Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Terror and the war in Iraq

Jessica Stern, whose previous work I recently cited, weighs in at Salon with an important analysis of the Bush administration's "war on terror":
How the war in Iraq has damaged the war on terrorism

The false idea that the United States is engaged in a crusade against the Islamic world is a critical component of the Islamist nihilists' worldview, and spreading this idea is critical to their success. The unprovoked attack on Iraq, followed by an occupation that is widely perceived as inept and arbitrary, even by our British ally, has confirmed this view among potential sympathizers. Every time American troops shoot into a crowd, even in self-defense, the image of America as a reckless, ruthless oppressor is highlighted. Televised pictures of American soldiers and their tanks in Iraq are a "deeply humiliating scene to Muslims," explained Saudi dissident Saad al-Faqih, who calls the war in Iraq a "gift" to Osama bin Laden. Unsurprisingly, terrorist recruiters are using the war and the continuing occupation to mobilize recruits -- not only inside Iraq but outside as well. Intelligence officials in the United States, Europe and Africa have reported that the new recruits they are seeing since the war became imminent are younger, with a more menacing attitude.

... The war in Iraq has split the allies, not the terrorists. It has turned Iraq into a Mecca for international terrorists, and mobilized local Shiite and Salafi jihadist groups that had previously posed a minimal threat. It has facilitated connections between terrorists and those with formal military experience in Saddam's army, the lethal nightmare that the invasion was supposed to have thwarted. Antipathy toward the United States, not only in Iraq and throughout the entire Islamic world, but in Europe as well, has become a dangerous trend exploited by terrorists. Even as we tout our successes in rounding up al-Qaida terrorists, the broader movement inspired by bin Laden and ignited by the invasion of Iraq is recruiting new nihilist minions throughout the world. The war in Iraq has not only been a distraction from the war on terrorism; it has strengthened our enemies in ways that continue to surprise and horrify us. Where will we be surprised next?

If Stern is right, Ramadi is just the first of those surprises.

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