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The lesson of 9/11
Scripps Howard News Service


June 30, 2005

The attacks of 9/11 have nothing to do with the war in Iraq, say some congressional critics of President Bush's speech this week urging the citizenry to have patience with efforts to quell an insurgency so that a liberated people can govern themselves.

But, of course, the main reason we are in Iraq and the main thing keeping us there is what we learned through the dramatic, murderous foreshadowing of the attacks four years ago - that Islamic-fascist terrorists could bring an end to American civilization.

The fiction propagated endlessly by war opponents has been that the invasion of Iraq had nothing to do with terrorism. So relentless has their campaign of half-truths and misconceptions been that huge numbers of Americans have forgotten that Saddam Hussein did have ties with terrorists, that he was a reckless mass murderer with hatred for the United States and that he planned to reconstitute a weapons capacity that could do us devastating harm.

True, he did not collaborate on 9/11, as best we know. But his representatives had meetings with al Qaeda representatives and he supported suicide-bombers killing Israelis, among many links with terrorists. His invasion of Kuwait and refusal in 2002 to comply fully with U.N. weapons inspectors show he would stupidly risk war with the United States to further his ambitions. His slaughter of tens of thousands of his own countrymen tells us plenty about his willingness to kill.

True, again: No weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq after the invasion, but U.S. inspectors did find programs that could have enabled Saddam to put together chemical WMD quickly, and they discovered, too, that he was working to end sanctions so that he could try once more to develop nuclear weapons capable of taking out whole cities.

It requires an extraordinary deficit of imagination, in my view, to see the Saddam peril as somehow discontinuous with terrorism. If we had once more let him slip past a U.N. resolution; if he had been able to proceed with his bribes of France and others to get out from under sanctions; if we had decided a spineless, corrupt, genocide-abiding United Nations would be our security, we would as much as have told him, "Go ahead, get back at us, have your fun, develop your weapons, give them to terrorists, watch while they do their damnable thing to us."

As witnesses for my concerns, if not my arguments, I call two Harvard professors, one of whom is Graham Allison, who has predicted that terrorists will detonate a nuclear bomb within the next 10 years, perhaps reducing the U.S. population by a half-million people, and the other of whom is Michael Ignatieff, who says such a catastrophe would give us a national security state where trust has been tossed to the wind and the idea of rights abandoned.

Thanks to our war in Iraq, Saddam is gone. But should congressional talk of an "exit strategy" lead to a premature evacuation of U.S. forces from that land, then a tiny minority of insurgent assassins could replace hope for a sane, sensible, humane parliamentary government in Iraq. Beyond that, it could put Saddam-like men in power - America-hating, terrorist-led, fascistic true-believers whose happiness would be most complete with America's downfall. Hope for democracy in Lebanon, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Palestine could be crushed, along with enlarged prospects of prosperity and Middle East peace.

Believe me, I cringe when I hear about American soldiers and Iraqi civilians being killed, especially since I know I could be wrong. But I would like to hear war opponents occasionally say they could be wrong, that it has at least occurred to them that far more lives could be lost without this war than through it, that our very way of life just might be at stake if we don't stick it out.

Though the analogy is imperfect, it might not hurt to remember that many of the Democrats opposing Abraham Lincoln in the election of 1864 were ready to let slavery be and the South go its own way. That view might have won the day if the Union had not won some big victories. The United States would then have been the disunited states, just as a premature exit from Iraq could spell a future for us that is dreadful to contemplate. The 9/11 attacks were a wake-up call to apocalyptic possibility, and the worst thing would be to go back to sleep.


Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado.
He can be reached at SpeaktoJay(at)


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