In the aftermath of Sept. 11, President Bush turned to his advisers and asked, "What can we do to make sure this doesn't happen again." Their response has been to augment foreign policy to confront 21st-century threats from rogue states intent on acquiring weapons of mass destruction.
As the United States now prepares to oust Saddam with military force, it is worth considering why Iraq - along with North Korea and Iran - presents such a threat to our national security.
In each case, a tyrant seeking the capacity to attack American interests dominates the country. In each case, there is no protection for those basic human rights we associate with happiness. The despotic tendencies of these rulers have frayed global relations, frightened off global investors and effectively turned each of the axis countries into a global pariah.
Playing on the idea of a Western conspiracy to maintain power is their chief gambit. In North Korea, citizens attend museums that accuse America of starting the Korean War (we did not) and committing atrocities on par with the Nazis. In Iraq and Iran, children are conditioned to believe that supporting their respective tyrants is part of the ongoing struggle for independence from imperial Western influences. Such rhetoric offers the young and the poor some national purpose and a chance to display their loyalty to this national cause by enthusiastically volunteering for suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks on U.S. interests. So long as the masses are kept red of tooth and claw, they have little time to reflect on the genuine causes of their country's economic ruin. In short, the leaders of Iraq, Iran and North Korea maintain their power the way all demagogues do, by offering the alienated masses a ubiquitous target for their woes.
In each case, the leaders are leading their countries over an economic cliff. The level of economic instability in Iraq, Iran and North Korea make each an ideal base of operations for terrorists. Somalia is a perfect example of why the United States must keep those regions stable.
In the past, we've tried economic sanctions to curb the behavior of these tyrants, but the leaders of Iraq, Iran and North Korea are comfortable letting their people starve. The result is that sanctions only inflame anti-American sentiments. We've also tried to facilitate economic stability through engagement, but this has failed to curb the aggressions of those who have global aspirations and different views of the world. We've tried containment, but the lack of an immediate geographic threat, once a threat is curbed, has led to UN backsliding. For example, once Iraq ceased to present an immediate geographic threat to China, France or Russia, each turned their sights to corralling large oil contracts from Saddam. A lessening in their resolve to disarm Iraq soon followed.
Iraq, Iran and North Korea all know that, given their pariah status, the only way to take their place on the global stage is to develop nuclear weapons. North Korea has already done this. Iran is trying. Iraq has desperately attempted to acquire such weapons - along with a deadly and exotic cache of biological and chemical weapons. If you listen to their speeches, each tyrant talks about using war to liberate their country from Western influences; each harbors megalomaniac dreams of being remembered thousands of years from now for taking down the United States. The only goal is acquiring nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. Achieve this, and they can supplant the United States and rip to shreds the global balance of power.
Saddam already admitted as much when he said that his mistake was invading Kuwait before he acquired nuclear weapons. He has used weapons of mass destruction on his own people. He would not hesitate to use them on us. Thanks to the French, who sold him a nuclear reactor, Saddam was months away from achieving this goal in 1991. Despite attempts at containment, Saddam was able to keep his nuclear infrastructure intact. Right now he does not have the uranium necessary to create a nuclear weapon, but German intelligence estimates that he will acquire at least two nuclear warheads by 2005.
We cannot be acquiescent, pliable or docile in the face of this clear and present danger. Sept. 11 showed us just how nasty and brutish the world really is. If given the opportunity, our enemies will pull our society down. Containment, sanctions and engagement have all failed to alter that fact.
In the words of FDR, "This is the time for prevention of attack."