Benjamin: Iraq Has Made Us Less Safe
Former Clinton National Security Council Daniel Benjamin purports to explain, “Why Iraq has made us less safe” in a CNN column promoting his new book The Next Attack: The Failure of the War on Terror and a Strategy for Getting It Right.
[…] It is, of course, bad manners to point the finger at anyone but those responsible for the killings in London. They shed the blood; they must answer for it. But as the trail of bodies that began with the first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 continues to lengthen, we need to ask why the attacks keep coming. One key reason is that Osama bin Laden’s “achievements” in standing up to the American colossus on 9/11 have inspired others to follow his lead. Another is that American actions — above all, the invasion and occupation of Iraq — have galvanized still more Muslims and convinced them of the truth of bin Laden’s vision.
The conflict between radical Islam and the West, like all ideological struggles, is about competing stories. The audience is the global community of Muslims.
Invading Iraq, however noble the U.S. believed its intentions, provided the best possible confirmation of the jihadist claims and spurred many of Europe’s alienated Muslims to adopt the Islamist cause as their own.
The evidence is available in the elaborate underground railroad that has brought hundreds of European Muslims to the fight in Iraq. And the notion that the West would enhance its security by occupying Iraq has proved utterly illusory.
Coalition forces in Iraq face daily attacks from jihadists not because Saddam Hussein had trained a cadre of terrorists — we know there was no pre-existing relationship between Baghdad and al-Qaeda — but because the U.S. invasion brought the targets into the proximity of the killers.
America has shown itself to be good at hunting terrorists. Unfortunately, by occupying Iraq, it has become even better at creating them.
It would be rather snarky of me to point out that, if Benjamin knew how to deal with al Qaeda, it’s a shame he didn’t implement his plan when he was working for Bill Clinton, during which time numerous al Qaeda attacks on American targets took place. After all, he was mostly employed as a speechwriter.
Be that as it may, it is hard to deny that the Iraq War motivated some radical Islamists to take up the murder of Westerners. Of course, anything that we did was likely to have that impact. And, as the Clinton model demonstrated, so was doing nothing.
We’ve learned from experience, therefore, that killing terrorists makes their sympathizers mad and thus creates more terrorists whereas allowing terrorist actions to go unpunished emboldens their sympathizers and thus creates more terrorists. This reminds me of Carter Secretary of Defense Harold Brown’s observation during the Cold War about arms control: “When we build, they build. When we stop, they build.”
Whether the Iraq War has created more terrorists than it has killed is unknowable, since we don’t know 1) how many terrorists it has created; 2) how many terrorists there would have been had we pursued a different policy; let alone 3) what alternative policy Benjamin would have us pursue.
Update: To quote myself from the July 2004 issue of Strategic Insights, “The U.S. and its allies have killed or captured dozens of key terrorist leaders and hundreds of jihadist footsoldiers. It is unclear, of course, how many the invasion created.”