Sign Up

Making Iraq Safe for Democracy

After Afghanistan, should the United States turn to Iraq to create a beachhead for democracy?

February 28, 2002

After Afghanistan, should the United States turn to Iraq to create a beachhead for democracy?

The U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan proved to be a resounding success on a number of fronts. But as important as the Afghanistan campaign is, it raises another crucial question: Where else in the world might U.S. military action create a beachhead for democracy? Former CIA director James Woolsey argues that Iraq is just the place.

The Middle East presents a conundrum for those who would see the American values of freedom and democracy promulgated. It is the last region of the world — other than China, where change is occurring rapidly — that has seemed impervious to the democratic revolution that has swept much of the world in the 20th century — and certainly the late 20th century.

For too long, Americans have believed that democracy cannot conquer the Middle East. To see how ill-informed this assumption may prove to be, think back to all the nay-saying of the last century. The Germans couldn’t manage democracy, it was said. The Japanese couldn’t manage democracy. The Chinese couldn’t manage it. The Koreans couldn’t manage it.

These days, whether you’re in Berlin, Tokyo, Taipei or Seoul, you get the sense that these nations have figured it out. So I think that it’s time to say to the students in the streets of Tehran — and to the terribly oppressed Iraqi people: We’re on your side.

In dealing with autocracies and dictatorships, one must take into consideration their mind set. They turn to war early in their cycle of decision-making, because it offers an excuse to repress their own people. By contrast, democracies turn to war last, rather than first.

In a way, the United States has been much too cautious. Back in 1991, during the Gulf War, for instance, the United States was too influenced by the “realpolitik” tradition. I think it was a terrible mistake, and I think it’s time to correct it.

In part, the United States has followed Europe’s lead — accepting the notion that Arabs and Muslims are not prone to democracy. If you start with the modern Middle East, there is a spirit of things that has come down to us — principally from France. This spirit urges nations to deal with autocratic leaders, and hope to find friendly autocrats — rather than otherwise.

Following that lead, the United States more or less chose to set aside the notion that we should bring democracy to the Middle East. In fact, we have been steered away from this goal — in part by our own Middle East policy networks, and in part by European experience and advice.

As we have learned in recent months, B-52’s are not just a pretty good tool for women’s liberation in Afghanistan. The U.S. victory over the Taliban has had a remarkably quieting effect on the Arab street. In fact, that much-cited thoroughfare has not seen demonstrations for several months now. People there are realizing that perhaps they end up on the losing side.

But the interesting and important question is: Is there another government, other than the Taliban, involved in terrorist acts against the United States? Certainly efforts in the war on terror are going to have to take place in other countries — Somalia, the Philippines.

But Iraq is the one country that is really on everyone’s mind. We know that there have been senior-level contacts between al-Qaeda and Iraqi intelligence officers — both in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In addition, there are five eyewitnesses — three Iraqi defectors and two U.S. inspectors for the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) established to monitor the elimination of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles — who have witnessed various elements of terrorist training just south of Baghdad, at Salman Pak.

That training camp is run by one of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s sons. In it, non-Iraqis were observed training — separately from Iraqis — to hijack an an old commercial passenger jet. Don’t believe it? Well, you can see it on commercially available satellite photography of Salman Pak.

This training continued over a substantial period of time. Among its most prominent features was to train terrorists to hijack with knives and muscle — and not with guns. Who knows, perhaps it is because Saddam has a grudge against Icelandic Air, and he hasn’t moved against them yet. But it would seem that there might be a far more likely explanation for the training at Salman Pak.

Then there is anthrax. In the United States, the notion has circulated that it is a lone crazed American who was mailing anthrax — with no relationship to those who were behind the September 11.

And I suppose it is not absolutely impossible that some crazed American Ph.D. microbiologist in a very well-equipped laboratory in a cavern somewhere under Trenton, New Jersey was sitting there, ready to start mailing out letters, just when the terrorist attacks occurred.

But the more likely explanation is that there is a link to one of the three known programs that have developed highly sophisticated and weaponized anthrax. First, there is the U.S. program — which was closed down in 1969.

The second is the Soviet program, which continued until recent times. It is not impossible that some people from that program, working through Russian organized crime, somehow managed to collaborate with those who launched the September 11 attacks on the United States.

But the Russians in their own way — and most all of the Russian scientists I have known over the years — are quite patriotic. To the point, in the 1980s, they would have experienced a period of strong hostility toward both Afghanistan and the Muslims to their south. And now, they are in the midst of a war in Chechnya — which has in part, but certainly not entirely, been provoked by Muslim terrorists.

Furthermore, Russia has historically regarded itself — for hundreds of years, from the Tartars onward — as the misunderstood kingdom at the edge of Europe, with its essential mission being the protection of the continent from Islam.

So it is not impossible that some dissident Soviet scientists are supplying al-Qaeda and its supporters with anthrax. But the only less likely scenario is that a dissident Israeli scientist is supplying Palestinian terrorists with anthrax. It’s not impossible. It’s just not highly likely.

That leaves one country that produced industrial and very sophisticated anthrax for military use. That country still has it. That country is Iraq.

Does this consideration that Iraq is involved in the anthrax attacks against the United States mean that Iraq acted alone? No, not necessarily. Terrorism is not something that requires sole source contracting. One can have joint ventures.

In seeking a link between the September 11 attacks and the anthrax mailings on the one hand, and the participation of a state on the other — there is only one state that keeps surfacing. That state has not been convicted beyond a reasonable doubt, and a smoking gun has not been seen in its hand. Nonetheless, there is one state that comes up most on my screen as I have looked at this issue: he Ba’athist regime in Iraq.

As the head of an international coalition, the United States has been here before — in 1991. At that time, the United States picked the devil it knew rather than the devil that it didn’t know. That was a terrible mistake — and the Iraqi people have suffered for a decade because of it.

The involvement of Iraq — or any other state or group that might have helped al-Qaeda on September 11 — may well have been indirect. The key point is that over several decades, the Baathist Iraqi regime’s rule amassed a unique record.

It includes torture and murder, its illicit development of weapons of mass destruction, its past use of these weapons against its own people and against Iran, its work on ballistic missiles, its history of aggression against both Iran and Kuwait, and its long support of terror. All of these factors make it the principal threat to peace in the Middle East.

With or without its involvement in the attack on the United States last September 11, the peace and security of the region — and indeed, of much of the world — requires that this regime be removed from power. If this is not done in the reasonable future, the world will pay a heavy price once this Nazi-like regime acquires nuclear weapons.

Our only sound strategy is to take the side of the people against the predators and — albeit less urgently — the autocrats as well. We should destroy Saddam’s regime — the way we destroyed the Taliban — and bring democracy to Iraq.

This Globalist Document is adapted from a speech that Mr. Woolsey gave at the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies at the Johns Hopkins University on November 29, 2001. For the full text of Mr. Woolsey’s speech, click here.