Bush team's errors make the war on terror tougher

October 03, 2006|By Trudy Rubin

PHILADELPHIA -- I'm surprised at the fuss over the National Intelligence Estimate that says the Iraq war made the terrorist threat worse.

Did it take a leaked report by America's 16 intelligence agencies to confirm the obvious? By now, can anyone except the Bush team deny that administration policy has fueled a new generation of jihadi terrorists?

The president's belated effort to counter the intelligence leak by declassifying selected bits of the report only confirmed the essential message: This administration's Iraq policies have been a gift to al-Qaida and its imitators around the globe.

President Bush argues that terrorism didn't originate with the Iraq war, and that the best way to protect Americans from attack "is to stay on the offense."

No one denies that jihadis were on the attack before 2003, or that the terrorist threat would remain had we never entered Baghdad. The issue is whether the astounding errors made by this administration in Iraq have opened a new front in the fight against radical Islamists that will make the overall struggle much harder. The answer is a resounding yes.

The bleeding wound in postwar Iraq was created by the mistakes of the Bush team. This was a war of choice, which many terrorism experts warned would distract from the key struggle against al-Qaida. Indeed, the current problems in Afghanistan, where the Taliban is resurgent, and along its border with Pakistan, where Osama bin Laden is thought to still be hiding, reflect the diversion of U.S. resources from that theater to Iraq.

Moreover, the Iraq mess did not result from errors made in the heat of battle. It flowed from decisions by White House officials who ignored warnings by knowledgeable civilians and military officers. The lack of planning for the postwar is a well-documented scandal. Read the searing words of retired Army Maj. Gen. John R. S. Batiste, who commanded the 1st Infantry Division in Iraq for a year: "Secretary Rumsfeld forbade military planners from developing plans for securing a postwar Iraq. At one point, he threatened to fire the next person who talked about the need for a postwar plan."

This lack of postwar planning grew out of the delusion that administration favorite Ahmad Chalabi would speedily establish democracy.

At the Pentagon, Donald H. Rumsfeld and his civilian deputies scorned military advice. This has fueled the growing rage of senior officers with Iraq service who know they were set up for failure and who, like Mr. Batiste, are now speaking up.

Mr. Rumsfeld let Iraq fall into chaos and looters reign. This signaled to hard-line Baathists and jihadis that the Americans didn't know what they were doing. U.S. officials disbanded the Iraqi military, which could have been retrained to restore order.

"Many of us routinely asked for more troops," Mr. Batiste said, contradicting statements by President Bush and his senior aides that they gave the military all resources asked for.

The Bush administration has created a lose-lose situation in Iraq: Leave Iraq and precipitate a full civil war that draws in Iran and Sunni Arabs to fight over Iraq's carcass, or stay in Iraq and avoid the worst, at high cost to overstretched U.S. and Iraqi forces.

Mr. Bush says criticism of his policies encourages al-Qaida. No, it is that failing strategy that provides the most encouragement to jihadists.

America, Mr. Batiste said, "is arguably less safe now than it was on Sept. 11, 2001. If we had seriously... considered the full range of requirements for the war in Iraq, we would likely have taken a different course that would ... not [have] fueled Islamic fundamentalism across the globe and not created more enemies than there were insurgents."

Will the White House ever take responsibility for its mistakes? Will it succeed again in cloaking its failures in 9/11 allusions? Can the public trust this White House not to repeat its willful blindness - say, by attacking Iran?

Trudy Rubin is a columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Her column appears Tuesdays and Fridays in The Sun. Her e-mail is trubin@phillynews.com.

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