Iran, not Iraq

by Benjamin Domenech on 12:48 pm August 14, 2007

Iraq Map 1999

The die is cast in Iraq – or will be – within the coming weeks. I can’t help but feel that this has been a foregone conclusion since the Joint Resolution last October, and that those who favor unseating Saddam Hussein have successfully pushed their chosen stone to the mountaintop, where it balances even now, waiting for the flap of a bird’s wing or a soft gust of wind to send it flying down the other side.

My opposition to this effort is not borne out of doubt about our military capability. I do not think there is any way that Baghdad will fall without a significant loss of life on both sides, but I believe it will fall. I feel much like Bob Dole did when addressing the Bosnia question in the 1990s: is it a horrid situation? Yes. Does it warrant the loss of American lives? I think not. If the decision is made to act, will you support it – because this will be another example of Americans doing what Americans do, sacrificing and dying for others to try to make the world safer and more just? Yes, I will.

Yet I continue to believe that the wise choice – the justified choice – is that if we are to send Americans off to die for the freedom of others, it should be in Iran, not in Iraq.

Saddam Hussein is a beastly dictator, yes. There is no question in my mind that this is true. And there is no question in my mind that removing him from power would be met with enormous gratitude by the Iraqi people. But at the same time, I still believe that the normal evaluations of the Democratic Peace simply cannot be applied to a potentially Democratic Iraq. In the Middle East today, you have a situation where the anti-Israeli extremes are animated by a powerful motivation – and unlike in most democracies, this motivation toward conflict is shared by a substantial number of people. Substantial enough, I think, that we may regret moving the decision making power from Saddam – who, while ruthless and brutal, at least appears to be a secular, rational actor, contained as he is – and placing it in the hands of the much-debated Arab street. The strategic benefit has a high ceiling, yes – but the floor is extremely low.

My point is just this: assume that all of the nation-building ideas of the Administration are achieved in full, and in record time. Assume that once Saddam’s influence is removed, there are no enormous problems of massive corruption, of famine, of mass migration, of ethnic conflict. Assume that the infrastructure inevitably destroyed by battle can be rebuilt overnight. Assume there is no lasting military resistance holed up in an Iraqi city or underground, or no resentment from civilian populations who will doubtlessly suffer collateral damage. Assume the best of all of these things.

You are still faced with a situation where a great many of the systemic motives that prevent democracies from taking up arms against each other and their neighbors are naturally nonexistent in Iraq. And I doubt very much that they can be imported in time.

On the other hand, we have Iran. Here, I think the strategic incentive is not a matter of debate.

The Islamic Republic of Iran remains the most active state sponsor of terrorism in the world (in fact, it has been judged that by the Department of State for years, and is expected to remain the most active sponsor in 2002 in the report issued next month).

It is the mother of Islamic terrorism, providing funding, training, weapons, and safe haven to laundry list of terrorist groups, including Lebanese Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command. They have provided safe haven for members of Al Qaeda. And the State Department maintains that Iran is in the process of developing a full-scale nuclear program. Every intelligence estimate we see shows us that Iraq possesses an arsenal of WMDs, or at least the capability to manufacture them on short notice. But the question is not who possesses these weapons, but whether they are likely to be shared with forces of terror. In this case, I think Iran is far more likely to fuel such action.

Yet because the whole world seems focused on Iraq, the Iran consideration is only being advanced by people like Michael Ledeen – who, while I respect him, does not exactly command the political attention he deserves.

But the growing Iranian student revolution deserves our attention. In a country where nearly 70% of the people are under the age of 35, the majority of Iranians today have never known any government other than the tyranny of the mullahs. The Tarrance Group conducted a survey last year which found that 63% of Iranians believe that “fundamental change” in Iran’s system of government is needed to create freedom and economic opportunity, and 71% would support an internationally monitored referendum allowing the people of Iran to decide their system of government. The motivation to end this repressive regime, which harbors terrorists and a government which (unlike Saddam’s) has real connections with Al Qaeda, seems stronger in every way to me. The military sacrifice would probably be greater (unless Saddam uses biological weapons – certainly a strong possibility) if Iran was the target, as opposed to Iraq – but I believe the results would be more beneficial for the interests of the United States on nearly every count.

Terrorist groups cannot survive without the financial and logistical support provided by sympathetic governments. The new terror movement requires the funds, weapons, materials, and protection they need in order to carry out their deadly activities, and if we are to measure who is the greater state sponsor of terror in the Middle East, there is no question it is Iran, not Iraq.

I don’t write about these things much, because my job is known, and while Senator Cornyn has been generous in allowing me to continue blogging, I believe there is a need to avoid public conflict. In this case, though, there is no conflict I think in sharing a bit of a speech I’ve been working on recently, concerning the possibilities for the Iraqi people should the Coalition forces prevail:

We should not kid ourselves that we will see a mirror image of Jeffersonian America circa 1787. The Iraqis will build on their own historical traditions, a history that stretches all the way back to the Code of Hammurabi. And they will build on the strongest elements of their society today – their familial and tribal loyalties. This is a situation that has a great amount of risk.

Despite our relatively short history, America has one of the longest uninterrupted political traditions of any nation in the world. The late Allan Bloom once pointed out that what sets America apart is the unambiguous nature of that tradition: “It’s meaning is articulated in simple, rational speech, that is immediately comprehensible and powerfully persuasive to all normal human beings. America tells one story: the unbroken, ineluctable progress of freedom and equality.”

There are clear differences between American history and Iraqi history – enormous differences. It is fair to say that not just Iraq’s government, but the whole of Iraqi society must undergo a fundamental change if they are to become a democratic entity. Guarantees of basic human rights are the most fundamental demand of that change if we are to hope that the constitution of Iraq, like the constitution of America, will tell one story.

This is the draft. It may not end up this way. History has to play itself out, and the important people have decisions to make. I hope, for our sake, they make the right ones. I hope this can be done.

History says, don’t hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.

-Seamus Heaney

(Originally posted by Ben on March 15, 2003)

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