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20 May 2004 01:37:31 Daniel Hellerstein.

Subject: Iraq war    
What lesson should WWII teach us about the post 9/11 world

What lesson should WWII teach us about the post 9/11 world?

On some level, it's not difficult to understand the logic that links Saddam's Iraq to Osama's Al Queda. When you are attacked by one enemy, then why bother with nuances about the other enemies. It's war, and such subtleties are quite unnecessary.

The prime example of this is Pearl Harbor -- Japan sneak attacks us, and within days we are at war with the Japan, Germany, and Italy. Following this powerful example (for what is more poignant then WWII?) when attacked by Al Queda it is sensible to war with today's "axis of evil" (with Iraq as the most visible member).

Yet is this the correct lesson? To answer this, one must remember that WWII involved two dimensions: that the US warred against some nations, and that the US warred in alliance with some nations. And some of these nations the US warred in alliance with were suspect. In particular, Stalin's USSR. Bluntly put, the US made a decision: to defeat the greater enemy (German and Japanese facism), it was worthwhile to ally with a lesser enemy (Russian communism).

Does this powerful fact of WWII introduce a different logic to the post 9/11 world. It does. Precisely, it requires that we identify the greatest enemy, the enemy that has done the most to damage the well-being and safety of the US citizenry. Clearly, that honor belongs to Al Queda.

After identifying this greater enemy, as in WWII it is wise to set aside lesser quarrels. One should look for natural allies against this greater enemy. And here is where the "axis of evil" logic collapses: for two of Al Queda's biggest enemies were the secular/Stalinist Iraq of Hussein, and the Shia theocrats of Iran.

Thus, a realistic foreign policy of the US, one in service of the needs and security of Americans, would have sought a reapproachment with Iraq and Iran. An "alliance" to eradicate a common enemy; the enemy of Wahhabian/Sunni-theocratic Al Quedaism.

That this did not occur suggest that the neo-conservatives are fundamentally unphased by terrorism. Perhaps this is a reasonable position, perhaps 9/11 was a lucky strike that is unlikely to be repeated this generation. Or, to be cynical: that terrorism represents a minor nuisance in the maintenance of empire.

Why do the neo-conservatives neglect to present this position? Would the American public have preferred a play-nice with Iraq and Iran strategy, so as to crush Al Queda. It's kind of a sickening thought, and one could argue that such an alliance would not be necessary. But it is a strategy that must be defeated on solid grounds of costs and benefits, and not simply lost to a false analogy rooted in identifying an "axis of evil" and defeating it.

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