U.S. shortchanges the war on terror

Saddam Hussein is behind bars. Osama bin Laden is not. What’s wrong with this picture?

A lot of people in London and beyond may be asking that question. Lately, it’s been possible for those of us on this side of the ocean to almost forget that our greatest challenge is the global threat of Islamic terrorism. That’s because we’ve been preoccupied by the relentless violence and chaos in Iraq, where we are mired in a war we don’t know how to win.

Looking at our current predicament, you almost feel nostalgic for the days when all we had to worry about was how to stop al Qaeda from slaughtering more people on American soil – as if that weren’t hard enough.

The bombings in London are a gruesome but unmistakable reminder that the war on terror ought to be Priority 1, Priority 2 and Priority 3. But as long as we’re up to our necks in Iraq, terrorism will not get the attention and resources it demands.

We may be distracted by Iraq, but the terrorists are not. If anything, our messy occupation of a Muslim country works to the advantage of Islamic militants by inspiring new recruits every day.

Even in Iraq, the head of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency has said that despite all the insurgents we have killed, their numbers are growing. If our enemies are multiplying in Iraq, they are bound to be multiplying elsewhere, where the hazards they face are much less formidable.

President Bush pretends that the war there is part of the global war on terror. In fact, Iraq has reduced that problem to a secondary mission. And we’re finding that it’s hard to put out the fire in your house when your hand is trapped in the drain pipe.

In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, few Americans had any illusions about what lay ahead. Given the size, dispersion and viciousness of bin Laden’s organization, we all knew that defeating it would be a herculean

task.

But after those airplanes hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Americans didn’t shrink from taking it on. Why? For the same reason we declared war on Japan after Pearl Harbor: We had no choice.

The enemy had declared war. The security of the nation and the lives of all Americans were at stake. So the nation united behind President Bush’s decision to invade Afghanistan to root out the people behind the attacks.

We achieved some quick successes: toppling the Taliban, midwifing a new government in Afghanistan, capturing or killing hordes of al Qaeda fighters, and sending bin Laden into hiding. But it went almost too well.

The speed of the Taliban’s collapse gave the Bush administration the idea that with our military might, we could easily reshape the international landscape to our liking. Instead of keeping its eye on the ball in Afghanistan and other al Qaeda hotbeds, it let itself be distracted by Saddam Hussein – a minor-league nuisance who posed no significant threat to our safety and well-being.

For more than a decade following the first Gulf War, the United States and its allies had managed to contain him. But suddenly, that wasn’t good enough. President Bush decided to liberate Iraq from his rule – and in doing so, he blundered into a long and costly war that has stretched our military to the breaking point.

The war on Iraq was never vital to our security. The war on terror is. So why do we keep fighting the former at the expense of the latter?

To find out more about Steve Chapman, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.

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