Prominent Iraq War Critics: Stay the Course
Via Andrew Cochran, I see that the Bush administration’s terrorism policy is getting endorsement from two incredibly unlikely sources.
Former CIA bin Laden hunter Michael Scheuer, whose Imperial Hubris made him the darling on leftist critics of the Bush and his Iraq War policy (granted, mostly those who hadn’t bothered to read the book) argued in Wednesday’s Washington Times that a win for the Democrats in November is a win for al Qaeda.
But what will bin Laden and his Islamist allies think? Well, if Republican defeat comes to pass, they will first thank the Almighty — “Allahu Akhbar!” or “God is the greatest!” — for tangible proof of approaching victory. In Spain, Thailand, and Britain — where Prime Minister Tony Blair suffered the fate of Messrs. Aznar and Thaksin for the same reason, but is leaving gracefully — al Qaeda and its allies see politicians winning power who argue: “The military option has been tried and it has failed. We must seek other-than-martial means to defuse the Islamists’ appeal and power.” As in Europe and Thailand, this has been the refrain of Sens. Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Charles Schumer, Hillary Clinton, Rep. Jane Harman, and a swath of Republicans who value their seats more than U.S. security.
If Americans vote for what sounds like sweet reason from the Democrats, bin Laden and company will rejoice. What they will hear is the death knell for any prospect of effective U.S. military resistance to militant Islam. With the Republicans out, the Islamists will be confident that Democrats will deliver the best of both worlds: less emphasis on military force and a rigid maintenance of U.S. foreign policies that are hated with passion and near-unanimity by 1.3 billion Muslims. If Osama approved of music, he would be whistling “Happy Days Are Here Again!”
This is interesting coming from a man who argued that invading Iraq was the best gift we could have given to bin Laden. But he’s certainly right that leaving with our tail between our legs at this point would be perceived (for good reason) as a victory by al Qaeda.
Then again, despite his very public disagreements with the Bush administration, Scheuer is at heart a conservative:
What the enemy thinks is not the sole reason on which to base a vote. I will vote for Republicans, as I always do, because some know unborn babies are human beings who should not be murdered with the Democrats’ joyful zeal. Enemy perceptions are worth remembering, however, because if Americans elect Democrats believing them likely to defeat al Qaedaism, history suggests they will be wrong.
Peter Bergen isn’t. He agrees:
The French saying, often attributed to Talleyrand, that “this is worse than a crime, it’s a blunder,” could easily describe America’s invasion of Iraq. But for the United States to pull entirely out of that country right now, as is being demanded by a growing chorus of critics, would be to snatch an unqualified disaster from the jaws of an enormous blunder.
A total withdrawal from Iraq would play into the hands of the jihadist terrorists. As Osama bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, made clear shortly after 9/11 in his book “Knights Under the Prophet’s Banner,” Al Qaeda’s most important short-term strategic goal is to seize control of a state, or part of a state, somewhere in the Muslim world. “Confronting the enemies of Islam and launching jihad against them require a Muslim authority, established on a Muslim land,” he wrote. “Without achieving this goal our actions will mean nothing.” Such a jihadist state would be the ideal launching pad for future attacks on the West.
Another problem with a total American withdrawal is that it would fit all too neatly into Osama bin Laden’s master narrative about American foreign policy. His theme is that America is a paper tiger that cannot tolerate body bags coming home; to back it up, he cites President Ronald Reagan’s 1984 withdrawal of United States troops from Lebanon and President Bill Clinton’s decision nearly a decade later to pull troops from Somalia. A unilateral pullout from Iraq would only confirm this analysis of American weakness among his jihadist allies.
Bergen, naturally, stops short of endorsing Republicans in the upcoming elections. Effectively, though, one can’t argue that we should, to coin a phrase, stay the course in Iraq and simultaneously vote for Democrats.
UPDATE: Kevin Drum argues that we’re in a lose-lose situation where withdrawal is our least bad option. He has a point, although I still think it’s possible to salvage something worthwhile from the Iraq debacle. If/when that’s no longer possible, then he’s right.