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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Fighting Them There So We Can Train Them To Fight Us Everywhere

Several weeks ago, I pointed out the silliness of what seems to have become one of the primary ex post rationales for continuing the US involvement in Iraq, namely that we can't leave Iraq because then the terrorists would follow us home. (I didn't know it at the time, but former Clinton and Bush anti-terrorism adviser Richard Clarke had made a similar argument a week earlier in the NY Daily News.)

Monday's NYT brought an article pointing to basically the opposite of the President's claims: one of the consequences of "fighting them over there" is that by engaging "them" (i.e., the relatively small number of global-network-style terrorists in Iraq) in Iraq, we're training "them" to fight us elsewhere.

Here's a key quote from the article (which is titled "Militants Widen Reach as Terror Seeps Out of Iraq"):

In an April 17 report written for the United States government, Dennis Pluchinsky, a former senior intelligence analyst at the State Department, said battle-hardened militants from Iraq posed a greater threat to the West than extremists who trained in Afghanistan because Iraq had become a laboratory for urban guerrilla tactics.

“There are some operational parallels between the urban terrorist activity in Iraq and the urban environments in Europe and the United States,” Mr. Pluchinsky wrote. “More relevant terrorist skills are transferable from Iraq to Europe than from Afghanistan to Europe,” he went on, citing the use of safe houses, surveillance, bomb making and mortars.

A top American military official who tracks terrorism in Iraq and the surrounding region, and who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the topic, said: “Do I think in the future the jihad will be fueled from the battlefield of Iraq? Yes. More so than the battlefield of Afghanistan.”

Posted by Jonah Gelbach on May 30, 2007 at 11:56 AM in Current Affairs | Permalink


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"Relying on those that got us lost in the first place to get us unlost would not wise. Relying on those who agreed with those that got us lost to get us unlost would be equally unwise."

I'm not sure how that responds to my point: the identity of the war's supporters doesn't relate to the question of whether or not you calibrate your strategy going forward by reference to the facts on the ground today or the facts on the ground in 2003.

In any event, your theory (ignore any idea proposed by whoever supported the last war, and only listen to ideas proposed by the war's opponents) gets us nowhere. There was no critic of the Iraq war more credible than former CentCom commander Anthony Zinni, who supported the surge in 2006 and who currently is a vociferous opponent of withdrawal from Iraq, in light of the effect that that would have on our national security.

Likewise, John Batiste, one of the retired generals who made waves by his public criticism of Rumsfeld, has called withdrawal "terribly naive."

In short, "Strategy Ad Hominem" is no strategy at all; it doesn't answer the question of whose proposals are the better ones.

Posted by: Adam | Jun 1, 2007 2:49:26 PM

Relying on those that got us lost in the first place to get us unlost would not wise. Relying on those who agreed with those that got us lost to get us unlost would be equally unwise. Thus, those who opposed the decisions of those that got us lost (whom you concede were "almost surely" correct) might be wise to ignore the conclusions of those who agreed with the decisions that got us lost in the first place. But thanks anyway.

Posted by: lost | May 31, 2007 2:26:48 PM

I don't understand how a forecast of what would result from withdrawl from Iraq would constitute an "ex post rationale[] for continuing the US involvement in Iraq." While such a rationale would be an ex post rationale for entering Iraq or for our conduct of the war thus far, it's clearly an ex ante rationale for conduct going forward.

Incidentally, I think that too many of those opposed to the war miss that important distinction: a realistic decision as to what to do now depends not on justifications for the war's commencement or the war conduct thus far but, rather, on the foreseen consequences of of our actions going forward. I for one now conclude that our commencement of the war was almost surely a mistake (although I supported it at the time); but that said, justifications for starting the war are irrelevant to our decision to stay or leave. The fact is, we are there now, and we must orient our strategy by reference to that simple fact.

If you're driving in your car and you get lost, you don't figure out how to get to your currently-preferred destination by asking, "well, if I were starting at home, how would I get to my destination?" You ask, "where am I now, and how do I get to where I want to be." Criticising a turn that brought you to your present location doesn't solve the problem now at hand.

Posted by: Adam | May 31, 2007 2:06:28 AM

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