The Talking Point That Says Nothing

In the Name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful

The assessment was as stark as it was bleak: the war in Iraq, far from making the country safer, has become a “cause celebre” for terrorists and militant extremists across the world. According to the New York Times, the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) asserts “that Islamic radicalism, rather than being in retreat, has metastasized and spread across the globe.” One intelligence official quoted by the Times said that “the Iraq war has made the overall terrorism problem worse.”

As reported in a Washington Post article , the NIE cites the “‘centrality’ of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and the insurgency that has followed, as the leading inspiration for new Islamic extremist networks and cells that are united by little more than an anti-Western agenda. It concludes that, rather than contributing to eventual victory in the global counterterrorism struggle, the situation in Iraq has worsened the U.S. position, according to officials familiar with the classified document.”
Many of these new terrorist cells, as reported in the Post, “have no connection to any central structure and arose independently. The members of the cells communicate only among themselves and derive their inspiration, ideology, and tactics from the more than 5,000 radical Islamic Web sites.” The Post continues by citing officials familiar with the NIE who say that “it describes the situation in Iraq as promoting the spread of radical Islam by providing a focal point, with constant reinforcement of an anti-American message for disaffected Muslims.”
This directly contradicts the contention of President Bush, who said in September that “Many Americans…ask the same question five years after 9/11. The answer is yes. America is safer. We are safer because we have taken action to protect the homeland. We are safer because we are on the offensive against our enemies overseas.” The NIE’s conclusions also show the absurdity of the notion that “we are fighting the enemy over there so we don’t have to fight them over here.” Critics of the Iraq war, especially in the Democratic opposition, have seized on this blaring contradiction between the President’s contentions and the conclusions of the NIE.
The President, however, has lashed back. He denounced the Democrats as the “party of cut and run.” Responding to the criticism of the “fight them over there” notion, President Bush said, “We didn’t create terrorism by fighting terrorism. Iraq is not the reason why the terrorists are at war against us.” Herein lies the problem. The President is correct that the war in Iraq is not the reason why terrorists have attacked the United States in the past. And this talking point has been reiterated ad nauseum by Republicans and their supporters on the Right. But that fact is completely irrelevant.
One of the key aspects of an effective fight against terrorism, in addition to aggressively pursuing those who are bent on attacking us, is to work toward the prevention of more potential terrorists joining the fight. That way, the supply of terrorists is cut off as the current inventory is whittled down. In fact, if we are smart about it, our policies should promote peace and justice so that those potential terrorists actually become our allies in the fight. It would be following an injunction of the Qur’an: But [since] good and evil cannot be equal, repel thou [evil] with something that is better and lo! he between whom and theyself was enmity [may then become] as though he had [always] been close [unto thee], a true friend! (41:34). If, however, our war against terrorism produces more terrorists in the end, what kind of war are we waging?

A very incompetent war indeed.

And counterterrorism officials agree. Quoted in the same Washington Post article, a senior counterterrorism official earlier this summer said: “It is just those kinetic actions that lead to the radicalization of others. Surgical strikes? Nothing is surgical about military operations. They tend to have impacts, affects.” A second counterterrorism official went even further saying that “we focus on the terrorists and very little on how they are created. If you looked at all the resources of the U.S. government, we spent 85, 90 percent on current terrorists, not on how people are radicalized.” The official called this “a really big hole” in the U.S. counterterrorism strategy.
Saying that terrorists attacked us before the Iraq war is a total red herring, a non sequitor, and we should not be fooled by a talking point which says absolutely nothing. The point remains the same: the war in Iraq – the “central front in the war on terror” – is creating more terrorists than it is destroying, and this has very serious implications for our national security.

In fact, the Council on Global Terrorism, an independent research group of respected terrorism experts, gave the U.S. a “D+” for its efforts to combat Islamic extremism over the last five years. “There is every sign,” the council concluded, “that radicalization in the Muslim world is spreading rather than shrinking.” Rather than producing talking points to lash out at critics and score political points, perhaps the Bush Administration should be expending its energy rethinking and reforming its strategy in the “war on terror.” Or am I simply engaging in wishful thinking?


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