Friday, December 29, 2006


While this site is busy trying to deconstruct the ill-advised "monolithic" approach to terrorism and regional conflict, Senator Lieberman is diligently adding brick and mortar to patch up the structure. Matt Yglesias observes the deft sleight of hand in Lieberman's opening paragraph by which he manages to link Iran and al-Qaeda in a seamless continuum:

While we are naturally focused on Iraq, a larger war is emerging. On one side are extremists and terrorists led and sponsored by Iran, on the other moderates and democrats supported by the United States. Iraq is the most deadly battlefield on which that conflict is being fought. How we end the struggle there will affect not only the region but the worldwide war against the extremists who attacked us on Sept. 11, 2001.

According to Lieberman's lede, there is "one side" of foes waging war against us in Iraq comprised of "extremists and terrorists led and sponsored by Iran." Yet the rest of the article discusses al-Qaeda's involvement in great length. Even the opening paragraph alludes to al-Qaeda by conjuring the specter of 9/11. Is al-Qaeda now supposed to be a group that takes its orders from Tehran?

At the very least, Lieberman does manage to actually treat al-Qaeda and Iran as separate entities throughout the rest of the op-ed (sort of), but he continues to suggest a unity of purpose and objectives that greatly distorts reality:

On this point, let there be no doubt: If Iraq descends into full-scale civil war, it will be a tremendous battlefield victory for al-Qaeda and Iran. [...]

Radical Islamist terrorist groups, both Sunni and Shiite, would reap victories simultaneously symbolic and tangible, as Iraq became a safe haven in which to train and strengthen their foot soldiers and Iran's terrorist agents.

Perhaps someone should remind Lieberman that al-Qaeda and Iran have substantially different goals (in Iraq and elsewhere), and that the long term designs of the two are in considerable tension. For one, Iran does not want Iraq to descend into a full scale civil war. That would jeopardize the considerable gains made by Iran in Iraq over the past four years, and risk pulling Iran into a regional war that will drain that nation of money, lives, prestige and influence. Why ruin a good thing?

On a more meta-level, I doubt very much that Iran would appreciate being subjugated by a Sunni Muslim revivalist Caliphate (as al-Qaeda envisions) that would demand conversion or death, nor that al-Qaeda welcomes the notion of a theocratic Shiite ascendancy gaining ground in Sunni lands (an extension of the "heretical" Shiite crescent).

Recall that al-Qaeda's adopted son in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was, after all, a dedicated anti-Shiite bigot - to the extent that he seemed to let his bloodlust for Shiite "kafir" surpass his anti-American focus, much to the dismay (at least initially) of al-Qaeda's senior leadership who preferred a less sectarian angle early on in the conflict. But hey, now Iran and al-Qaeda are BFF - or at least Lieberman and his ilk would have you believe.

Spencer Ackerman made the following observation when pondering this sentence from Lieberman's editorial:

Hezbollah and Hamas would be greatly strengthened against their moderate opponents.

Ah, the undifferentiated Islamist menace, spreading like a cancer, on the nefarious march.

As Michael Ledeen once said of treating the Mullah's in Iran the way we treated the Taliban, "Why not, they even look the same." And that's all that counts, right?

On a separate note: If strengthening Hezbollah, Hamas and other extremist groups vis-a-vis the moderates in the region is a valid concern (and it is in my opinion), then why did Lieberman support the invasion of Iraq which, as predicted,...greatly empowered Hezbollah, Hamas and other extremists while weakening the moderate factions in the region?

Matt has the answer:

Obviously, though, that's logic and hawks aren't into logic.

I forgot. Logic is for girlie men. 9/11 changed that.

[UPDATE: Publius at Legal Fiction chimes in with his own gripes. In particular, he mentions one aspect of Lieberman's sloppy analysis that I left untouched:

[Lieberman] inflates “al Qaeda” by essentially equating it with the Sunni insurgency.

Publius is right that Lieberman is wrong. If al-Qaeda's presence in Iraq were to disappear completely today, there would still be a robust Sunni insurgency. It is neither reliant on al-Qaeda, populated primarily by al-Qaeda, led by al-Qaeda nor aligned with al-Qaeda in terms of long term goals. But that type of accuracy in analysis doesn't make for good bogeymen. Also, it's logical.]

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