There exists “no credible evidence that Iraq and al-Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States.”
There were contacts between al-Qaeda and Iraq, but “they do not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship.” In 1994, Baghdad rebuffed approaches from bin Laden to establish terrorist training camps inside Iraq. So the 9-11 commission has concluded.
And so, with no weapons of mass destruction yet found after 18 months of searching, the second pillar of the president’s case for war falls to earth. Iraq was an unnecessary war.
Yet, now we have 138,000 soldiers there, with casualties mounting, the cost rising and the hostility to America’s presence growing. Every attack on U.S. troops or contractors, even when they involve Iraqi dead and wounded, seems to be cause for jubilation.
Yet, George Tenet of the CIA excepted, the men who told President Bush the war was necessary, that it would be a “cakewalk,” that the Iraqis would welcome us with candy and flowers and take to democracy like kids to ice cream are still in place, still in power.
In his now-famous 2002 State of the Union, President Bush named Iraq, Iran and North Korea as an “axis of evil.” He vowed that America would not allow any one of the three to acquire weapons of mass destruction.
In 2003, we attacked and invaded the only one of the three that did not have a secret nuclear program. And since that State of the Union, the other two have accelerated their programs to acquire the atomic weapons President Bush said they would not be permitted to have. At this point, the Bush Doctrine has to be judged a limited success.
Given the mess in Iraq, neither the American people nor the White House appears to have the desire or will to force an end to the Iranian or North Korean bomb programs. The Iranians, who are threatening to crash the Nuclear Club, are bristling with defiance. Tehran seems to have concluded that America has no stomach for another war.
Tehran may be right. But if North Korea already has an atomic bomb and Iran will not be stopped from acquiring one, what does a new world of 10 nuclear nations, six of them in Asia, mean for U.S. foreign policy? We had best begin to consider the possibility.
No nation that has acquired nuclear weapons has ever been invaded — for a reason. The strategic base camp for any Normandy, Inchon or Desert Storm invasion could be turned into an inferno in minutes by atomic weapons.
This suggests that in confronting a nuclear-armed North Korea or Iran, U.S. Army and Marine bases in South Korea and Kuwait, and U.S. naval bases on Okinawa and on the south shore of the Persian Gulf are becoming strategic hostages and not strategic assets.
Put bluntly, if Pyongyang and Tehran acquire atomic weapons, there are no more axis-of-evil nations with which we can risk war. For there is nothing to be gained from such a war to justify running the risk of nuclear retaliation on U.S. bases in Asia or the Middle East, or on Israel, an almost certain target in any war with Iran.
During the Cold War, both sides accepted outrages that might have been casus belli before atomic weapons. The United States did not use on Chinese armies in Korea overrunning our troops the weapons Truman unhesitatingly used on Japanese cities. For Stalin, too, now had the bomb. Nor did we intervene to halt the massacre of Hungarian freedom fighters in 1956, or the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961. Carter’s response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was a wheat embargo and a boycott of the Moscow Olympics.
Moscow, too, was inhibited from taking action in Berlin, where it was strong, when the United States used tactical and theater superiority to force the Soviet missiles out of Cuba. And Moscow also failed to respond to Reagan’s seizure of Grenada and aid to the Afghan resistance.
As they used to say in the West, “God may have created all men, but it was Sam Colt who made them equal.” Nuclear weapons are the great equalizers. They concentrate the mind of a statesman wonderfully. And with North Korea and Iran plodding along toward the building of these awful weapons — in blatant defiance of the Bush Doctrine — the president and Sen. Kerry should be thinking about the world that will exist in the next presidential term. For by the end of that term, Iran and North Korea could both be full-fledged members of our nuclear fraternity.
If they are, the idea of an American empire will become as outdated as the British Raj.