Monday, February 19, 2007

Rhetoric and Reality in the Global War on Terror

If Iraq, as Bush says, is the “central front” of the “global war on terror,” at the moment it appears that Baghdad is the central front of the central front of the global war on terror. And according to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki – despite an alarming increase in successful attacks on U.S. helicopters around Baghdad – the early signs of Bush’s “surge” in Baghdad indicate a “dazzling success,” which by extension could imply that the larger war on terror is also a dazzling success.

Unfortunately, two days after al-Maliki’s statement, his appraisal of the situation was called into question when two car bombs tore through a crowded Baghdad market, killing at least 60 people. The brazenness of the attack and the apparent futility of Bush’s surge policy was underscored by the fact that “the attack occurred only minutes after American soldiers passed through the area on patrol,” as reported by the New York Times.

Pointing out that the attack followed a well-established pattern in Iraq, the Times also noted,

The attackers were probably Sunni Arab militants, American and Iraqi officials said, seeking to fuel the sectarian tensions that have torn Baghdad apart. They have responded to past security pushes in similar ways: with bursts of bombings and other attacks seemingly calculated to undermine efforts by the Americans and the Iraqi government to provide a sense of security and confidence for families here.

In other words, American attempts to establish security in Iraq are generally counterproductive in that the actual effects are the opposite of the U.S.’s stated objectives. Yet, the Bush administration pushes ahead with the same policies and tactics, seemingly expecting different results.

Beyond Iraq, there are further signs of the war on terror’s failures in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Not only have attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan been on the rise, but so too has al-Qaeda been reestablishing itself as a major force in Pakistan. As the New York Times reported today,

Senior leaders of Al Qaeda operating from Pakistan have re-established significant control over their once-battered worldwide terror network and over the past year have set up a band of training camps in the tribal regions near the Afghan border, according to American intelligence and counterterrorism officials.

American officials said there was mounting evidence that Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, had been steadily building an operations hub in the mountainous Pakistani tribal area of North Waziristan. Until recently, the Bush administration had described Mr. bin Laden and Mr. Zawahri as detached from their followers and cut off from operational control of Al Qaeda.

The United States has also identified several new Qaeda compounds in North Waziristan, including one that officials said might be training operatives for strikes against targets beyond Afghanistan.

This calls into question Bush’s insistence that since 9/11, al-Qaeda has been on the run and on the defensive. Instead, it looks like they’ve been regrouping, recruiting and reestablishing their influence. This assessment would fit in well with the official analysis of the most recent National Intelligence Estimate, which concluded that the Iraq invasion has worsened the global terrorist threat.

As the Times reported last September,

A stark assessment of terrorism trends by American intelligence agencies has found that the American invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the Sept. 11 attacks.

The classified National Intelligence Estimate attributes a more direct role to the Iraq war in fueling radicalism than that presented either in recent White House documents or in a report released Wednesday by the House Intelligence Committee, according to several officials in Washington involved in preparing the assessment or who have read the final document.

Of course, this spike in the terrorist threat was precisely what many predicted would be the result of invading Iraq when Bush started floating the idea in 2002. Many now make similar arguments regarding the prospect of war with Iran, but it seems that idea is moving forward as well. Apparently, the Bush administration is still expecting different results from the same policies of bluster and preemption.

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