It is so exciting to be celebrating the fourth anniversary of Mission Accomplished! And what, boys and girls, have we accomplished? All together now …
My, what foul mouths you have. But let’s look at a scholarly appraisal of our Iraq accomplishments by Bruce Riedel in the May/June 2007 issue of Foreign Affairs. Mr. Riedel is a Senior Fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. He retired last year after 29 years with the Central Intelligence Agency. He served as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Near East Affairs on the National Security Council (1997-2002), Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Near East and South Asian Affairs (1995-97), and National Intelligence Officer for Near East and South Asian Affairs at the National Intelligence Council (1993-95). He knows some shit, in other words.
Al Qaeda is a more dangerous enemy today than it has ever been before. It has suffered some setbacks since September 11, 2001: losing its state within a state in Afghanistan, having several of its top operatives killed, failing in its attempts to overthrow the governments of Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. But thanks largely to Washington’s eagerness to go into Iraq rather than concentrate on hunting down al Qaeda’s leaders, the organization now has a solid base of operations in the badlands of Pakistan and an effective franchise in western Iraq. Its reach has spread throughout the Muslim world, where it has developed a large cadre of operatives, and in Europe, where it can claim the support of some disenfranchised Muslim locals and members of the Arab and Asian diasporas. Osama bin Laden has mounted a successful propaganda campaign to make himself and his movement the primary symbols of Islamic resistance worldwide. His ideas now attract more followers than ever.
Bin Laden’s goals remain the same, as does his basic strategy. He seeks to, as he puts it, “provoke and bait” the United States into “bleeding wars” throughout the Islamic world; he wants to bankrupt the country much as he helped bankrupt, he claims, the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The demoralized “far enemy” would then go home, allowing al Qaeda to focus on destroying its “near enemies,” Israel and the “corrupt” regimes of Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. The U.S. occupation of Iraq helped move his plan along, and bin Laden has worked hard to turn it into a trap for Washington. Now he may be scheming to extend his strategy by exploiting or even triggering a war between the United States and Iran.
There was a mission accomplished, all right — Osama bin Laden’s mission.
Decisively defeating al Qaeda will be more difficult now than it would have been a few years ago. But it can still be done, if Washington and its partners implement a comprehensive strategy over several years, one focused on both attacking al Qaeda’s leaders and ideas and altering the local conditions that allow them to thrive. Otherwise, it will only be a matter of time before al Qaeda strikes the U.S. homeland again.
Reidel elaborates on how nicely the invasion of Iraq served al Qaeda’s purposes in several ways. First,
The U.S. invasion of Iraq took the pressure off al Qaeda in the Pakistani badlands and opened new doors for the group in the Middle East. It also played directly into the hands of al Qaeda leaders by seemingly confirming their claim that the United States was an imperialist force, which helped them reinforce various local alliances.
Second, our military adventure in Iraq literally bleeds the United States and leaves us increasingly incapable of responding to threats abroad or defending ourselves at home. Third, our presence in Iraq acts as a catalyst for revving up jihad. Fourth, because al Qaeda is still too weak to challenge the governments and security forces of Middle Eastern nations, it needs failed states to survive and thrive. Saddam Hussein, odious as he was, made most of Iraq inhospitable to al Qaeda. Until the invasion, the only part of Iraq in which al Qaeda could operate were the Kurdish areas, which had been protected from Saddam Hussein by U.S. air power since the Gulf War and were not under Saddam Husseinâ€™s control.
Richard Clarke wrote in his book Against All Enemies that something like the Iraq War was bin Ladenâ€™s plan all along. At least a decade before 9/11, according to Clarke, Osama was hanging out in the Sudan dreaming up an Iraq scenarioâ€“
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]
Documents captured after 9/11 showed that bin Laden hoped to provoke the United States into an invasion and occupation that would entail all the complications that have arisen in Iraq. His only error was to think that the place where Americans would get stuck would be Afghanistan.
Iraq has become, for us, a nearly perfect lose/lose situation. If we stay and fight, we serve bin Laden’s interests. If we retreat, we serve bin Laden’s interests. The only Iraq policy we might have adopted that didn’t serve bin Laden’s interests would have been to leave Saddam Hussein where he was.
Those are among the several thousand reasons why talk of “winning” in Iraq is absurd. Even if we destroyed every single militant in Iraq who so much as hurls raspberries at us or the Iraqi government, that would not accomplish the purported “mission” of making America safer from terrorist attack.
As retired Army Lt. Gen. William Odom says, â€œThe challenge we face today is not how to win in Iraq; it is how to recover from a strategic mistake: invading Iraq in the first place.â€
In today’s New York Times, Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Jeff Zeleny write that Democrats are planning a special ceremony this afternoon when they send the timetable-laden Iraq war funding bill to President Bush, who will veto it.
The timing is no accident. It comes on the fourth anniversary of the day Mr. Bush stood on an aircraft carrier under the banner â€œMission Accomplishedâ€ and declared that major combat operations in Iraq had ended.
The Democratsâ€™ ceremony, featuring the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, is part of the elaborate political theater at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue surrounding the Iraq spending bill, which is destined to produce only the second veto of Mr. Bushâ€™s presidency.
But with Mr. Bush planning to spend Tuesday in Florida talking with military commanders, the White House was being coy on Monday about what kind of theatrics of his own â€” if any â€” he might stage. Democrats, however, said they expected the veto to come Wednesday.
Bush is making noises about how he thinks he and the Dems will be able to compromise once the veto is out of the way. Of course, a Bush “compromise” is “my way or the highway.” If he gives so much as a millimeter I will be stunned.
A Boston Globe editorial today criticizes the Dems for drawing out the handling of the bill to generate political theater. Whether that was their intention or just a happy accident is debatable. But as the editorial says,
Bush last week blasted Congress for trying to micromanage the war, saying members should listen to the generals on the ground. But if Bush had listened to his own generals in 2003, he would have learned that a far larger force would be needed to pacify Iraq once Saddam Hussein was removed. And now, the new book from former CIA director George Tenet asserts that, if Bush had listened to his intelligence professionals in 2003, he wouldn’t have rushed to war so precipitously.
Riedel’s Foreign Affairs piece also draws me back to this interview of President Bush by Katie Couric:
“You have said we can’t cut and run on more than one occasion. We have to stay until we win. Otherwise, we’ll be fighting the terrorists here at home, on our own streets. So what do you mean exactly by that, Mr. President?” Couric asked.
“Well, I mean that a defeat in Iraq will embolden the enemy and will provide the enemy â€” more opportunity to train, plan, to attack us. That’s what I mean,” Mr. Bush said. “You know, one of the hardest parts of my job is to connect Iraq to the war on terror. I believe it. As I told you, Osama bin Laden believes it. But the American people â€” have gotta understand that a defeat in Iraq â€” in other words, if this government there fails, the terrorists will be emboldened, the radicals will topple moderate governments. I truly believe this is the ideological struggle of the 21st century. And the consequences for not achieving success are â€” are dire.”
Sure Osama bin Laden “believes it.” It was his bleeping idea in the first place.