Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The conservation law of terrorism

A zero-sum game for zero-sum minds

It seems that any fool can be a political columnist these days. Apparently the minimum requirement is the ability to craft a sequence of moderately intelligible sentences (or, in the case of Jonah Goldberg, not even that).

My negative thoughts about political pundits were inspired today by a worse than usual column by Ruben Navarrette. He's not a complete buffoon, but he does occasionally wander deep into the stupid zone. Get this:
What the Democrats really need to do is to sort through some of the major contradictions in their thinking. On the one hand, they agree with our intelligence agencies that the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq serves as a magnet for drawing terrorists from all over the world. And yet on the other, they're insisting we pull out the troops rather than leave them in Iraq to seek out and destroy the terrorists before those bad guys get another chance to kill Americans here at home, as we witnessed on Sept. 11, 2001. If the Democrats think that Iraq is a terrorist breeding ground now, just wait until we withdraw U.S. forces. Their whole strategy for dealing with this problem seems to be that if we leave these evildoers alone, they'll leave us alone.
Navarrette has exhumed the Iraq-as-terrorist-flypaper excuse for Bush's ill-fated Mesopotamian adventure. Baghdad, you see, is just like a bug-zapper for evil-doers. Why would we abandon a device that is inflicting such attrition on the ranks of anti-American terrorists? If we leave, will they not just follow us home?

It's true that terrorists have an incentive to remain in place in Iraq, whether they are homegrown or imported, because Bush has conveniently provided a shooting gallery that permits them to kill Americans at their convenience. (Thanks to the misbegotten escalation or “surge,” U.S. troop deaths now average more than three per day.) If our soldiers were expendable decoys, I guess we could congratulate Bush on keeping the terrorists so fully occupied—except that they're not. In addition to chewing up American forces in Iraq, terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda are resurgent, bin Laden's group now reportedly back to pre-9/11 strength. Iraq has been a distraction, not a remedy.

The incursion into Iraq has cost our country allies and shredded our international reputation. We attacked a country that didn't attack us—and which, we now know, had no credible capability to attack us, although the Bush administration pretended otherwise, even in the face of on-the-ground reports from UN weapons inspectors.

Worse, our Iraq adventure is swelling the ranks of our enemies. Navarrette referred to Iraq as a “terrorist breeding ground,” and he's right. How would you react if one of your friends or family members were among the “collateral damage” during a fire fight? If you were an Iraqi whose father, uncle, brother, son, or nephew was tortured, murdered, or raped (or all three) by American interrogators at Abu Graib, what would your attitude be toward the United States forces? Would you say, “Well, at least the Americans rescued us from the despotism of Saddam”? I bet you wouldn't. I bet you'd be thoroughly radicalized and eager to strike back. You'd be ready when the al-Qaeda or Sadrist recruiter comes knocking.

In a zero-sum game, everything you win is a loss to your opponent, and everything you lose is a gain for your opponent. Terrorism is not a zero-sum game. By not concentrating on those who actually attacked us (Note to Fox News viewers: bin Laden and the bulk of 9/11 terrorists are Saudis, not Iraqis; no Iraqis were among the 9/11 hijackers), we have spawned a bumper crop of new America-haters, playing into the hands of those who wanted to destroy us in the first place.

Now that Bush and his gang of incompetents have so royally screwed the pooch, are we nevertheless stuck with their misbegotten policy? Is it so terrible if we exit Iraq with all deliberate speed? Wouldn't Iraq devolve into chaos and come under the sway of the Shi'ite theocracy in neighboring Iran? Well, it's already in chaos. Iraq is already the scene of sectarian conflict—a robust civil war. The government we helped put in place is already a Shi'ite coalition with minority Sunni participation. The Shi'ite prime minister said that Iraqi forces were ready to assume responsibility if American forces were to withdraw. So let's get out of there!

If we redeploy a significant portion of our Iraq expeditionary forces to Afghanistan, we can tamp down the Taliban resurgence and once again undermine an important al-Qaeda base (assuming we still care about that; it appears that Bush does not). The violence in Iraq would undoubtedly continue in our absence, but we would no longer be a focus of it. In particular, the various Iraqi factions would deal with each other and not with Americans. If the country ends up in Iran's political orbit, it's no more than was to be expected once we decapitated the secular Sunni Saddam Hussein regime and unleashed the religious Shi'ite minority. We broke it, but we can't really fix it.

We can stop, however, feeding our soldiers into the meat grinder.

As for Navarrette's charge that Democrats naively believe in a starry-eyed live-and-let-live policy (“Their whole strategy for dealing with this problem seems to be that if we leave these evildoers alone, they'll leave us alone.”), would it be rude to point out that it is Democrats who want to increase security at our shipping ports? It's Democrats who want to bring our National Guard home to deal with domestic disasters whose tolls have been exacerbated because personnel and materiel have been shipped off to Iraq. It is deeply insulting when policies advanced by experienced military experts like Rep. John Murtha are casually dismissed as ignoring the problem. It is the Bush White House that has just about cornered the market on ignorance, deliberate or otherwise.

Increased security and reduced military adventurism. That's a rational policy, which is why the Bush administration and its thoughtless apologists can't support it.


Anonymous said...

This still bugs me. 9/11/2001, Pentagon. Where is the Boeing 757-sized hole? In fact, where is the Boeing 757? -

Jeff M. said...

There is a reason pro-war conservatives can make naive arguments like this one. The reason is it is not politically feasible for anti-war moderates to speak the truth about Iraq. They cannot say that we were better off with Saddam in power. They cannot say that democracy in the middle east is bad for the US insofar as we want to support Israel and enjoy abundant and cheap fossil fuel. They cannot say that the threat of terrorism is now a permanent fixture in our lives and no amount of ass-kicking overseas will change that. They cannot say that our failed occupation in Iraq will in all probability have terrible consequences down the line (for both us and the Iraqis), but the idea that by just staying over there we will someday achieve "victory" is merely wishful thinking.

Zeno said...

If you're serious about wanting a good answer to your question, anonymous, check out the detailed article at I guess some conspiracy theorists won't be happy unless someone can show them a cartoon-type hole in the side of the Pentagon that is a silhouette of the airplane. Cartoon physics, however, is not the same as real world physics.

Zeno said...

jeff m: I wish I thought you were wrong, but I don't think you are.

Mr. Lucchese said...

Right there with you, Zeno. Part of the reason I tune in to your blog is just to see the countdown to inauguration.

eProf2 said...

Jeff M, by not saying some or all of these things all we're doing, then, is denying the truth of the matter and not letting the rest of the American people in on so many of the consequences of ShrubCo's follies. It might be tough to say those things but sometimes you just have to say them and tell yourself "sometimes you just have to say, 'what the f**k!'" Unfortunately, you won't get elected to any kind of office, but you can have peace of mind in knowing that you tried to set the record straight.