At a recent Oxford University debate concerning the United States and international relations, one student offered this relatively simple yet compelling statement: Peace is more than merely the absence of war… A meaningful peace can only be achieved when there is justice and freedom in society. Likewise, I would maintain that even if there was not one American soldier in Iraq and even if President Bush had never mentioned the name Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi people would still not enjoy a real and meaningful state of peace.
Saddam Hussein is an illegitimate leader not only because he lacks the consent of the Iraqi people, but perhaps more importantly because he killed his way to his position and has systematically instituted a regime of violence and brutality in order to maintain that position. No legitimate ruler kills millions in order to remain in power. No legitimate ruler uses the wealth of his nation to build weapons of mass destruction and royal palaces and statues glorifying his rule while his people starve, suffer and die. The wealth of the Iraqi nation goes not to the social needs of the Iraqi people, but to the bloody desires of Saddam Hussein. The argument that peace would exist in Iraq if the United States had not commenced military action is a false one. Peace can only exist in Iraq when the greatest obstacle to peace, Saddam Hussein, is removed from power.
Within the past year, many have put forth the proposition that any military conflict is immoral and evil. Of course war is awful and brutal and should be avoided at all costs. Yet at times military conflict is a necessary evil. Historically this judgment is justified. Conflict saved this nation in the Civil War and eliminated the sin of slavery. Conflict liberated millions in Europe from the worst form of absolutist tyranny and institutionalized hate. In certain circumstances and as a final option, war is the only means that can ultimately bring the justice, freedom and stability required in any meaningful peace.
In many ways, inaction only worsens the conditions that invariably lead to widespread suffering and human rights violations. In short, inaction in the face of tyranny encourages only more cruelty. Beyond his 25-year record of human rights violations, Saddam Hussein stands in violation of the 1991 cease-fire agreement and 17 UN resolutions. If the world were to allow continual and flagrant violations of peace accords and international law, we will only embolden other tyrants and create a more dangerous world. Closing our eyes to the brutality and viciousness of a dictator in hopes that the problems at hand will simply disappear is an exceedingly dangerous proposition and historically has been a formula for disaster.
Following the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Centers, the strikes on the American embassies in Africa, the attack on the USS Cole, and then, of course, September 11th, many people noted that in order to eliminate the sorts of extremism that produce violence we needed to identify the root causes of terrorism. Many people, including a number of Simpson professors, argued that the United States must radically reshape its foreign policy, contending that the roots of terrorism lay in the US State Department. Of course, this is an illogical proposition predicated on the idea that the attacks upon our country and Western values should be rewarded with political concessions. Moreover, these views seem to excuse the radicalism and abject failures of every Arab government and the role that these regimes have played in fostering an environment where terrorism can thrive. It nearly goes without saying at this point that there is not a single democratically elected Arab leader. Without free elections, these leaders have no substantive connection to the people at large and feel no obligation to better the standard of living for their people or relieve the crushing poverty that now exists in the region. Indeed, the long-term failures of the Arab states have instituted a widespread sense of hopelessness among average Arab citizens, where individuals cannot conceive of improving either their own lives or the lives of their families. As a result, Arabs and especially young Arabs are susceptible to the sorts of extremism embodied in al-Qaeda, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. These people will reject extremism and terrorism only when they are able to see hope in their everyday lives, when they can direct the political affairs of the state through free elections and reap the benefits of hard work within free markers. In short the roots of terrorism can only be eliminated through the democratization and modernization of the Middle East. This is a long-term goal and the central purpose, in my estimation, of the Iraq War.
All people have a right to live in freedom and choose the direction of their lives. This clearly does not exist today in Iraq. In 1940 Franklin Roosevelt said that the West and the United States in particular was charged with defending the Four Freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want and freedom from fear. What was true in 1940 remains true today. None of these freedoms are enjoyed in the modern Middle East and without confronting the deadliest of the world’s regimes no one can truly enjoy freedom from fear.
The simple fact is that democracies do not go to war with other democracies. Instead of viewing the Iraqi War in terms of weapons of mass destruction or UN resolutions, perhaps we should see the depth of our motivations, namely the democratization of the Middle East. Undeniably this is a difficult proposition that might span not just years but decades. But difficulty alone is not a sufficient enough reason against action. Indeed, without bold and ambitious solutions, terrorism will continue to thrive in an increasingly unstable Arab world. Democratization, development and modernization are the only means whereby terrorism in general can successfully be rolled back and contained.