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Are We Better Off With Iraq in Turmoil?


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With the U.S. troops gone, the power struggle in Iraq is reaching new levels. Various sources are reporting that the Shi’ite-led government in Iraq has issued an arrest warrant for the Sunni vice president, Tariq al-Hashemi.

If you need a reminder, the Shia are aligned with Iran.

For the record, the Iraq war was the right war at the right time. I know,  these days it’s fashionable to think of it as a waste, so let’s briefly review why it was imperative that Saddam Hussein was removed from power in the aftermath of 9/11.

9/11 was the final attack in a series of escalating attacks on U.S. interests around the world by al-Qaeda. It put an end to the illusion that the U.S. homeland was safe from major destructive attacks. It had the potential of creating a worldwide economic and security crisis. Great leadership in New York City by mayor Rudy Giuliani prevented the city from falling apart at the seams (compare that to what happened last year with when a blizzard hit New York City with Bloomberg at the helm). And, swift reaction by President Bush in Afghanistan was the first step in showing the world that people who intend to do the U.S. harm and who harbor them had no safe haven.

A lot of people, mostly Democrat politicians and members of the liberal media, wanted to turn the reaction into a simple police investigation to track down Osama bin Laden. That would have been a risky enterprise, fraught with the danger of making the U.S. look impotent. The longer it took for the U.S. to capture bin Laden, the stronger would be his reputation. If I close my eyes, I can almost hear people say Osama is a great leader. Look, the U.S. with all its might cannot capture him. He would have attained the status of legend. Instead, he had to run and hide. His eventual capture revealed how much he had been marginalized in the intervening years.

After the victory in Afghanistan, it was important to send a credible message to various tyrannical regimes in the world that they were personally in danger if they gave safe haven to, organized or sponsored any organizations that intended the U.S. harm. Surely, there was no shortage of people who’d been oppressing and torturing their people while thumbing their noses at the U.S. for decades. There was, however, one dictator, who had credibly built a reputation for having weapons of mass destruction andwho had been flaunting U.N. resolution after U.N. resolution that he had to allow inspectors free access to suspected sites.

Once the vulnerability of the U.S. homeland was exposed, it would have been suicidal to allow Saddam to keep his status as a tyrant who had access to corrupt financial networks and diplomatic channels which could have been used to organize further attacks. Regime change in Iraq, which had been the stated goal of U.S. policy during the Clinton Administration, had to be realized. Eliminating Saddam would have sent (and did send) a clear signal to all other tyrannical regimes that they were going to be personally targeted if they threatened the U.S.

Such tyrants do not waste a second thinking about the well-being of anyone but themselves. Years of suffering of Iraqi people could not convince Saddam Hussein to comply with U.N. sanctions. In fact, the sanctions themselves had provided further avenues for his personal enrichment. Changing the regime in Iraq was essential to removing a major threat against the U.S. and stability in the Middle East.

Operation Iraqi Freedom was successful in achieving this goal.

Major errors, stemming sometimes from good intentions, were made in handling the aftermath. Anyone familiar with the Middle East would have appreciated the value of the immediate establishment of martial law across the country and strict enforcement of curfews. Instead, a period of confusion reigned for a while following the fall of Baghdad.

Things got worse when the U.S. media and Democrat politicians started undermining the administration. By declaring the war lost, they signaled to Iran and Syria and anyone else who cared to listen that the U.S. could not handle a tough struggle and that they would back away from a fight. To his credit, President Bush refused to cut and run, and went ahead with the surge. Tellingly, the current president was one of the people who stood firmly against the surge. Liberal organizations published ads and stories intended to undermine the administration’s war effort.

Finally, at a time the U.S. needed to signal continued resolve, a chicken was elected president.

People will point out that Osama bin Laden was killed under President Obama, proving that he is strong. But the real and present danger of the day is not posed by Osama bin Laden. It is posed by Iran, whose rulers, just like Saddam Hussein did, seek to possess weapons of mass destruction to project power well beyond the actual strength of their regime. They needed to see a United States of America with resolve, the kind of resolve that kept Western Europe safe from the Soviet Union since 1946—make no mistake, the spirit of the USSR is still alive and well even if the name is not.

About the Author: Sinan Unur is an independent economist and software developer in Ithaca, NY. He earned his Ph.D. in Consumer Economics at Cornell University in 1999, and is one of the founders of the Program on Freedom and Free Societies at Cornell University. Dr. Unur was born in Turkey. One of his great grandfathers was an Ottoman general who later fought in the Turkish Independence War. Another great grandfather of his was one of the Turkish delegates who negotiated the Lausanne Treaty and a member of the Second Grand National Assembly of Turkey.


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