Should the U.S. Invade Iraq? Week 2
I've been avoiding this Slate "Dialogue" because while I support the war in Iraq, I haven't been able to explain to myself (much less anyone else) why I support it. A faint stink of dishonesty clings to most of the arguments for war. Evidence is absent for the claim that Saddam Hussein helps al-Qaida. Iraq doesn't seem remotely close to nuclear weapons. Saddam is too weak to seriously menace his neighbors or us.
And the arguments against war are compelling. We have succeeded in penning Iraq without war. The inspections regime, even when it's been sabotaged by Saddam, seems to limit his WMD programs enough to keep us safe. The no-fly zone protects the Kurds and permits the development of a proto-Kurdistan but doesn't create enough Kurdish autonomy to enrage Turkey. Israel is probably safer without war. There will be no oil shock without war. Etc.
So, why do I support the war? One reason that persuades me (and one that no one else has mentioned) is that toppling Saddam is the best way toward what should be our main goal: a bourgeois Middle East. We don't really expect the Arab and Muslim regimes of the region to be democratic. We don't really expect a Jeffersonian blossoming in the Euphrates Valley. And we don't really anticipate an East Asia style boom. But what we hope for is countries with reasonably stable governments that listen to their citizens, encourage capitalism, and offer enough opportunities to keep young men busy. Basically we'd be satisfied with a region of Jordans or Qatars.
Conquering Iraq will inflame young Muslim and Arab men across the region with hatred against the United States. Some of them will join al-Qaida or Hamas or start their own terror outfits. But conquering Iraq may also produce the vaccine against that rage, because it should usher in better economic times for Iraqis and for Arabs in general. As long as Iraq is an unsteady thug, capital avoids the Middle East. The uncertainty of the area makes it an undesirable place to invest. Countries in the region spend too much on their militaries, trade isn't free, the best and brightest flee to Europe and the United States.
Iraq's commercial life has been destroyed by Saddam. But Iraq is the geographic heart of the Middle East. Its population is well educated. It has a strong tradition of entrepreneurship. It is a crossroads with lucrative trade opportunities east, west, south, and north. If the Iraqi economy is uncaged, the region will become more prosperous: Goods will flow back and forth with Syria, Jordan, Turkey, and Iran. Toppling Saddam and ending the U.N. sanctions are the only way to liberate the economy and tempt capital back to Iraq. (Yes, there's some foreign capital in Iraq now, but the French and Russian investors are predators, extracting wealth, bribing off Saddam and his cronies, and doing nothing to build native Iraqi business.)
I'm not arguing we should make war to create free markets. I'm arguing that better economic conditions in the Middle East will inoculate against terror and constant instability, and war is the best way to create those better conditions. Economic growth is not a cure-all—Osama Bin Laden is proof enough that terrorists grow in rich soil as easily as poor—but it's the best solution to instability we are going to find. In Afghanistan, we are already seeing the renaissance of a bourgeois class. What will prevent another Taliban revolution? A lot of merchants who want to protect their assets, and enough jobs for angry men.
There's not enough propaganda in the world to soothe the Arab rage our war will create. But propaganda is not what we need. If we're lucky, a free Iraq—and a stable Middle East—will create enough opportunities that today's angry idle teenagers grow up into busy, greedy young men who have better things to do with their time than plot against America.
David Plotz is the Editor of Slate. He's the author of The Genius Factory: The Curious History of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank and Good Book. He appears on Slate's Political Gabfest.