'Life is now more dangerous everywhere'
COMMENTARY | October 03, 2006
The overseas press: The National Intelligence Estimate consensus that the Iraq war has made terrorism worse surprised hardly anyone, but interpretations are sharply divergent. Some see it as a ‘reality check’ for the Democrats; others as just the latest maddening news item, or even, a finding of benefit to George Bush.
By John Burke
PARIS—The leak of parts of the National Intelligence Estimate last week acted as confirmation of suspicions that had generally grown to be accepted fact in the international community. The report’s findings being no surprise, most of the foreign press wondered if they would be put to good use.
Several considered the report in the context of the upcoming mid-term elections, reckoning that the Democrats could use it to their political advantage if they can pull themselves together.
Others snubbed the idea of using the estimate for political gain and wondered if the Bush administration could admit its conclusions are correct before setting a new course of action to curb the spread of jihadism.
Whatever their opinion, foreign newspapers made it clear that the world is longing for a solution to the war that has now officially made life more dangerous everywhere.
Lebanon’s Daily Star considers that the study finding Iraq is breeding more terrorists is bad news for Bush, but turns its focus on the Democrats. By not declaring a concrete strategy for the future of the war in Iraq, not only is the more liberal party not helping end the war, but it is missing a huge political opportunity:
“No matter how you slice it, the National Intelligence Estimate warning that the Iraq war has spawned more terrorism is big trouble for President George W. Bush and the Republican Party in this election year. It goes to the heart of Bush's argument for invading Iraq, which was that it would make America safer.
“Many Democrats act as if that's the end of the discussion: A mismanaged occupation has created a breeding ground for terrorists, so we should withdraw and let the Iraqis sort out the mess. Some extreme war critics are so angry at Bush they seem almost eager for America to lose, to prove a political point. Even among mainstream Democrats, the focus is "gotcha!" rather than "what next?" That is understandable, given the partisanship of Republican attacks, but it isn't right…
“This should be the Democrats' moment, if they can translate the national anger over Iraq into a coherent strategy for the future. But with a few notable exceptions, the Democrats are mostly ducking the hard question of what to do next. They act as if all those America-hating terrorists will evaporate back into the sands of Anbar province if America pulls out its troops. Alas, that is not the case. That is the problem with Iraq - it is not an easy mistake to fix…
“Here's a reality check for the Democrats: There is not a single country in the Middle East, with the possible exception of Iran, which favors a rapid American pullout from Iraq. Why? The consensus in the region is that a retreat now would have disastrous consequences for America and its allies. Yet withdrawal is the Iraq strategy you hear from most congressional Democrats, whether they call it "strategic redeployment" or something else.
“I wish Democrats (and Republicans, for that matter) were asking this question: How do we prevent Iraq from becoming a failed state?...
“America needs to reckon with the message of the National Intelligence Estimate. Iraq has compounded Muslim rage and created a genuinely dangerous crisis for the United States. The Democrats understandably want to treat Iraq as George W. Bush's war and wash their hands of it. But the damage of Iraq can be mitigated only if it again becomes the nation's war - with the whole country invested in finding a way out of the morass that doesn't leave us permanently in greater peril.
“If the Democrats could lead that kind of debate about security, they would become the nation's governing party. But what you hear from most Democrats these days is: Gotcha.”
For the UK’s Observer, dubious findings about the effectiveness of the war in Iraq will be the key issue in the upcoming elections, an issue on which the Democrats should be able to capitalize, but aren’t:
“The race for America's mid-term elections has entered its final stretch and is taking place on one battlefield: national security.
“The Republicans believe they can fold the Iraq war into a wider debate about the war on terror. That was a vote-winner for them in 2004's presidential election and the 2002 mid-terms. Bush's political guru Karl Rove is hoping his nationwide attack machine can pull off the same trick for the third time in a row. And it shows signs of working…
“The party now believes it can also win votes on national security, turning the Republicans' old strength into its new Achilles heel. The key to success, the party believes, is splitting the Iraq issue away from the war on terror. Democrats need to be strong on the latter, but believe U.S. voters will be receptive to criticism on Iraq. The release of a secret intelligence report saying that Iraq has made America less safe on terrorism has given the Democrats' cause a shot in the arm…
“…some Democrats believe that the party might fare better in the 2008 presidential race if the houses of Congress remain in Republican hands. A Democrat-controlled legislature could inspire Republicans to fight harder in 2008 and give them ammunition to use in the White House campaign. But that argument is unlikely to pacify Democrats on the ground now, desperate for a win in November so they can launch attacks on what they see as six years of Republican misrule. At the moment that ambition is far from certain. But there is clearly still everything to play for.”
The Guardian’s opinion blog Comment is Free tells “Why we are still getting it so wrong in the ‘war on terror,’” recounting one incident in which American troops destroyed ancient palm groves as punishment to Iraqi farmers as proof of the war’s “senseless destruction”:
The precise opposite of the desired effect was also achieved in the idiotically named 'War on Terror'. By the admission of intelligence services on both sides of the Atlantic, Iraq has galvanised terrorism…
Only a tenth of the US document was published, but it is enough to undermine the campaign by the administration over the last few weeks to portray Iraq as an essential part of the war on terror and of making Americans safe at home. It's a lie of monumental proportions which exceeds even Downing Street's manipulation of the September 2002 WMD dossier.
Iraq has done the opposite of making America safe and with five weeks to go to the mid-term congressional elections, the Democrats now have an opportunity to make that case…
Blair's speech dealt with terrorism in the following sentences. 'This terrorism isn't our fault. We didn't cause it. It's not the consequence of foreign policy. It's an attack on our way of life.' He might have said that on 12 September 2001 and he would have been right, but five years later, it is his and Bush's response to the threat - the invasion of Iraq - that has provided stimulus to the growth of terrorism and made the clash of civilisations a frightening possibility…
The only satisfaction to take out of this terrible episode is that the true account of what happened before the invasion of Iraq and why is being assembled despite Bush and Blair's efforts to distort the record. What we do now is an altogether harder task. It will need a new generation of leaders to attempt to right the wrongs and set the West on a new course. But they will always have the memories of senseless destruction to contend with.
Concerning the National Intelligence Estimate, Germany’s Der Spiegel says that “It’s No Secret, Mr. President,” then asks how Bush plans on solving the Iraqi quagmire:
“It's hard to think of a president and an administration more devoted to secrecy than President George W. Bush and his team. Except, that is, when it suits Bush politically to give the public a glimpse of the secrets…
“But the three declassified pages from what is certainly a voluminous report told us what anyone with a newspaper, television or Internet connection should already know. The invasion of Iraq was a cataclysmic disaster. The current situation will get worse if American forces leave. Unfortunately, neither the report nor the president provide even a glimmer of a suggestion about how to avoid that inevitable disaster…
“As a defense of his policies, it serves only to highlight the maddening circular logic that passes for a White House rationale. It goes like this: The invasion of Iraq has created an entire new army of terrorists who will be emboldened by an American withdrawal. Therefore, the United States has to stay indefinitely and keep fighting those terrorists.
“By that logic, the more the United States fights, the longer the war stretches on.
“It's obvious why Bush did not want this report out, and why it is taking so long for the intelligence agencies to complete another report, solely on Iraq, that was requested by Congress in late July. It's not credible that more time is needed to do the job.
“In 2002, the intelligence agencies completed a report on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction in less time. Bush also made selected passages of that report public to buttress his arguments for war with Iraq, most of which proved to be based on fairy tales.
“Then, Bush wanted Americans to focus on how dangerous Saddam Hussein was, and not on the obvious consequences of starting a war in the Middle East. Now, he wants voters to focus on how dangerous the world is, and not on his utter lack of ideas for what to do about it.”
The Middle East Times’ review of the Arab Press highlights the London-based Al Quds Al Arabi which urges Bush to look at the reality of the Iraqi situation instead of denying the findings of the intelligence assessment:
“…President George W. Bush insists on remaining in denial over a recent U.S. intelligence report that affirmed that the invasion and occupation of Iraq had multiplied terrorism and its threats.
“The independent Palestinian-owned daily said that if Bush does not want to see the accuracy of this report, he should look at the facts on the ground and see that Al Qaeda has expanded and become stronger and more dangerous than before.
“It argued that while the war on Afghanistan weakened the organization, the occupation of Iraq was a ‘valuable gift for Al Qaeda because it provided a more appropriate environment to establish training camps for volunteers from the Muslim world, and a weapons store of more than 50 million pieces and five tons of ammunition.’"
“The daily, with Arab nationalist trends, pointed out that Al Qaeda carried out only one operation before the occupation of Iraq, but has since managed to launch bloody attacks in Madrid, London, Istanbul, Casablanca, Riyadh, and Amman, in addition to hundreds of attacks inside Iraq.
“It said that while Bush was right to say that the occupation of Iraq prevented Al Qaeda elements from attacking the United States, Al Qaeda no longer needed to target America because of the presence of 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.
“‘President Bush put his country in more danger after his invasion of Iraq,’ it stressed, ‘and his war on terror moves from one failure to bigger failure.’"
In “How to lose the war on terror,” Malaysia’s New Straits Times hopes that the intelligence report acts as a means of educating the Bush administration as to the seriousness of the war and not just spun for political purposes:
“There is every likelihood then that the report by Washington’s security elite will come to nothing. That would be a pity because the estimate contains nuggets of clarity that have never been melded into policy. No less true for it being obvious is the judgment on radicalism’s root causes…
“The jihadists thrive not just on the error of the Iraqi invasion and occupation but their compounding by a mind-boggling lack of planning and resources. It is hard to escape the conclusion that the U.S. must send more troops to be able to get out quicker, instead of fighting a rearguard action that indefinitely postpones an exit strategy. The intelligence assessment is a belated recognition of what went wrong. It should not be allowed to end up as a political football.”
Contrary to most of the world, a writer in The Australian concludes that the National Intelligence Estimate actually plays in Bush’s favor: it echoes many of the controversial commander-in-chief’s strategies in Iraq. Still, when it comes to the upcoming elections, the Republicans are in rocky waters:
“The media coverage and most political reaction suggests the summary is damning of Bush's position on Iraq. I have two things to say about that. One is that people must be reading a different document from the one I am. The other is that the summary seems to me to ignore some significant considerations.
“Bush says that if the U.S. were to pull its forces out of Iraq it would lead to increased terrorism and, conversely, that victory in Iraq would be a blow to terrorism.
“Here's what the NIE says: ‘Perceived jihad success (in Iraq) would inspire more fighters to continue the fight elsewhere.’ And ‘should jihadists leaving Iraq perceive themselves, and be perceived, to have failed, we judge fewer fighters will be inspired to carry on the fight’. That's supportive, not undermining, of Bush's opposition to withdrawal.
“Bush constantly emphasises that the spread of democratic processes, pluralism and support for moderate forces will eventually work against the terrorists. So does the NIE, not just once but in several places…
“So the NIE supports two key Bush propositions…
“Jihadism took off way before Iraq and there is no reason to think it needed Iraq to explode.
“There is another, deeper, problem here. The NIE states: ‘We assess that the Iraq conflict has become the cause celebre for jihadists.’ Well, let's assume that's correct. My question is: And? What follows from that assessment? Israel is also a cause celebre for jihadists. Does that mean we should abandon it? If the answer is: ‘No, that's a ridiculous proposition’, then it is logically equally ridiculous in the case of Iraq…
“Another NIE assessment is that during the next five years the likelihood is that the threat of terror will get stronger, not weaker. Bush regularly warns about the high danger of terror and the need to be constantly alert, and for this he is condemned as playing politics in the lead-up to a congressional election. He may well be playing politics but, according to the NIE, he has pretty strong grounds for saying it.
“But, still, doesn't this NIE assessment contradict Bush when he says U.S. policy and actions have made the world safer from terrorism? Not necessarily. The U.S. homeland has not been attacked despite obvious efforts by al-Qa'ida to do so.
“Furthermore, you have to consider the consequences if no such action had been taken, if there had been no cause celebre such as the attack on Afghanistan and the attack on Iraq. Non-action has its own consequences. There is a strong case to be made, and certainly one I support, that non-action is exactly what caused the original growth and strength of jihadism in the lead-up to 9/11. Would the world have been safer if we had continued to avoid retaliatory action? I don't think so.
“The present spike in violence in Iraq is motivated largely by the desire of the jihadists and Iran to see Bush's Republicans lose in the congressional elections. There is a prospect also that in the lead-up to those elections the jihadists will seek to carry out another terror spectacular in the U.S.. They and Iran know that it is in U.S. ballot boxes that the struggle will be won or lost. If the Republicans are trounced, the battle of wills is over and we have lost not only in Iraq but most probably in Afghanistan and globally as well.
“Given the almost inconceivable incompetence, misjudgment and delusional pigheadedness of Vice-President Dick Cheney and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, largely unconstrained by Bush, the Republicans deserve a drubbing, and at the moment are more likely than not to get it.
“But their defeat should not be because of this NIE which, far from undermining Bush's positions, largely supports them.”
Life before Sept 11 was an illusion.
Bryan Tate -
10/03/2006, 04:20 PM
I guess all those terrorist activities prior to Sept. 11th didn’t count. Everything was just peachy. I suppose if we give up the fight, go home, build a giant wall around the US and then play nice, we will all be safe again; like we were prior to Sept 11.
Ignoring the issues of transnational terrorism like we did the prior 40 years solves nothing. Just fighting Al-Qaida only solves nothing. I would argue confronting terrorism (swatting a hornet’s nests) does not create more violence in the world. The violence was always present under the surface. We just brought it out into the open with Iraq. If it wasn’t Iraq, the terrorists would be fighting us over other issues. There is always some injustice in their eyes that requires terrorism. We have been kicking the can of transnational terrorism down the road since the 1960’s. It was time to stop and confront it, and face all the consequences that strategy brings. That is only way to end this issue for good.
We must address the underlying reasons for terrorism. Our ultimate objective should be to marginalize the terrorist, using our economic, political, and security tools. We can't "win" without all three tools being used successfully. We can ultimately decrease terrorism to manageable levels by being on the offensive (assuming we have the correct strategy and leadership, of course). That strategy will take decades to see any results; in the mean time we have to kill as many terrorists as we can find.
All of you Neo-Realists need to get real. No more Cold War retreads. Why should the 5 billion people on Earth, who are living somewhat peacefully, tolerate the violence and barbaric actions of 1 billions Muslims? They are last group of humans on Earth creating mass violence in the system. Solve this issue, and we can end mass conflict forever.