Monday, August 01, 2005

Wisdom of the Solomons

Over the course of the last two and a half years, as part of the ongoing debate over the Iraq War, one of the arguments put forth by those opposed to the war has been to point out all of the other places in the world in which Democracy is still not the order of the day, including (but not limited to) US allies, and then to ask a rhetorical question usually along the lines of, “Are we going to invade Saudi Arabia (or North Korea, etc.) next?” The logic behind the argument seems to be that if we fail to take the same action against every opponent of democracy that we did against Saddam Hussein, then the argument that the Iraq war was about Democracy is specious at best, and hypocritical at worst.

To begin with, for the sake of this post and any follow-on discussion, I refuse to debate if and when the war is or was about Democracy. Anyone who thinks otherwise is encouraged to go read the prewar 2003 State of the Union Address, then post on their own darned Blogs! For the sake of argument in this particular post, we shall grant that Democracy was indeed one of the goals of the war, and address the question of whether this is a consistent position. I ask that any comments be limited to that topic.

To answer the critics who point out the perceived inconsistency in going to war to, at least in part, establish Democracy in Iraq, but not elsewhere, we must first explore WHY the U.S. would pursue such a course of action.

Let's start by refuting the perception that this is part of some "Holy Crusade" for Democracy. That's just silly. While Democracy is a lofty goal and one that all good people should strive to acheive everywhere, that's not the basic motivation behind executing this war. If it were, I would be as opposed to the war as anyone else, for the stated reason as well as for reasons of constitutionality. The President and Military of the United States took vows to defend America and her constitution, not Democracy Everywhere.

And that actually brings us to the real reason I believe we should be and are fighting to establish Democracy in Iraq. That goal is based on a basic belief held by those who are (often derisively) called "Neocons", a belief that forms a pillar of the Bush Doctrine: It is strategically to the Advantage of the United States to promote Democracy elsewhere in the World. In other words, the freer and happier people in other parts of the world are, the less likely they will pose a threat to US Security. I happen to agree with this particular view. And while this view is certainly open to debate, again, that is not the goal of this post. Suffice it to say that in order to discuss the consistency of US actions in Iraq compared to other places, it is enough to understand that the people making Foreign Policy decisions also share this belief.

Once we have established that Democracy in Iraq, indeed, the promotion of Democracy ANYWHERE outside of the U.S., is a straegic means to an end, and not the end itself, it becomes easier to understand the justification for pursuing the same goal using different methods in different places. In fact, we have a fairly recent (within the last century) example of another strategic campaign, one in which the United States was spectacularly successful, which employs a similar method of picking and choosing ones fight. It's my assertion that the War in Iraq is actually just one battle in a bigger war, and that that war is being fought similarly to the Island-Hopping Campaign in the Pacific in World War II.

Let's Review:


By 1942, the United States and its allies were ready to start fighting back against the Japanese, and to retake the vast swaths of the Western and South Pacific that had been captured by the Empire of the Rising Sun. However, a strategic decision was made NOT to retake every inch of every island back from the enemy in a slow, costly, deadly rollback-style campaign. The allies understood how much time and energy and men would be lost trying to acheive victory by these means. So they chose instead to pursue a campaign that was called Island-Hopping. The Allies would bypass positions that were too heavily defended copmpletely, and attack other islands instead. As the Allies pressed northwards, bypassed islands to the south were cut off from supply from the Japanese homeland, and "withered on the vine", their positions rendered either untenable or strategically insignificant.

In choosing which islands to assault, there were two chief considerations: The relative ease with which the island could be taken, and the strategic importance of the island aside from it merely being the next in line. Priority was placed on islands whose capture either provided the Allies with additional advantages, or denied the Japanese of those same advantages. This usually meant islands with good natural harbors, or more importantly, established Japanese airbases that could be rapidly converted to use by the allies. In a few cases, the strategic advantage of such assets even warranted assaults on islands that were more strongly defended (Tinian and Iwo Jima come readily to mind).

In the end, the strategy worked. By the time of the War's End, when Japan surrendered unconditionally, there were numerous islands still in their control (in contrast with Europem where the Allies had rolled the Nazis back almost everywhere).

Let's take this model and see how it applies to the War on Terror and the War in Iraq. It is well known that there are plenty of countries out there whose dictatorial leaders either oppose Democracy, hate the U.S., and/or provide support for the forces of oppression, terror, and chaos -- whether that support is moral or material. So why "just" pick on Iraq?

Iraq is, I would argue, this war's Guadalcanal, it's Tarawa, it's Iwo Jima. It was chosen as the second "Island" we assaulted, after Afghanistan (and hopefully the last one we have to, though I have my misgivings there), because it was easier to take than other enemy "positions", and because it was strategically useful.

In terms of the relative ease of taking IRaq, I am referring to more than just military strategy and tactics -- I refer to political strategy as well. Because Iraq was ruled by a man openly hostile to the US, who had failed to live up to the expectations of a previous cease fire agreement with the US and the related UN Resolutions, and who had committed atrocities against his own people, it was much easier to convince the US public and Congress to support action against him. I dare say, as vocal as the opposition to this war has been, it's nothing compared to the reaction we'd have engendered by attacking Iran or Saudi Arabia, despite current protests to the contrary.

Furthermore, there is the actual military strategy to consider. Even had a war against another regime been approved, it would have been far more costly and less likely to succeed. Even now, Iraq is a cakewalk compared to what an invasion of Iran or North Korea would have been like.

As for strategic importance, Iraq has that in spades. By liberating Afghanistan and Iraq, we've placed pro-Democracy forces on both sides of Iran, placing a huge elephant in the middle of the Middle East's room. Furthermore, Saddam Hussein's very existence as leader of Iraq weakened US Strategic and diplomatic clout, as he was living proof that the US was all talk. By removing him, we showed we mean business, and increased our position of power from which to negotiate.

As for the final comparison to the Island-Hopping Campaign, the end results, the final verdict isn't in, but early indications are good: The introduction of women's suffrage to Kuwait, multi-party local elections in Saudi Arabia, the events in Lebanon, and Libya's unilateral disarmament of its WMD stockpile, all indicate that the bypassed enemy positions are, indeed, "withering on the vine."

On to Tokyo, as it were.

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