I believe both Iran and North Korea pose greater threats to US national security than did Iraq.
Iran's fingerprints are on various terrorist acts against the USA. Many in the intel community believe Iran aided al-Qaeda in the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing, the 1998 US Embassy bombings and the 2000 attack on the USS Cole.
Further, there is reason to believe Iran, even now, gives safe passage to and harbors al-Qaeda operatives.
Iran has long worked toward acquiring a nuclear capability. Some analysts suspect that Iran already has nukes, purchased in 1993 from rogue elements in the former Soviet Union.
North Korea probably has at least one nuclear warhead, maybe several. They have the missiles to deliver the warhead(s).
The Taepo Dong 2's estimated range is 10,000 km (capable of striking Hawaii, Alaska, and the West Coast). They are working on a third stage that could boost the range to 15,000 km (capable of striking all of North America).
So why did we take down Iraq first?
I don't know, but here are some considerations (aside from WMD) that are not often discussed:
1. Iraq never fully complied with UNSC Resolution 686, which very deliberately stated that the cease fire was not a definitive end to hostilities -- that could only be achieved by Iraq's compliance with the terms of 686. Further, Iraq failed to comply with 16 subsequent UNSC resolutions.
2. Taking down Iraq was doable. We owned 2/3 of their airspace which gave us, not just Air superiority, but Air supremacy. We've had equipment prepositioned in Kuwait since the end of the first Gulf war. We had additional equipment (floating stock) at Diego Garcia. We had access to deep water ports and airfields from which to rapidly build up combat power. Our military trained extensively for just such a scenario. We had studied Iraq for the previous 12 years (we had fat target books).
3. It was, strategically and operationally, a smart thing to do. From Iraq, the military is postured to strike Syria, if necessary. Iran is sandwiched between US forces in Iraq and US forces in Afghanistan. This military posture, by the way, has not been lost on Persians or Arabs.
Iraq is further proof that the United States means what it says (just in case there were doubters after Afghanistan); a warning that we will no longer play patty cakes at the UN; that we have the means and the will to put you down hard.
Either play ball or get the bat stuck up your ass (Incidently, Muammar Qadhafi decided he'd look pretty silly walking around Tripoli with a Louisville Slugger poking out his robe).
North Korea is included in that target audience, but they are tin-eared knuckleheads who think they can go toe to toe with us. One North Korean scenario (according to NK defectors) has the North conducting a massive ground attack on the South in a grab for as much land as possible, then go to the U.N. and sue for peace. That is extremely dangerous thinking on their part.
The danger increases exponentially with North Korea's nuclear weapons program.
No one in the world, including the North Koreans, doubts the USA's capability to wipe them from the face of the earth.
But does Kim Jong Il believe we have the will to do it .. to burn North Korea down with nuclear fire? I haven't seen any indication that he believes it. If he did, he'd be closing up shop on his nuclear weapons production.
There are some reports coming out of North Korea indicating that all might not be well for the Dear leader. More on that later .. in another post. If I've learned one thing about North Korea it is that rumors of regime problems are ususally just that, but some of the sources do appear credible.
Other things that cause intel officers to grow old before their time:
- North Korea has the fifth largest armed force in the world. The ground force has almost one million active duty soldiers.
- About 70 percent of the North Korean Army is deployed south of Pyongyang, where they are capable of attacking with little tactical warning.
- A large number of North Korean long-range artillery systems can instantly strike Seoul from their current locations.
A conventional war on the Korean peninsula would make the Iraq war look like a skirmish.
If there's an upside, it's the six-party talks (USA, South Korea, North Korea, Japan, Russia and China). While I have little confidence that major progress will occur anytime soon, this framework is the correct one.
The most asinine foreign policy decision in the latter part of the 20th Century was the Clinton Administration's decision to hold bi-lateral talks with North Korea. It demonstrated a naiveté that was utterly stunning and a recklessness on the part of the United States that was unprecedented in the history of the Armistice.
See Korea: The Unfinished War for more info about the situation on the Korean peninsula.