The sheer volume of Iraq news and commentary available from the mainstream media, the Web and C-SPAN can be overwhelming to anyone. Anyone, it seems, except the president, whose recent public statements might give cause to wonder whether he’s read his briefings, the front page of any newspaper or really much of anything beyond the sports section in the last few months.
Gen. Petraeus’ hearings in front of the Senate have inspired liberal voices like Frank Rich, E.J. Dionne and Paul Krugman to comment anew on the declining state of affairs in Iraq (presidential visits and dubious statistics notwithstanding). “The Daily Show” has been pointing out the war’s inconsistencies for a while now, culminating in a recent feature by Yale graduate John Hodgman that argued that “the only way to achieve success in Iraq is to redefine failure as success.” Even conservative columnist George F. Will wrote an op-ed titled “A War Still Seeking a Mission” in the Sept. 11 issue of the Washington Post.
The president, understandably, probably hasn’t read or seen much of this recent commentary. Less understandably and more ominously, his public statements reflect ignorance not only of what Americans are saying about Iraq, but also of the situation in Iraq itself and how that situation relates to the real war on terror.
Bush “found it interesting that on the [recent bin Laden] tape Iraq was mentioned, which is a reminder that Iraq is a part of this war against extremists.” Our president finds it “interesting” that bin Laden mentions a war that is costing his sworn enemies $9 billion a month (according to the Congressional Budget Office) in a country about 1,500 miles from the caves where he is hiding? Interesting in what sense? To much of the world outside the Bush administration’s fantasy land, it is interesting that a war sold as a necessary extension of the war on terror has spawned more terrorism and more sectarianism. But for Bush to argue that the new terrorists that his own war has created now justify that war is beyond ludicrous. It’s akin to killing a fly on a friend’s forehead with an axe, then blaming the fly’s distant cousins for swinging the blade and for the ensuing bloodshed.
Several articles over the last few months have demonstrated that, while al-Qaida Mesopotamia shares the al-Qaida name, the two organizations are at most loosely linked. The terrorists who fight for al-Qaida in Iraq are principally homegrown, and they have recently been financing themselves to a greater extent via organized crime and kidnapping, although they still do receive foreign donations. To claim, as Bush has, that the terrorists fighting us in Iraq are the same ones that attacked the Twin Towers and the Pentagon six years ago is factually incorrect. Al-Qaida Mesopotamia, as our president must know, is an unintended (from America’s point of view) consequence of an invasion undertaken with little or no postwar planning. Al-Qaida Mesopotamia didn’t exist in 2001, or 2002, or really until American troops entered Baghdad in 2003.
How do we interpret Bush’s apparent ignorance? It’s difficult to believe that the president has a genuine lack of knowledge about the makeup of terrorists in Iraq. It’s difficult to believe that the man who sent them to war has no concrete idea of who is killing our soldiers. But the alternative explanation, that the convenient parallel nomenclature allows the president to resurrect lies that should have died before the war began, is hardly more appealing. To say that al-Qaida attacked us in America on Sept. 11 and they’re attacking us in Iraq right now sounds, to the uninformed, like justification for this carnage. To the appallingly large proportion of Americans who still believe that Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11, the al-Qaida parallels might tie the reasoning for this war into a neat little bundle that makes sense.
Bush’s latest reasoning makes sense only in a climate of ignorance that he is all too happy to perpetuate. The truth about al-Qaida Mesopotamia — that it is a local organization that arose from the ashes of the Iraqi army that America disbanded — hurts Bush’s sell on the war. The easily swallowed fiction makes a costly lie sound good. Unfortunately for Bush, America seems to be rejecting his lies. A recent New York Times article indicated that only five percent of Americans trust the Bush administration to bring this war to a conclusion. Perhaps America has warmed to the idea that a president who often doesn’t know what he’s talking about might not know what he’s doing, either.
Xan White is a junior in Calhoun College. His column appears on alternate Thursdays.