According to a National Intelligence Estimate composed last February but released just this week by the Bush administration, “The Iraq conflict has become the ‘cause celebre’ for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement.” Because of the war, “new jihadist networks and cells, with anti-American agendas, are increasingly likely to emerge.” On the other hand, the report finds that if the “jihadists leaving Iraq perceive themselves, and [are] perceived, to have failed . . . fewer fighters will be inspired to carry on the fight.”
None of this is conclusive, or even news, but the NIE’s suggestion that the war in Iraq has become a recruitment tool for Islamic terrorists was immediately seized upon by Democrats to argue, yet again, that President Bush’s decision to oust the regime of Saddam Hussein was a tactical blunder and that the effort to establish a liberal democracy in its stead has turned into an unmitigated fiasco.
The judgment of history on Bush’s Iraq strategy is still decades away. Remember, Ronald Reagan’s decision to aid the mujahedeen of Afghanistan in their fight against the Russians during the 1980s looked pretty smart after the collapse of the Soviet Union . . . except the mujahedeen mutated into the Taliban, re-focused their hatred on America, trained a generation of terrorists and sheltered Osama bin Laden in the months leading up to September 11, 2001.
That decision doesn’t seem quite so smart nowadays.
Nevertheless, to argue that the war in Iraq was ill-conceived because it might serve as a recruitment tool for al Qaeda is absurd. If America hadn’t invaded Iraq, the United Nations would presumably still be enforcing sanctions against Saddam’s regime — sanctions which were killing thousands of Iraqi children each month and which were specifically cited by Osama in 2002 as a justification for the 9/11 attacks. In other words, the situation in Iraq before the war was viewed by al Qaeda as a rationale for violence against America.
Then again, America’s support for Israel was also cited by Osama to justify his terrorist jihad. Should we therefore end that support? What about our tolerance of, in Osama’s words, “immoral acts of fornication, homosexuality, intoxicants, gambling’s [sic], and trading with interest”? If our “immorality” is being utilized by al Qaeda to recruit terrorists, should we therefore crack down on Snoop Dogg, Will and Grace, Budweiser, Las Vegas, and Citibank? And what of our stubborn refusal to convert to Islam — in Osama’s eyes, perhaps the greatest provocation of all? Should we therefore renounce our Judeo-Christian heritage, abandon the separation of church and state and adopt sharia law to escape the wrath of al Qaeda?
If America is ever to triumph in its war against Islamic terrorism, we must get past the idea that we are its root cause. Specifically, we must get past the idea that a suicide bomber is just a peace-loving Muslim who, if we hadn’t set him off, would be growing figs and building sandcastles. Strapping explosives to your torso, marching yourself into a crowded marketplace and blowing yourself up in order to slaughter as many civilians, including women and children, as you can is a profoundly demented act, an act which undoes a dozen or so millennia in the moral evolution of the human species.
Such an act is not triggered by America’s sociopolitical landscape or by its foreign policy. Rather, it is nurtured by an intellectually degenerate culture, sponsored by sleazy kleptocratic regimes and authorized by a once-honorable religious tradition perverted to serve the pipedreams of an apocalyptic death cult.
It’s Muslim civilization, not America, that must change in order for Islamic terrorism to cease.
—Mark Goldblatt is author of Africa Speaks, a satire of black urban culture.