Thursday, July 01, 2004

Now And Then

On the June 28th episode of the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, there was an in depth (it is PBS after all) discussion of the prospects for Iraq going forward in light of the expedited transfer of power (or perhaps more accurately, transfer of limited sovereignty). One of the participants, Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security advisor to President Carter and now a counselor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, described a very disturbing, and potentially disastrous, trend:

I rather fear that there is a kind of a fusion developing between Iraqi nationalism and fundamentalism and that it is occurring in a context in the region as a whole, which is becoming more and more anti-American.

This is why I'm rather fearful that our policy, alas, has been setting the region on fire.

This observation has been interpreted differently by some in the pro-war camp, such as Tony Parkinson, editor and columnist for the Australian newspaper The Age:

For those still struggling to understand and accept the links between Saddam's regime and the wider war on terrorism, the dynamics of the insurrection in Iraq offer a wealth of direct evidence. Hardline loyalists of the old regime have converged seamlessly with foreign jihadists, and are now working hand-in-glove to abort Iraq's renaissance.

Parkinson is using the fact that there are now foreign radical elements in Iraq fusing with Baathists, as Brzezinski noted, to argue that therefore the invasion of Iraq was justified on the grounds that Saddam's regime, and Iraq in general, was in some way linked to terrorism.

This argument would have more merit if it didn't confirm one of the strongest anti-war arguments: that the invasion would induce the entry of al-qaeda and other radical fundamental jihadists into Iraq, and also that it would radicalize ordinary Iraqis and make them prone to enlisting in jihadists causes, and that this would be a particular strategic blunder since pre-invasion Iraq was relatively devoid of extreme jihadists, and Iraqi participation and membership in terrorist groups was almost non-existent.

There was almost a unanimity of opinion, even among the pro-war camp, that post-invasion Iraq would provide a most attractive destination for foreign jihadists. That does not mean, however, that Saddam was in league with them before the invasion. These foreign elements are motivated by the desire to confront the U.S. military, not to defend Saddam. To put it differently, foreign jihadists would have been drawn to any invasion of a Muslim country by U.S. forces, and it is likely that pro-government forces in that country would work with the jihadists to repel the invader. This would not, however, prove that the jihadists and the government under siege were previously in cahoots.

Furthermore, recent history does not support the conclusion that ordinary Iraqi civilians were sympathetic to, and affiliated with, radical jihadists before the invasion. After all, none of the 19 hijackers were Iraqi. None of the detainees at Guantanamo are Iraqi. No senior, or otherwise identifiable, members of al-qaeda are Iraqi. Iraqis are not known to travel abroad to engage in jihads in Chechnya, Afghanistan, Somalia, etc. On the contrary, these jihadists tend to come from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Algeria, Sudan, Somalia, Pakistan, Indonesia, Yemen, Kuwait, Iran, etc. Basically every Muslim country except Iraq.

But apparently, the times they are a changing. As Brzezinski stated, the activity by these radical elements "is occurring in a context in the region as a whole, which is becoming more and more anti-American.

This is why I'm rather fearful that our policy, alas, has been setting the region on fire."

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