I think the proper way to think about our situation in Iraq is this. It may be true that many vile consequences may ensue in Iraq should the United States withdraw. But the options aren’t that the U.S. armed forces save Iraq from itself versus U.S. soldiers go back to sipping cool lemonade in the backyard. It’s entirely possible that the choice is between staying in Iraq or preventing the next September 11th.
Al Qaeda and their ilk have a grand strategy. They are not going to match their weakness against our strength. This is not the Fedayeen Saddam. They are not about to try to engage the Fourth Mechanized Infantry in Toyota pickup trucks. The Liliputian terrorists will bind Gulliver, overwhelm us with distractions, mire us in a series of diversions. Having no commitments, no obligations of their own, they will then match the nimbleness of al Qaeda against the encumberment of the United States. As Osama bin Laden himself has said, “All that we have to do is to send two Mujahideen to the furthest point East to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al-Qaida, in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic, and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note …”
My ever so slight sampling of the zeitgeist says that we are working our way toward a condition — material and of mind — not unlike that in the late 1990s and early 2000s as the country slouched toward September 11th. Dangerous and anarchic regions of the world are spreading, extremists are gathering strength, plots — one can imagine — are unfolding. Nothing less than the most recent NIE has suggested that the terrorist threat is growing, not waning, and that al Qaeda is gaining strength. Just as after the Cold War the United States was unable to heed the warning of both events and the prognostications of certain elites, so George Bush has the put the country into a trance of Iraq focus. Despite a changing threat profile, we can’t think about anything else. Already al Qaeda and Co. have pivoted. New threats are in the making, but mired in the thought of post-September 11th and Iraq — the irony here is too much — we are incapable of conceptualizing or doing anything to prevent the next September 11th.
The right has argued that in the post September 11th world, the old Cold War system of long-term alliances like NATO is obsolete, that the United States needs to remain nimble, to rely on ad hoc coalitions of the willing. And yet in Iraq the United States has permanently bound itself in a coalition of the compulsory. That broken statue of Hussein was the signing ceremony and there is no nullification clause in the treaty. In Iraq the United States stepped into a bear trap and it closed on our foot. It’s going to hurt and it’s going to be bloody, but its time to gnaw that foot off and hobble free — before the trapper comes to claim our pelt.