Monday, November 14, 2005

Another Downside To Staying in Iraq

Why are more than 150,000 American troops mired in Iraq, nearly three years after the invasion? President Bush explains that we are fighting terrorists there so we don’t have to fight them inside the United States. He adds that we have to “complete the mission” in Iraq to honor the sacrifice of our fallen troops.

These simplistic platitudes are empty, meaningless and prevent Americans from focusing on what is really going on in Iraq with regard to Al Qaeda, and what it really means for Americans and the world. If terrorists bogged down in Iraq were incapable of launching attacks elsewhere, there would have been no attacks in Madrid, London, Bali, or other non-Iraqi targets struck by Al Qaeda after the invasion of Iraq, most recently, Amman, Jordan. If the war in Iraq is ineffective, or even harming American goals, then remaining there does nothing to honor the sacrifice of the fallen. Truly honoring those who gave their lives to protect Americans means making sure American forces are deployed in the manner most likely to prevent future terrorist attacks. It is by no means clear that staying in Iraq accomplishes this goal, and the contrary may well be true—staying in Iraq may be strengthening Al Qaeda.

Last week Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for deadly suicide attacks in Amman, saying the attacks were carried out by four Iraqis, including a husband and wife. Jordan is an ally of the United States. It is a Muslim nation that has made peace with Israel. It is not a democracy (democracy isn’t on the march everywhere in the Middle East); it is ruled by King Abdullah, who was educated in the United States and Great Britain, often dresses in western style business suits, and has forged close relationships with western countries, including the United States.

Peter Scheuer, a former CIA analyst with expertise concerning Al Qaeda (he has written multiple books about Al Qaeda, including “Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror”) suggests that the attacks in Jordan are related to what is going on in Iraq. President Bush claims it is a good thing that Iraq has become a magnet attracting terrorists to the country. Scheuer asserts something quite different, that Al Qaeda has a plan to use Iraq as a staging base for attacks on other “apostate” governments in the region, nations like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and ultimately Israel. If Scheuer is correct, then the President is very, very wrong about what Iraq means for Al Qaeda.

President Bush likes to take credit for the fact that (thankfully) the United States has not been hit with a domestic terror attack since 9/11. Who gets the blame for the post-invasion terrorist attacks in Iraq and by Iraqis? Saddam Hussein was a monster, but he was not, and other Iraqis were not, carrying out terrorist attacks against foreigners prior to the March 2003 invasion. Now terrorists carry out frequent attacks within Iraq, and, apparently, have begun to launch attacks into neighboring countries.

If Iraqis can travel to Jordan to carry out suicide attacks, obviously it is possible that they can travel to other countries as well for the same awful purpose. Someone needs to ask President Bush whether we are making ourselves safer in Iraq, or whether we are breeding new terrorists in Iraq who will not feel constrained by geographic borders when they plot future attacks.

(A similar piece also appears at -- )


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