Monday, April 03, 2006
We Took The Easy Way
The first official recognition that the Iraq war motivated the four London suicide bombers has been made by the government in a major report into the 7 July attacks.
Despite attempts by Downing Street to play down suggestions that the conflict has made Britain a target for terrorists, the Home Office inquiry into the deadliest terror attack on British soil has conceded that the bombers were inspired by UK foreign policy, principally the decision to invade Iraq.
The government's 'narrative', compiled by a senior civil servant using intelligence from the police and security services, was announced by the Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, last December following calls for a public inquiry into the attacks. [...]
Initial drafts of the government's account into the bombings, which have been revealed to The Observer, state that Iraq was a key 'contributory factor'. The references to Britain's involvement in Iraq are contained in a section examining what inspired the 'radicalisation' of the four British suicide bombers, Sidique Khan, Hasib Hussain, Shehzad Tanweer and Germaine Lindsay.
What a radical theory on radicalization. Did anyone consider this before we decided to invade a second Muslim nation in a matter of months? Giving Osama that Christmas gift that Michael Scheuer talked about? One of the things frequently lost in the discussion of the merits of the decision to invade Iraq was the timing.
Even if Saddam was some diabolical, intractable and serious foe that needed neutralizing, don't you think we could have waited to: (a) better stabilize the situation in Afghanistan; (b) capture Zawahiri and Bin Laden and further suffocate al-Qaeda before giving them the Iraq booster-shot; and (c) relatedly, not make it look like Osama was right about some conspiracy to conduct a modern day crusade (PS: Keeping "crusade" rhetoric off the lips of the POTUS and other top generals probably would have helped on this front as well).
Leaving the question of timing aside, many war supporters have retreated to the position that the invasion of Iraq, though botched in its execution, was necessary because...well because. Some point to fears of the nexus between WMD and al-Qaeda - now largely proved unfounded or at least greatly exaggerated. Others, including Fareed Zakaria, to the fact that the sanctions regime was "failing" and so an interdiction was needed. Again though, I would question the timing even if this position is, indeed, the correct one. Said Zakaria:
The sanctions regime was becoming completely ineffective against Saddam—he had gotten quite good at cheating and smuggling—and it was simultaneously impoverishing the Iraqi people.
Zakaria might be, er, "cherry picking" the problems associated with the sanctions here. The sanctions regime in place to keep Saddam's Iraq free of WMD was quite successful - as evidenced by the fact that the Duelfer report indicated Saddam didn't even have a serious WMD program. On the other hand, Saddam was able to game the system to siphon off and embezzle money in exchange for access to oil vouchers and the like. This was bad, no doubt, but not necessarily a massive national security concern. An enriched Saddam, while odious, was not a threat the same way a WMD-empowered Saddam would be.
Nevertheless, the sanctions/inspections regime was less than optimal and changes fortifying key elements - while "smartening" others - would have been prudent. The occasional rebuttal to this is that fixing the sanctions would have been prohibitively difficult.
Those making this argument brush off suggestions about using our unipolar leverage, post-9/11 sympathy capital, threats of war and various diplomatic/economic tools to compel greater cooperation from allies on sanctions/inspections because that would have been too hard to achieve. But these are the same people that opted, instead, for the invasion of a Muslim nation with serious internal ethnic/sectarian divisions, whose population in certain sectors was dangerously close to Iran, that was emerging from decades of crushing despotic rule and whose infrastructure was ravaged - in order to establish a friendly, stable, peaceful, multicultural, economically vibrant, liberal democracy. In a matter of months, on a shoe-string budget with fewer than 150,000 troops.
But fixing the sanctions was unrealistic.
(Tip of the hat to the Cunning Realist)