what I've started
(read the comments in the latter).
I figure it's better to post here than to comment on one of those sites, because a) it means more traffic for all three of us, and b) it means I don't have to deal with a stupid character limit.
Regarding the treatment of detainees, I might be a little more liberal than Average Joe thinks. I refer the reader to this post
from mid-November, in which I criticized some Ashcroft statements concerning detainees and the judicial process.
(Thanks to Cox & Forkum
) End Parenthetical Update
When considering the three nations that Bush terms "The Axis of Evil," I think it's too simplistic by far to claim that we ought to approach them all in the same way. Frankly, Iran is not North Korea is not Iraq. Each one has its own considerations, problems, potential benefits, etc. The too simple argument, therefore, is that because we invaded Iraq, we must also invade the other two or risk being labelled inconsistent.
Keep in mind, we are fighting a War on Terror, not a War on the Axis of Evil. That means it is not enough to topple a government. Anything that does not contribute to the overall goal of ending terrorism is either superfluous or insufficient. Giving Saddam the boot, then, is not a legitimate goal in the War on Terror. It must be a means to some other goal.
What I've gleaned from the Bush doctrine is that we want to set up democracies in the Middle East, on the theory that democracies lead to freedom, which in turn crushes the impetus to commit acts of terror. So before we invade anywhere (we're going back in time, now, to immediately post 9/11, before issuing any ultimatum even to Afghanistan), we look at our options and see which are the most promising.
: On the plus side, there has been a massive underground resistance movement there for years. Iran operates a vigorous business in stifling dissent, which means there must be a healthy demand for stiflin'. Iran has no real allies, they don't have the same linguistic kinship with their neighbors that Iraq has, they have massive natural resources that can be exploited to build a thriving regime post-invasion.
On the down side, look at a map of Iran and tell me how you would even go about invading. Seriously, where would you start? In Iraq, we had bases in Saudi, Qatar and Kuwait, Turkey (eventually) let us use their airspace. And what is the plan of attack? In Iraq, because of the river valley system, everything is in a straight line. You start at the Gulf and move north until you get to Baghdad, and you can capture everything in between. Iran doesn't have anything comparable, geographically. If you go straight for Tehran, you are surrounded by unconquered areas. If you conquer the surrounding areas, you are still totally surrounded, and you have more stuff to defend. It huge, its major population centers are scattered haphazardly, and we have limited logistical options.
: On the plus side, it's much smaller than Iran, so that means a smaller force is required to capture it. We have staging areas courtesy of S. Korea (assuming they don't yank that support when they see us getting aggressive), Japan, the Republic of China, and our many carrier groups in the region. If you take Pyongyang, there really isn't much left to caputre. The people are incredibly poor, troop morale has to suck, and supplies are assuredly limited.
On the downside, Kim Jong-Il is both insane and armed with nukes. He can and would launch those nukes at S. Korea and Japan. The country, while small, is reportedly one long series of ridgelines, so advancing by ground would be far more difficult than, say, Iraq. And once you capture Pyongyang, then what? We get headaches in Iraq because of Iranian support for insurgents - consider if China was the source of that support? N. Korea has no infrastructure, we have no insiders who we could trust to take power, S. Korea doesn't want to just absorb them (because of the devastating impact on their economy). What could you even do with the place?
Perhaps more importantly, N. Korea has little to no exemplary value. If our noble experiment in Iraq succeeds, the practical and undeniable impact will be that every Arab will look at a flourishing democracy in their midst and think, "we could have that, too." Talk about enormous pressure. Pressure of Libya proportions.
The entire country is built in a straight line. You start at Basra and walk to Baghdad, and you don't miss anything in between. It has tremendous natural resources to jump-start the economy after the old regime goes down. The tyrant is universally hated. We have Iraqi defectors among us who we can trust (to one level or another) to run things afterwards. Iraq has a long and proud history that can unite the population and get them to work for something better. It's exemplary value is especially poignant for Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, the Arabian Peninsula states.
On the down-side, by stopping at the borders in the 1990s, a lot of Iraqis who trusted us got burned (literally). Once bitten, twice shy, as they say (when I say "they," I mean 80s hair band "Great White.") Because of its long, hard-to-protect borders with Syria and Iran, terrorists can easily enter the country and resupply the resistance fighters. International support for the operation is diminished because certain nations were making a pretty penny in oil bribes from the erstwhile dictator.
Of these three nations, I think Iraq looks far and away like the most attractive target. It doesn't mean we abandon the other targets or ignore their threat value. Rather, we use multi-lateral talks with N. Korea to stall for time. We let Europe deal with Iran to stall for time. We simply don't have enough troops to fight all three battles at once, so we fight one and keep the other two in check. And if we succeed in Iraq, then our geographical problem about getting troops into Iran effectively disappears.
The whole project is a gamble. If Iraq fails, we will have made things much worse than when we started. But when gambling, you double your odds of one success by betting on more than one horse. Iraq is not the only nation we're reconstructing. We're also in Afghanistan. If either of those nations walks away from this with a functioning democracy, we will have scored exemplary points.