Bring It On, and On, and On

This essay originally appeared on Reason.com on August 22, 2005
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President George W. Bush has launched a campaign to shore up flaggingsupport for the occupation of Iraq. "Our troops," he intoned in his weeklyradio address Saturday, are fighting "to protect their fellow Americans from a savageenemy." Indeed, he added, "if we do not confront these evil men abroad, wewill have to face them one day in our own cities and streets." Thiscontinues a theme he laid out in Fort Bragg recently: "We fight today because terrorists want to attack our country andkill our citizens, and Iraq is where they are making their stand."

Unfortunately, the dual attacks in London last month clearly showed that theIraq war has not reduced the terrorist threat.

Too many Americans and Iraqis already have died based on false claims aboutSaddam Hussein's supposed possession of WMDs and connection to 9/11. No oneshould die now under the illusion that we are fighting terrorists in Baghdadand Fallujah instead of New York and London.

Terrorists who kill and maim should themselves be killed orcaptured—whether they are operating in London, Baghdad, or New York.Which is why the administration's initial response to 9/11—targetingal-Qaeda and overthrowing the Taliban in Afghanistan—was entirelyappropriate.

But battling terrorism should not mean fighting blind or basing policy ondelusions. In general, terrorism is a violent tool in a political struggle,where one side is overmatched in conventional terms. Robert Pape, author ofthe new book, Dying to Win, reviewed 315 suicide bombing attacks between 1983 and2003 and found that virtually all of them had "a specific secular andstrategic goal: to compel democracies to withdraw military forces from theterrorists' national homeland."

There are undoubtedly jihadists who simply hate America and its freedoms. Afew others might have wild ideas about reestablishing Islamic glory overWestern lands. But the evidence suggests that most of the antagonism springs from hatred of U.S. (andallied) government policies.

For instance, before the London bombings a British intelligence assessmentleaked to the press found that "events in Iraq are continuing to act asmotivation and a focus of a range of terrorist-related activity." In a new report Britain's Chatham Houseobserves that Iraq has given "a boost to the al-Qaeda network's propaganda,recruitment and fundraising."

The Israeli Global Research in International Affairs Center reported earlierthis year that Iraq "has turned into a magnet for jihadi volunteers." Butnot established terrorists. Rather,explained reportauthor Reuven Paz, "the vast majority of Arabs killed in Iraq have never taken part in anyterrorist activity prior to their arrival in Iraq."

Larry Johnson, who served with both the CIA and the State Department'scounterterrorism office, observes, "You now in Iraq have a recruitingground in which jihadists, people who previously were not willing to go outand embrace the vision of bin Laden" are "now aligning themselves withelements that have declared allegiance to him."

The British government recently compiled an extensive report entitled "YoungMuslims and Extremism," warning that British-U.S. policies are alienating many Muslims who see them"as having been acts against Islam." Analysts informed the prime ministerthat the Iraq war is acting as a "recruiting sergeant" for extremism.

"The battle experience that jihadists gain in Iraq," Paz adds, "supplies theIslamist adherents of the Global Jihad culture with a wealth of first-handfield experience." Larry Johnson worries that Iraqi insurgents are learninghow to build bombs and run military operations.

Even more menacingly, after being trained in the ways of urban warfare,these terrorists are "bleeding out" around the world. Germany's DerSpiegel magazine reports that scores of Muslim extremists have returned to Europe from Iraq, and all"are equipped with fresh combat experience and filled with ideologicalindoctrination. It is these men who are considered particularly dangerous."

The ideology these men absorb is heavily colored by U.S. and Britishpolicies. Al-Qaeda's number two, Ayman Zawahiri, recently denounced"aggression against Muslims," ranging from war to support for corruptregimes. Osama bin Laden's earlier phrasing was: "If you bomb our cities,we will bomb yours." Although condemning the London attacks, Hamas leaderMahmoud al-Zahar contended that Muslims have suffered "too much from theAmerican aggression."

The point is not that their assessments are accurate or U.S. policies areunjustified. Nor should London and Washington precipitously retreat fromIraq and allow terrorist acts to determine national policy. Butpolicymakers must recognize that intervention—particularly the prolonged intervention being planned for Iraq—vastly expands the pool of people willing tolisten to, and follow, terrorist demagogues.

Observes Robert Pape: "Since suicide terrorism is mainly aresponseto foreign occupation and not Islamic fundamentalism, the use of heavy military force to transformMuslim societies over there, if you would, is only likely to increase thenumber of suicide terrorists coming at us... Suicide terrorism is not asupply-limited phenomenon where there are just a few hundred around theworld willing to do it because they are religious fanatics. It is ademand-driven phenomenon."

The Iraq conflict has become a killing field. But not as war supportersexpected. It is providing an opportunity for extremists to kill U.S. troopswhile learning skills that may eventually be employed in Western lands.Whatever the Iraq conflict is accomplishing, it is not making us safer from terrorism. Either President Bush should stopclaiming this or we should stop listening to him.