What the War Means...for the Middle East

Critics argue that attacking Iraq falls outside the scope of America’s “war on terror,” which should be focused squarely on Islamist movements in the Muslim world. While Saddam’s regime may not fall neatly under the rubric of “militant Islam,” its removal could be vital in battling these forces. Ousting Saddam could lead to a deflation of radicalism in the Muslim world, and might even bolster the moderates who have been overshadowed for too long.

Less Palestinian terror: Saddam is a foremost proponent of Palestinian terror. He initially encouraged suicide bombers by paying $10,000 to their families as a kind of indemnity—an amount later increased to $25,000. The elimination of Saddam and his cash incentives could lead to a decrease in Palestinian suicide bombings.

Removing Saddam could also create a political landscape more conducive to peace. When Saddam was soundly defeated in the first Gulf War, the Palestinians were isolated without his support, which helped pave the way to the Oslo Accords. Without the pugnacious voice of Saddam, more moderate Palestinian leaders may yet emerge.

Opening for democracy: With the fall of the Muslim world’s most egregious despotic autocracy, an opportunity will arise to build a democracy. Experience in Afghanistan shows this is difficult, but U.S. officials are determined to make an example of Iraq, given its extreme importance in this democracy-starved region. If successful, a new Iraqi democracy will show how reform is not only possible but preferable.

Successes may also encourage reformists in other Muslim countries. Specifically, democracy-ripe Iran may capitalize on the shift, with the populace pushing the mullahs for more sweeping reforms. In a best-case scenario, the Muslim world could experience a domino effect of democratization thereafter.

Smashing idols: Of all Muslim heads of state, Saddam is undoubtedly the most belligerent. He has openly challenged the West, rejected weapons inspections, and even called for a Muslim coalition against the U.S. before the 1991 Gulf War. Saddam attempted to assassinate formerPresident George H. W. Bush, and he harbors Abdul Rahman Yasin, a suspect in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. An Iraqi diplomat also met al Qaeda’s Mohammad Atta before the September 11 attacks. Yet, somehow, the U.S. has allowed Saddam to remain in power.

Saddam’s saber rattling (and longevity) has been a boost for anti-American and Islamist groups. Ousting Saddam will deal a heavy blow to the morale of these forces. Similar blows were dealt when allied forces picked apart the Taliban, and severely weakened the al Qaeda network by putting Osama bin Laden on the run. Demoralizing these forces must be part of America’s larger strategy inits war on terror.

By showing the Muslim world that America will not be deterred and that it can handily defeat its foes, radicalism in the Muslim world is likely to lose momentum while moderation could be given a chance to flourish. Accordingly, removing Saddam is an opportunity for a new beginning, characterized by stability, growth, and political reform.

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