Here's a piece that I submitted to the New York Times a month or two ago. I didn't expect to be published, but figured what the heck.
It came in response to all the BS I was hearing, courtesy of GOP talking points, about how the show of strength by the insurgency in Iraq was actually a sign of weakness, since the insurgents were growing desperate with the deadline for the (nominal) transfer of power to the Iraqis on June 30 fast approaching.
The (il)logic seemed to be that once the handover occurred, all the insurgents would pack their bags and take off with the flip of a switch. So this is the (decent, but flawed) thing I sent in:
Political commentators and Bush administration allies have lately been repeating a premise, the verity of which they take for granted, that rationalizes the continued insurgency and terror bombings in Iraq and in some cases puts a positive spin on them. Namely, that the insurgents have stepped up their attacks out of desperation, because they fear the coming transition to a democratic Iraq will spell doom for their cause.
The assumption is that a free and open society in the midst of a region so filled with repression and despair will, by its very existence, undermine the fundamentalist terrorists affiliated with Al Qaeda. Those pundits and officials making this assumption also imply that once America hands the reins of power to Iraq, the insurgency will die off.
But this assumption is mistaken. While the terrorist insurgents no doubt aim to prevent the handover of authority to the Iraqis, there is no reason to think that eventuality will cause them to cease their bombing campaigns.
Newly democratic Iraq will remain a fragile, tenuous situation for years to come. And even if Iraq somehow transformed into a stable, thriving democracy overnight, it would still remain vulnerable to the terrorist threat.
The reason is that open societies are actually more susceptible to terrorism than those that are closed. As we Americans have discovered, the freedoms of an open society often allow for its enemies to move and operate within its own borders undetected. That's the root of our current debate on civil liberties and the Patriot Act.
Leaders of democratic societies are constrained by the law and must balance the constitutional freedoms and individual rights of their citizens with the pursuit of terrorists. Moreoever, in an open society like America, elected leaders are sworn to protect and serve their citizens, who may hold them accountable for any failure to do so by removing them from office.
Brutal despots such as Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong Il are neither beholden to their countrymen and women nor fettered by the law in putting down an insurgency. They have no obligation to protect their subjects and may use any means at their disposal, however draconian, to crack down on insurgents.
Al Qaeda never much liked Saddam Hussein's secular Iraq, but it never attacked him either. For one thing, Al Qaeda had other priorities. But even if Osama bin Laden had a reason to attack and intimidate Iraq, how much could his terrorists have accomplished? Saddam Hussein's comtempt for his fellow Iraqis was well established. He wouldn't have lifted a finger to protect his subjugated people unless it were in the interest of maintaining his authority.
The purpose of terrorism is to send a message. But what's the point in sending a message if, as is the case in a dictatorship, no one is listening? In a democratic society, the terrorized populace has a voice. Democratic nations are, in fact, the ideal targets for terrorists, whose advantage lies
in their disrespect for human life and their disregard for the rule of law.
Saudi Arabia is a closed, repressive society, yet it has managed to escape the wrath of Al Qaeda terrorists. How? By funding them. Citizens in an open society would react with outrage to the financial ties between the House of Saud and fundamentalist terrorists. But the Saudis would be powerless to act on such information even if, in their censored political environment, they managed to get their hands on it.
Iraq, like Israel and Afghanistan, will remain a focal point of Islamic fundamentalists indefinitely. Even when American troops pull out, and that may take a long time, there is, to put it mildly, an expectation that Iraq will remain allied with the U.S. Even more important, Iraq will continue to be the foremost symbol of the U.S. presence in the Middle East, the removal of which is one of Osama bin Laden's stated goals. The World Trade Center attacks are sufficient evidence that Al Qaeda pays close attention to symbolism
The horrific bombings in Madrid make it plain that we cannot predict how Al Qaeda will act. We do know, however, that they will act according to a cruel logic.
Commentators who blithely dismiss the lack of WMD's in Iraq by claiming that, regardless of the war's initial justification, liberating the Iraqis and bestowing upon them the gift of democracy was the right thing to do are missing a crucial point: If it turns out the goal of invading Iraq was to establish a bastion of democracy in the Middle East, shouldn't the American people have had the opportunity to participate in the debate over whether that effort would be worth the cost in lives, money and international prestige?
And given the fact that failure in Iraq could very well cause the Middle East to become less, not more, stable, shouldn't we have had the chance to debate this grand and costly experiment's odds for success?