When Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld compared his Iraq war critics to the appeasers of Nazism in Europe in the mid-1930s, it would seem he got his “isms” confused. A more appropriate analogy would have been the Soviet Union, communism and the Comintern. Founded by V.I. Lenin in 1919, Comintern, or the Communist International, was a compulsory association of national communist parties to promote world revolution. It functioned as an organ of Soviet control over the international communist movement and was appeased by the United States throughout the 1930s.
The Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s model was never Germany’s defeated Nazi Party, but the Soviet model. His principal supplier of weapons was the Soviet Union. His Mukhabarat was modeled on the very active KGB, not the late Gestapo. Throughout the 1970s, Saddam’s KGB worked hand-in-glove with the Soviet KGB in subverting the Gulf states, from the Dhofar rebellion in Oman to Kuwait, after Britain relinquished all its obligations east of Suez.
By the time the Bush administration determined Saddam was a mortal peril to the United States, he and his regime were pretty much burned out. Eight years of war against Iran, followed by his invasion of Kuwait and rout by George H.W. Bush 41’s coalition of 29 nations, and then a decade of humiliating U.N. inspections, had reduced Saddam’s regime to a dirty little sandbox that was a threat to no one except his own people. His neighbors were not afraid of him. Nor were the Europeans. When Saddam allowed U.N. chief inspector Hans Blix to return to Iraq with as many inspectors as he wished, free to go and look anywhere, it became increasingly obvious he had nothing to hide.
Most important, Saddam and his regime were not part of Osama bin Laden’s Islamist “Comintern” organization of global terrorism. But no sooner did the U.S. invade and topple Iraq’s Ba’athist regime than “liberated” Iraq became a force multiplier for Islamist extremists.
A remarkably well researched and documented new book titled “The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11,” by Lawrence Wright, establishes “there is no evidence that Iraq ever supplied al Qaeda with weapons or camps,” but there were talks between Iraqi intelligence agents and bin Laden to try to get him to stop backing anti-Saddam insurgents. Meetings continued intermittently until bin Laden opposed a rapprochement with Saddam and resumed support of Iraqi dissidents.
Al Qaeda today is a global politico-religious, ideological and spiritual movement that has far more in common with global communism than the European fascism of the 1930s and ‘40s. What Mr. Bush calls the global war on terror is an ideological struggle, punctuated by acts of terrorism, a fundamental clash of civilizations between democratic freedom and totalitarian religious regimentation, that is likely to endure at least as long as the almost half-century Cold War.
The U.S. invasion of Iraq opened fresh opportunities for Iranian troublemaking. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and its intelligence services flooded Shi’ite Iraq with agents of influence and subversion, funding and arming powerful militias — e.g., the Badr Brigade and the Mahdi Army — that are paving the way for what Tehran hopes will be a humiliating, Vietnamlike U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.
The British commander in Iraq said the country is now in a civil war, albeit still a mini one. On Aug. 24, after several days of mortar shelling by Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi insurgents, the Brits decided to evacuate their second-largest base at Amarah on the Tigris River and turn it over to the Iraqi army. But before the reluctant Iraqis could take over, insurgents swarmed in and ransacked Camp Abu Naji, looting anything of value.
British Challenger II tanks and Warrior Fighting Vehicles made their way south to Basra to be shipped back to the U.K. Instead, the Brits, now in Land Rovers, redeployed along the nearby Iranian border to conduct guerrilla operations against weapons smugglers infiltrating from Iran.
Amarah is a brief ride from Kut where the Brits, 90 years ago, suffered their second-worst defeat in World War I. After a five-month siege, having lost 23,000 Indian Army troops killed (two divisions), eaten their last horse and fired their last bullet, Gen. Sir Charles Townshend surrendered his sword to the Turkish commander in April 1916. Most of the 7,000 survivors died in captivity. Only Gallipoli, four months earlier, was a bigger Allied disaster. Before withdrawing from the Turkish peninsula, some 44,000 British, French, Australian, New Zealanders, and Canadians were killed. The victorious Turks lost 86,700 killed.
The only relevant history for the planners of Operation Iraqi Freedom was the invasion of Normandy June 6, 1944, and the liberation of Europe that followed. Relevant history was judged irrelevant.
Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.