2004 July 14 Wednesday
Tallying Up Some Wins And Losses From US Invasion Of Iraq

Writing for The National Interest Michael Eisenstadt tallies up gains and losses from the US invasion of Iraq.

For now, it remains unclear whether the WMD programs of neighboring states benefited from regime change in Baghdad, although for Iran and North Korea, the war probably confirmed the importance of a nuclear deterrent when dealing with the United States. North Korea's apparent decision to expand its nuclear arsenal in the aftermath of OIF probably reflects this concern.

Conversely, by inducing Libya to dismantle its WMD programs and Iran to reveal nuclear procurement data in order to avert international pressure or U.S. military action, the war may have helped U.S. intelligence to grasp better the scope of the international supplier network run by Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan.

Finally, the invasion of Iraq has undoubtedly complicated the War on Terror. The invasion and events connected with it (such as the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. personnel) deeply humiliated many Iraqis and Arabs, and for many, confirmed Osama bin Laden's image of the West. The Iraq War will likely provide a new crop of recruits for jihadist groups in the Middle East, Europe and Asia.

What I'd like to know is whether Muammar Gaddafi (aka Khadafy, Qadaffi, and Ghaddafi) really decided to give up his nuclear program due to the Iraq invasion. He already had compelling reasons to do so. He had more to gain from giving up his nuclear ambitions than from continuing to pursue nuclear development with limited resources. When he finally admitted to his nuclear ambitions and turned over the equipment much of it was sitting in crates unused after having been purchased from A.Q. Khan's nuclear black market and other sources. So he obviously already felt constrained by insufficient resources to pursue his ambitions.

A lifting of trade and investment sanctions will be a moderate boon to Libya's economy and it is hard to see how nukes would provide Gaddafi a similar advantage. He has chosen a path that will strengthen the economy and therefore make it easier to eventually hand power on to his son who at this point does not carry the baggage of responsibility for previous actions of the father. So did the Iraq invasion tip the balance in his mind? Or was he ready to come around anyhow?

William E. Odom says Al Qaeda and Iran are the big winners from the Iraq invasion.

That said, achieving the first two war aims has not necessarily served the American interest. Yet they have benefited the interests of America's foes. The destruction of Saddam's regime serves Iran's aim of sweet revenge for Iraq's invasion in 1980.

Four of Osama bin Laden's interests have also been served. First, he has long been dedicated to toppling secular Arab leaders. Second, Iraq is now open to Al-Qaeda as a base of operations, especially if an Islamic regime emerges there--a likely outcome. Third, the invasion has distracted the United States from its campaign against Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and northern Pakistan. Fourth, the war has put the United States at odds with its European allies. Beyond these adverse consequences, we must remember the fiscal costs of the war to the United States--costs not shared by U.S. allies, as they were in the Persian Gulf War in 1991.

Thus Bin Laden and the Iranians have been the winners thus far. Presumably the proponents of the war would argue that spreading "liberal" democracy first to Iraq and then throughout the Arab world will offset these negative outcomes and also undercut support for Middle East-based terrorist groups. The case of continuing the war, therefore, hinges on whether the attainment of the third war aim is possible.

An argument can be made that the US invasion of Iraq has effectively scared a number of Middle Eastern governments out of providing support for terrorists. But even before the Iraq invasion few of those governments (with Iran as perhaps a notable exception) were still supporting terrorist groups to conduct attacks against Western targets. Libya backed off in the late 1980s as near as I can tell. Reagan and Thatcher were likely responsible for that.

A stronger case can be made against Iran's mullahs for their involvement in attacks against Jewish targets in Argentina as well as suspected Iranian involvement in the Khobar Towers attack, attacks against US targets in Lebanon in the 1980s, and perhaps other attacks. Are Al Qaeda members are being allowed to live freely in Iran? Khaled al-Harbi recently surrendered at the Teheran Iran embassy of Saudi Arabia as part of Saudi Arabia's amnesty for terrorists. Before doing so was he living in Iran with the knowledge of the Iranian government or, as the Iranian government has claimed, was he living as a fugitive along the Afghan-Iranian border? Also, Iran's government claims to be detaining 20 Al Qaeda members. Are they really doing this? If so, to restrain the Al Qaeda members or to protect them from the United States?

Iran's ruling mullahs show plenty of signs of only refraining from supporting terrrorist attacks against US interests when the US makes such support too costly.

Undisclosed until now, Operation Sapphire took place in 1997. Though the bombers who struck the Khobar Towers barracks were mostly Saudis, U.S. investigators quickly determined that Iranian intelligence officials had trained and organized the plotters. The former U.S. official said Iran was intimidated enough by the U.S. counterspy operation that it stopped targeting Americans after the bombing.

The first public hint of the U.S. operation came last week, when Richard Clarke, White House counterterrorism chief for three administrations, told a bipartisan commission investigating the 9/11 attacks that the Clinton administration responded "against Iranian terrorism ... at Khobar Towers with a covert action."

Do the rulers of Iran feel more or less constrained by the US invasion of Iraq? My guess is that they feel less constrained because they see the US military too over-committed and hence even less able to threaten Iran. At the same time, Saddam Hussein no longer can threaten Iran. Seems like a net win for Iran in the short term. If Iran can develop nukes then eventually the Iranians may become less easy to intimidate and they may already be supporting terrorists in Iraq.

The Saudis are now trying to crack down on terrorists in Saudi Arabia. But that is in response to terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia, not because the US invaded Iraq. Though it could be argued that the US invasion of Iraq goaded Al Qaeda to start attacking Saudi targets which then led to a Saudi government crackdown.

Update: Perhaps a better measure of the effect of the US invasion of Iraq on Middle Eastern governments would be a study of their official media and official clerics. Are their newspapers and government-funded clerics any less hostile to the United States as a result of the Iraq invasion? My impression is that little has changed in their official presses. Anyone have any good information on this question?

Another measure is the effect on public opinion in Muslim countries. A June 2003 poll shows a big swing away from a favorable opinion of the United States with an especially big swing in Indonesia.

The poll found that 83 percent of Turks now have an unfavorable opinion of the United States, up from 55 percent last summer.

The swing was even sharper in Indonesia, where Islamic radicalism has been rising since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

While 75 percent had a favorable opinion of the United States in 2000, 83 percent now have an unfavorable view. Similar levels of animosity hold sway in the Palestinian Authority and Jordan.

That is just a huge swing in public sentiment for Indonesia. One likely effect is to reduce the willingness of the Indonesian government to cooperate with the United States on security matters - at least publically. But how much of the swing was due to the invasion of Iraq specifically? What was the opinion of Indonesians toward the United States immediately after 9/11 and also after the invasion of Afghanistan? If anyone comes across poll results from Indonesia for time points between 2000 and 2003 please post them in the comments.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 July 14 02:05 AM  Mideast Iraq Costs

Fly said at July 14, 2004 12:36 PM:

Good post Randall. I think it is important to take stock of where we are now.

“although for Iran and North Korea, the war probably confirmed the importance of a nuclear deterrent when dealing with the United States.”

The author appears to accept the N. Korean argument of nuclear weapons for deterrence. Given the massive N. Korean artillery aimed at Seoul I believe it is naïve to accept this reasoning. The threat of murdering millions of South Koreans seems a sufficient deterrence. Nuclear weapons don’t keep the US from attacking N. Korea since the N. Koreans have no direct way to attack US targets. N. Korean uses the nuclear threat to extract tribute from the West. The N. Koreans demanded that the US pay billions for N. Korea not selling missiles to US enemies. N. Korea claims the “right” to sell nuclear weapons to whomever it pleases.

Given the two-decade history of Iran and Iraq pursuing nuclear weapons in the face of many bribes by the West to renounce nuclear weapons I doubt the Iraqi War significantly affected the Iranian and N. Korea drive for nuclear weapons.

911 showed the real danger of rogue states providing nuclear weapons to terrorists. N. Korea shows how a rogue state will use nuclear weapons to blackmail the West. I believe the Iranian Mullahs would do the same to its neighbors and to Europe.

Too many people accept the argument that N. Korea and Iran are entitled to nuclear weapons for defense. One might as well argue that the mafia should have its own nuclear weapons.

“But even before the Iraq invasion few of those governments (with Iran as perhaps a notable exception) were still supporting terrorist groups to conduct attacks against Western targets.”

Syria was directly hosting and funding terrorists. Saudi Arabia has provided massive funding to terrorists and to a large extent continues to do so. Most of the ME nations use their state sponsored news media, mosques, and schools to promote hatred of the West. Saudi Arabia provides massive funding to Wahabi clerics throughout the world. All this was happening before the Iraqi War and significantly contributed to 911.

How far does deniability go? If state media and mosques fan hatred and state schools teach hatred and train potential terrorists, and state charities fund terrorists does it matter that there may not be a direct organizational connection between the state government and the terrorist group?

This is not an easy question.

Is the US responsible for IRA terrorism because the US allowed Irish charities to solicit funds in America? Are Germany and Switzerland somewhat responsible for 911 because Al Qaeda used both as support bases? Is Europe responsible for providing funds that the PA then used to attack Israel? When enemies attack each other through third parties should they be held accountable for the resulting damage?

The Iraqi War has stirred up the ME and the world. I agree we need to take stock of what has changed. Of what we’ve gained and what we’ve lost.

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