Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Iraq, 9/11, and the Bush Speech: Part 2

Click Here for Part 1

In my first post on this topic, I addressed the criticism directed at President Bush's references to the 9/11 attacks in his June 28th speech on the situation in Iraq. My point was that, as a sponsor of terrorism with ties to al Qaeda, Saddam Hussein's regime was a legitimate target of the War on Terrorism.

However, for the sake of argument, let's adopt the view of many Bush critics that invading Iraq had nothing to do with combating the jihadists. Does this mean that Bush was wrong to mention 9/11 in his speech? Absolutely not. If you look at the text of his remarks, it is clear that the president was referring to the struggle with the post-Saddam terrorist insurgency:

The troops here and across the world are fighting a global war on terror. The war reached our shores on September the 11th, 2001. The terrorists who attacked us -- and the terrorists we face -- murder in the name of a totalitarian ideology that hates freedom, rejects tolerance, and despises all dissent. Their aim is to remake the Middle East in their own grim image of tyranny and oppression -- by toppling governments, by driving us out of the region, and by exporting terror.

What does the Iraqi insurgency have to do with al Qaeda? Considering that the main terrorist organization in Iraq adopted the name al Qaeda in October 2004, and that its leader, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, swore allegiance to Osama bin Laden at the same time, I would think the connection is obvious. In a tape released on December 27th, Osama bin Laden reciprocated Zarqawi's show of loyalty:

"The warrior commander [and] honored comrade Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi and the groups who joined him are the best of the community that is fighting for the sake of the word of Allah. Their courageous operations against the Americans and against the apostate Allawi government have gladdened us…

"We in the Al-Qa'ida organization very much welcome their union with us. This is a tremendous step on the path to the unification of the efforts fighting for the establishment of a State of Truth and for the uprooting of the State of the Lie…

"Know that the warrior comrade Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi is the commander [Amir] of the Al-Qa'ida organization in the land of the Tigris and the Euphrates, and the comrades in the organization there must obey him."

Bin Laden's chosen "Emir" in Iraq, Zarqawi, is an experienced Jordanian terrorist who has been involved in planning and organizing attacks on Americans since before 9/11. As early as February 2003, Zarqawi was designated by al Qaeda's military commander, Saif al-Adel, to organize the terror network's counteroffensive in Iraq against the US invasion. There has been a steady flow of foreign jihadists into Iraq, primarily through Syria, since before the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Al Qaeda's commitment in Iraq has only grown since then, to the point where some analysts believe that the network is making its "last stand" in the country. In places such as Fallujah and western Anbar province where al Qaeda has gained control, they have imposed a barbarous system of totalitarian control rivaling that of the Taliban. In short, the evidence is overwhelming that in Iraq we are in direct confrontation with al Qaeda.

Many in this country may regard the Iraq campaign as a "distraction" from the War on Terror, but that is not a view shared by al Qaeda. It is clear that, bolstered by the belief that America is a decadent, cowardly nation unable to accept casualties, al Qaeda is convinced that it can drive the US from Iraq just as the Soviets were forced from Afghanistan. In retrospect, I believe the Bush Administration's underestimation of the jihadists' willingness and ability to confront us in Iraq to be one of its greatest mistakes.

Yet, al Qaeda's campaign in Iraq is motivated by far more than anger at our presence: there is above all the fear that we will succeed in building a democratic, pluralist system in that country that offers a model for the broader region. As Yussef al-Ayyeri, a Saudi al Qaeda leader killed in June 2003, wrote after the fall of Baghdad:

"IT is not the American war machine that should be of the utmost concern to Muslims. What threatens the future of Islam, in fact its very survival, is American democracy."

Journalist Amir Taheri summarizes al-Ayyeri's attitude as follows:

The goal of democracy, according to Al-Ayyeri, is to "make Muslims love this world, forget the next world and abandon jihad." If established in any Muslim country for a reasonably long time, democracy could lead to economic prosperity, which, in turn, would make Muslims "reluctant to die in martyrdom" in defense of their faith.

He says that it is vital to prevent any normalization and stabilization in Iraq. Muslim militants should make sure that the United States does not succeed in holding elections in Iraq and creating a democratic government. "If democracy comes to Iraq, the next target [for democratization] would be the whole of the Muslim world," Al-Ayyeri writes.

Denunciation of democracy as an "infidel" institution, and fear of its spread in the Muslim world, are consistent themes in radical Islamist thought. This is why al Qaeda is determined to prevent the creation of a democratic Iraq. So far, despite all their atrocities, they have failed. In the words of President Bush from last Tuesday:

The lesson of this experience is clear: The terrorists can kill the innocent, but they cannot stop the advance of freedom. The only way our enemies can succeed is if we forget the lessons of September the 11th, if we abandon the Iraqi people to men like Zarqawi, and if we yield the future of the Middle East to men like Bin Laden. For the sake of our nation's security, this will not happen on my watch.

Iraq is indeed the central front in the war between America and radical Islamism. In that country, we are directly engaged with both the network and the ideology that produced the 9/11 atrocities. The outcome of this struggle could well prove decisive. To quote al-Ayyeri:

"In Iraq today, there are only two sides," Al-Ayyeri asserts. "Here we have a clash of two visions of the world and the future of mankind. The side prepared to accept more sacrifices will win."

If we are not prepared to make the sacrifices necessary to defeat al Qaeda in Iraq, we will have to make even greater sacrifices to defeat them elsewhere.


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