Saturday, September 20, 2008

Yes Virginia, There is an Al Qaeda in Iraq

It has always been silly to claim that Iraq distracts us from the war on terrorism. Iraq is where the terrorists chose to fight us. Michael Totten has a useful reminder:

The United States could not have prudently allowed itself to yield the field to Al Qaeda in either Iraq or Afghanistan by being wholly distracted from one or the other. Both fronts were crucial for Al Qaeda, which means both were crucial for the United States. It doesn’t matter if we like the fact that we have been embroiled in a hot war with Al Qaeda in two countries at once. That’s just how it is.

If Al Qaeda hadn’t poured all those resources into Iraq, they likely would have poured them into Afghanistan. And the U.S. very well may have lost the war by this time. Afghanistan, at the very least, would be in much worse shape than it is. And it’s not looking good even now. Independent foreign correspondent Michael Yon, who is hardly known as a pessimistic defeatist, still insists we’re losing the war in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the U.S. has all but won the war in Iraq even though Iraq was in much worse shape recently and the war there did not last as long. Iraq, as it turned out, was an easier place to fight Al Qaeda and other sundry insurgent and terrorist groups than Afghanistan.

While it is certainly arguable that Iraq was a distraction on the war on terror, I disagree. But for the purposes of debating how to fight al Qaeda, it is a moot question. Al Qaeda did decide to fight us there and we have thrashed them there, wrecking their global brand in the process.

And given the many times I've written about the difficulty of fighting in remote Afghanistan (and the much higher cost of supplying troops there, as a bonus) while the enemy can regroup in Pakistan, a major fight in Afghanistan instead of Iraq may very well have just been a costly failure over the same time--with the additional bonus of having Saddam or his evil spawn searching for ways to exploit our grinding war in Afghanistan.

We have beaten al Qaeda in Iraq. Why the self-described "reality-based community" should have so much trouble accepting this simple fact is beyond me. But I'm trained in history and political science--not psychology.