The Corner

Sullivan on Me on the NIE

Andrew Sullivan personifies the Left’s suicide syndrome. It is not enough to be right that the war has been prosecuted poorly in Iraq. For him, our penance for making errors must be to abandon the field and endanger ourselves rather than change course and quell the danger.

In last night’s lengthy post, which I think most will agree—if they wade through it—is hardly an apologia for the Bush administration’s handling of the war, I wrote the following:

Al Qaeda is massed in Iraq — the NIE released today says al Qaeda in Iraq is the network’s “most visible and capable affiliate.” (Emphasis added.) I don’t know how anyone could justify withdrawing from Iraq when we have an opportunity to inflict major damage on al Qaeda’s most capable force.

Andrew objects: “Notice how McCarthy actually inverts the reasoning of the NIE. He turns al Qaeda’s most capable ‘affiliate’ into its most capable ‘force’ within two sentences. You don’t see a more clinical example of denial than that.”

This is a bizarre objection. Al Qaeda is a network with a centralized hierarchy which acts through cells and affiliates throughout the world. It is a terror network, which means those cells and affiliates are properly described as “forces”—force is what they do. The NIE conveys that al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) is currently al Qaeda’s most capable force. I didn’t need to use the word force; I could have repeated the word affiliate, or I suppose I could have said component, faction or some-such. But I wasn’t, as Andrew seems to be suggesting, saying that AQI is more capable than al Qaeda as a whole. As AQI is part of al Qaeda, that would be impossible.

So what have I inverted? According to Andrew, “The NIE is clear, in fact, that by far the gravest threat is from “good old, OBL-led al Qaeda.” Well, yes, Andrew. I didn’t say otherwise. Al Qaeda is a grave threat precisely because it has lots of forces, affiliates, components, factions and cells which, like AQI, are very capable (if not quite as capable as AQI).

I don’t really understand what Andrew thinks “good old, OBL-led al Qaeda” consists of, but he may have noticed that Osama and central command do not blow stuff up themselves. They plan from their safe havens, like northwest Pakistan, but they execute through their, well, forces. I am not minimizing the importance of central command and its safe-havens. I have argued it many times, including in the very post that has Andrew carping: “My hope with the surge has been that we stay on the field, fight al Qaeda, and — finally — realize that there is no choice but to deal with the Mullahs and the Pakistani border region. That’s what our security demands, and it’s much less likely to happen if we pull out.” (Emphasis added.) Indeed, I have argued that among the most important goals in Iraq is to deny al Qaeda a safe-haven there. Al Qaeda is much more dangerous when it has stable headquarters.

Strangest of all, however, is what Andrew deduces from what he sees as a divergence—but what is actually a convergence—between AQI and “good old, OBL-led al Qaeda”:

Yes, al Qaeda in Mesopotamia [(aka AQI—Andrew uses “AQM”)] has now the capacity to strike in the West—and may well have inspired recent terror attacks in Britain. But, of course, AQM only exists at the strength it does because of the Bush administration’s bungling of the Iraq occupation.

Okay, so then … what? We pull out? AQI is the most capable affiliate, it wants to attack the West, we are in Iraq now in a position to take it on, and we should … leave and let them have their safe-haven? We should let them win and become more dangerous, even if that can be prevented, because we made errors?

And Andrew’s wind-up: “And we are being asked to follow the same leadership that did this to us into a new and unpredictable war with Iran. Are they kidding?” In case no one has noticed, the leadership he is talking about does not want to fight Iran, and part of why the “good old, OBL-led al Qaeda” is so menacing is that it has been aided and abetted by Iran for at least fifteen years. There is nothing new about war with Iran — the mullahs have already been fighting it for years. Are we supposed to do nothing about that because Andrew is unhappy with President Bush?

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