The story I would like to hear the President tell tonight
Just in case anyone is listening
By AcademicElephant Posted in War — Comments (5) / Email this page » / Leave a comment »
ABC News has a story detailing an al Qaeda (Iraq) plot to send terrorists to the United States over the summer in the hopes of hatching an attack on our homeland (thanks RCP). The good news is that we took the order from Ayman al Zawahiri to Abu Musab al Zarqawi to plan such an attack seriously, and started to watch for the pattern of behavior displayed by the 19 9/11 hijackers and by the 11 young Egyptian men who disappeared from Montana State University, of all places, and were eventually apprehended and deported. The bad news is that others may have slipped through the cracks, or that there might be some in the pipeline who are savvy enough to show up occasionally at their designated schools. Because of course there are others--the question is just when they'll show themselves.
And this is the story I would like the President to tell tonight. The details are easy for all Americans to follow from the cities to the heartland--after all, this plot was to be hatched in the middle of fly-over country, so no one is safe. We've learned something important from this episode, which the revered Richard Clarke calls in the ABC report "the first hard evidence al Qaeda in Iraq was trying to attack us here at home." I would only quibble with Mr. Clarke's verb tense, which I think should be in the present. When AQI is emboldened, their priority is "to attack us here at home." And that has to be the bottom line tonight. That while reasonable people can disagree about the strategy of the surge, the anti-war Democrat plan for a "phased withdrawal" is the worst possible option and puts us all at direct risk.
Mr. Bush's opponents like to indulge in hypothetical speculation about how safe we would be had we not invaded Iraq. He might indulge in some rather more fact-based speculation on this topic tonight. The fact is that we would be threatened no matter where the members of AQI, who are for the most part not native Iraqi, found themselves. No, we did not foresee Iraq becoming an al Qaeda focal point, but it has and for all the hand-wringers out there, keeping AQI occupied in Iraq is not the worst thing that could happen to us in this war. There are, as far as I can tell, three probable venues for them and two slightly less-likely ones had we not gone into Iraq. For example, maybe they would have stayed together in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region and made common cause with the Taliban. Maybe they would have pretty much done what they have, and made themselves the proxies of the rogue Iranian state. In this role, they could have gone to Lebanon and swelled the ranks of Hezbollah. Or maybe they would have gone to Iraq anyway, and either blackmailed Saddam or, as is more likely, allied with him against the US. And of course, Saddam would be the wild card in each of these scenarios. What, if any, oversight would there have been over him? And is there any serious person out there who believes that if left unchecked, with the United Nations in the condition that it is, Saddam would not be pursuing a nuclear weapon at this point? How would he be meddling in Afghanistan, especially if the Taliban/al Qaeda forces there were strengthened by the operatives currently engaged in Iraq? In any event, none of these three alternatives are appetizing, but they would have been logical enough for al Qaeda members looking to do harm to the US in the aftermath of the invasion of Afghanistan.
The two other, less-likely alternatives send this merry band a little further from home and would take more effort on their part. That would be to move a large group into Europe--probably Paris, although Berlin, Madrid, Rome and London would all have their appeal as well--and to start attacks from this new base. Alternatively, Latin America could become the new home-away-from-home, with northern Bolivia as a natural sanctuary and Hugo Chavez a complicit source of weapons and money. For various and obvious reasons--notably the value of the cultural and financial targets that would be in their easy reach and their increased proximity to us--these less-likely options are even less appetizing.
I'm not saying that fighting al Qaeda in Iraq is an ideal scenario, and neither should the President. The American people need to face the reality of what is going on in this conflict. It's terrible and violent, and is making the challenges of fostering democracy in that country exponentially harder. But review those alternatives. What's missing here altogether is an appetizing option that's not a fantasy. You know, one in which al Qaeda stays put in mountain caves and leads the simple life. Even if the occasional unfortunate were to get stoned to death in the (former) soccer stadium, that's just their way and in this scenario, what happens in Kabul stays in Kabul. Unfortunately, what we learn from both 9/11 that pre-dates the Iraq invasion and the AQI plot that came after it is that no such thing would happen. If we don't engage them where they emerge--and at the moment we happen to know that they're in Iraq--they're going to take advantage of the lull to come here. These are not misunderstood freedom fighters that we have provoked. They are a clear and present danger to our national security.
This is a simple narrative, and the ABC story provides a compelling illustration of it. I assume there were intelligence reasons the plot was not fully made public before, but now it has been, tonight would be an opportunity for the President to reveal additional details, and so to explain once again why supporting the mission in Iraq is so vital. Cheaper health care and reduced oil dependency are all fine and well, but they're going to seem rather irrelevant if a dozen AQI terrorists take it into their heads to detonate a dirty bomb in Washington or New York. Iraq is the elephant in the living room tonight, and it's Mr. Bush's pachyderm. I hope the President shines a strong light on it, and what the conflict means to all of us. If he exploits this "hard proof" of an AQI plot against the homeland, the anti-war faction will have a much more difficult time defending its position. And even if fat and happy Americans aren't listening too closely to tonight's speech, there's someone else who has indicated in recent days that he's watching Mr. Bush's Iraq policy closely. And if the President tells him on no uncertain terms that we're on to plots like this and are going to make them as logistically difficult and expensive as possible, it might make him think twice about launching one, what with the returns being so uncertain. Seems to me that this is worth a shot.
Good luck, Mr. President.