National Review Online
April 10, 2003
By Alan W. Dowd
The Bush Doctrine of coercive diplomacy, preemptive action and regime termination has passed another important test: After destroying the terrorist regime run by the Taliban and bankrolled by al Qaeda, it has dismantled the Saddam Hussein vast prison state, thus eliminating one of the centerpieces of global terrorism and preempting the use or transfer of weapons of mass murder onto the American homeland. But there’s more to come—and there’s more happening than meets the eye.
While the US-led coalition swept through Iraq, the Pentagon quietly continued its ongoing operations throughout the eastern hemisphere—a fact underscored by large-scale raids in eastern Afghanistan timed to coincide with the initial assault on Saddam’s regime. In Pakistan, the Bush Doctrine’s coercive diplomacy has converted President Pervez Musharraf from the Taliban’s only friend into a dependable ally in the War on Terror. US Special Forces now roam freely along the Pakistan-Afghanistan frontier, conducting search and destroy missions on both sides of the border—sometimes deep inside Pakistani territory, and often with the assistance of Pakistani troops.
In the Philippines, teams of US troops are conducting what the diplomats call “counterterrorism training missions” with the Philippine army. But if it’s training, it’s on-the-job training. As in Afghanistan, the US-led force has smashed and scattered the enemy. Likewise, in Georgia and other former Soviet republics, US troops are training and equipping local forces to clean out al Qaeda and its kindred movements.
From their perch in Djibouti, US intelligence agents and military taskforces are conducting operations in and around Yemen (recall the Predator strike on al Qaeda commanders in November 2002), monitoring terrorist activity in the lawless lands of eastern Africa, reminding the Sudanese and Libyans that there’s a new sheriff in town, and intercepting suspicious ships transiting the vital waterways around the Horn of Africa. One of those ships was a North Korean vessel loaded with SCUD missiles bound for Yemen. Although the ship was allowed to continue to its destination, the episode sent an unmistakable message to North Korea and its ilk: America is watching and can strike at will.
Yet all of this was little more than background noise as the United States waged and won two major military campaigns in the span of 18 months. Like some 21st-century posse, US Special Forces rode into Afghanistan on horseback, the Marines by helicopter. The warplanes came from the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean, the former Soviet Union and the continental United States. The Taliban promised another Vietnam, a replay of the Soviet’s Afghan nightmare. But what the world witnessed was liberation in its fullest sense, as this improbable taskforce rewrote military history and helped Afghanis take their first steps toward freedom in a generation.
Then, before a new government was even installed in Kabul, the United States swung its sites to Iraq and began assembling an invasion force like no other. Once called into action, it moved across the sands and skies of Iraq like lightning across the heavens. Saddam promised a Stalingrad, a Mogadishu. He wanted oil fires and mass casualties to show the world that the allies were no different than his thugs. But what the world has witnessed is the power of restraint, the shock and awe of a military juggernaut limited only by the conscience of a moral people. From the airmen and sailors using their missilery like a sniper’s rifle to the Marines and soldiers sharing food with Saddam’s victims after destroying his armies, America’s finest have risked their own lives to limit the bloodshed.
Saddam’s Baathists have done the very opposite. Cribbing their battle plan from bin Laden’s al Qaeda and Arafat’s al Aqsa Martyrs, they marched noncombatants in front of tanks, used school buses and pregnant women as time bombs, and converted holy sites into missile sites. Yet none of this deterred the liberators of Iraq. Instead, they fought harder and plunged deeper. Could it be that every fake surrender, every suicide attack, every atrocity, reminded the Americans of the men who planned and executed September 11?
In all of this, one recalls what an awestruck Churchill observed in the middle of World War II: "With her left hand," he marveled, "America was leading the advance of the conquering Allied armies into the heart of Germany, and with her right, on the other side of the globe, she was irresistibly and swiftly breaking up the power of Japan." Such is the reach of a wounded America.
But to paraphrase Churchill after North Africa, Iraq marks not the beginning of the end, but only the end of the beginning. The next test for the Bush Doctrine is literally as close as next door.
To the west of Iraq, the Syrian government grants office space in downtown Damascus to Hamas. Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, controlled by Syria, is a training ground for Hizballah, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The State Department concludes that Syria serves “as the primary transit point for the transfer of Iranian-supplied weapons to Hizballah.” And as the Iraq war crescendoed, Syria sent military supplies and volunteers to rescue Saddam’s dying regime. Damascus could send far worse in the months ahead—guerillas, suicide bombers, poisons.
A recent State Department report called Iran “the most active state sponsor of terrorism” on earth. Tehran provides Hizballah, Hamas, Palestine Islamic Jihad and others with funding, training and weapons. Contrary to the critics, these organizations aren’t just “Israel’s problem.” Hizballah does advocate the elimination of Israel, a strong US ally, but it’s worth noting that prior to September 11, Hizballah had killed more Americans than any other terrorist group on earth. In fact, a full year before the attacks on Manhattan and Washington, the FBI arrested 23 members and supporters of Hizballah—in suburban North Carolina of all places. And in February of 2003, eight people with ties to Palestinian Islamic Jihad were arrested in Florida.
Simply put, al Qaeda is just one branch of a global terror network with roots virtually everywhere. Even so, the Iranian and al Qaeda branches have grown closer since 2001. Western officials have evidence that Tehran has provided safe haven and safe passage to al Qaeda. And during the war in Iraq, Tehran slipped hundreds of members of its Badr Brigade across the border. We can’t be sure of what they will do inside Iraq, but we can be sure of what they won’t do—help the United States and the United Kingdom build a democratic, pluralistic Iraq.
Inside Iran, the mullahs are racing to build a nuclear bomb. A year ago, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld concluded, ominously, “The nexus between weapons of mass destruction and the terrorist states that have those weapons—and that have relationships with terrorist networks—is a particularly dangerous circumstance for the world.” We may soon see just how dangerous.
Of the nineteen men who attacked the Pentagon and World Trade Center on September 11, fifteen were born and raised in the cloistered wealth of Saudi Arabia. It was a Saudi millionaire who trained them and indoctrinated them, and many of them took their first taste of his poisoned brand of Islam in Saudi-supported schools. These schools dot the Muslim world; they are producing tomorrow’s bin Ladens by the thousands; and they are graphic evidence that the current Saudi regime is no friend to America. Like Pakistan’s government in 2001, Saudi Arabia’s leaders must be called to task and given a choice: either change the behavior of your regime or face the consequences.
However, those consequences don’t necessarily translate into full-blown warfare. Yes, the terror masters have watched the US military destroy in five weeks the nightmare regime that the Taliban took five years to build. They have watched intelligence agencies, Special Forces and pilotless planes systematically dismantle a global terror network spanning sixty countries and six continents. They have watched a divided, ambivalent America coalesce behind a mission and burden that other nations and prior administrations refused to accept. They have witnessed the flexibility and fury of preventive war. But they have also watched US bombers drop JDAMs, while US cargo planes drop MREs. They have watched America reward its friends with aid and warn its enemies with harsh words. They have watched Washington shrug off the diplomatic doublespeak and doom-saying. And soon, they will witness yet another expression of American might:
When the last of Saddam’s regime is defeated—it’s important to remember that battles are still underway in and around Mosul and Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit—thousands of Americans will quietly withdraw from the land of Mecca and Medina. They will join the quarter-million US troops already in Iraq, take up long-term residence on the borders of Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran, and thus begin the next phase in the war on terror. Blending the surprise and lethality of traditional warfare with the tension and stalemate of the Cold War, what lies ahead is something altogether different—a colder, harsher strain of conflict.
America is well suited and well rehearsed for this “colder war.” In fact, we have been practicing it for months, if not years. Since September 12, 2001, the United States has been on guard, alternately showing restraint and resolve, the clenched fist of war and the open hand of friendship. Of course, this is not the first time America has called on its political and military leaders to be ambidextrous: Recall the long test of wills with Moscow that began with a humanitarian airlift into a divided Berlin, spawned a war in Korea that still hasn’t ended, cracked open the door to Doomsday in Cuba, and ended with celebrations in a united Berlin.
As before, the United States will menace the enemy, even while rebuilding the cities and society of a liberated Iraq. America’s very presence will change the behavior of Iraq’s neighbors. And one way or another, the United States will replace these enemy regimes with something better. If you doubt this, just take a look at what’s happening in Baghdad—or try to find the Taliban in Kabul or Kandahar, a Soviet armored division in Berlin or Budapest. For that matter, try to find the Soviet Union on a map.
Simply put, just as regimes come in many forms, so too do the tools of regime change—from coercion and cold war to colder war and combat. The enemy is learning that the Bush Doctrine, like its author, is flexible and audacious enough to employ any of these tools.