Did the War Make Us Safer?
In October 2003, Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld penned a memo questioning whether our actions in the war on terror were producing positive results. Rumsfeld wrote, "We lack metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror. Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?"
New investigations by the Saudi government and an Israeli think tank have provided some of Rumsfeld's missing metrics. The separate analyses found that the overwhelming majority of foreign fighters in Iraq became radicalized by the war itself. Rumsfeld’s fear that American policy would create rather than deter terrorists is coming to fruition.
Defenders of the war claim that terrorists have made Iraq a central front in the battle against the United States. Mr. Bush says, ''The terrorists know that the outcome [in Iraq] will leave them emboldened or defeated. So they are waging a campaign of murder and destruction." According to Mr. Bush and his apologists, the US military must fight terrorists in Iraq, "so we do not have to face them here at home."
The argument made by Bush and the neocons begins with the presumption that there are a finite number of potential terrorists that can be penned up in Iraq and dealt with accordingly. In fact, the pool of anti-American fighters has likely grown as a response to the invasion of Iraq.
In a report published earlier this year, the CIA admitted that the war in Iraq was a major recruiting device for Bin-Laden and his minions. The report states that, "Iraq...could provide recruitment, training grounds, technical skills and language proficiency for a new class of terrorists who are 'professionalized' and for whom political violence becomes an end in itself." The report also states that foreign jihadists "enjoy a growing sense of support from Muslims who are not necessarily supporters of terrorism."
Reuven Pay, author of the Israeli study, says that the vast majority of foreign fighters entering Iraq had nothing to do with Al-Qaeda before Sepember 11th—and have nothing to do with Al-Qaeda today. In fact the case studies indicate that most foreign fighters consider the Iraq war to be an attack against the Islamic religion and Arab culture. Indeed many religious leaders throughout the Islamic world have issued edicts defending jihad in Iraq as justified in the face of aggression. "I am not sure the American public is really aware of the enormous influence of the war in Iraq, not just on Islamists but the entire Arab world,” says Paz.
The findings of the Israelis and Saudis have been buttressed by the work of Robert Pape. Pape, a professor at the University of Chicago, has written “Dying to Win: The Logic of Suicide Terrorism.”
According to Pape, suicide terrorists aren’t acting out of hatred for "freedom." It isn’t Britney Spears, McDonald’s or a distaste for ‘The Federalist Papers’ stoking the fires of Islamic rage. Indeed, the problem isn’t even principally Islamic fundamentalism-- the problem is occupation. “The central fact,” says Pape, “is that overwhelmingly suicide-terrorist attacks are not driven by religion as much as they are by a clear strategic objective: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland.”
But why don’t all occupations spur suicide terrorism? Here is where religion comes into play. When a religious difference exists between an occupying regime and the subjects of occupation, terrorist leaders are able to demonize the occupying power more vociferously. So while Bin Laden could make his arguments about the “infidels,” his claims have actually been substantiated by the presence of large numbers of American troops in the Middle East.
Pape’s critics argue that 9/11 occurred before the invasion and occupation of Iraq. They are conveniently forgetting the stationing of some 40,000 troops on the Arabian peninsula during the 1990's and the perpetual embargo of Iraq, not to mention uncritical support by the US for the Israeli occupation.
The time has come to reconsider our ill-conceived strategy of occupation, nation-building, and meddlesome interventionism. Our national interest and common sense demands it.