Playing it safe

Time Magazine offers conflicting viewpoints as to whether “Iraq has made us less safe.” Daniel Benjamin argues that it has. He claims that by invading Iraq, we confirmed (in the mind of many Muslims) the Islamofascists claim that the U.S. is determined to occupy Muslim lands, usurp Muslims’ wealth, and destroy Islam. As a result, Benjamin believes, we make it easier for the Islamofascists to recruit terrorists.
As Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld has said, we lack the means of assessing whether or to what extent our actions in Iraq are causing people who otherwise would not have become terrorists to become such. And we certainly have no means of weighing any such recruitment effect against the recruitment effect of allowing Saddam to once again face down the U.S. and to continue recruiting suicide bombers by paying off their families. Anyone who claims to offer a non-speculative answer on this question is not being honest.
Benjamin tries to support his claim that Iraq has made us less safe by arguing that Spain’s participation in Iraq (and perhaps Britain’s) may well have made it a target for acts of terrorism that would have not have occurred had Spain remained on the sidelines. This claim is quite plausible — some countries probably are more safe in the short-term, at least, if they stay out of the fight. But the U.S. isn’t one of these countries. Events during the 1990s and through 9/11 show that we would need to do far more than stay out of Iraq in order to prevent Islamofascists from recruiting a surplus of terrorists willing to attack us.
Charles Krauthammer makes these points in his contribution to Time. He goes on to argue that transforming the political culture of the Middle East constitutes the path to long-term safety, and that our actions in Iraq are a critical step down that path. In this regard, he points to the positive recruitment effect of fighting for freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan:

The terrorists may have recruited their new Atta, now splattered on the walls of the Baghdad mosque he has suicide-bombed. We have recruited tens of millions of Afghan and Iraqi Muslims–with Lebanese and others to follow–opposing that Atta as they attempt to build decent, moderate, tolerant societies. I’ll take our recruits.

We are more safe for having removed Saddam Hussein for another reason. Whether or not Saddam had WMD at the time we invaded, he had years of experience with WMD programs. And he had years of experience working with terrorists, as well as some experience with terrorists associated with al Qaeda. With Saddam gone, the likelihood that present and future terrorist attacks will feature WMD is diminished.


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