Darren Kaplan has an excellent post on how so many people are missing the point of the Iraq campaign in the Global War on Terror, referred to on MO as the Fourth World War.
Of course, Bush didn’t attack Iraq merely because it was a rogue and failed state which may have been cooperating with al Qaeda (though that was a legitimate fear). Rather, Bush attacked Iraq in order to attempt to bring a functioning democracy to the Arab world. It is precisely because of the fact that the global jihadist movement (which includes al Qaeda) is a “transnational network of terrorists . . . with multiple independent franchises” which “thrives on an Islamist ideology” that you have to offer up an alternative ideology that will empower the Arab world and point the way to forming a successful Arab society.
I’ve actually got a letter to the editor of my local newspaper on this exact subject, and I received a call to verify that I sent it. If it sees print, I’ll post it here. In the meantime, go check Kaplan’s post.
For the record, I DO think that the Iraqi campaign drew forces from the al Qaeda hunt. Remember when, after Saddam was bagged, Task Force 121 moved from Iraq to Afghanistan? That means that resources that might have been used against Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda were instead used in Iraq. Fair enough.
However, I believe that it was worth it. Establishing a democracy-based government in Iraq is a direct attack on the root causes of international terrorism. Of course we cannot stamp out every single last terrorist, and of course our actions will drive some to hate or even attack the United States. But in the long run, if the masses of Islam see that they can live better lives peacefully than they can at war, they will choose to do so, and they will stop supporting the fringe groups that promote hatred and violence. The attack on al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan was a short-term fix to an immediate threat. The attack on Baathist Iraq was a medium-term fix to a potential threat. The reconstruction of Iraq is the first step of a long-term fix to the frame of mind that makes the threats likely.
And, while everyone’s attention was on Iraq and everyone was screaming about how we weren’t focusing on the real problem, a lot of folks missed a lot of what’s been going on across the globe. In places like Indonesia and Africa. So the attention pulled from the al Qaeda front by the Iraq campaign may have some payoffs anyway.
I expect, though, that if/when a lot of what’s been going on outside of Iraq begins to come to light, the same people crying that we’re to obsessed with Iraq to fight al Qaeda are going to be crying that we doing too much in Africa.
There’s no pleasing some people. You know who they are.