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.

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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 and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. in the Washington Times. I don’t agree with him on the Iraq war but the guy is brilliant. Scheuer knows exactly what Islamists want to do as was shown in the Thai coup last month and the voting out of Aznar in Spain ushering in Zapatero. OTB weighs in as does Flopping Aces.

  2. But would a vote for democrats be a vote for “staying the course” in Iraq? I think not, but your mileage may vary.

  3. madmatt says:

    if the terrorists hate US freedoms and the rethug party is the one that works to deny our freedoms then wouldn’t voting democratic be the right thing to do. After all the US govts own reports say the war has driven people into the arms of al queada…making them bigger which would explain the 42 #2 alqueadians we have killed.

  4. legion says:

    Y’know, there _are_ more than two options. Fr’instance, if we really wanted to piss bin Laden off; I mean _really_ upset him we could, you know, maybe…

    ACTUALLY TRY TO KILL HIM!

    * What we’re doing in Iraq right now has exactly _zero_ with finding bin Laden, stopping AQ, or protecting America from terrorism.

    * Pulling our troops out of Iraq is _not_ the same as surrendering to terrorists.

    One of these days, people will begin to grasp these ideas…

  5. DaveD says:

    I have not read Mr. Sheuer’s book, Imperial Hubris. I have read his essay in the most recent issue of “The American Interest”. I thought it was a very even handed look at a part of the world about which Mr. Sheuer has more than a passing familiarity. Many of the paragraphs in that essay taken out of context would certainly not be helpful to Bush’s war strategy, but overall the essay concludes what Mr. Sheuer asserts above. I thought it was ann informative read.

  6. Maddmatt,

    Your a bit behind in the news cycle. The NYT leak of classified information purporting to say that the Iraq war increased AQ recruitment was put in context when the rest of the summary was released. Specifically, US being seen to lose would really increase AQ recruitment and the AQ being seen to lose in Iraq would really decrease AQ recruitment. Not the most brilliant of analysis (I think my sons middle school classmates could have figured that out), but at least it puts things in some context.

    legion,
    The war on terrorism is no more just about killing OBL than WWII was “just” about killing Hitler or Tojo. To follow your logic, FDR was a fool for going into Guadalcanal or North Africa because those don’t advance us in killing Tojo or Hitler.

    As to the other, if you can’t see the way AQ would use a US withdrawal from Iraq now as “a surrender by the US” then you might want to look at how OBL compared the US withdrawal of Somalia. Like Vietnam, we can “declare victory and go home”, but that doesn’t mean we really would win, that there wouldn’t be adverse effects in the region or that we didn’t really lose.

  7. Anderson says:

    Yes, leaving Iraq will be perceived as a victory by al-Qaeda.

    So will persisting in our current, failed strategy.

    So will increasing our military involvement & stamping out the militias.

    So will … anything else we do in Iraq.

    THAT’S WHY INVADING IRAQ WAS A STUPID IDEA. (Well, one reason among many.)

    So, rather than worrying what al-Qaeda says, let’s get out of Iraq … and go after Qaeda.

  8. legion says:

    The war on terrorism is no more just about killing OBL than WWII was “just” about killing Hitler or Tojo. To follow your logic, FDR was a fool for going into Guadalcanal or North Africa because those don’t advance us in killing Tojo or Hitler.

    I disagree. Attacking Guadalcanal & North Africa directly impacted the Axis war machine – forcing them to spread their resources defending widespread targets. Iraq, OTOH, has become (as many on the left predicted beforehand) a training and recruitment bonanza for terrorists, while the neglected Afghanistan has seen the re-emergence of the Taliban who origianlly enabled the actual attacks on us. I’d even be willing to grant, at least for the sake of argument, that invading Iraq _could have_ hurt AQ, _if_ it had been prosecuted competently, but we are very clearly (to my mind, anyway) where the military _cannot_ fix what’s broken over there.

    I’m not enough of a diplomat, economist, or area expert to offer a worthwhile suggestion of what _could_ help, but I hear we’ve still got a few of thoise on the payroll…

  9. anjin-san says:

    I have to admit I don’t have any bright ideas about how to deal with Iraq. What we are doing is not working, simply bailing is a bad idea.

    Bush has really and truly f___ed us.

    And Bin Laden remains at large…

    I keep thinking, if our future is really at stake in Iraq, as Bush says, why aren’t we fighting harder?

  10. Jumping at Shadows…

    JUMPING AT SHADOWS….James Joyner links today to a pair of critics who warn that withdrawing from Iraq would “play into the hands of the jihadist terrorists” (Peter Bergen) and cause al-Qaeda to “rejoice” (Michael Scheuer). That may be true. But…..

  11. Anderson says:

    although I still think it’s possible to salvage something worthwhile from the Iraq debacle

    How?

  12. Hal says:

    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.

    Define “something worthwhile” – something that’s actually possible. It’s rather easy to just say there’s something worthwhile to pull out of the whole Iraq affair without defining what that may be. Clearly, any original “something worthwhile” are gone – i.e. WMDs, an Iraqi democracy, etc.

    Pray tell, what is your criteria? If it’s only in retrospect, it’s useless.

  13. SteveD says:

    Scheuer writes:

    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

    I read his book and as I recall, his position is that the US needs to stop supporting Israel and corrrupt Arab regimes (and importing their oil)– OR launch a massive “fire-bombing of Japan” war of total domination. There is no middle ground, so here he is complaining that Dems would probably make a bad situation, really bad by “rigid maintenance of U.S. foreign policies”.

    At this point the consensus view of policy experts seems to be that the US is in a “lose-lose” position in Iraq. There’s no way forward; no way out. In addition, we know that the war was unnecessary. Iraq had no WMD and no “operational relationship” to Al Qaeda. The one conceivable benefit of the invasion, a stable modernizing Iraq, a difficult, risky proposition in any event, was made impossible by Bush incompetence.

    Bush has truly put the US at risk. Yet rather than call for new, credible, competent leadership, including Bush’s resignation, Republicans still rally around Bush. It’s startling really.

  14. Dem Campaign Dissuades Defeat of Jihadi…

    The same political party who fails to make it clear that “this is the enemy”, insists that you buy the Islamists propaganda starting points… James Joyner at Outside the Beltway posts: Prominent Iraq War Critics: Stay the Course…