Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Less Safe

I was asked if I believed Kerry's assertion that Bush's Iraq has made America less safe from terrorism. I said yes. Here's why.

When the focus was on Afghanistan and the Taliban we enjoyed unprecendented world-wide support in our efforts. And not only our military efforts but in our more clandestine efforts to locate terrorist cells associated with Al-Qaeda. I don't know this for a fact but it makes sense to me that even Muslim countries that are not normally disposed to be helpful to the U.S. saw their way clear to temper their resistance. Based on the military successes in Afghanistan the apparent power of U.S. in the Middle East was at its zenith. We were in an excellent position to apply judicious force where appropriate or exercise influence in less overt ways. At that point we had the best opportunity to both bring a permanent end to Al-Qaeda and perhaps bring about some real reform in an area that had once been the home to our biggest threat. I'm talking about Afghanistan here.

But once Bush set his face toward Iraq, our safety from terrorism began to go downhill. The true war on terrorism can rarely be fought with fancy weapons platforms. The true war needs people and information. To win the war you must isolate the terrorists from their means of movement and support. And once they are isolated you can tighten the noose and take them out. I think the right is hoping that this is what is going on despite all the attention being grabbed by events in Iraq. But I find that to be less likely rather than more likely. Our resources are not infinite and it strains credulity that the suction of attention and resources in Iraq is not diminshing in some way the true war on terrorism.

To be honest, I was surprised that we were as successful as we were in Afghanistan. It is a country with serious adverse terrain. You can not appreciate the steepness and ruggedness of the mountains in that area of the world unless you've seen them and I have. The people who live there take great pride in their ferocity. Establishing a peaceful, law-abiding society there is the challenge of the century.

Instead the Bush administration took a gamble on Iraq. If that gamble had been successful Bush would have been unbeatable in this election and the U.S. would have had truly enormous influence in the Middle East and throughout the world. But the inside straight didn't get filled on the river. The Bush administration lost the pot and we are paying in American lives. We are also paying in lost influence and increased animosity. With every civilian we kill we turn an Iraqi family against Americans for life. From those civilians a growing number of guerilla recruits are created. This will not stop until we stop the killing.

Meanwhile the key players in Al-Qaeda are still in play. On the one hand they are diminished by their losses in Afghanistan and the reduction of support from such states as Saudi Arabia. But on the other hand they are gaining more and more willing followers with each passing hour. It is certain that at some point they are going to have a successful operation on American soil. And that is what makes America less safe.

In order to believe that America is more safe you have to believe that Iraq was really a bigger threat than it turned out to be. You have to believe that ranks of terrorists were being supported there. You have to believe that the missing leaders of Al-Qaeda have somehow been magically neutralized. You have to believe that post-war Iraq is getting more and more settled and more and more peaceful. I don't find these beliefs to be well-founded at all. The American news reports are bad and independent reports are worse. Only American and a few Iraqi officials are reporting that things are getting better and the numbers they use in those reports are quickly discredited.

We will just have to see if the facts match up with the beliefs.

Update: I'm not the only one that's skeptical about Iraq. Yglesias lists others that are as well. He finds few that match the belief system of the administration.

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