Is It Better to Fight Them in Iraq?


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January 25, 2007

Arguments for our invasion/continued presence in Iraq come and go. First we were told that Saddam had WMDs and was involved in 9/11; we all know what happened to those canards. Then we were told that we invaded in order to liberate the Iraqi people and give them a flourishing democracy. Well, that claim isn't holding up very well either. Lately people have altered their tune to say we need to stay in Iraq lest civil war ensue. Every day, the silliness of that stance becomes more apparent. The hawks also claim that by staying 'over there,' we are keeping America safe from terrorists. That's a risky proposition however, because if and when the next major attack on US soil occurs, those whiny peace activists can say the Iraq strategy has failed on that count too.

What the war hawks really need is a counterfactual claim, i.e. an assertion about how bad things would have been had we not invaded. That way, no matter how terribly the actual situation unfolds, the war hawks can always say it would have been even worse had we refrained from our manly duty to bomb towns and establish roadblocks.

I think the war hawks have already stumbled upon such an argument, when they ask questions such as, 'Would you rather fight the terrorists in Iraq or in Manhattan ?' Upon first blush, this is just what the doctor ordered. Even if 1,000 Marines get killed in a single day in Baghdad , squeamish citizens can reflect that it's better for 1,000 people to get killed in a different country than in Times Square . After all, you don't want blood spattering on a starlet or something.

I was musing along these lines when it suddenly occurred to me: The enemy would rather fight us in Iraq , too! Think about it: Suppose you really hated the US empire and wanted to kill as many US soldiers as possible, but you were an unemployed goatherder living on the outskirts of Fallujah. If the US kept its men in arms stationed in secure bases in Georgia and Texas , it would be pretty hard for you to hurt them. First you'd have to stow away on a ship crossing the ocean, or save up 50 times your annual income to buy a ticket. How much more convenient it would be if the US commander-in-chief ships over 100,000 such troops over to your neighborhood!

This is such a flippant observation that it's liable to be dismissed. So let me try hitting it from a different angle. Suppose there were some thriller, let's call it The Arabian Candidate, about an Al Queda plot to infiltrate the US federal government'maybe a presidential candidate whose name is similar to Osama. Now lo and behold, the American people are duped (no suspension of disbelief necessary on that score) and vote for the evil man, whose sole aim is to cripple the US military. Now, once he's firmly in office, what could he do? Although we can imagine all sorts of insidious ploys, I think if he could rig it so that billions of US tax dollars were offered to bribe young Americans by the thousands to head to the Middle East where they'd walk around IEDs for several years, that would be pretty good. I'm sure the writers for 24 could come up with something better, but even the Arabian candidate could understandably pat himself on the back if he got the American people to support his plan for the destruction of US military strength.

This also ties in with the lack of terrorist attacks on US soil since 9/11. People like Ann Coulter say that Bush is doing a fine job, and that the 3,000+ American deaths so far are a small price to pay for the safety we've had in the homeland. Now, this has always puzzled me. I've seen firsthand how inattentive the airport screeners can be, and I'm quite sure that if I put a few weeks of though into it, I could easily dream up holes in the defense against the entire society, not just the airlines. So I'm sure that if it really wanted, Al Queda could hit the US again. Just to clarify, I'm not saying the 'Homeland Security' people are incompetent'though they probably are'I'm saying it's impossible to defend a place as big as the continental US from people who are willing to die.

So one explanation for the absence of attacks is that Bush's killing spree is keeping the terrorists on the run. There's probably some truth to that; I don't think it's helpful for antiwar activists to deny basic facts.

Another explanation is that the terrorist cells here are planning something really big, something that will shock us as much as 9/11 did. I think the war hawks need to be honest and not deny that possibility.

Yet there's even another explanation. In light of my thoughts above, I think it's just possible that 'the bad guys' are realizing it's much more effective to concentrate their attacks in Afghanistan and Iraq for the time being. Yes, 9/11 was good (from their twisted point of view) to shock the American people and impress Muslims around the world, but in a protracted struggle, it's simply much more efficient to hit the US soldiers that are in your backyard (literally), where you've grown up and they don't even speak the language (literally).

Don't misunderstand, I'm not necessarily saying Osama or whoever had a grand plot from Day One, ' la Palpatine from Star Wars. I'm just reflecting that if he did, it might look very similar to what's happened these past few years.

One last word of caution: Bush-bashers might be tempted to conclude, 'Yup, and that moron W. played right into the trap!' But no, I think the head honchos on both sides of this war can't complain about the way things have turned out. It's similar to the Republicans and Democrats bicker about campaign finance reform. They don't actually want to punish people for wining and dining them on private jets, they just want to pretend they do and then blame the other party for spoiling the chance for reform.

In the same way, the real people behind the Iraq invasion have gotten just what they want: A strong US military presence in the Middle East for at least a generation. And the radical Muslims have gotten just what they want: A great recruiting tool and easy targets.

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Thomas Hoyt's picture
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Thomas Hoyt is a retired teacher who lives in Nashville, TN.