Iraq Has Made Us Less Safe
The media treats this argument as though it is confusing, poorly understood, poorly supported, or fringe. It is not. Here are the basics of the argument.
- Iraq did not pose a threat to us. It was not "grave and "gathering." It was decrepit and declining. It did not have a relationship with al Qaeda or other anti-American terrorist groups. There is no evidence that it would ever aid such groups. It did not have weapons of mass destruction to give to al Qaeda or other anti-American terrorist groups. There is no evidence that it would ever be able to acquire weapons, despite some residual desire to possess them.
- Developments in Iraq have increased the power and appeal of anti-American terrorist groups. Even Pervez Musharraf says it. Iraq has been a boon for terrorist recruiting and accelerated the dissemination of their ideology.
- Iraq policies have hurt American credibility. International and domestic confidence in our intelligence capabilities and in our good intentions have been hurt by the misleading case for war and Bush's unwillingness to engage reality. Our detention policies in Afghanistan and Iraq, combined with the torture policy in Abu Ghraib, have hurt our credibility with moderates across the world, including the people whose "hearts and minds" are at the center of the struggle.
- Scarce resources have been spent in Iraq, and obligations continue for the indefinite future. Had we not invaded Iraq, we would have had more than a hundred billion dollars to spend on effective anti-terror policies, including capturing al Qaeda in the window of opportunity before its metastisization, and demonstrating our good intentions and potency in the rebuilding of Afghanistan. We could have supported necessary counter-proliferation operations and actually invested in homeland security. We would have reserve military capacity, with all its attendant benefits (force projection against Iran, N. Korea; humanitarian intervention in Darfur, Haiti, Liberia; preserved mystique).
Conservatives argue that this argument is betrayal to the troops and emboldening to our enemies. They think speaking the truth is harmful, but living in a fantasy land is not. They think criticizing incompetence is disloyal, while unwavering incompetence is a sign of strength. They are wrong; the American people deserve the a President in touch with reality.
Support (a very much non-exhaustive set of references)
If, indeed, there is a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda, it may not be the kind the Bush campaign is likely to dwell on. The same day the President spoke, the prestigious International Institute for Strategic Studies released its annual survey that found, among other things, that far from dealing a blow to al-Qaeda and making the U.S. and its allies safer, the Iraq invasion has in fact substantially strengthened bin Laden's network and increased the danger of attacks in the West. And the London-based IISS is not some Bush-bashing antiwar think tank; it hosted the president's keynote address during his embattled visit to the British late last year.
The IISS reported that al-Qaeda's recruitment and fundraising efforts had been given a major boost by the U.S. invasion of Iraq. It estimated that bin Laden's network today commands some 18,000 men, of which about 1,000 are currently inside Iraq. After almost three years of President Bush's war on terror, the IISS offered the following assessment of the movement's prospects: "Although half of al-Qaeda's 30 senior leaders and perhaps 2,000 rank-and-file members have been killed or captured, a rump leadership is still intact and more than 18,000 potential terrorists are still at large, with recruitment accelerating on account of Iraq." The continuing danger of an al-Qaeda strike inside the U.S. as it moves into election season was underscored Wednesday by Attorney General John Ashcroft, who warned that intelligence tips suggest that the movement plans to attack inside the U.S. some time in the coming months. It was a non-specific warning, of course, and the color-coded terror alert level was not raised as a result. But the announcement affirmed for Americans the fact that they remain vulnerable to al-Qaeda attack, if better prepared and forewarned than three years ago. [Time 5/26/04]
Far from addressing the popular appeal of the enemy that attacked us, Bush handed that enemy precisely what it wanted and needed, proof that America was at war with Islam, that we were the new Crusaders come to occupy Muslim land.
Nothing America could have done would have provided al Qaeda and its generation of cloned groups a better recruitment device than our unprovoked invasion of an oil-rich Arab country. Nothing else could have so well negated all our other positive acts and so closed Muslim eyes and ears to our subsequent calls for reform in their region. It was as if Usama bin Laden, hidden in some high mountain redoubt, were engaging in long-range mind control of George Bush, chanting "invade Iraq, you must invade Iraq." [Richard Clarke, Against All Enemies, 246]
Rather than seek to work with the majority in the Islamic world to mold Muslim opinion against the radicals' values, we did exactly what al Qaeda said we would do. We invaded and occupied an oil-rich Arab country that posed no threat to us, while paying scant time and attention to the Israeli-Palestinian problem. We delivered to al Qaeda the greatest recruitment propaganda imaginable and made it difficult for friendly Islamic governments to be seen working closely with us. [Richard Clarke, Against All Enemies, 264]
179. The war in Iraq might in fact have impeded the war against al Qaeda. Our witnesses were concerned that it might have enhanced the appeal of al Qaeda to Muslims living the Gulf region and elsewhere. Professor Wilkinson told us thatmost observers on counter-terrorism would accept that there was a very serious downside to the war in Iraq as far as counter-terrorism against al-Qaeda is concerned because al-Qaeda was able to use the invasion of Iraq as a propaganda weapon… They have always wanted to latch on to issues that could be exploited in very dramatic terms, and the proximity of American forces to the holy places on the Arabian Peninsula seemed to be a very early issue that they were exploiting to the full.[House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, 7/31/03; Wilkinson tesimony here]
Ideological motivation for young men to join its ranks is now more important to Al Qaeda than a state sponsor. That motivation has been provided by the haste to war in Iraq. Officials in several Muslim countries have noted a rise in recruitment to extremist groups and even US officials (including [Cofer] Black) acknowledge that ‘‘there are literally thousands of Jehadists around the world’’. These extremists have added anti-Americanism to their local causes, which in the past only involved local separatist wars in remote parts of the world such as Chechnya and Kashmir. [CEIP, 4/12/04]
Emboldened and perhaps even inspired by the insurgency in Iraq, extremists linked to Al Qaeda are broadening their war against the West and taking an even more ruthless course in doing so. [CSM, 11/20/03]
Yet despite these setbacks, al Qaeda and its affiliates remain among the most significant threats to U.S. national security today. In fact, according to George Tenet, the CIA's director, they will continue to be this dangerous for the next two to five years. An alleged al Qaeda spokesperson has warned that the group is planning another strike similar to those of September 11. On May 12, simultaneous bombings of three housing complexes in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, killed at least 29 people and injured over 200, many of them Westerners. Intelligence officials in the United States, Europe, and Africa report that al Qaeda has stepped up its recruitment drive in response to the war in Iraq. And the target audience for its recruitment has also changed. They are now younger, with an even more "menacing attitude," as France's top investigative judge on terrorism-related cases, Jean-Louis Brugui, describes them. More of them are converts to Islam. And more of them are women. [Jessica Stern, Foreign Affairs, 7-8/03]
Since the US-led Afghanistan intervention deprived al-Qaeda of a central base, the military dimension of counter-terrorism has diminished. Transnational terrorists are now clandestinely dispersed among perhaps 100 countries, and present few concentrated targets amenable to military measures. Law-enforcement and intelligence cooperation is now paramount. While the opportunity for a Predator -style strike may occasionally arise, military counter-terrorism is generally limited to technical intelligence gathering; precautionary special-operations deployments; first response and civil defence; and, exceptionally, counterinsurgency in Iraq. The enlarged US military and political footprint there, while intimidating potential state sponsors of terrorism, in the short term has heightened the Islamic terrorist impulse and enhanced recruitment - more than offsetting any calming effect of the US military withdrawal from Saudi Arabia. [IISS Military Balance 2003/2004]
In the past year, al-Qaida operatives have found in Iraq a fertile recruiting ground, the best possible training camp for jihad against the West, a destination any angry young man can reach if he has the will and pocket money. Iraq's borders, which stretch across hundreds of miles of empty desert, are perfect for smugglers and men seeking martyrdom. No one really knows how many people are coming into Iraq to fight the U.S. But the fighters who do make it across are changing the character of the resistance, internationalizing it, injecting religious extremism into the politics of a once-secular Iraq. Young men coming in from other countries don't fight for Iraq, they fight for Islam.
One of the unutterable truths for the administration is that the U.S. occupation is breeding and fueling insurgent groups. Iraqi government officials rightly fear for their lives, but Iraqi forces, which are supposed to be fighting alongside U.S. troops in the cause of a free and democratic Iraq, are often undisciplined, dangerous and in some places infiltrated by insurgent groups. The Mahdi Army in Sadr City has a number of police officers in its ranks, and in a little remarked upon event that took place during one of the large demonstrations in Baghdad at the time of the siege, the Iraqi police helped Sadr officials address a crowd of Muqtada al-Sadr supporters outside the neutral Green Zone. [Salon, 9/23/04]
[T]he biggest question... whether [the Bush] response to 9/11 has made [America] safer or more vulnerable.... Over the past two years I have been talking with a group of people at the working level of America's anti-terrorism efforts... no partisan ax to grind with the Administration... they have so far been proved right. In the year before combat started in Iraq, they warned that occupying the country would be far harder than conquering it.... [A]mong national-security professionals there is surprisingly little controversy... America's response to 9/11 [was] a catastrophe. I have sat through arguments among soldiers and scholars about whether the invasion of Iraq should be considered the worst strategic error in American history—or only the worst since Vietnam.... "Let me tell you my gut feeling," a senior figure at one of America's military-sponsored think tanks told me recently, after we had talked for twenty minutes about details of the campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. "If I can be blunt, the Administration is full of shit. In my view we are much, much worse off now than when we went into Iraq. That is not a partisan position. I voted for these guys. But I think they are incompetent, and I have had a very close perspective on what is happening. Certainly in the long run we have harmed ourselves. We are playing to the enemy's political advantage. Whatever tactical victories we may gain along the way, this will prove to be a strategic blunder."... [Fallows, The Atlantic, 9/04][See generally, CRS report (PDF) 5/23/03]
When it comes to winning over Muslim moderates who now sympathize with the militants, the US starts with a huge disadvantage - a rising tide of mistrust of its policies and intentions. According to a Gallup Poll of nine Muslim countries, only about 1 out of 10 Muslims believes that Americans respect Islamic values, and even fewer - 7 percent - feel that the West understands Muslim customs and culture. The majority of Muslims polled by the Pew Global Attitudes Project also believes that the US is a military threat to them. Other surveys show that the Iraq war has exacerbated Muslim resentment.[See generally, IPS, 6/24/04]
Unfortunately, America's non-Muslim allies have also come to mistrust it. Majorities in most Western European countries polled by EOS Gallup Europe now consider the US a threat to world peace.
I have rarely seen a change in public opinion as great in such a short amount of time as the one from 2002 to 2003 in Europe that came as a direct result of the war in Iraq.
Rightly or wrongly, much of the world has come to see American military initiatives as lacking legitimacy. The US can no longer count on its traditional allies to help dispel the poisonous anti-Americanism in the Muslim world. [CSM, 9/20/04]