The White House has been shining a particularly bright spotlight on al-Qaeda in Iraq.
The theme took center stage yesterday in President Bush’s speech at the Charleston Air Force Base.
Some say that Iraq is not part of the broader war on terror. They complain when I say that the al Qaeda terrorists we face in Iraq are part of the same enemy that attacked us on September the 11th, 2001. They claim that the organization called al Qaeda in Iraq is an Iraqi phenomenon, that it’s independent of Osama bin Laden and that it’s not interested in attacking America….
Foreign terrorists also account for most of the suicide bombings in Iraq. Our military estimates that between 80 and 90 percent of suicide attacks in Iraq are carried out by foreign-born al Qaida terrorists….
True. And 100% of all smokers die.
But only a small fraction of US casualties in Iraq are caused by al-Qaeda suicide attacks.
Democrats in the Senate appeared eager to respond to the President’s sweet little lie.
Here is John Kerry on Bush’s speech:
[A]l-Qaeda is not the principal killer of American forces in Iraq. Those forces are dying because of IEDS, because of insurgents….
But Kerry never came close to criticizing Bush for retreating from the initial US war against the Sunni Arab nationalist insurgency. Neither did Kerry commend Bush for that dramatic retreat.
Instead, Kerry pretends nothing about Bush administration policy in Iraq has changed.
So I think that for all of us, today was a continuation of more of the same.
Kerry offered a misleading critique that alleged Bush was “staying the course” when the reality is that Bush has flip-flopped quite dramatically.
Kerry suggests that all the al-Qaeda chatter is intended to buttress the case for staying the course.
The President is trying to scare the American people into believing that al-Qaeda is the rationale for continuing the war in Iraq.
It seems far more likely, as I suggested in a recent post, that the al-Qaeda chatter functioned as a face-saving measure to mask his extraordinary retreat.
Behind all the talk of al-Qaeda is hidden an apology: we are waving the white flag in our battle against the nationalist Sunni insurgency. We were wrong to target them as an enemy. We are sorry. The Baathists are our allies, just Dad said at the end of Operation Desert Storm.
This is a complete reversal. No more “stay the course.”
In order to save face, however, Bush will not declare defeat at the hands of the Sunni Arab nationalist insurgency. Instead, the new emphasis on al-Qaeda in Iraq serves as the basis for a bait and switch: we have a new (smaller) enemy in Iraq. Not the former regime of Saddam Hussein but al-Qaeda. And, thankfully, the Sunni Arab “former regime elements” are prepared to be our allies in the fight against Osama’s Iraqi friends.
It is Bush’s casual, everyman, down-home way of saying that all those US soldiers who died fighting against the ex-Baathist Sunni insurgency died in vane. Oops. Sorry.
But, that said, we must now finish this war with a fight against al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Meanwhile, Kerry has no substantive critique because Bush appears to have already–implicitly–conceded failure in the battle against the Sunni Arab nationalist insurgency. Both Kerry and Bush appear now to be focused on a narrowed, common rationale: chase al-Qaeda.
The President is putting forward a false rationale to the American people for the continuation of this war. The fact remains, unchanged, that the only way the Iraqis are going to stand up is if we make clear to them that we are going to be withdrawing our troops over a period of time — with the exception of those necessary to chase al-Qaeda, those necessary to complete the training, and those necessary to protect American forces. That is the real rationale for which we ought to be staying, not because of al-Qaeda.
And yet… all of this assumes that Bush has decided to embrace the old Right Arabist vision of Sunni Arab political dominance in Iraq.
I have argued that there is no Decider. So I’m skeptical that the famously factionalized Bush administration is now pulling in the same direction.
Here are some reasons for skepticism regarding the idea that the White House has now embraced a new, “decisive” policy in Iraq.
First, Bush has thus far resisted considerable pressure to dump the Shiite-led Maliki government.
Indeed, a July 25, 2007 New York Times article by Jim Rutenberg and Alissa J. Rubin highlights the intensity of Bush’s investment in the Maliki government.
Second, the US continues to flirt with some kind of pro-Shiite tilt that would include a strategic alliance with Iran. Juan Cole picks up on a line from the Daily Telegraph coverage of Ryan Crocker’s meeting with the Iranians and correctly notes that this would run enrage the Saudis, if not the entire Arab League. Here is Cole:
[I]n my view the money graf in this Telegraph report is this one:
“The two countries did agree to form a security committee, with Iraq, to focus on containing Sunni insurgents. The committee would concentrate on the threat from groups such as al-Qa’eda in Iraq, officials said, but not those[Shiite] militia groups the US accuses Iran of funding and training.”
If the US is allying with Iran against the Sunni insurgents and al-Qaeda, this is a very major development… (My guess is that 98% of American troops killed in Iraq have been killed by Sunni Arab guerrillas). If the report is true and has legs, it will send Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal ballistic. The Sunni Arab states do not like “al-Qaeda” in Iraq, but they are much more afraid of Iran than of the Iraqi Sunni Arabs who are fighting against US military occupation.
Third, one might expect more howls of protest from the “last of the Right Zionists” if the administration was really, truly, and decisively betraying the idea of Shiite political dominance in Iraq.
Of course, there have been some howls of protest about the so-called “Anbar Model” from Iraqi Shiites close to the Maliki government.
Nor, to my knowledge, has Cheney–who retains the services of his pivotal Right Zionist “strategist,” David Wurmser–been publicly touting the “Anbar Model.” Maybe I missed it.
But there have been recent reports of ongoing factionalism in the administration–primarily in relation to Iran policy–and I sincerely doubt that we have heard the last of factionalism regarding the future of Iraq.
I’ll believe it when Wurmser resigns or is fired and/or when Ajami and Gerecht cry foul or concede defeat.
Until then, I expect more muddle.