Thomas Oliphant in a column in the Boston Globe,Understanding the real costs of Iraq war takes the position that the Iraq war was a diversion from the real job of fighting the war on terror.
I have read many such columns by various authors and try as I might, I just cannot follow the reasoning.
[T]he issue of Iraq is central to a substantive understanding of Clarke’s criticism of Bush’s war on terror that followed the 9/11 assaults. I know it is more fun to play the politics of all this, but the fact that the country’s security is involved, and this influences the tone of the public discussions.
After deciding that although it would be fun to play politics with Clarke’s testimony, it would not serve the country well. He proceeds to play politics with the testimony.
And I’m supposed to taking him seriously?
According to experts in and out of government, the reason is that Al Qaeda and terrorism have changed, and we have not kept up with the changes. The most dramatic evidence was the hideous attacks on the Madrid commuter train this month — showing the ability of terrorists with roots outside Spain to plan, finance, and carry out an attack on a vulnerable target that was timed virtually on the eve of national elections for maximum impact.
Just what is it that we were supposed to do that could not be done because of Iraq?
From what I understand, the Madrid bombings were carried out primarily by Moroccans. Although they are loosely affiliated with al-Qaida, they are an autonomous group that performed the act with minimal contact with al-Qaida leadership.
What action could have been taken by the Bush administration that would have allowed them to prevent this attack?
His second point is that the decision to invade Iraq and the way we did it diverted resources and top-level attention from the struggle with terrorism. The famous example is the elite Special Forces unit, complete with Arabic speakers and other highly specialized people, that was taken out of Afghanistan in 2002 and given new missions in Iraq; it has only just recently been transferred back to Afghanistan. That is the tip of a much larger iceberg.
So am I to understand that the transfer of an SF unit (how big a unit? A Team, several teams, a company?) out of Afghanistan enabled al-Qaida to plan the bombing in Spain?
And how exactly were these units whose presence in Iraq so inflames the Arab street, to take any action against al-Qaida, without causing the same rage?
As the recent, shocking Pew Center survey of public opinion in Arab countries showed, support for terrorism is overwhelming, even in countries nominally allied with US policies, such as Tunisia and Morocco. The enormous opportunity that existed 30 months ago because of the widespread revulsion at the attacks in New York and here to undermine terrorism’s appeal has been largely lost. Instead the appeal has been inflamed.
I seem to remember news stories of great celebrations throughout the Muslim world after 9/11. The supposed sympathy for us following 9/11 proved to be lip service. The sympathy disappeared as soon as we started to take action. There was an outcry against the U.S. as soon as we went into Afghanistan. Europeans played it cagier, invoking the NATO charter and interpreting it to mean that they had some kind of veto power over our actions. France was especially conflicted and although they sent a smattering of troops, decided that they would pick and choose which missions they would take. Not exactly support.
The point is that if al-Qaida has “morphed” into something different, we have to fight that. The troops used in Iraq are not the same type of troops used in Afghanistan. And if the terrorists have moved to small cells in different countries, what good is the 1st Marine Division for combating that? How would using even covert forces to round up terrorists spread throughout the Middle East not piss off the Arabs?
Mr. Oliphant ought to know that an M4 is out of place in the kitchen and a chef’s knife is useless in a fire fight. Quit comparing apples and oranges, and quit using 9/11 to play politics.