PHILADELPHIA (BP)–“When it is over, if it is over, this war [in Iraq] will have horrible consequences,” lamented Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak the other day. “Terrorism will be aggravated,” he said, predicting that instead of one bin Laden there will be 100 bin Ladens. “Terrorist organizations will be united. Everything will be insecure.”
Many others have echoed this dire prediction:
— Mohammed Adwan, Jordan’s information minister: “Rising militancy is going to be very hard to contain.”
— Ghazi Qusaibi, former Saudi ambassador to Britain: “There may be more terrorist attacks and violent displays of anger.”
— Magnus Ranstorp of St. Andrews University (Scotland): “This war is a major recruiting sergeant garnering foot soldiers for bin Laden.”
— Nubar Hovsepian of the University of Pennsylvania: “1991 produced one bin Laden, and 2003 will produce many more.”
Actually, the precise opposite is more likely to happen: The war in Iraq will lead to a reduction in terrorism.
That’s what happened a year and a half ago in Afghanistan.
Osama bin Laden then commanded far wider support among Muslims than does Saddam Hussein now: He was called “the greatest man in the world,” his poster was paraded on streets and newborn boys were named after him. Emotions were inflamed by claims of an American grab for oil and talk of Afghans suffering a “crisis of Holocaust proportions.”
The government of Pakistan was deemed on the verge of overthrow. Hostilities in Afghanistan were seen as inflaming rage against America. Some even foreshadowed Mubarak’s prediction: “They can kill bin Laden,” said a Palestinian interviewed in London’s Guardian. “But there will be hundreds more bin Ladens.” Well, it was not to be.
The Taliban collapsed in just two months and with them these predictions. Afghans expressed joy at being liberated (“We’re being reborn in the world”), which caused Muslim anger at Washington to melt away.
The U.S. victory diminished the appeal of militant Islam. “The commitment of fanatics tends to melt away when they see their cause losing,” explained Stuart Taylor Jr. of the National Journal just as this phenomenon was happening.
In the first week after the U.S. airstrikes began, there were nine anti-American demonstrations in Arab countries. The second week saw three; the third week, one; the fourth week, two; then zero. Muslim anger turned against bin Laden, accusing him even of being a Zionist agent sent to discredit Islam. Governments felt emboldened to crack down on militant Islam; Pakistani authorities, for instance, closed hundreds of offices and arrested more than 2,000 people.
I expect that Muslim anger will likewise diminish after an allied victory in Iraq, and for reasons similar to those in 2001:
— Iraqi gratitude: In northern Iraq, a young girl yells in English, “I love you,” to U.S. troops; in the south, Najaf’s mood is described as “like a carnival.” Watching the gratitude of liberated Iraqis will undercut the Muslim sense of outrage that this war harmed the Iraqi population.
— Casualties: The relatively small number of civilian casualties, plus the excellent care they are getting from the allies, will diminish the rage about Iraqis paying too high a price for their freedom.
— Islam: Respecting Iraqi ways, especially their religion, will reduce apprehensions about the war being a crusade.
— Oil: A poll in Jordan finds 83 percent of respondents believing Washington is fighting for control over Iraqi oil; but when a new Iraqi government takes charge of its oil resources, this canard will die.
— Imperialism: The alacrity with which the allies remove themselves from controlling Iraq will assuage fears of it becoming part of a U.S. empire.
— Strong horse: As bin Laden himself put it, “When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong horse.” An allied victory will establish who the strong horse is, diminishing the ardor of its enemies to fight.
Just as the intense emotions of October 2001 are now forgotten, so will those of this moment probably be fleeting. A U.S. victory in Iraq, this means, will protect more than it harms.
Today’s furies can be ignored. Now is a time not for fretting over future bin Ladens, but for finishing the job against Saddam Hussein.
Pipes, director of the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum, is author of numerous books on the troubled region. His website is DanielPipes.org.