As we prepare for a preemptive strike against Iraq it is important that we don't allow certain opponents of an invasion to confuse the national dialogue. Despite protests to the contrary, this is not about nation building but our national security.
Those opposed to an American attack on Iraq know they can benefit their cause if they characterize America's motives as imperialistic. Polls have consistently shown strong American support for military action. But that could change dramatically if the public begins to believe that Iraq is no real threat to the United States or its allies, and our veiled purpose in attacking it is to establish another democratic regime on the planet.
There is no question that once we topple Saddam Hussein we will feel some obligation -- and yes, a desire -- to help the Iraqi people rebuild their own government. And we may well assist them in forming a democratic government. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice recently confirmed as much when she said that the United States will be "completely devoted" to the reconstruction of Iraq as a unified, democratic state in the event of a military strike that unseats Hussein.
But there is nothing in the Rice comments that suggests that the administration's main motivation is to "democratize" Iraq, as opposed to removing the present tyrannical regime because it represents a menace to world peace.
Los Angeles Times columnist Ronald Brownstein maintains that the Bush administration hasn't been clear as to whether its goal is to disarm Iraq or transform its form of government. Some of this confusion, Brownstein suggests, can be traced to a new domino theory that has "migrated into the administration's own brief for war."
The theory holds that if the United States overthrows Saddam and then establishes a western-friendly regime, other Arab nations will begin to "fall" toward democracy. According to Brownstein, the theory has become "a central justification for war in conservative circles, especially among the neoconservative foreign policy intellectuals."
President Bush, Brownstein contends, didn't just demand that Iraq disarm and comply with United Nations' resolutions. He "also endorsed the neoconservatives' new domino theory, arguing that democracy in Iraq -- as well as in Afghanistan and an independent Palestinian state -- would inspire "reforms throughout the Muslim world."
Brownstein omitted the context. Bush said, "If we meet our responsibilities, if we overcome this danger, we can arrive at a very different future. The people of Iraq can shake off their captivity. They can one day join a democratic Afghanistan and a democratic Palestine, inspiring reforms throughout the Muslim world." Notice that Bush didn't say that we should invade Iraq to establish a pro-American democracy. He repeatedly made clear in his speech that we must remove Saddam because he is a threat to our national security and world peace.
But Brownstein is also constructing false choices here between mere "disarmament" and regime "transformation." The administration, says Brownstein, has "left it unclear whether (it) would settle for a convincingly disarmed Iraq with Hussein still in charge."
I beg to differ. President Bush was very clear in his speech to the United Nations that our goals are both disarmament
and the removal of Saddam Hussein. That's because both are necessary to remove the threat to our national security. (Even a Saddam stripped of his weapons could still aid and abet terrorists worldwide, as well as work to reacquire the weapons.)
Even if some particularly aggressive neoconservatives are lusting after an opportunity to proactively implant democratic regimes in countries around the globe irrespective of any national security threat from those countries -- which I doubt -- it is erroneous to attribute these motives to the Bush administration.
It is very simple. The administration believes, correctly, that Saddam constitutes a threat to the United States because of his willingness and ability to use weapons of mass destruction. It further believes, correctly, that weapons inspections cannot remove that threat. Therefore, Saddam must be removed.
Once he is removed, it would be irresponsible to leave a vacuum to be filled by the next thug -- though if that happens it will still have been worth it because that new thug's ability to wage war with weapons of mass destruction will have been removed. So the United States will help Iraq establish a democratic regime, which by definition means that we will assist the Iraqi people in determining their own future -- not impose our will on them. If that has the effect of encouraging other Muslim nations to gravitate toward self-rule, then hallelujah!