President George W. Bush ’68 shouldn’t have been surprised this past Tuesday when he sparked an international maelstrom of discussion and speculation upon declassifying a document from the National Intelligence Estimate. Because the document addresses the effects of the Iraq War on the growth of terrorism in the Middle East, it should also have come as no surprise to him that the conclusions of this debate were less than favorable for his administration. Despite his best efforts to highlight the salutary effects of the Iraq venture, critics relentlessly accuse him of having buttressed Islamic extremism, disseminating it further throughout a region he had hoped to stabilize.
These criticisms are common, so much so that to even question them is to associate oneself with President Bush’s seemingly empty and one-sided propaganda. But the claims of the NIE report are worth a second look. As easy as it is to blame the Iraq War for stirring up fundamentalist Islamic terrorism, one has to ask precisely why this is a relevant point to highlight.
The unspoken implications of critics’ arguments suggest that a reason the war should have been avoided in the first place has been confirmed. It is true that the U.S. invasion and occupation of a majority Muslim country were destined to foster a violent opposition. But this criticism, by itself, is not a reason to regret the decision to invade. That would be tantamount to saying that one should not attack one’s enemies for fear of galvanizing them.
In reality, criticizing the war in light of the NIE document only sounds satisfactory because the war turned out to be poorly justified. But what if, say, stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq? Every other facet of the war and occupation could still have been mishandled in exactly the same way, but few would doubt that the war had been justified.
Some may argue that President Bush’s failed justification of the war was in itself what steeled the tenacity of terrorist organizations. Perhaps some in the Middle East saw the president’s manipulation of intelligence and determined that injustice was afoot. But this argument is, of course, specious. It is outlandish to suggest that terror would have spread any less rapidly if the war had been deemed necessary (after the fact) for the preservation of American national security. It is further unlikely that suicide bombers were born out of the controversy over just how grave a threat Saddam Hussein posed to the United States.
The Bush administration’s failure to stabilize Iraq should be noted and criticized accordingly. It is fair to say that the Bush administration failed to foresee and plan for a substantial terrorist insurgency. But had this form of terrorism been foreseen, it would have only been treated as a necessary hurdle in a larger struggle against jihadism. Clairvoyance in this regard would have led to planning, not redirection. Thus a predictable increase in the fervor of jihadist terror should not be used as a reason to retroactively protest the war. Though the NIE report states that the Iraq War has become a “cause celebre” for terrorists, the same might be said of the broader War on Terror, which few would argue was poorly justified.
There is little validity to the allegation that the Iraq War was a mistake because it fostered the growth of terrorism. The conditions that have allowed terrorism to spread were entrenched, and it has been America’s goal to root them out from the start. Furthermore, much of the supposed spread of terrorism was actually just a manifestation of a pre-existing phenomenon. The invasion of Iraq brought terrorism to the fore by putting 150,000 American citizens in the world’s epicenter of terrorism. It is misleading, however, to assume that the underlying causes of the ensuing attacks were necessarily created or strengthened by the invasion. To the contrary, jihadism was a presence that required reckoning long before America invaded Iraq.
Regardless of whether the invasion of Iraq was pragmatic or justified, it was meant to combat an extant foe. Given such a foe, would anyone really advise against a fight simply because the fight might revitalize that foe’s resolve? Justified for other reasons or not, this war should not be opposed on the grounds that it has fueled the enemies it was meant to combat. Though we tend to discount it because Bush says it so often, this is an important struggle. As terrorism and anti-Americanism grow in ways that frighten us, we should remember that.
Dan Bleiberg is a sophomore in Trumbull College.