Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Part of the Problem, or Part of the Solution?

Washington was abuzz yesterday with chatter about the latest twist in the continuing "Will Rumsfeld go or stay" saga - the publication in The Wall Street Journal of an op-ed by four retired generals in defense of the Pentagon chief, as a counterpoint to recent calls by six other retired generals for him to quit.

I've found over the years that one is most effective when he "sticks to his knitting. " Homeland security issues being my province, I will leave it to others to weigh in on whether Rumsfeld should continue in office, then. I do feel obliged to comment, though, on this part of the generals' argument, as it echoes a claim that the President and other defenders of the Administration's record on counterterrorism frequently make.
Under [Rumsfeld's]watch,...[the U.S. military] brilliantly deposed Mullah Omar's barbaric Taliban regime (Osama bin Laden's sanctuary) and Saddam Hussein's ruthless Baathist regime, freeing 50 million people from oppression and placing the countries on democratic paths. With these actions, terrorists have been denied secure home bases. These are a few key factors why terrorists have been unable to attack the American homeland again." (emphasis added).

The notion that the war in Iraq has made us less vulnerable to terrorism here at home is not just wrong; it is "exactly" wrong, meaning that it is the opposite of right. CIA Director Porter Goss put it well in congressional testimony last year:
Islamic extremists are exploiting the Iraqi conflict to recruit new anti-U.S. jihadists. These jihadists who survive will leave Iraq experienced and focused on acts of urban terrorism.. The Iraq conflict, while not a cause of extremism, has become a cause for extremists.
In other words, because of our invasion of Iraq and how badly we've handled things since, we're likely to see more terrorism directed against the homeland going forward, not less.

As for Afghanistan, everyone agrees that we did the right thing in invading Al Qaeda's base of operations and toppling the heinous Taliban regime that sheltered them. But, that done, our leaders soon turned their attention to Iraq, and securing the peace in Afghanistan has since become an afterthought. The upshot is that the country is slipping back, slowly but surely, under the grip of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. If the present trajectory holds (and there's no reason to believe that there will be a course correction anytime soon), in the not too distant future every place outside Kabul will be just as fertile a recruting ground for anti-U.S. terrorism as pre-invasion Afghanistan.

Our leaders are right to use the metaphor of war. Whether we like it or not, and whether some are willing to acknowledge it or not, we are in a war against terrorists. But, it is dangerous to forget that a successful war strategy has to have both an offensive and a defensive aspect. The generally awful record of the Department of Homeland Security shows that we've bungled the defensive aspect of the war here at home just as badly as we've handled the offensive war we're waging abroad.