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September 11, 2006
Iraq War Forum: Opening Remarks

As I announced earlier, I will take part in a Macalester College forum on the Iraq War this evening. I'm posting my opening remarks to the forum so that CQ readers who could not attend can read my speech and my arguments. I hope they inspire a healthy and rational debate here in the comments section. I'll let you know if they did the same at the forum.

The War In Iraq

Good evening, and thank you for your hospitality.

A few weeks ago, Grace Kelley e-mailed me asking if I knew anyone in the area that would defend the decision to invade Iraq for tonight’s forum. I think I surprised Grace when I volunteered to do it myself. She had been unable to get anyone to commit to speaking in this forum, and while I do not know the individual circumstances of those she approached before, I do know the heat and vitriol this topic sometimes inspires. I’m certain that some may have felt that this forum might generate too much of both to be useful in any rhetorical sense.

I feel differently. I do not believe that I will change minds here tonight, at least not about the topic at hand. I plan on offering my opinion on the war, honestly and forthrightly, and expect to be challenged on it. To me, the value of this forum comes not in the opportunity to “prove” myself right or to sway people from deeply-held beliefs. The value comes from meeting my fellow citizens and publicly airing our differences in a positive and rational manner so that we can make our choices freely and openly.

For this opportunity, I thank Democracy for America, my fellow panelists, and our moderator. I also thank the audience for their patience and forbearance, and at the least I hope to prove that all of us can disagree publicly without being disagreeable. At the very least, I’m hoping to emulate the scene from the movie “Patton” where George C. Scott says, “I thought I would stand here like this so you could see if I was really as big a son of a bitch as you think I am.”

So let me state some assumptions from which I’ve worked over the years that I have been writing on politics. People who oppose the war in Iraq are not unpatriotic. They are not cowards. The decision to invade Iraq was just that: a policy decision and a strategic wartime decision. It is possible to be on either side of that decision and still be a good American citizen. Vilifying those for disagreeing on this point in either direction does no one any good and only pollutes the political atmosphere.

Obviously, I do believe that invading Iraq and deposing Saddam Hussein was the right decision at the time, and I still believe we are better off for that decision. My support comes from a strategic look at the war on terror and the challenge we faced in fighting it with Saddam still in power.

We have to keep the pressure on the terrorists and radicals in their region in order to keep them from setting the battle to their own advantage. Was Iraq the correct place in which to do this? I believe it was. I say this for these reasons: Saddam continued to make war on the United States during the twelve-year cease fire, and we needed to fight and end that war to have any success in the war on terror. We had tried to engage the entire global community in that effort for twelve years and the community as a whole abdicated their responsibilities.

Saddam Made War on the United States

It’s impossible to overemphasize this. We had 40,000 men and women tied down in and around Iraq at the time of 9/11 enforcing a cease-fire agreement that Saddam Hussein continually violated. His forces fired repeatedly at American and British aircraft patrolling the no-fly zones. They “lit up” our planes with fire control radars on almost a daily basis, in defiance of the agreement that kept us out of Baghdad in 1991. And while it happened years prior, let’s not forget the attempted assassination of George H. W. Bush during Clinton’s first term of office.

Each one of these constituted an act of war.

Our failure to respond in kind not only emboldened Saddam Hussein towards even greater defiance, it sent a message through the region that we would not fight back.

The International Community Failed To Stand Firm

One of the most common criticisms of the decision to go into Iraq is that it was made “unilaterally”. The complaint originates from the failure of the United Nations Security Council to authorize our use of force against Saddam Hussein and to end twelve years of defiance by his regime. We spent twelve years and one month enforcing sanctions against Iraq, a regimen that we later found had been undermined by the same nations that opposed enforcing the sixteen Security Council resolutions that had been issued during that period.

In the weeks before 9/11, nations such as France and Russia were actively petitioning the UN to remove the sanctions against Iraq. Prior to that, they and others had corrupted the UN program designed to allow aid to ordinary Iraqis, instead putting billions of dollars into Saddam’s pockets and reinforcing his grip on power. The international community sent a clear signal that they would do nothing about Saddam’s wars and genocides even when his actions violated a signed cease-fire agreement, and that the only issue that mattered to them was the money they could make on Iraq’s oil.

The Need To Engage The Enemy

The US needs to engage the terrorists in their backyard and not ours. We cannot allow them to construct set-piece attacks as they did throughout the 1990s because we have no completely effective way to defend against them. In a way, this parallels the frustration that Abraham Lincoln felt with his commanders during the Civil War. Too many of them, especially George McLelland, felt that they should hold their fire until the Union had a massive numerical superiority against the Confederacy. This allowed Robert E. Lee to dictate the terms of the war in the first two years, forcing the North to react rather than to define the battle for themselves. In the end, Lincoln picked Ulysses S Grant not just because Grant was a much better general than the rest, but because Grant understood that the Union had to fight Lee to win, and had to fight Lee on his own ground. Grant beat Lee because he used the Union’s superior economic forces and reserves to grind the Confederacy down to defeat.

One of the unfortunate lessons we taught the radical Islamists over the past thirty years has been the lack of fortitude in American resolve. We did nothing while Islamists captured our embassy in Teheran and held dozens of Americans hostage for 444 days. Ronald Reagan retreated from Beirut in 1983 after a Hezbollah attack killed over 200 Marines, and then he negotiated with their Iranian sponsors for the release of hostages in the late 1980s. When the road to Baghdad was wide open in 1991, George H.W. Bush let Saddam stay in power. We retreated from Somalia in 1993 and failed to respond to a series of provocations in that decade, starting with the World Trade Center attack and culminating in the attack on our military – the USS Cole.

We taught the terrorists that we would not fight for our interests and we would retreat when provoked. And Saddam Hussein’s continued defiance reinforced that lesson on a daily basis.

The Results Of The Decision

What have been the results of this decision? The United States has benefited in material ways which has made the nation and the region safer.

1. We deposed a genocidal dictator that had murdered at least 300,000 of his own people, in at least one case using chemical weapons to do so. He had twice gone to war with his neighbors in the past twenty years, invading our trading partner and ally and threatening our oil supply, which forced us to go to war to expel him from Kuwait. With the sanctions regime collapsing and his power more secure than ever, Saddam would have been free to attack American interests around the world as he often threatened to do.

2. Although it had happened a few years earlier, Saddam had attempted to assassinate George H. W. Bush after his term in office, an act of war in itself. Bill Clinton responded with a series of missile strikes while enforcing the sanctions and cease-fire agreements. Had Saddam been freed from his international obligations, he could have tried assassinating American politicians in the future, with potentially greater success. Ending his regime eliminated that possibility.

3. Libya surrendered its nuclear program as a result of the deposing of Saddam. Moammar Gaddafi told Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi that he did not want to end up like Saddam Hussein, and reached agreement with the US and Britain within a month of Saddam’s capture to reveal and destroy its nuclear-weapons infrastructure. In doing so, we discovered that Libya had a more advanced program than previously thought, and also found more evidence of the AQ Khan nuclear-proliferation ring.

4. The presence of 140,000 American troops on Syria’s border had a demonstrable effect after the assassination of Rafik Hariri in 2005. When the Lebanese people demanded the expulsion of Syrian forces from their nation, the Syrians could easily have used their forces to quash the rebellion. Instead, they meekly withdrew without firing a shot, faced down by the US and France in a joint demand for withdrawal.

5. The same presence between Iran and Syria forces both terror-sponsoring nations to take into account our reaction to their actions. It places us in a strategic position to act in our defense or that of our allies if either nation decides to openly attack.

6. Fourteen million Iraqis have embraced the democratic process and elected the first representative democracy in the Arab world. If that democracy can survive, it will have the opportunity to transform the region.

Most of all, we have restored our reputation as a serious nation that will take action to defend itself and to transform the battlefield to our advantage. Terrorists understand that we will act to defend freedom and liberty and to pursue it in the heart of Islamist terrorism. On 9/11, they understandably questioned our resolve to prevail; they can no longer make that mistake. We took the steps necessary to end the long-running war with Iraq that kept Saddam in power and gave us a dangerous image as an impotent power in the region.

Again, I thank you for your time and hospitality. As long as we can meet in these forums and engage in spirited but rational debate, we know that American democracy and freedoms are secure indeed. Terrorists cannot take that away from us; only we can do that to ourselves.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 11, 2006 7:11 PM

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» Into the Lion's Den. from Everything I Know Is Wrong
My friend—and blogger extrordinaire—Ed Morrissey took part in a panel discussion at Macalester College last night, the fifth anniversary of 9/11. Macalester is well known in Minnesota as a bastion of far left liberal ideology. The subject of the di... [Read More]

Tracked on September 12, 2006 12:10 AM

» Into the Lion's Den. from Everything I Know Is Wrong
My friend—and blogger extrordinaire—Ed Morrissey took part in a panel discussion at Macalester College last night, the fifth anniversary of 9/11. Macalester is well known in Minnesota as a bastion of far left liberal ideology. The subject of the di... [Read More]

Tracked on September 12, 2006 12:20 AM

» The Captain At Bat from Considerettes
Captain Ed participated in a forum at Macalester College on the Iraq War last night. He posted his opening remarks on his blog, and I think it’s a great overall view of why the war was the right thing to do in general, even if, as happens in mos... [Read More]

Tracked on September 12, 2006 9:09 AM


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