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In Pursuit of the Terrorists - 2002-09-12

What next in the war on terrorism? Some say stick to pursuing al-Qaida, perpetrators of the September 11 attack. Others say on to Baghdad to destroy a terrorist state. And one prominent columnist urges working toward a regime change throughout the Middle East.

The United States must support a vast revolution to liberate all the people of the Middle East from their tyrannical regimes. That is the proposal of Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute, writing in The Wall Street Journal. He says Iraq is just part of a terrorist network embracing Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia. They are bundled together, he adds, and an attack on one could bring a military response from all.

He urges the United States to use all its political resources to bring down the current regimes. Washington can employ radio and TV broadcasting. It can enlist the help of private U.S. and international organizations, and it can bolster internal resistance movements.

After all, says Mr. Ledeen, it was this kind of non-violent rebellion that undermined the Communist regimes of Russia and Eastern Europe. He says Iran is ripe for the same treatment. "I am not talking about a big invasion. I am talking about political support for people in Iran who have demonstrated in every imaginable way that they hate their regime and they wish to be free," he says. "So I think we should be able to help them bring down the terror masters in Tehran in the same way we helped Filipinos bring down Marcos and Yugoslavs bring down Milosevic and Poles bring down Communism. It is exactly the same kind of thing."

Mr. Ledeen says we should aim for a political revolution, and this time support it. We should do so even if there were no terrorist threat. We should help people win the freedom we enjoy. He adds there would be overwhelming popular support for a U.S. induced regime change in the Middle East. "Both the Iraqi and the Iranian people have demonstrated this. Twice in the last ten years, when the Iraqi people had a chance to rise up against Saddam Hussein, they did. We unfortunately betrayed them each time," says Mr. Ledeen. "The Iranian people are in full revolt right now. There is not a week goes by without a major confrontation between the Iranian people and the tyrannical regime under which they are suffering."

Mr. Ledeen says we should not worry about getting bogged down in the Middle East. Except for Iraq, the struggle in the other countries will be internal. "This is primarily a political revolution which we will be supporting. Therefore, it does not seem to me to require a long-term military occupation, certainly not in Iran since military power is not required in Iran if my analysis is right," he says. "We may need to leave behind some number of troops in Iraq, along the lines of what happened in Germany and Japan at the end of World War II. We will just have to see how that goes. I do not think I or anybody else is smart enough to answer that question today."

First things first, says James Webb, former U.S. Secretary of the Navy and author of "Fields of Fire," the acclaimed novel based on his Vietnam combat experience. We must first deal with the immediate threat, international terrorism, then move on to potentially dangerous states like Iraq.

So let's get our priorities straight, he says. The United States cannot do everything. It has finite resources. "We run the risk of committing too much of our resources in one particular area at the expense not only of our ability to handle the problem of international terrorism, but our ability to conduct ourselves around the world in other regions, particularly in East Asia," says Mr. Webb. "The most vital concern that I think we have as a nation right now long term is the emergence of China and China's own expansionist desires, and that issue has to remain addressed, even as we go after the difficulty of international terrorism."

Mr. Webb says war with Iraq would entail a long-term U.S. occupation that would surely drain U.S. resources from other areas, including the unfinished effort in Afghanistan, where terrorism could revive amid the chaos. Why tie us down in the Middle East? asks Mr. Webb, while freeing the terrorists to wreak havoc elsewhere.

He also says a U.S. occupation of Iraq is not comparable to the post World War II occupation of Germany and Japan. They had democratic traditions which resurfaced with the collapse of their tyrannies. In a column in The Washington Post, he writes that Japan has a homogeneous population who treated the U.S. occupiers with respect. Iraq has competing multi-ethnic factions that would view Americans as invading the cradle of Islam.

Mr. Webb writes: "In Japan, American occupation forces became 15,000 friends. In Iraq, they would quickly become 15,000 terrorist targets." But he agrees with Michael Ledeen that non-military U.S. efforts could pay off in the Middle East. "The greatest military victory of our time was the way that we were able to bring the Soviet Union in from the cold without having a nuclear war," says Mr. Webb. "We did not do it with troops on the ground in Eastern Europe. We did it with a combination of diplomacy, economics, and enough military presence to deter their activity until there was the kind of movement inside those countries that brought the system down."

That can happen again, says former CIA Director James Woolsey. If Iraq's Saddam Hussein were gone, the other nations of the region might be more inclined to liberalize and end their terrorist activities. He believes Iran is already headed in that direction. "In a state like Iran, although it is a dictatorship by the ruling mullahs who control the instruments of state power, the rulers have lost the allegiance of the women and the young people, who are over 60 percent of the country, and they are even starting to lose more and more support within the clergy," says Mr. Woolsey. "There are more and more Ayatollahs who are declaring themselves at odds with the ruling mullahs."

So no U.S. attack is called for, says Mr. Woolsey, that would drive reformers into the arms of the mullahs. We can await their downfall from within. "The mullahs ought to feel very much like the residents of the Kremlin in 1988 or the residents of Versailles in l788. The storm might not be quite there yet, but I think it is gathering," he says.

A little more U.S. prodding may be needed in the case of Saudi Arabia, says Mr. Woolsey. We need cordial relations with this oil-rich country, but there are other considerations, like the extreme Wahabi sect with its rigid view of Islam. "Ultimately, I think the bargain that the royal family has struck with the Wahabis, in which they have been given carte blanche to spread their particular angry and hostile and anti-modern form of Islam in many other countries, including the United States, is really a terrible bargain indeed," says. Mr. Woolsey. "We should do everything possible to convince the Saudis that this kind of export of hatred, which they are funding in a big way, is not in our interest and is not in theirs."

If the Saudis do not wake up to this, says Mr. Woolsey, the United States can retaliate in various ways, such as reducing the global dependency on Saudi oil. The best kind of regime change, says Mr. Woolsey, is one of its own making.