Invading Iraq is in our national interests

Posted: Aug 03, 2002 12:00 AM
It is certainly appropriate for Congress to debate whether we should attack Iraq since it has the constitutional power to declare war. But it would be helpful if the discussions were focused on determining what is in our vital national interests. Senator Joseph Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said, "In Iraq, we cannot afford to replace a despot with chaos. The long-suffering Iraqi people need to know a regime change would benefit them. So do Iraq's neighbors, and the American people will want that assurance as well." With all due respect to the Iraqi people and with genuine concern for their interests, let's not fool ourselves. Our decision to invade Iraq will not and should not be driven primarily by their interests. If that were the case, we would have gone back into Iraq way before now. When it comes to foreign policy, no nation -- including one as powerful as the United States -- can afford to interfere in the internal affairs of another nation every time it disapproves of the way it treats its citizens. If we were to intervene against every regime that repressed its people, we would need a military five times the size of China's and a defense budget exceeding our gross national product. We would be at war with at least every other nation on the globe -- simultaneously. But given the limitations on our resources -- we have to make choices based on priorities that are viewed through the prism of our national interests. Other considerations must, at most, be secondary. When we lose sight of this governing principle, our foreign policy is held hostage to other concerns, and it becomes incoherent and indefensible. Far too many of these concerns are currently muddling our judgment on Iraq. Some, for example, are arguing that we mustn't invade Iraq unless we can establish a nexus between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. We needn't saddle ourselves with this artificial burden. We know that Saddam supports the disruptive and murderous activities of terrorists against the United States and Israel. Saddam himself launched Scud missiles at Israel utterly without provocation during the Persian Gulf War. Even if he didn't organize or subsidize the Sept. 11 attacks, he will do everything he can to encourage and abet terrorist activities in the future. That's all the justification we need under the Bush Doctrine, which calls for U.S. action against terrorists and those regimes that harbor or support them. But we need not be limited by the Bush Doctrine anyway, as sound as it is. We are justified in preemptively striking Iraq because Saddam is developing weapons of mass destruction and would use them against our allies and us. We also shouldn't wait for resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict before moving against Iraq, as some have naively suggested. If permanent Middle East peace is a condition precedent to our action, we'll have to wait past biblical Armageddon. And those who are urging a tighter embargo in lieu of the military option or who insist that we may not attack without first being attacked are not making U.S. national security interests paramount -- and in the modern age especially, that could be suicidal. Let's assume that we had been tipped off about the Sept. 11 attacks in advance and knew precisely where the terrorists were training in preparation for the atrocities. Would we have been morally constrained to await their attacks before swooping down on their training camps with heavy ordnance? I think not. So, Senator Biden, we don't have to satisfy ourselves that an Iraqi regime change would benefit the Iraqi people, though it is hard to conceive how it would not. And we cannot be deterred from an invasion because it might produce "chaos." Of course it will produce chaos -- it better, or our military won't be doing its job. I'm not saying that following our military operation we shouldn't try to help establish a stable, democratic regime in Iraq and do what we can to help the "long-suffering" Iraqi people. But concerns about post-invasion regimes should not dissuade us from attacking, so long as we eliminate Iraq's ability to produce weapons of mass destruction. The military experts can debate over the best way to carry out this mission, and the diplomats can determine how best to restore order and stability afterward, but these issues should have no bearing on our decision to intervene. That decision is a no-brainer and should be implemented as quickly as is militarily feasible.