Politics & Policy

Yes, Our Iraq Policy Has Helped al Qaeda Recruit …

Especially when it was Clinton's Iraq policy.

Another day, another New York Times publication of classified information. 

Another election cycle, another strategic intelligence-community leak transparently designed to affect the outcome. 

Another coincidence of Iraq and al Qaeda terrorism, another simplistic Democratic claim of causation between Iraq and al Qaeda terrorism (but, naturally, never a concession of connection between Iraq and al Qaeda terrorism).

On Sunday, the Times disclosed a selectively leaked snippet from the new National Intelligence Estimate which evidently suggests that Bush administration policy — in particular, the war in Iraq — has increased Islamic radicalism.  As night follows day, prominent Democrats were ready to pounce … and pounce they did — even as the Times reported that Richard Holbrooke, the Democrats’ foreign policy guru, had pronounced it simply “astonishing” that anyone could believe the intelligence community might be doing the bidding of Democrats.  

The once and future presidential hopeful, Sen. John Kerry, no stranger to this astonishing phenomenon, was quick to declaim, “The National Intelligence Estimate provides jarring confirmation that the disastrous policy in Iraq is a giant recruiting poster for terrorists.”  He was echoed by the always measured Sen. Ted Kennedy, who insisted that the NIE “should put the final nail in the coffin for President Bush’s phony argument about the Iraq war.”

It was ironic that the familiar vignette happened to recur on the very same day Fox News broadcast Bill Clinton’s implosion.  The thin veneer over the former President’s famously meteoric temper was pierced by an even-handed question anyone in his position should have expected, namely, why during his eight years in office had he not done more to stop al Qaeda.  Clinton, of course, took it all in stride — going instantly to finger-wagging Code Red (and thus flashing us all right back to those salad days of “I did not have sexual relations with that woman …”).

The irony lies in the fact that there is an incontestable connection between Iraq policy and al Qaeda terrorism.  We don’t need a leaked NIE to persuade us of it because Osama bin Laden stated it quite unabashedly.  We don’t hear much about it from the mainstream media, though, because it was Bill Clinton’s Iraq policy.

It was over eight years ago, in February 1998, that bin Laden issued his infamous fatwa calling for Muslims to murder any and all Americans — soldiers or civilians — wherever on earth they could be found.  As al Qaeda’s emir put it, “The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies — civilians and military — is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it.”

This instruction section of the fatwa has gotten much attention over the years.  Yet, the justification section has hardly been examined at all.  To do so, after all, would not just call attention to the Clinton security failures; it would destroy the left’s favorite narrative: “Bush’s Iraq War Has Caused More Terrorism and Made Us Less Safe.”

The 1998 fatwa is readily available (find it here, for example) and worth studying.  Here is some of why bin Laden said all Americans needed killing (italics are mine):

The Arabian Peninsula has never … been stormed by any forces like the crusader armies now spreading in it like locusts, consuming its riches and destroying its plantations….  

[F]or over seven years the United States has been occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places, the Arabian Peninsula, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, terrorizing its neighbors, and turning its bases in the Peninsula into a spearhead through which to fight the neighboring Muslim peoples.…  The best proof of this is the Americans’ continuing aggression against the Iraqi people using the Peninsula as a staging post[.]…[D]espite the great devastation inflicted on the Iraqi people by the crusader-Zionist alliance, and despite the huge number of those killed, in excess of 1 million… despite all this, the Americans are once against trying to repeat the horrific massacres, as though they are not content with the protracted blockade imposed after the ferocious war or the fragmentation and devastation. So now they come to annihilate what is left of this people and to humiliate their Muslim neighbors.

[T]he Americans’ aims behind these wars are religious and economic, the aim is also to serve the Jews’ petty state and divert attention from its occupation of Jerusalem and murder of Muslims there.  The best proof of this is their eagerness to destroy Iraq, the strongest neighboring Arab state[.]… All these crimes and sins committed by the Americans are a clear declaration of war on God, his messenger, and Muslims. And … jihad is an individual duty if the enemy destroys the Muslim countries.

So, yes, Osama bin Laden claimed in 1998 that President Clinton’s policy was a “continuing aggression against the Iraqi people”; a “devastation” that continued the “horrific massacres” of the 1991 Gulf War.  For the world’s leading jihadist, Clinton’s purported “eagerness to destroy Iraq” was the “best proof” of America’s intentions toward the Islamic world.  None of it was true, of course, but that didn’t stop him from saying it.

Now, did the Clinton Iraq policy endanger the United States by providing bin Laden with a valuable tool for recruitment and incitement?  I suppose if I were a Democratic senator from Massachusetts, I’d have to say it did.  After all, adopting what passes for this line of reasoning, the 1998 fatwa was followed by the bombings of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing well over 200 people.  The following year, plots against Los Angeles International Airport and the U.S.S. The Sullivans were thwarted by sheer luck.  In October 2000, the U.S.S. Cole was attacked, resulting in the murders of 17 American sailors.  And in the run-up to the 9/11 atrocities, Bush did not change Clinton’s Iraq policy; he continued it.

If we’re to be honest, however, it would be preposterous to claim that anything President Clinton did — in Iraq or anyplace else — “caused” jihadist terrorism.  Just as it is inane to argue now that our current Iraq policy is the “cause.”

Whether we wish to acknowledge it or not, jihadism is attractive to tens of millions of people in what is called the Muslim world.  Out of a total population of about 1.3 billion, that may not be a very high percentage (although I daresay it is higher than we like to think).  But it is the ideology that attracts recruits.  Grievances are just rhetoric.  If the bin Ladens did not have Iraq, or the Palestinians, or Lebanon, or Pope Benedict, or cartoons, or flushed Korans, or Dutch movies, or the Crusades, they’d figure out something else to beat the drums over.  Or they’d make something up — there being lots of license to improvise when one purports to be executing Allah’s will.

It is bad enough when the Muslim charlatans opportunistically use American policies they don’t like for militant propaganda purposes.  It is reprehensible when American politicians do it.

Jihadists hate us because they hate us, not because of Iraq.  If President Clinton’s Iraq policy was a problem, it was only because he didn’t follow through on it.  By threatening to act forcefully but then letting Saddam Hussein and his terror-mongering fester, Clinton played right into al Qaeda’s conviction that America did not have the stomach for a fight and could be attacked with impunity — a conviction that was reinforced when terror attacks were in fact met with paltry, or no, response.

Bush, to the contrary, has chosen to fight al Qaeda where it is standing, figuring captured or dead terrorists can no longer harm Americans.  Right now, al Qaeda is standing in Iraq, so that’s where we must fight it — whether or not you agree that we should be there in the first place.  It matters nothing that jihadists will use that fight in their recruitment speeches.  It matters everything, though, if we withdraw from the fight and they win.

 Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

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