Iraq, Sex Scandals, and Terrorism

Charles Krauthammer laments the fact that the Foley scandal and Woodward book have moved the National Intelligence Estimate that said the Iraq War has made us less safe out of the spotlight, leaving that conclusion to “remain an unrebutted charge long after Foley is forgotten and Woodward is remaindered.”

Aside from the fact that the argument has been widely discussed, including in this blog and this TCS Daily piece that I wrote, he’s right. The issue for which George W. Bush and this Congress will ultimately be judged is the Iraq War; most everything else, certainly to include a previously unheard of Congressman’s instant messaging proclivities, will soon evaporate into the memory hole.

The crux of Krauthammer’s rebuttal:

Everyone seems to have forgotten that Iraq was already an Islamist cause celebre and rallying cry long before 2003. When Osama bin Laden issued his 1998 declaration of war against America, his two principal casus belli for the jihad that exploded upon us on 9/11 centered on Iraq: America’s alleged killing of more than 1 million Iraqis through the post-Gulf War sanctions, and, even worse, the desecration of Islam’s holiest cities of Mecca and Medina by the garrisoning of infidel U.S. soldiers in Saudi Arabia (as post-Gulf War protection from the continuing threat of invasion by Saddam).

The irony is that the overthrow of Saddam eliminated these two rallying cries: Iraqi sanctions were lifted and U.S. troops were withdrawn from the no-longer threatened Saudi Arabia. But grievances cured are easily replaced. The jihadists wasted no time in finding new justifications for fury, and reviving old ones. The supply is endless: Danish cartoons, papal pronouncements, the liberation of women, the existence of Israel, the licentiousness of Western culture, the war in Afghanistan. And of course, Iraq — again.

Indeed. Given that a worldwide jihad arguably started with the Khomeini revolution and Iran Hostage Crisis of 1979, and was certainly well underway with the first al Qaeda attacks on American targets in 1993, it’s rather credulous to argue that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was its cause.

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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. James,

    Please. You are normally very well-informed and well-spoken and fair.

    “it’s rather credulous to argue that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was its cause.”

    No one is saying that. No one. The claim is that the Iraq war has made it worse. Not “caused” it, but made it worse.

    This is the kind of misrepresentation I’d expect from Power Line, not from OTB.

  2. Cernig says:


    Who exactly has argued that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was the cause of worldwide jihad? Go on, name names.

    The NIE states that the 2003 invasion simply made the situation worse and didn’t actually provide a cure or solution for worldwide jihad in any way whatsoever. That’s a very different assertion and one I agree with. Given the last graf of your post yesterday on the new counterinsurgency manual, as well as other posts, I think you do too.

    Its rather credulous to expect us to believe you accept such an obvious strawman from Krauthammer. You’re brighter than that.

    Do you ever feel the need to throw some raw meat to the uber-right base on occasion, just to prove you’re still a loyal Republican?

    Regards, C

  3. lily says:

    The Foley scandal isn’t really about Foley. It’s about how multiple Republicans over a period of years allowed Foley to continue because short term political expediency trumped all other values. It is also about how the current leaders of the party, the Speaker, the Majority Leader, the Chair of RNCC, failed to respond adequately to to information that should have prompted an investigation. It is about how the head of the committee in charge of the pages failed to meet his responsibilities and actively covered for a predator. And it is also about the Republicans who minimize,ignore,,rationalize away, or concoct ridiculous conspiracy theories in order to hide from themselves the moral bankruptcy of their party’s leaders.
    The failure of one individual doesn’t reflect on the party itself. But what we are seeing here is a failure from top to bottom, a failure to act upon expressed values and the ugly revelation of what far too many Republicans really value: spin, expediency, and above all else, name brand loyalty.

  4. James Joyner says:


    Krauthammer is arguing that there’s really no way to know how many jihadist there are, let alone how many of them were created by the Iraq War. As I’ve written here and elsewhere, I think it’s a given that the war has both fueled the jihad and created a killing zone that has rid the world of thousands of jihadis. How that balances out, I can’t say and don’t think anyone else can, either.

    From a less empirical perspective, knowing what I know now, would I have supported going to war in Iraq? No. Given that we went in and are where we are, do I support rapid pullout? No.

    Could we still succeed in enabling the creation of a stable, democratic Iraq? Yep. Could we fail? Yep.

    If things devolve into an all-out civil war, do we “stay the course”? No. At present, though, I think we continue to revise tactics and strategy and try to get the job done.

  5. Derrick says:

    I have to piggyback off of Cernig’s point that no one believes that the Iraq War started global jihadism, no one. The issues is whether what was an idealism that was contained to a number of muslims in an organization has now mushroomed into a movement that has enraptured moderates or potential-moderates who weren’t willing to take up arms before the Iraq War. Just as a number of Americans were interested in to the jihadist movement pre-9/11, but we saw an explosion in interest and calls to arms post-9/11, the question is whether the Iraq war has done something similar with this ideology.

  6. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Lily, if you had the inforamtion that was available to the Speaker, and you acted in the way you suggest, you would have been violating privacy rights. You hypocrites defend a leader who took advantage of an intern, denied it. Defamed the intern, and had it not been for a garment, would has escaped. Still it was all about sex, right? Age of consent in Washington DC is 16. Are you just anti-gay or anti republican? You are nothing but a double standard political provaricator.

  7. John Burgess says:

    To the marvels of 1979, you should also add the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Islamist takeover of the Grand Mosque at Mecca, in addition to the Iranian revolution.

    A lot of things went down then that are being played out now. But those were themselves symptoms of a culture that was under great pressure to change in ways it didn’t really want to change–at least for some of its members.

    The Islamic world (as much as the West) is seeking a new equilibrium. The weaknesses of the formal states have led to a lot of DIYers trying to right wrongs with the only effective tool in the toolbox: terrorism.

    Iraq only provides a compelling casus belli, one that offers a more clear contrast of black/white.

  8. Anderson says:

    The fact that Krauthammer has to emulate Bush and create a straw-man argument to vanquish, shows how bereft Krauthammer (like Bush) is of any real support for his position.

  9. legion says:

    Unfortunately, James, bush has already publically stated he will ‘stay the course’ _regardless_ of what happens in Iraq. Furthermore, we are actively _not_ adjusting our strategy… while individual units may be adapting to their local situations, their lessons are not being applied outside their AOR, not are they being retained when each unit rotates home. At a strategic level, our only concept is “use a bigger hammer”.

    While your positions are rational, your implication that this administration will ever follow them is not.

  10. Tano says:

    Yes, I too am greatly annoyed at the constant strawman being trotted out, that somehow anyone is claiming that the Iraq War STARTED the jihad. Cheapest type of nonsense.

    But James also leaps onto the “its too complicated to assess whether the Iraq War is making things worse” meme. Of course, the administration and its allies seem to have no problem doing the calculation when they think they can sell us on the argument that the War is making us safer. That, apparently, is an easy calculation. Its just too complicated to arrive at the opposite conclusion.

    As for the “stay the course” argument, it seems clear that determining factor here should be whether our presence is leading toward the desired end, or whether it is an obstacle to the desired end. James seems to either ignore that cacluclation, or if he has considered that, he has concluded that our presence must obviously be leading us in the right direction (I say obvious, since he doesnt seem to feel the need to make the argument directly). Is that an easy calculation to make James? Is the answer obvious to you?

  11. madmatt says:

    Of course in the case of the 1993 world trade center attacks, CLINTON captured, tried, and imprisoned the perpatrators…2800 soldiers didn’t die for no apparant reason. Even GWB says Iraq had nothing to do with 911.

  12. just me says:

    I am not convinced that Iraq has increased anything.

    A part of me thinks Islamcists and the Western world were going to come to head and Iraq or no Iraq, I think what we are seeing now is that coming to a head thing.

    Also, what exactly is the difference from the Islamicist perspective between Iraq (liberals hate) and Afghanistan (Liberals say they support, although I think had their been no Iraq they would be attacking this one as well, Afghanistan support is sort of their fall back “hey we don’t oppose all war” argument)?

  13. lily says:

    Zelsdorf, sorry it has taken me so long to respond. I was at work. No. It would not have been a violation of Foley’s privacy for two reasons. One, it was already common knowledge that Foley harassed pages. The pages themselves have reported that Republican staffers warned them about him. So the news was not new. More importantly when a person high in a hierarchy is informed of a crime, that person has a responisbility to start an investigation. In this situation the higher ups either did nothing or merely warned Foley to stop, a de facto acknowledgement of his crime.
    If this had happened in a public school all of the higher ups would have been fired and the chair of the page committee would probably go to jail. If this had happened in a corporate setting all of the higher up would be liable for tort damages for failing to report the matter as per their harassment protocols.. I don’t know what the legal requirements are in Congress but all of these guys, supposedly Christians from the Culture of Life party, had a moral responisbility to respond with an investigation when they were notified that a juvenile on their premises was being harassed by a member. No, there was no “right to privacy” that would prevent an investigation.

  14. RJN says:

    Lily, this Foley thing is abouts gays being gay, and queers being queer. Don’t you remember Demos Studds, and Barney Frank?