Sunday, October 31, 2004

A state of failure

Daniel Benjamin discusses what is arguably the Bush administration's biggest foreign policy blunder, the failure to attack terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's camp in northern Iraq before invading Iraq. Other reports have accused the administration of refusing to attack al-Zarqawi before the war for fear of undermining their case against Iraq. Benjamin avoids that damning accusation and instead blames the adminstration's focus on states that aid terrorists, as opposed to the terrorist networks themselves:

It seems never to have occurred to President Bush and his advisers that in a globalized world, where borders are porous and technologies of massive destructiveness are available, hidden networks can be far more dangerous than a state, which can be threatened and contained. Yet that surely has been the lesson of the last three years. It is an added irony that the administration's inability to fully assimilate the threat from "non-state actors" is leading, thanks in part to Zarqawi, to the failure of its effort to reinvent Iraq as a stable democracy in the Middle East.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

CSIS is the "liberal" thinktank and, sometimes, deals with defense issues. No surprise, then, that an op-ed would suggest Bush should have attacked Ansar Al Islam before he invaded Iraq, or instead of invading Iraq, or whatever.

What goes unmentioned is the fact that this camp WAS IN IRAQ and that to attack it would have been cassus belli as far as the Baathist regime was concerned. One would have needed to attack in sufficient force to destroy the camp(s) AND seal off the escape routes from there. It would do nothing to the cells in Jordan and Baghdad.

If you're going to do that (basic requirement -- at least an airborne brigade, plus some indirect fire assets), then you might as well invade the whole damned country.

Of course, if you're gunning for Bush, you would say, 'It's the terrorists, stupid! Attack the terrorists.'

But that's harder than it appears. You can knock off the state sponsors of them (Afghanistan, Iraq), but the transnational nature of the enemy is such that you can't invade every country to root them out.

What Bush, correctly, realized was that the only option for the U.S. military (as opposed to all the other assets we have) is to remove the states likely to arm terrorists now or in the future with WMDs. It takes a state to develop those sorts of weapons with any great precision. You need labs, testing ranges, deployment systems, etc., for nuclear, biological or chemical weapons production.

10:26 AM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

The camp was in Kurdish-controlled Iraq, and the U.S. had bombed Iraq with virtual impunity throughout the 1990s. Somehow I don't think that was the reason the Bush team decided not to attack. You make a good argument, though one that I'm still not swayed by, for toppling Saddam. But the case for not dealing with a direct terrorist threat when we could have seems lacking.

11:15 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This has been one of the most malicious untruths of the war the various media have spread: That Ansar Al-Islam was in "Kurdish controlled" Iraq. They were killing Kurds. They were armed by Saddam Hussein, and entered the country through Iran and were funneled from there to Baghdad to the north.

The fact that Ansar was there to kill Kurds would imply the Kurds (the ones dying) were not in control, and could not gain control, of a mountain redoubt without heavy indirect fire weapons or air power, both of which they didn't have.

You like Slate. Well, Christopher Hitchens wrote a very persuasive article a week or so ago about what, exactly, Ansar was doing there, and why.

We can't pick and choose our Jihadist terrorist enemies based on Democratic talking points. While it is inconvenient for the Dems to deal with the fact that Al-Zarqawi received support and encouragement (and likely medical care) from the Baathist secret police, that doesn't mean it didn't happen.

Ansar was one of Al Qaeda's proxy groups. Zarqawi is committed to killing Americans (and did just that in Jordan and Iraq). He has tried to procure Ricin and other chemical agents for use against western targets. He is a fish that swims in the schools of transnational Wahabbee terrorism. I wish it were not so, but he does.

To "attack" and destroy his bases without attacking Iraq seems counterproductive. If you wanted to get Al Zarqawi, you had to get the Sunnis in Iraq who supported him AND cut off any possible conduit for WMDs from a state sponsor of terrorism.

That would be Iraq, pre-March, 2003. If you make one argument, you better make the second. Benjamin might not do so, but I will.

1:57 PM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

I'll concede that perhaps "northern Iraq" is a better term than Kurd-controlled. I'm tempted to ask whether he has really suffered with Saddam Hussein out of power, but I don't suspect we'll ever reach agreement on this issue, and besides, that's a question that we won't be able to answer probably for several years.

2:21 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just read a rather compelling psychological profile of Al Zarqawi I unfortunately can't share in detail. Suffice it to say, however, that there is some professional doubt about whether he's fully sane.

Not that his chosen career as a mass-murdering terrorist would be the only indication, but he seems more of a pathological killer than, say, Osama.

Osama Bin Laden, much like Saddam Hussein, kills to affect a political solution.

Al-Zarqawi kills to kill. He seems to take an almost sexual delight in personally beheading western and Turkish victims. Nice guy.

Not that I'm discounting the political discourse that's engendered by lopping off an infidel's skull or fire-bombing a Shiite mosque. Certainly these are powerful forms of political statement.

But Al-Zarqawi is closest thing in Iraq now to a sociopathic murderer. That he uses, and is in turn, used by Baathist intelligence figures now in the underground is scary enough.

Let's be glad, for the moment, that he's stuck to the flypaper of Iraq and can't break out of the Marine blockade around Fallujah.

And let's pray that he tries, soon.

7:03 PM


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