Ten years, $1.7 trillion dollars and 4,800 casualties. This was the cost of America’s effort to remove Saddam Hussein and enable the growth of the Middle East’s first Muslim democracy. Ten years later, the debates about the merits, rationale, and underlying intelligence of the war rage on.
So does the battle against radical, violent Islamists.
Indeed, since “shock and awe” was visited upon Saddam’s regime, the threat nucleus has shifted from Baghdad to Tehran, and beyond. Fears of WMD in Iraq were not born out, but fears of a nuclear Iran appear increasingly credible. Beyond Iran, Gaddaffi and Mubarak have been dethroned, replaced by Islamists hostile to the United States and democratic modernity. Bin Laden is dead, but his network’s franchisees have opened up shop across the Middle East, Africa, and Indonesia.
The threat adapts and grows, but America now fights with fewer tools. Enhanced interrogation, the subject of so much vitriol and hyperbole after its application to three admitted terrorists, has been scuttled in favor of enhanced assassination (of at least 2,000 Al Qaeda and/or Taliban combatants) by predator drone and presidential whim, with little concern for the legalities. Not to worry, we are told, the President is not Dick Cheney. True enough: the Bush administration sought and received Congressional authorization for its wars. Twice.
Recent commentators have suggested the president codify his drone power through legislation. Others have recommended a drone court similar to the FISA court that hears requests for wiretapping warrants. These proposals may prove useful, but they fail to address the larger problem, the lack of a coherent national security strategy.
The nation’s national security strategy from September 2001 to January 2009 was tripartite and clear: you’re either with us or against us; there is no distinction between terrorists and the nations that harbor them; and America stands with those who stand for freedom.
This framework necessarily led to the expulsion of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the destruction of Saddam’s Baathist regime in Iraq, support for free elections in the West Bank and Egypt, and strong support for the democratic aspirations of Poland, Georgia and other former Soviet satellites. While there were errors and stumbles along the way, the framework guiding the overall security strategy was clear enough.