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.”

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. ATM says:

    And it should be pointed out that the many aspects of the Clinton adminstrations’ containment policy for Iraq was used to justify attacking the US.

  2. Darla Nuan says:

    This is old news. The 9/11 Commission report clearly shows that Clinton basically let the terrorists operate in the US.

    It is also important to remember that Clinton weakened the military so much that any problems that may exist in our current campaign to liberate Iraq can be attributed to him. Many of the battle plans for iraq–including the issues of troop strength and equipment (e.g. body armor, etc…)–were concocted by Clinton. Bush simply didn’t have time to correct all of Clinton’s crazy policies–if he had, Saadam would have clearly bombed us.

  3. Lurking Observer says:

    So, Daniel Benjamin confirms that European Muslim radicals are leaving Europe in order to engage the US in Iraq.


    So, here’s the key question:

    Are we to believe that, w/o Iraq (but with Afghanistan, since, as we are regularly reminded, the Left, liberals, Democrats, all supported going into Afghanistan), these European Islamic radicals would have stayed at home, doing nothing?

    That, in the wake of ObL standing up to the American colossus, that these people would not have sought out ways of getting at the United States?

    More to the point, if they did choose to act against the US, that they would have gone to Afghanistan, but not tried to strike either American assets in Europe or here at home?

    What a fascinating worldview these people must have, wherein they are inspired by ObL’s attacks against the US, yet would stand idly by while the US attacks ObL’s base.

  4. herb says:

    CNN, The has been of news. What more could one expect from a mamby-pamby bunch of left wing liberals that turn tail and run while letting everyone else fight for their freedom and lives.

    I am so sick of people like Benjamin and his kind that It makes me want to throw up all over him.

    Anymore, I just get furious when I see people like this get mentioned in any forum. Perhaps Mr. Joyner would do best if he just never mentioned people like Danial Benjamin.

  5. bryan says:

    I’m not sure how he can claim we are “less safe” since there hasn’t been an attack on American soil since 9/11.

    If there were explosions in major cities every few weeks, then I think his thesis would be much more defensible.

  6. bryan says:

    we know there was no pre-existing relationship between Baghdad and al-Qaeda

    Also, this statement is false as well. While Iraq didn’t have a hand in the 9/11 attack, even the 9/11 commission found that there were ties between Iraq and al qaeda.

  7. ozzippit says:

    More from another former Clinton flack trying to erase history and provide Slick and St. Hill with legacies.

  8. Mark says:

    “The longer our forces stay on the ground in the Arabian Peninsula, the greater the risk of the next 9/11, whether that is a suicide attack, a nuclear attack, or a biological attack.”

    From “The American Conservative”

  9. McGehee says:

    The longer the Arabian peninsula remains under the control of a cowardly and corrupt regime, paying off terrorists to do their evil business somewhere else, no matter where, the greater the risk of the next 9/11.

    That magazine you’re quoting, Mark, doesn’t have a whole lot of credibility with mainstream conservatives that I’m aware of.

  10. Sammy says:

    The war on terror is like the war on drugs.

    Off Center Blog