Well, not exactly, but at a news conference today, George W. Bush in effect answered the argument I presented yesterday at "In Iraq, Stay the Course - but Change It," that coalition forces should be redeployed to the uninhabited regions of Iraq. He acknowledged problems in Iraq but insisted that the administration's course remains correct. He offered a strong rationale for the intense involvement in Iraq (and Afghanistan) which I disputed:
Our security at home depends on ensuring that Iraq is an ally in the war on terror and does not become a terrorist haven like Afghanistan under the Taliban. … The fact that the fighting is tough does not mean our efforts in Iraq are not worth it. To the contrary; the consequences in Iraq will have a decisive impact on the security of our country, because defeating the terrorists in Iraq is essential to turning back the cause of extremism in the Middle East. If we do not defeat the terrorists or extremists in Iraq, they will gain access to vast oil reserves, and use Iraq as a base to overthrow moderate governments across the broader Middle East. They will launch new attacks on America from this new safe haven. They will pursue their goal of a radical Islamic empire that stretches from Spain to Indonesia. … If I did not think our mission in Iraq was vital to America's security, I'd bring our troops home tomorrow.
The president is clear here, if not entirely explicit: The coalition must defeat the Islamists in Iraq to prevent them from taking the country over and using it as a basis to attack the United States.
I agree that we do not want Islamists ruling in Iraq but I wonder why the threat in Iraq is so important that American and other Western forces must fight them with boots on the ground in Baghdad. Actually, the Bush administration has already helped Islamists take over in Baghdad (not to speak of the Palestinian Authority) through elections; is that really so different from their winning a military victory? And speaking of a military victory, that is what Islamists are currently achieving in Somalia, with barely any response from Washington.
Why this inconsistency, this privileging of Iraq? I think it has little to do with the dangers of Islamists taking over there but results instead from the accumulated inertia of what I yesterday called the "mouse that roared" or "Pottery Barn rule" assumption. This holds that when the United States protects its interests by invading a country, it then has a moral obligation to rehabilitate it. That's a mistaken mentality that is leading to major damage. It needs to be focused on and reassessed. (October 25, 2006)