It’s time for the defeatist hotheads of August to take a look at U.S. and allied success in the war on terrorism. As the autumn of 2003 approaches, Iraq is two battlefields and one birthplace. On one battlefield, the venomous regime of Saddam Hussein dies a slow, painful and dangerous death. Big vipers die killing because killing is their be-all and — to the last — their end-all. With cash stashed in Iraq and corrupt banks throughout the world, with weapons littering Iraq’s landscape, the snake still has ready poison. It’s why Americans who understand the enemy continue to apply deadly, insistent military and political pressure.
The second battlefield is a large “strategic” ambush, and the enemy entering the kill zone still has not quite figured it out. From an American perspective that presents an opportunity, an opportunity with risks, but one with huge potential payoffs.
In Iraq, the United States is ambushing al Qaeda and tag-along jihadis powered by the fantasy ideology of Islamo-fascism.
The ambush was never completely secret. In a column in January, I wrote: “The massive U.S. build-up around Iraq serves as a baited trap that al Qaeda cannot ignore. Failure to react to the pending U.S. attack would demonstrate al Qaeda’s impotence. For the sake of their own reputation (as well as any notion of divine sanction), al Qaeda’s cadres must show CNN and al Jazeera they are still capable of dramatic endeavor. This ain’t theory. Al Qaeda’s leaders and fighters know it, and the rats are coming out of their alleys.”
Astute observers have dubbed the U.S. ambush the “flypaper strategy.”
On September 11, al Qaeda chose the battlefields: New York and Washington. American leaders have decided it’s better to fight terrorists “over there” than “over here.” So U.S. soldiers slug it out in the Sunni Triangle instead of Seattle. And U.S. and British soldiers, and increasingly Iraqi police, are engaged in this fight. It’s tough. In eight to 10 months, we’ll know if it worked. Spies “walk back the cat.” Jihadis entering Iraq connect back to terror cliques in rogue states. The United States intends to make excellent political and military use of the jihadis’ “intelligence trail.”
For real freedom fighters, Iraq’s two battlefields are one common struggle. Occasionally reporters glimpse al Qaeda’s and Saddam’s direct links, the Ansar al-Islam gang in Kurdistan being the most obvious. However, the division between secular and religious anti-American terrorists is — as scholar Faoud Ajami said this week in the Wall Street Journal — a “distinction without substance.” Saddam’s Ba’ath loyalists and Osama bin Laden-inspired Islamo-fascists always understood politically free people were their common foe.
Which brings us to the birthplace. Iraq is the birthplace of something every committed human rights advocate should praise — a free land escaping murderous tyranny. Ba’athists and Islamo-fascists are both old-time autocrats, the control freaks of the past trying to kill the future in its crib.
It’s an exhausting and bloody birth, and understandably, given the legacy of murder and theft. Yet Iraq is on a time-line for an elected government. Even the New York Times, the daily voice of American quagmire and catastrophe, admitted Iraqis support the U.S. effort in extraordinary numbers: “Four months into the occupation, the rebellion against American forces, though fierce, is still largely limited to the Arab Sunni Muslim population and its foreign supporters and confined to a relatively limited geographic area.”
Iraq’s success has frightened autocrats throughout the Middle East. Autocrats in Taliban caves, in Iran, in Syria, fear Iraqi democracy. Coalition success in Iraq is forcing the House of Saud to choose between democratic evolution and fatal revolution.
Defeatist hotheads who natter about “root causes of terrorism” must understand the taproot of terrorism is tyranny. Theft and brutality by local dictators are the leading causes of Third World poverty. University of California-Berkeley faculty resolutions do not stop gangsters. Cutting the taproot usually requires the explicit presence and sometimes the precious lives of Western soldiers.
August has been a hot and horrid month in Baghdad. Fascist and Islamo-fascist thugs are testing the collective will of the United States, the Iraqi people, Britain and their coalition allies.
There will be more wretched months. It’s war.
It’s also a war we are winning.
Austin Bay is a nationally syndicated columnist.