Losing the War on Terror

Via Altercation, I see Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon have a new book called The Next Attack: The Failure of the War on Terror and a Strategy for Getting It Right. Simon and Benjamin were respectively Director and Senior Director of Counter-Terrorism on the National Security Council during the Clinton Administration, and they had publicly warned of a massive terrorist strike against the United States before September 11. Their earlier book The Age of Sacred Terror is, IMO, a must-read.

Altercation has an excerpt from the new book:

A core part of the case that Bush and his advisers made was that Saddam might collude with terrorists because it would allow him to hurt the United States “without leaving fingerprints,” but it appears that a large part of the reason Iraq—like Iran and Libya—stopped targeting the United States was the belief that it could not carry out an attack without detection. (Iran, under its newly elected president, Muhammad Khatami, may have also changed its policy after the Khobar Towers attack because terrorism was not advancing its goals. The Iranian regime appears to have supported the attack because of a desire to drive a wedge between the United States and Saudi Arabia, but the bombing’s only effect was to cause Washington to move the troops stationed in Saudi Arabia to a more secure location.) Since detection carries with it a strong likelihood of retaliation, as Iraq learned in 1993, when U.S. cruise missiles destroyed the country’s intelligence headquarters, the calculus did not make sense—it was just no longer worth the risk to attack America. That cruise missile strike was derided by conservative critics of the Clinton administration as a “pinprick,” but Saddam seemed to have gotten the message.

No rightie will admit to that in a million years, of course.

Beyond the matter of whether the Iraqi regime was likely to attempt a terrorist attack against the United States, the administration’s argument raised the further question of whether Saddam Hussein and Usama bin Laden were likely to collaborate. In fact, Iraq and al Qaeda were anything but natural allies. A central tenet of Al Qaeda’s jihadist ideology is that secular Muslim rulers and their regimes have oppressed the believers and have plunged Islam into a historic crisis. Hence, a paramount goal of Islamist revolutionaries for almost half a century has been the destruction of the regimes of such leaders as Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, President Hafez al-Assad of Syria, the military government in Algeria ,and the Saudi royal family. To contemporary jihadists, Saddam was another in a line of dangerous secularists, an enemy of the faith who refused to rule by Islamic law and who habitually murdered religious leaders in Iraq who might oppose his regime. Perhaps the best summation of the jihadist view of Saddam’s Iraq was given during the Persian Gulf War by Omar Abdel Rahman, the radical sheik now imprisoned in the United States. When he was asked what the punishment should be for those who supported the United States in the conflict, he answered, “Both those who are against and the ones who are with Iraq should be killed.”

Simon and Benjamin go on to say that the few contacts made between bin Laden’s and Hussein’s camps, which mostly occurred in the early 1990s, were part of a “Middle Eastern tradition of keeping tabs on all groups, friendly or not.” Further, it was the consensus of the intelligence community that neither Iraq nor Iran were having much to do with bin Laden.

In 1998, in an effort to ensure that the U.S. government was not becoming complacent in this judgment, Richard Clarke asked his staff to evaluate the available intelligence to see if these conclusions were justified. After reviewing a large amount of intelligence, they too endorsed the intelligence community’s verdict. After a lengthy investigation of its own, the 9/11 Commission arrived at the same understanding in 2004 and noted in its final report, “We have seen no evidence that [the contacts] ever developed into a collaborative operational relationship. Nor have we seen evidence indicating that Iraq cooperated with al Qaeda in developing or carrying out any attacks against the United States.”

I brought that up because we’re seeing so much crapola from the Right these days about how “even Bill Clinton” though Saddam Hussein was dangerous. Maybe he did, but Bill Clinton didn’t think Saddam Hussein posed much of a threat to the United States. And by 1998 the Clinton Administration had realized that al Qaeda and other radical Islamic jihadist groups were far more dangerous than Saddam Hussein was. But the righties never get around to mentioning that.

This is from a New York Times review of the same book:

Like the CIA officer Michael Scheuer, the author (under the pseudonym “Anonymous”) of the 2004 book “Imperial Hubris,” Benjamin and Simon regard the U.S. invasion of Iraq as a kind of Christmas present to Osama bin Laden: an unnecessary and ill-judged war of choice that has not only become a recruitment tool for jihads but that has also affirmed the story line that Qaeda leaders have been telling the Muslim world – that America is waging war against Islam and seeking to occupy oil-rich Muslim countries.

The U.S. invasion of Iraq toppled one of the Mideast’s secular dictatorships, the authors write, and produced a country in chaos, a country that could well become what Afghanistan was during the years of Soviet occupation: a magnet for jihads and would-be jihads from around the world.

Do tell.

Richard Clarke wrote in his book Against All Enemies that something like the Iraq War was bin Laden’s plan all along. At least a decade before 9/11, according to Clark, Osama was hanging out in the Sudan dreaming up an Iraq scenario–

The ingredients al Qaeda dreamed of for propagating its movement were a Christian government attacking a weaker Muslim region, allowing the new terrorist group to rally jihadists from many countries to come to the aid of the religious brethren. After the success of the jihad, the Muslim region would become a radical Islamic state, a breeding ground for more terrorists, a part of the eventual network of Islamic states that would make up the great new Caliphate, or Muslim empire. [p. 136]

So, George, Dick, Condi, Rummy, Dougie, Wolfie, and the rest of the crew–Osama bin Laden sends a big thank you!

Simon and Benjamin acknowledge that it was widely believed that Saddam Hussein did have biochemical WMDs, although not nuclear weapons. But they say the critical question that should have been asked before the invasion was not did he have them, but would he use them?

…The answer to these questions is the same: no. Saddam is an execrable man and one of the most loathsome national leaders in a century in which there was plenty of competition. He had miscalculated badly on a number of occasions, most notably by invading Kuwait in August 1990. But he was not insane. He wanted to avoid obliteration. As far as the United States and its vital interests were concerned, he was deterred.

Now let’s repeat a snip from the last post, taken from yesterday’s Hardball with Chris Matthews. The speakers are Michael Scheuer, Rand Beers, and Matthews.

MATTHEWS: Michael, just to think outside the box, would we be better off with Saddam Hussein still running tyrannically that country of Iraq, right next door to Jordan? Would Jordan be more secure in that environment?

SCHEUER: No doubt about it, sir.

MATTHEWS: No doubt?

SCHEUER: There‘d be … many fewer dead Americans,[*] and we would have many more resources available to annihilate al Qaeda, which is what we have to do. Without a doubt, in the war against al Qaeda, Saddam Hussein was one of our best allies.


SCHEUER: He was not going to permit Iraq to become a base, as it is today, for Sunni fundamentalists.

MATTHEWS: Why did he let them come in for that training, that chemical training, whatever the hell they did up north?

SCHEUER: They didn‘t control the area, so that was in the no-fly zone. They were in an area that was in Kurdistan.


SCHEUER: And they were Shia.

* Note: Scheuer stumbled on his words and said “more dead,” then he corrected himself. The transcript reads as if he said there would be more dead, which is not what he meant.

See what kind of information you can get when people who know something don’t get shouted over by rightie goons and Bushie shills? I’m listening to today’s Hardball now, as I keyboard. All this week Matthew has been doing a pretty good job of presenting the arguments against the war that we should have heard before the invasion. Before the invasion, Matthews’s guests tended to consist of an occasional liberal meekly asking why we had to invade right now–can’t we give the inspectors more time?–and a mess of righties screeching that everybody knows leaving Saddam Hussein was dangerous and every moment we delayed put America at terrible risk. Thanks, Tweety.

BTW, this rightie blogger linked to the dialogue and commented:

And what about this idea that Saddam Hussein was one of the best allies the U.S. had in the war against al Qaeda? This is leftist propaganda dished up to be adopted and amplified by others who believe that Bush went after the wrong guy. Poor Saddam was after all, a bad guy, but a bad guy who could have been made good with a few simple diplomatic meet-ups and pressure from the United Nations. HEH!

Righties tend to be literal. Obviously Scheuer was using “ally” in a metaphorical sense, as in “ladybugs are our best ally against aphids” or “rain is our best ally against drought.” He was not saying that Saddam Hussein would have been cooperative with the U.S., but that leaving him where he was worked to our advantage vis à vis al Qaeda for reasons throughly explained in the remainder of the dialogue. No “diplomatic meet-ups and pressure from the United Nations” were required, any more than with ladybugs.

3 thoughts on “Losing the War on Terror

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