Were our actions justified?
My service in Iraq over the past year has convinced me that the decision to remove Saddam from power was not only a prudent action to protect humanity but also was in the national interests of the United States. The sadistic brutality displayed by that regime is beyond what most civilized people can comprehend. Hundreds of thousands of innocent people were slaughtered simply because they were Kurds or Shiites. A regime that abuses its power in such a fashion does not have a right to exist.
Those who argue that Saddam was not a threat to the United States fail to recognize the realities of pre-war Iraq. The existence of an active weapons of mass destruction (WMD) program should never have been the prime indicator of whether Iraq represented an immediate threat to the United States. There is no doubt that, if such a program existed, it would have represented a very serious threat to Iraq’s neighbors. Unfortunately, our flawed assessment has caused us to lose credibility on the world stage.
However, from the perspective of a terrorist threat to our country, Saddam was probably on par with Osama. Both share an intense hatred of the United States. But unlike Osama, Saddam held the reins of power in one of the most developed and powerful countries in the Middle East. Saddam had consistently demonstrated a willingness to use whatever means necessary, including chemical weapons, to deal with those opposing him. He had an immense capability to support terrorist attacks against the United States. The real question is whether he had the intention to do so. I believe he was just waiting for the opportunity.
While we can disagree about whether we should have invaded Iraq, we did invade and have, as a result, created a situation with serious implications for the world, as well as for the security of our homeland. We removed a brutal tyrant and created the potential for positive change in a dangerous region. The bad news is that we are now faced with a serious insurgency that is fed by our continuing presence. We should be under no illusions that our actions in Iraq have labeled us as occupying infidels and, as such, put our country in the crosshairs of radical Islamic terrorists to perhaps even a greater extent than before the invasion.
How do we succeed?
The faster the Iraqis can effectively assume the fullrange of governmental responsibilities the better. While many of these functions were turned over on June 28, security remains largely the responsibility of the United States and its coalition partners. Our track record in developing Iraqi security forces has been mixed, at best. We focused too heavily on those things we could quantify, such as the number of Iraqi policemen, members of the civil defense and the army, as well as their fill of equipment, while neglecting to put effective Iraqi leaders in charge. This marginalized the impact of a multibillion dollar program for equipping and training Iraqi forces and significantly retarded the development of an effective Iraqi security apparatus. The assignment of Lt. Gen. David Petraeus last month to overhaul the Iraqi security forces was a very positive development. His performance as the commander of the 101st Airborne Division during the invasion and subsequent stability operations in northern Iraq was superb. He understands the importance of leadership.
Once Iraqis assume the lion’s share of responsibility for their security, I predict that support for the insurgency will begin to dissipate and the prospects for success of the new government will improve dramatically. While it would be foolhardy to withdraw our forces too quickly, we should effectively reduce both the number and the visibility of our troops as the Iraqi security forces take over. Initially, we should back up those Iraqi forces when required and also assist in securing the borders and critical infrastructure.
There is no panacea in the battle against terrorism. Even under our most optimistic near-term scenario, the threat to our homeland will continue to exist. Meeting our strategic objectives in Iraq could have a significant and positive impact on the future of the Middle East, which will in turn improve our long-term security at home. However, there are a significant number of radical Islamic terrorists around the world who believe we are instruments of evil and who are willing to sacrifice themselves to kill us. I saw this repeatedly as suicide bombers blew themselves up in an effort to kill Americans and Iraqis they considered our collaborators. The threat to Americans at home and abroad is real. Success in Iraq will reduce, but not eliminate, that threat. HST
Jim Steele recently returned from Iraq after serving initially as a police advisor to the Iraqi SWAT unit in Baghdad and later as the senior counselor to Ambassador Paul Bremer for Iraqi security forces.
Were our actions justified?