of themselves as fighting a holy war.
The Q'uran tells them that God will fight on their side, and that Islam will eventually rule the entire world. It is both the inevitable destiny of Islam to rule the world, and the duty of all good Muslims to work to that end.
The problem is that Americans permit freedom of religion; Islam is tolerated and even celebrated here, along with many other religions. We certainly are making no important attempts to suppress it. But it doesn't seem to be dominating, and there's no sign that their attitudes are affecting us in any significant way. On the other hand, American ideas and attitudes are infiltrating their own societies and eating away at the foundation of Islamic practice. We offer things which are attractive to individuals, and they find them irresistible. Their young people want to wear blue-jeans. They want to listen to loud music. They like the idea of dating one another, just like young people do in the west. To reactionary Islamic zealots, it's not just that they don't seem to be spreading the faith, but that the faith is being eaten alive by a sinful attraction to our heathen ways. Islam is actually in retreat. It can't even be secure in its own nations, let alone try to take over ours.
The Q'uran also tells them that their nations should be powerful and important, and there was a time when it was true. The golden age of the Islamic empire was glorious. It also ended 600 years ago, and these days the reality is that the only reason that Saudi Arabia isn't a terribly impoverished third world nation is that it's sitting on reserves of oil. But among the Islamic nations, the only ones who have managed to succeed at anything other than selling natural resources have been those which have adopted western ways, western technology, western attitudes. The more devoutly Islamic a nation is, the more it seems to be a failure in all other ways. To be devout should mean being strong, but it seems to make them weak. It's almost as if the Q'uran was wrong -- but the Q'uran cannot be wrong; it's the word of God.
So we (you and I) are a living, walking, talking heresy. We're not even trying to spread our culture to the Islamic nations; it just happens on its own because, quite frankly, they are not very fun places to live. Irrespective of whether a devout Islamic life might be good for the soul, it's boring and unpleasant for the body and mind. The people there prefer our lifestyle; they eagerly seek it out. We seem to have no interest at all in their culture, however, except as an intellectual curiosity. There's zero chance of American women adopting the abaya, for example.
Indeed, it's our women who are the worst problem of all. They insist on being equal to men, and most of our men like it that way. They drive cars. They walk alone in the city. They go where they want, and they wear whatever they feel like. They show immorally large amounts of skin (i.e. their elbows and knees) and walk around with their heads uncovered. Many of them live alone, and have jobs and careers. They bear arms; they serve in our military; and many of them are officers and give orders to men. This is unholy; God tells the Islamic extremist that women must be subservient to men at all times.
And the women of the Islamic world want the same, and it scares the men running al-Qaida. And it's important to note that they are all men. Our culture attracts their young, and it attracts their women of all age. It even attracts some of the older men. Islam is losing the war for the Arab mind.
The extremists wish a return to the glory of Islamic dominance of the world, because it is what God told them would happen. And every year that passes makes this seem less and less likely, as the Islamic nations fall further and further behind the west in nearly every way that can be measured. 600 years ago, Islam was a great and glorious culture, but 600 years ago there was no humanist, liberal democracy combined with capitalism and science. Now those things exist, and no nation combines them better than we in America; and in every possible way that can be objectively measured, secular liberal democracy and capitalism and science are kicking Islamic culture's ass. They're being buried, and we don't even seem to be doing it deliberately. We are so much more powerful, and our culture so much more vital and vibrant, that we don't even notice theirs.
They call us devils, because they truly see us as evil. We are the embodiment of the forces fighting against God and Islam, and we're winning. We win in terms of economic might; in terms of military power; in all forms of temporal power in fact. And we're winning the fight for minds and souls; our ideas are infecting the Arabs even in Holy Saudi Arabia, the very core of Islam, home of the two Mosques. We profane their faith just by breathing.
We have no problem living side by side with them, but to Islamic extremists we are a stark danger -- and we would remain a stark danger even if we militarily disengaged from the world, stopped supporting Israel, and made all the other concessions that some suggest we should. Because it isn't the Third Armored division which they fear; it's television and radio and fashion and the Internet. It's bikinis and Saturday night dates; it's rock-and-roll. It's comfortable clothing. It's Saturday in the park, and hanging out at the mall after school. And it's our women, our damnably independent women, who not only demand equality with men but have proved that they deserve it by performing just as well as men. They fear our women, because they fear their own women.
In actuality, they attacked us out of self defense, as they viewed it. They were attempting to defend their faith against the heretical influence of our culture, and the slow but sure way that it is destroying what they see as the true practice of Islam. And as long as we believe in things like freedom of expression, and freedom of behavior, then to a greater or lesser extent we will continue to eat away at the roots of Islamic culture simply by existing.
Their culture has been thrown into competition with ours and it is losing. They only way they can win is by destroying us. Their actual demand was that all traces of influence by us be removed from contact with their culture, so that it will stop seducing their own people away from devout practice of the true faith, and that isn't possible as long as we exist.
As long as all they did was to be angry at us, we largely ignored them. We don't generally concern ourselves too much about angry speech. Even their previous attacks didn't seem to be very serious; they were just a fringe group, their attacks just pinpricks. September 11 changed all that; the threat became too great to ignore. It's clear that if they could, they'd have struck an even harder blow against us. Given that last September was the fourth attack against us by al-Qaida, they had no intention of stopping with that one if left alone. If they could get their hands on WMDs, they'd unquestionably use them against us.
But their leaders are deluded. They truly expected that as a result of last September's attack that we would crumble, economically and culturally and militarily. We have many weapons but no guts, or so they thought, and besides which when war really came God would fight on their side and smite us. They thought we would surrender. They didn't expect us to come in and crush them. But their evaluation wasn't based on understanding of us and how we think; it came from a reading of holy words. They thought we would surrender because God told them that they were guaranteed to win.
Unfortunately, their delusion continues, and it remains their need to destroy us to protect Islam from our influence. From our influence as the source of dangerous ideas which threaten the foundation of Islam, ideas about freedom and independence and diversity and the ability of people, especially women, to make decisions for themselves and to talk about what they want to and go where they want and do what they want. That is what they fear most about us. Those ideas are a deadly threat to Islam itself.
Which means that they would have attacked us eventually no matter whether we had troops in Saudi Arabia, no matter what we did or did not do in Israel, no matter what else we did in terms of foreign policy. They will attack us in future even if we don't attack Iraq. Their deep hatred of us doesn't stem from that.
And now that we've recognized this, then it becomes clear that a war has been thrust upon us all unwillingly. We didn't pick this fight, but we're not going to back away from it. Our enemies are determined to fight us. Since we must fight, it is best that we fight enough now to make sure we don't have to fight this war again, later, and if war must take place it is better that it not happen here. But since we must now fight, we must fight to win. We owe it to our children to not bequeath to them a deadly peril we could have removed.
And part of that is taking out Saddam. He represents a source of weapons which truly can harm us seriously, and has demonstrated a willingness to use them. He used his nerve gas against the Iranians, and he used it against the Kurds. He's threatened to use it against Israel. He might give some surreptitiously to the extremists, and we can't take that chance. If he'd actually been willing to cooperate with the arms inspectors over the course of the last ten years and truly given up all his supplies of WMDs and demonstrated the willingness to not try to develop them again, then it would not be necessary to take him out, and we'd be willing to continue a policy of isolation.
But the record of the last ten years is clear: he has WMDs and he fully intends to keep them. Surely it's not just because he considers them some sort of trophy; he has them because he can conceive of circumstances where he might use them, or give them to others to use. And we might be the target.
So what gives us the right to go attack Iraq? The right of survival, the fact that if we don't go to Iraq to fight, there's an unacceptably high chance that Iraq's WMDs might come to us.
We need no other justification.
Steven C. Den Beste is the force behind the blog U.S.S.
Clueless. This article appeared as a blog entry on his site and is
used with his permission. (c) Steven C. Den Beste
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