A majority of the American population believe that Iraq was behind the terrorist acts of September 11, even though no credible evidence has surfaced for this alleged link between al-Qaeda and Iraq. In his speech to the American Enterprise Institute, President Bush used this link to justify invading Iraq as a necessary act of self-defense.
There is indeed a link between the al-Qaeda terrorist network and Iraq, but it is different from that put forth by the administration. It was the Gulf War of 1991 against Iraq that spawned al-Qaeda. From the very beginning, Osama bin Laden’s continual refrain has been that the foreign forces on Arab soil have compromised Arab sovereignty and polluted Islam’s holy lands. He was able to present al-Qaeda as a legitimate response to Arab grievances and to portray the allied forces as being akin to the Crusaders who came from the West to wrest control of Jerusalem from Islam in the Middle Ages. In addition, he used the pro-Israeli bias in American foreign policy to win credibility with the Arab street. Thus, it is not the acts of September 11 that link Iraq and al-Qaeda, but the U.S. decision to prosecute the Gulf War and to consistently support Israel.
The Gulf War was waged by the United States to eject Iraqi forces from Kuwait. It had UN support, and the forces that went in to fight the armies of Saddam Hussein comprised a large coalition of nations, including Muslim and Arab nations. Even then al-Qaeda was able to portray it as a crusade against Islam, and give credibility to Samuel Huntington’s theory about an inevitable clash of civilizations.
The upcoming war is being opposed by more than 115 nations that belong to the Non-Aligned Movement, the Organization of the Islamic Council, and the Arab League, in addition to several key European nations. If the UN Security Council refuses to support the war, its prosecution by the United States will represent a breach of the UN Charter, according to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, stripping it of multilateral legitimacy.
U.S. efforts to build a broad coalition of countries to invade Iraq have failed, and the war will be fought largely with U.S. troops, with possible assistance from Australia and Britain. Neither Arab armies nor any third-world armies (Muslim or otherwise), are likely to be in the “coalition of the willing,” belying the allegation that Iraq poses a threat to its neighbors.
President Bush has expressed a hope that this war would lead to a fair resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian problem. However, as Shlomo Ben-Ami, a former foreign minister of Israel, observed recently, “The president’s bellicose rhetoric and his intention to invade an Arab country and dismantle its regime by force, however despicable that regime may be, while pretending to ignore the Palestinian tragedy, provides a platform for unrest throughout the region.”
According to published accounts, the United States will fire more than 3,000 cruise missiles on Iraq within the first 48 hours of the war. That exceeds the entire number that were fired in the Gulf War and will lead to large-scale Iraqi casualties. More casualties will occur as U.S. forces fight their way into Baghdad and as Saddam Hussein resorts to using civilians as human shields. This war may result in an even higher number of casualties than the Gulf War, which resulted in more than 200,000 Iraqi deaths.
The United States is making rapid strikes against al-Qaeda. As a result of Pakistani cooperation, it has apprehended or killed many of its key leaders and appears to be rapidly closing in on the top two. With the capture of the third-highest ranking man, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the organization may have lost its operational capability to mount “spectacular” acts of terrorism, its telltale mark. However, all of this success will come to naught if the United States invades Iraq.
It is likely that the war will add credibility to Osama bin Laden’s assertions about loss of Arab sovereignty. The war will almost certainly complicate attempts to find a fair resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian problem, and it will further anti-Americanism in the Arab and Muslim worlds. In a fulfillment of the law of unintended consequences, it may spawn a second-generation of terrorists even more determined than al-Qaeda to evict U.S. forces from the Middle East, thus defeating the very purposes for which it is about to be fought.
America would be the safer without fighting this war.