Iraq war distracts us from terrorism fight
In its final report, the 9/11 Commission reached an obvious conclusion that explains how terrorists were able to kill nearly 3,000 Americans: "Terrorism was not the overriding national security concern for the U.S. government under either the Clinton or the pre-9/11 Bush administration."
And guess what: It still isn't.
In the aftermath of the worst terrorist attacks in our history, the president did the right thing – going after al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan, who helped plan and finance the hijackings, and the Taliban government, which furnished them a safe haven. But even though that effort fell short in many ways, like failing to eliminate Osama bin Laden, the administration soon lost interest in Afghanistan.
Instead of keeping its focus on al-Qaeda, which had come after Americans on U.S. soil, the administration allowed itself to be distracted by Iraq, which had not. Terrorism has not been at the center of our foreign and military policy for the past two years: Iraq has. Everything else has been subordinated to this unexpectedly demanding mission.
Though Bush portrays the toppling of Saddam Hussein as a crucial part of the global war on terrorism, it wasn't. That's easy to forget, since we're now fighting a war in Iraq against enemies who use terrorist methods. But the terrorists we're fighting in Iraq are almost all people who were not terrorists before we invaded. They're the offspring of our invasion.
Hussein, by contrast, wasn't working with bin Laden or anyone else who posed a genuine threat to Americans. Iraq was not in any meaningful sense a refuge for al-Qaeda, a supporter of al-Qaeda, or a partner with al-Qaeda. Hussein may have posed a long-term danger to U.S. interests, but he was not a terrorist threat to us, and toppling him did nothing to defeat the people behind Sept. 11.
It did, however, divert us from doing what we need to do to defeat them. To invade Iraq, the Pentagon had to shift forces and equipment from Afghanistan to Iraq, which has soaked up more of our resources than the administration ever imagined.
What's the result? "If you take the number of terrorist and insurgent attacks and the number of people that have been killed, they've increased almost every quarter since the fall of the Taliban," says Jones, who recently returned from Afghanistan.
Many of the same people who brought about the Sept. 11 attacks are still at large and hoping to strike again. If they succeed, it will be at least partly because they didn't get our full attention.
E-mail Steve Chapman through the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.