Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Breeding Terrorists

The opponents of the Iraq effort often contend that we've turned Iraq into a "breeding ground for terrorists."

That phrase often crops up nowadays, for instance in this Washington Post story. But I think it's used incorrectly there.

Iraq has replaced Afghanistan as the training ground for the next generation of "professionalized" terrorists, according to a report released yesterday by the National Intelligence Council, the CIA director's think tank.

The report says nothing about breeding terrorists; it talks about training them. If anything, it says Iraq is an incubation chamber.

[Footnote to the "Chimpler never talked about democracy" crew; the article also contains this paragraph: Bush described the war in Iraq as a means to promote democracy in the Middle East. "A free Iraq can be a source of hope for all the Middle East," he said one month before the invasion. "Instead of threatening its neighbors and harboring terrorists, Iraq can be an example of progress and prosperity in a region that needs both."]

Yet this connection of the current Iraq situation and fresh waves of furious Islamist terrorists targeting America has taken deep root. Anti-war blogs like this one, looking at the same CIA report in the WaPo article, claim, "an independent think tank reporting to the CIA concluded in a 119-page report that the Iraq war has created more terrorists."

But that's not the report's topic. The report is talking about Iraq as a training ground for terrorists, not as a rallying cry against the West.

The "connection" is as clear, and unproven, in the minds of the anti-war faction as the Saddam-al-Qaida connection seems to be in the mind of Dick Cheney. The Angry Democrat wrote, "Quite a few people had been saying that a war with Iraq would only pour fuel onto the fire that is Radical Islam. Many said that it would create more enemies than it eliminated."

Unproven because basically unprovable. Even if you round up a bunch of terrorists today and ask them what drove them to it, and they answer to a man, "Iraq," you can't rewind the tape of history and replay it with no U.S. attack on Saddam and discover whether those same men wouldn't have otherwise ended up in the same place.

In fact the same anti-war left that insists Iraq is breeding new terrorists not long ago was telling us that the sole reason for terrorists killing Americans was U.S. support of Israel, U.S. support of oppressive regimes in the Arab world, and U.S. troops stationed in the Middle East. (I agree that those are important reasons, but not the sole reasons).

And all those were pre-existing conditions before the first U.S. troop carriers rumbled across the border toward Baghdad. In fact, the 2003 invasion removed some of the supposed aggravations: one less oppressive Western-backed regime in the Middle East, and U.S. troops vacated Saudi Arabia, the holy land of Islam.

That doesn't seem to make a bit of difference, however, to either the terrorists or the anti-war left. Which doesn't surprise me, but it does seem to confound the "breeding ground for terrorists" argument. The experience of Kashmir and Afghanistan in the 1980s, Chechnya and Bosnia in the 1990s, shows that there is a pool of young, rootless men in the Muslim world whose greatest hope and adventure is to seek out war zones on the fringe of Muslim civilization and join the battle against the "infidels." Demographics and Samuel Huntington could explain that better than I can.

Now they are flocking to Iraq, it seems. But that doesn't mean they're enraged by the occupation in a degree they wouldn't otherwise be. It just means Iraq is the chosen field to confront the infidels. Hell, it's a jihadi's shooting gallery wonderland: Shi'ites, American soldiers, infidel contractors. In that sense, the "better to fight them there than here" argument is sound, logically, even if it is deplorable, morally.

Is there any way in which the Iraq occupation is directly contributing to the number of Islamist terrorists in the world? Almost certainly. Every time the coalition, in the course of its messy operations, kills a civilian, it potentially makes revenge-driven terrorists of that dead person's loved ones. That is the purpose of the "insurgents" and one reason they operate as they do, disguised among the civilian population. It's revolting, but it's a fact, and they do it because it works.

Yet I can't manage to blame us for that as much as I blame them. That the killers treat the innocents as expendable hostages is, to me, all the more reason to root them out.

It's no doubt true, too, that the media images of Al-Jazeera and other Arab media present the ugliest face of every American individual and policy. And this, too, is likely to push some people over the edge. But, again, I can't manage to place the primary blame for that on us. If my neighbor slanders me, I am not the one who ought to apologize.