Two points in President Bush’s speech yesterday caught my eye. First his reference to 10 thwarted al Qaeda plots in the war on terror, and second, his argument that Iraq has nothing to do with why American was attacked on 9/11.
Here’s what the President said:
"Overall, the United States and our partners have disrupted at least 10 serious al Qaeda terrorist plots since September 11, including three al Qaeda plots to attack inside the United States. We’ve stopped at least five more al Qaeda efforts to case targets in the United States or infiltrate operatives into our country. Because of the steady progress, the enemy is wounded, but the enemy is still capable of global operations."
Experts have already commented that this is a greater number than has been known about publicly. Given the ways of Washington, pressure will now come to get the administration to fill in the details, and in doing so, the White House will be victorious in proving "success."
I had earlier filed away a statement that former State Department and CIA counter-terrorism pooh-bah Cofer Black made at the International Association of Prosecutors conference in Washington on August 11. Black said that since 9/11, the United States and its allies have killed or detained more than 3,000 terrorists in more than 100 countries.
"I am able to report to you that more than one-half of al-Qaeda’s top leadership has been killed or captured," he said.
That’s it? Ten plots, 3,000 terrorists, more than one-half the leadership? I know these numbers are intended to convey that the war on terrorism has been a success. To me though, it just conveys how stuck the Bush administration is in a go-nowhere-fight-forever-kill-the-terrorists-one-at-a-time strategy.
Yesterday, the President also said:
"Some have also argued that extremism has been strengthened by the actions of our coalition in Iraq, claiming that our presence in that country has somehow caused or triggered the rage of radicals. I would remind them that we were not in Iraq on September the 11th, 2001 — and al Qaeda attacked us anyway. The hatred of the radicals existed before Iraq was an issue, and it will exist after Iraq is no longer an excuse."
This isn’t the first time that the President has said that nothing in American policy is at the source of terror. In fact, to credit any "reasoning" behind the 9/11 attacks is so much against the mainstream discourse in Washington, I know to rebut this is to stand at the precipice of a false argument (and a trap) that somehow "blames" America for the attacks of 9/11.
But let’s just deal with facts and the way that they are perceived in the Arab world. America (and it various partners) were in Iraq before 9/11. We virtually occupied Kuwait militarily and had a presence in much of the Gulf region, including the Islamic epicenter Saudi Arabia, as part of our decade-long containment and confrontation with Saddam Hussein. We operated CIA paramilitaries and special operations forces throughout the Kurdish zone (Iraqi territory), collecting intelligence, fomenting coups, supporting an insurgency against Baghdad. We were bombing Iraq regularly as part of our enforcement of the southern and northern no fly zones, and we were carrying out even larger bombing campaigns to support United Nations inspections or to exact unilateral retribution. We were doggedly maintaining sanctions until Iraq cried uncle.
So yes, "the hatred of the radicals" existed before Iraq was an issue, mister President, but Iraq was an issue.
Virtually every 9/11 hijacker, virtually every suicide bomber and insurgent in Iraq today grew up in a world where the stand-off in Iraq symbolized a war with the Arab world. Load on top of that a far more consequential concern about the plight of the Palestinian people, and mix in grievances about the bombings of Afghanistan and Sudan, the notions of occupations in Somalia and Kosovo, civilian casualties always framed as America’s fault, even the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.
The common theme is the impunity of America and the subjugation of the Arab and Islamic (and the powerless) to the western world.
And now in societies where half of the population is under the age of 15, it is not regime change and the grand democratic experiment in Iraq that resonates: it is fighting the omnipotent.
The White House and much of Washington continues to be stuck in a post 9/11 nightmare where I believe the groupthink imagines a monumental threat to the United States and western society that just doesn’t exist.
Yes, President Bush, extremism will exist after Iraq. It is made all the more potent and rewarding as we bumble about labeling it "evil" and ignoring what it feeds on.
We may fantasize about a great crusade we are embarked upon, but our greatest danger in the future is a tin ear we also have to Islam’s and al Qaeda’s equal fantasies. Their fantasies, and our actions, like it or not, drive the violence all around us.