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OCTOBER 14, 2002

Win Win

Give Ted Kennedy credit. In his speech on Iraq last week at the
Johns Hopkins School of Advanced and International Studies, he did
two things that most Democratic war skeptics have not. First, he
came close to actually taking a position. One of the most
frustrating tendencies of "antiwar" Democrats has been their
refusal to be forthrightly antiwar. Democratic doves keep saying
it's better to attack Iraq with international support than without
it. But the hard question they generally don't answer is what the
United States should do if--having made a good-faith effort--we
can't get that international support. What if, at the end of the
day, France and Russia prefer an ineffective inspection regime, or
no inspection regime at all, to war? Al Gore evaded that question
in his speech in San Francisco, but Kennedy came closer to
answering it. "War is the last resort," he said. "If in the end we
have to take that course, the burden should be shared with our
allies." That's not airtight, but it sounds reasonably clear to me
that if Jacques Chirac won't support an attack, neither will the
senior senator from Massachusetts. I don't agree with Kennedy's
position, but at least you know where he stands.Kennedy also fleshed out an assertion that Gore and others have made
without any supporting evidence: that war with Iraq would undermine
the unfinished war on terrorism. In recent weeks this has become
the most popular Democratic antiwar argument, perhaps because it
reminds voters that Democrats aren't against all wars and that
George W. Bush still hasn't caught Osama bin Laden. For Kennedy to
make it was, in a sense, disingenuous, because he would almost
certainly oppose war with Iraq even if the war on terrorism didn't
exist. Still, he deserves credit for laying out the argument in
more detail than most of his colleagues.

Kennedy suggested three ways in which war with Iraq could undermine
the war on terrorism. The first is the most straightforward: We
don't have the resources to do both. War with Iraq, Kennedy
explained, "may adversely affect the ongoing war against Al Qaeda
and the continuing effort in Afghanistan by draining resources and
armed forces already stretched so thin." But this is unconvincing.
For years American strategic doctrine held that the United States
could simultaneously fight two 500,000-soldier regional wars. And
even though the Bush administration has scaled that back to more
like one and a half, the American military is still designed to be
able to put roughly 750,000 troops into battle at one time. An Iraq
war would--according to the highest estimates-- require 250,000.
Throw in the roughly 60,000 U.S. troops in the vicinity of
Afghanistan and the several thousand more scattered between the
Philippines, Georgia, Yemen, Djibouti, and a few other places, and
you're still not even close. As the Brookings Institution's Michael
O'Hanlon explained this May in The Wall Street Journal, the same
general calculations apply to aircraft, transport vehicles, and
ammunition. The war on terrorism may be a massive undertaking
politically, but Kennedy's argument ignores the fact that in
strictly military terms, it's puny.

The second way Kennedy suggests a war in Iraq could undermine the
war against terrorism is by convincing friendly governments to stop
cooperating with the U.S. against Al Qaeda. As he put it, "To
succeed in our global war against Al Qaeda and terrorism, the
United States depends on military, law enforcement, and
intelligence support from many other nations. ... It is far from
clear that these essential relationships will be able to survive
the strain of a war with Iraq." But State Department officials say
no country has even privately threatened to cut off anti-terrorism
cooperation over an Iraq war. In fact, the German government,
fearful that its vocal antiwar stance makes it look like an
unreliable ally, has actually increased its antiterrorism
assistance--allowing an Al Qaeda suspect to be extradited from
Pakistan to the U.S. even though Germany has legal jurisdiction and
promising to expand its role in Afghan peacekeeping.

Germany is acting rationally. Few governments want to incur
Washington's wrath, and those that oppose America's war against
Saddam are unlikely to compound the diplomatic damage by
simultaneously stiffing us on the war on terrorism. That's
especially true because shared intelligence flows both ways, and
governments in places like Russia, Egypt, and Pakistan are at least
as threatened by Islamist terrorism as the United States. Some
dovish commentators worry that even if those governments want to
maintain cooperation, public opinion will force them to cut it off.
But intelligence cooperation is almost by definition covert;
virtually no government policy is less subject to public opinion.
If Hosni Mubarak really feels pressure to throw Egypt's
anti-American masses a bone in the wake of a U.S. invasion of Iraq,
it's more likely he'll announce a boycott of U.S. products or
publicly spurn a meeting with President Bush than stop his regime's
clandestine cooperation with CIA personnel tracking Al Qaeda
fanatics in Egypt.

The third way a war in Iraq could undermine the war on terrorism,
according to Kennedy, is by "swell[ing] the ranks of Al Qaeda
sympathizers and trigger[ing] an escalation in terrorist acts." But
while Al Qaeda might be stronger during a war with Iraq, it would
probably be weaker after one. Take the war in Afghanistan as a
model. U.S. bombing sparked anti-American protests in much of the
Muslim world. But once the U.S. toppled the Taliban, the protests
diminished dramatically. For one thing, would-be Al Qaeda recruits
saw the hopelessness of confronting American power. For another,
they saw that the people of Kabul weren't on their side.

An American victory in Iraq would probably have a similar effect.
Once we win--which pretty much everyone concedes we will--the
anti-American protests will end. The image of the United States as
a paper tiger, which animated Islamists in the 1990s, will be dealt
another blow. And the image of the United States suffocating the
Iraqi people through sanctions, long a staple of Al Qaeda
propaganda, will likely be replaced by images of American GIs being
welcomed as liberators. It's true that over time the euphoria might
dissipate, and an American peacekeeping force in Iraq could
generate Arab resentment. But with Saddam out of power, the United
States might be able to withdraw its troops from another part of
the Middle East: Saudi Arabia. And given that it is the presence of
U.S. troops near Mecca and Medina that led bin Laden to turn
against the United States in the first place, an American withdrawal
from Saudi Arabia would probably do more to undermine Islamist
recruiting than an American occupation of Iraq would do to fuel
it.

Give Ted Kennedy credit. By clearly outlining his reasons for
opposing war with Iraq, he's creating the debate that many others
in his party have been simultaneously demanding and ducking. But
just because he's fostering that debate doesn't mean he's winning
it. Or that he deserves to.

By Peter Beinart

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