The New Al Qaeda: More Dangerous than the Old Version
Say good-bye to the old al Qaeda and hello to a new, more dangerous version created by President George W. Bush. The recent suicide bombings by Iraqis in Amman, Jordan are ominous because they provide hard evidence (confirmed by U.S. intelligence analysis) that the war in Iraq—far from pinning terrorists down within that country’s borders, as the president alleges—is incubating combat-hardened jihadists for export to other countries. As many opponents of the Iraq war predicted beforehand, a non-Islamic nation’s invasion of another Muslim country has spawned the same radical Islamic terrorism that occurred after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in the 1980s and Russia invaded Chechnya in the 1990s.
The former invasion ultimately led to the rise of Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda’s leader and once dominant force. After 9/11, the United States made considerable progress in eliminating al Qaeda’s safe haven and training infrastructure in Afghanistan and isolating bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, his deputy, from their forces in the field. Yet the U.S. invasion of Iraq allowed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a previously independent actor who didn’t care that much about the United States, to grab the spotlight by joining al Qaeda and becoming the face of the Iraqi insurgency against the U.S. occupation. Zarqawi and his “al Qaeda in Iraq” organization make the treacherous bin Laden and Zawahiri look like choirboys. Zarqawi’s trademarks are the brutal videotaped beheadings and the wanton slaughter of Muslim innocents, as well as the foreign occupiers and their Iraqi allies.
Zarqawi is so ruthless that Zawahiri sent him a letter asking him nicely to tone it down a bit. We know things are bad when the al Qaeda leadership seems temperate in comparison. Yet, Zarqawi has ignored pleas from al Qaeda’s leadership for moderation, and the bombings by his Iraqi minions in Jordan seem to indicate that he is now expanding his attacks outside Iraq. With bin Laden and Zawahiri in hiding, Zarqawi is emerging as al Qaeda’s most effective and prominent force. With the Iraq war providing a new training ground for waves of new Islamist terrorists and Zarqawi’s apparent willingness to begin striking American targets outside Iraq, it is time to worry about a resurgence of a more potent al Qaeda worldwide. This development could nullify many of the gains that were made against the organization in the aftermath of 9/11.
President Bush and his administration clearly used the public’s post-September 11 fear and manipulated intelligence to sell an unrelated vendetta against Saddam Hussein at the expense of delivering a knockout punch to al Qaeda while it was on the ropes. Even worse, that sideshow has allowed al Qaeda to rise again—this time with an even more ruthless protagonist in the vanguard.
The president, in a partisan Veteran’s Day speech, however, lashed out at Democratic congressional critics of the war, alleging that they had seen the same intelligence as his administration and that they also had believed prior to the invasion that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Although the Democrats do have partisan motives for criticizing the administration’s manipulation of intelligence, the administration’s claim is preposterous. The executive branch intelligence agencies dwarf the congressional staff and are responsible for collecting, analyzing, debating and disseminating the intelligence. Members of Congress and their staff do not see all of the intelligence, especially the raw inputs into the process. In addition, the imperial presidency has a much grander bully pulpit from which to twist and embellish facts about a war than do members of Congress.
Yet even some hawkish Democrats, such as Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), dismiss other Democrats’ concerns about being sold a bill of goods before the war by the “massaging” of intelligence. Lieberman asserted, “Those aren’t irrelevant questions. But the more they dominate the public debate, the harder it is to sustain public support for the war.” Perhaps public support for a dishonest war that has cost many lives (both U.S. and Iraqi) and hundreds of billions of dollars (and still counting), and has made the terrorism threat worse should not be sustained. To Lieberman and his ilk, both Democratic and Republican, sustaining a small counterinsurgency on the other side of the world is more important than answering a question that goes to the core of our constitutional system of checks and balances: Did the president deceive the Congress and the country into the most solemn decision a republic can make? It seems that he did, and in doing so, revived a terrorist monster to boot.
Ivan Eland is a Fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. He is also a Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute, and author of the books The Empire Has No Clothes and Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy.
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