November 01, 2005

Sabotaging the War, and Fostering a Global Enemy

Earlier today, I came across yet another article citing a couple of terrorism experts who maintain we are "losing the war on terror." It's not important which article it was; there continue to be many similar ones. I admit that I'm astonished that anyone might even consider such accounts "news" at this point. Leaving aside the vast conceptual errors in designating this war in such terms, as long as our major military effort is mired in Iraq, the truth is worse than our merely "losing" the war: we aren't even engaged in the right war against the enemy which ought to be our concern. So, yes, we are "losing," even if only by default: obviously the enemy will win while we decline to engage it.

But beyond these points, the fact that we are losing has been unarguable for anyone who has studied this question seriously for the last year or so. I suppose I should say: for anyone who has studied this question seriously and honestly, or perhaps seriously and sanely. I was reminded once again of a Peter Bergen article from the summer of 2004. Everything that Bergen said in that article, including the sources he cited and the arguments the piece made, are at least as true and relevant now as they were then. The article is titled, "The Wrong War." The caption is: "Backdraft: How the war in Iraq has fueled Al Qaeda and ignited its dream of global jihad." Here is the short version of Bergen's biography:
Peter Bergen is the author of the New York Times best-seller Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden. He is CNN's terrorism analyst and has written for such publications as the New York Times, Foreign Affairs, and The New Republic. A fellow at the New America Foundation, Bergen is also an adjunct professor at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.
I set forth Bergen's qualifications to make the point that Bergen is an acknowledged expert in this field, in stark contrast to many warbloggers who pontificate endlessly and with solemn authority on subjects about which they are notably ignorant. Although I won't excerpt this particular passage here, Bergen minces the absurdly asinine "flypaper" theory -- once so beloved by the spectacularly ignorant Andrew Sullivan, among others -- into fine microscopic pieces of drivel, and does so with great economy. That particular idea was so obviously idiotic from the second it was first announced that it's almost enough to make me think bloggers should be licensed, and that many of those licenses should be immediately and permanently revoked.

I recommend you read the entirety of Bergen's piece. Here are two excerpts, one from toward the beginning of the article, together with Bergen's conclusion. I offer them because these facts, as truly awful as they are, remain fundamental to where we find ourselves today:
In more than a dozen interviews, experts both within and outside the U.S. government laid out a stark analysis of how the war has hampered the campaign against Al Qaeda. Not only, they point out, did the war divert resources and attention away from Afghanistan, seriously damaging the prospects of capturing Al Qaeda leaders, but it has also opened a new front for terrorists in Iraq and created a new justification for attacking Westerners around the world. Perhaps most important, it has dramatically speeded up the process by which Al Qaeda the organization has morphed into a broad-based ideological movement -- a shift, in effect, from bin Laden to bin Ladenism. "If Osama believed in Christmas, this is what he'd want under his Christmas tree," one senior intelligence official told me. Another counterterrorism official suggests that Iraq might begin to resemble "Afghanistan 1996," a reference to the year that bin Laden seized on Afghanistan, a chaotic failed state, as his new base of operations.

Even Kenneth Pollack, one of the nation's leading experts on Iraq, whose book The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq made the most authoritative case for overthrowing Saddam Hussein, says, "My instinct tells me that the Iraq war has hindered the war on terrorism. You had to deal with Al Qaeda first, not Saddam. We had not crippled the Al Qaeda organization when we embarked on the Iraq war."

The damage to U.S. interests is hard to overestimate. Rohan Gunaratna, a Sri Lankan academic who is regarded as one of the world's leading authorities on Al Qaeda, points out that "sadness and anger about Iraq, even among moderate Muslims, is being harnessed and exploited by terrorist and extremist groups worldwide to grow in strength, size, and influence." Similarly, Vincent Cannistraro, a former chief of counterterrorism at the CIA under presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush, says the Iraq war "accelerated terrorism" by "metastasizing" Al Qaeda. Today, Al Qaeda is more than the narrowly defined group that attacked the United States on September 11, 2001; it is a growing global movement that has been energized by the war in Iraq.
What we have done in Iraq is what bin Laden could not have hoped for in his wildest dreams: We invaded an oil-rich Muslim nation in the heart of the Middle East, the very type of imperial adventure that bin Laden has long predicted was the United States' long-term goal in the region. We deposed the secular socialist Saddam, whom bin Laden has long despised, ignited Sunni and Shia fundamentalist fervor in Iraq, and have now provoked a "defensive" jihad that has galvanized jihad-minded Muslims around the world. It's hard to imagine a set of policies better designed to sabotage the war on terrorism.
As I say, these observations are, if anything, even more accurate and critical today. All in all, it's quite an achievement for an administration that sings its own praises as America's strong and devoted protector, while simultaneously attacking the "patriotism" of anyone who dares to question the wisdom of its profoundly self-destructive policies.

It may be "hard to imagine a set of policies better designed to sabotage the war on terrorism" -- and yet the Bush administration may well be determined to make this baleful situation infinitely worse. I'll get to that, when I continue my series on Iran.