Bush's "Al Qaeda" mantra
President Bush gave a speech earlier this week in which he laid out his view of Al-Qaeda's influence, presence and history in Iraq. It's a bit of a classic, both for what it admits and what it doesn't, and the most recent example of what I recently called his "rhetorical war" in Iraq.
His main point seems to be proving that AQ is in Iraq. That makes the whole speech is a bit of misdirection, inasmuch as nobody denies their presence. Critics tend to point out that AQ in Iraq accounts for a small minority of the combatants we face and that its ties to AQ Central are not that of a directly-controlled subsidiary, but of a loosely associated "affiliate."
The problem is that Bush tends to paint all of our adversaries in Iraq as being part of AQ, which simply is not true.
Some excerpts and my responses:
Al Qaeda in Iraq was founded by a Jordanian terrorist, not an Iraqi. His name was Abu Musab al Zarqawi.
In 2001, coalition forces destroyed Zarqawi's Afghan training camp, and he fled the country and he went to Iraq, where he set up operations with terrorist associates long before the arrival of coalition forces.
Uh-huh. In a part of Iraq not controlled by Saddam. Here Bush admits (despite himself) that there was no terror link with Iraq prior to our invasion.
In the violence and instability following Saddam's fall, Zarqawi was able to expand dramatically the size, scope, and lethality of his operation.
He elides over the fact that this expansion was made possible by our lack of troops, the disbanding of the Iraqi army, and myriad other missteps on our part thanks to the fatuous nature of our occupation plan.
In 2004, Zarqawi and his terrorist group formally joined al Qaida, pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden, and he promised to "follow his orders in jihad."
Again, as an affiliate, not a wholly owned subsidiary.
the Zarqawi-bin Laden merger gave al Qaida in Iraq -- quote -- "prestige among potential recruits and financiers." The merger also gave al Qaida's senior leadership -- quote -- "a foothold in Iraq to extend its geographic presence ... to plot external operations ... and to tout the centrality of the jihad in Iraq to solicit direct monetary support elsewhere."
In other words, as critics have said for years, our invasion gave AQ a huge boost in recruiting and fundraising.
The merger between al Qaida and its Iraqi affiliate is an alliance of killers -- and that is why the finest military in the world is on their trail.
Except he gets his causation exactly backwards. AQ in Iraq exists because we invaded, not the other way around. And if Zarqawi was a proximate cause of our decision to invade, why didn't we try to take him or his camp out earlier?
Zarqawi was killed by U.S. forces in June 2006. He was replaced by another foreigner -- an Egyptian named Abu Ayyub al-Masri. His ties to the al Qaida senior leadership are deep and longstanding.... Many of al-Qaida in Iraq's senior leaders are foreign terrorists.
Many of al Qaida in Iraq's other senior leaders are also foreign terrorists.
Eliding over the fact that most of the organization is Iraqi -- and those native members were not fighting us before we invaded Iraq. But that's almost irrelevant. Once again, Bush focuses on proving details about AQ while ignoring the larger fact that AQ in Iraq is only a small part of the total resistance.
"Our intelligence community concludes that `al-Qaida and its regional node in Iraq are united in their overarching strategy' and they say they that al-Qaida's senior leaders and their operatives in Iraq `see al-Qaida in Iraq as part of al-Qaida's decentralized chain of command, not as a separate group.'"
However they see themselves, the fact remains: AQ in Iraq is a separate group that was not involved in 9/11, because it did not exist before we invaded Iraq. Even if it has now allied itself with AQ, it is still not the same group that attacked us on 9/11.
You might wonder why some in Washington insist on making this distinction about the enemy in Iraq. It's because they know that if they can convince America we're not fighting bin Laden's al Qaida there, they can paint the battle in Iraq as a distraction from the real war on terror.
Bush's favorite "some people say" strawman is on full display here. He says the distinction between AQ and AQ in Iraq isn't important, and on one level he's right: they're both groups of bad people that deserve a few 500-pound bombs dropped on their heads. But the distinction is important -- just not for the reason Bush claims. It's important because the president keeps insisting that AQ in Iraq consists of the same people who attacked us on 9/11, and that's simply untrue.
Separately, Iraq is a distraction not because AQ in Iraq is a bunch of goldfish fanciers; it's a distraction because:
1. We helped create AQ in Iraq;
2. In order to fight AQ's 10 percent of the resistance we're also having to fight the other 90 percent -- people who weren't shooting at us before we invaded;
3. It's tying up our military and costing hundreds of billions of dollars, resources that could be put to much better use elsewhere;
4. It's making AQ stronger.
al Qaida is the only jihadist group in Iraq with stated ambitions to make the country a base for attacks outside Iraq.
Ambitions are highly distinct from capabilities. The one attack they pulled off, bombing a wedding in Jordan, backfired hugely on them.
Al Qaida in Iraq shares Osama bin Laden's goal of making Iraq a base for its radical Islamic empire, and using it as a safe haven for attacks on America.
Thing is, Iraq is never going to be fertile ground for AQ, even if we leave. Especially if we leave. Iraq is not a conservative, tribal country like Afghanistan, where a significant portion of the people and leadership support AQ's atavistic brand of Sunni fundamentalism. If we leave, who is going to support them? The Shiite majority? No. Shiite Iran? No. The Kurds? No. Even the Sunnis are getting heartily sick of them and their fanaticism, tolerating them largely because of our presence. If we leave, AQ in Iraq will find themselves besieged from all sides. They may well persist, but it would be no safe haven.
Further, our withdrawal may hasten the marginalization of AQ's fanatics. Because the day AQ blows up innocent Muslim Arabs without our presence as an excuse is the day they lose.
Bush's only real strategy these days appears to be "gotta keep fighting; gotta keep fighting." While doggedness in war can be a good trait, it's not particularly helpful if we're fighting the wrong fight. Is Iraq the best way -- or even an effective way -- to combat terrorism? Bush's own words and intelligence reports suggest the answer is "no."
Iraq, terrorism, Bush, politics, midtopia