The White House has put forth many justifications for toppling Saddam Hussein—the possession of weapons of mass destruction, the flouting of 17 United Nations Security Council resolutions, ties to al Qaeda—but perhaps no reason is more central to the ultimate victory in the war on terror than one the President outlined in his speech last week: converting the Middle East into a region where freedom thrives. Though the speech was, by most accounts, not among his best, it effectively espoused his plan to democratize the Middle East, starting with Iraq.
The key is establishing a beachhead of democracy in Iraq—a country that before Saddam’s reign was relatively well-off and friendly with the West. But given the choices that Saddam has made over the years—to gas his own people, to build up a military and develop WMDs while his people starve, to refuse exile as recently as last month—the only way the light of liberty will shine on the Iraqi people, regrettably, is through war.
Regardless of what people think about the connections between Saddam and al Qaeda, there is no denying that a stable, democratic Iraq would serve as a bulwark against terrorism. A free Iraq would not just be an active partner in the war on terror, but its very existence would sap the recruitment strength of the worldwide terror network—and that factor would spread to neighboring nations as freedom does.
Terrorism can exist in free nations—look at Spain, Mexico, or even the terror cells in the United States—but it cannot flourish. Radicalism spawns far more frequently under radical leadership. If people breathe free and have hope for the future, the impetus for signing up with al Qaeda is nearly gone. Finding people willing to lose everything is a lot harder when people actually have something to lose.
Foreign policy gurus in the 1960s believed that communism would spread—the infamous “domino theory”—from one country to the next in top-down fashion. The opposite would hold true in the Middle East—bottom-up freedom movements would spread, toppling tyrants in the process. The old social contract—where people allowed the leaders to rule in exchange for basic necessities—is on the brink of collapse. When it does, democracy in Iraq will be the domino that triggers reform elsewhere. Call it the “democracy domino” theory.
The prime candidates for peaceful “regime change” after the rise of a democratic Iraq are Saudi Arabia and Iran. Both countries are painfully aware of this, and consequently have been doing their best to put off the inevitable. True to form, the House of Saud has been rather public with its obfuscation, zigzagging every few moments from supporting to opposing the war, and then back again. The Saudi leadership doesn’t want Saddam’s ouster, but the royal family wants even less to be on the wrong side when the action starts.
While news reports have extensively covered the ever-shifting Saudi position, Iranian mullahs have managed to operate mostly under the radar. Tehran has bankrolled several Iraqi “opposition” figures, and those groups are being embraced by none other than the U.S. State Department. Many officials at State have a twisted logic: Since the President didn’t reiterate Iran’s “evil” status at this year’s State of the Union, Iran must no longer be “evil.” Thus, State is fully supporting Tehran-backed groups, even though the Iranian mullahs still represent the largest state sponsor of terrorism—and still would love to witness the death of the “Great Satan.”
Democracy taking root in either Iran or Saudi Arabia would not be pretty, and probably would not happen right away. But once the people there see that freedom can work in the Middle East, the people in the Muslim nations will not stop until their despotic leaders are gone. The United States might very well might be knee-deep in any transition of authority—but only to prevent anyone from firing a shot.
The “democracy domino” theory, though, can only be given an opportunity to work if the administration can implement a successful Iraqi-led government following the war. The freedom of millions—in Iraq and throughout the Middle East—is at stake.