The Washington Dispatch


Terrorism and the Justification for the War in Iraq
Commentary by Michael Hammerschlag
March 3, 2005

Lately, Iíve been considering whether Bushís justification for the Iraq War:  we are fighting them there so they wonít come here  isnít completely without merit. After all, there have, incredibly, been no attacks in America since 9-11. And creating a theme park for jihadists in Iraq certainly has kept them occupied. It was brought home to me by a friend in Hawaii.  ďI believe that. Hey, Iím a lifelong Democrat. But there havenít been any attacks here.Ē Again and again this is mentioned by US troops as the rationale for their struggle and suffering, and it seems logical.


But it breaks down on closer examination. First, thereís the madness of creating a vicious insurgent war in a place that didnít have one. No matter how many times Bush and the neocons say so, there were no terrorists directed at America in Iraq before the invasion*, until we invaded and created them. Perhaps Iraq has functioned as a gigantic bug zapper for jihadi mosquitoes- where were the suicide bomber when Saddam reigned?- but most fanatics are home grown. Was it really worth the immense price in lives and treasure? The Arabs who flocked to fight the good fight in Iraq werenít planning or able to mount attacks on America. Maybe in Iraq, they will get the training to do so: a prison university for criminals, except itís Al Qaida training terrorists.


There was a fierce fire in Afghanistan, but lacking much fuel in population or fervor. Special Forces and CIA brilliantly extinguished the fire by routing the Taliban and their Qaida colleagues in record time, but glowing pockets persisted in hideouts. Rather than keep spreading foam on the fire of Islamic grievance and paranoia as we hunted OBL and his minions, George Bush 2 found an immense stand of old growth sequoias and redwoods a thousand miles away and torched them, creating a conflagration that seems to be growing exponentially. The forest there was carpeted by hundreds of years of kindling and deadwood in the hatreds, oppressions, and murders between religious, tribal, and ethnic factions. But fighting terrorism is about extinguishing the maniacs who started fires and their handiwork, not starting a monstrous blaze in a stable and quiet backwater.


The miserably named ďwar on terrorismĒ has always been partly a struggle for minds- which weíve been losing at the speed of light. From failing to lift a finger to control the Palestinian Israeli conflict, to talk of crusades, to invading Iraq based on nonexistent WMDís, this administration has been Bin Ladenís best recruiting tool. International Arab television has ensured that the graphic suffering of the Iraqis (and Palestinians) has been beamed to 1.3 billion Muslims worldwide. For every terrorist we kill or capture in Iraq, we are generating dozens or hundreds in Pakistan or Egypt, Saudi Arabia or Indonesia, which makes this the most counterproductive war in our history. So, we arenít just removing the suicidal terrorists, we are breeding them, by fueling their obsession with persecution by sitting astride the Vatican of the Shia faith.. and the heart of the Arab world. They donít hate us because of our freedom, but because of our actions.


The courage of Iraqis in defying the nihilistic killers by voting is heartening, but I fear that Sunni disenfranchisement (only 2% of assembly) will lead to a civil war- soon. As the Shiites take control, they are likely to react in savage fashion to the Sunni terrorism, especially when they go after the Mullahs and mosques. 83 years of being treated like animals will resurface. And no matter how much we mouth the word freedom, how free can people be when they canít walk out the door, and most are nostalgic for Saddamís safety. Itís almost heartbreaking to hear our troops simplistically celebrate the election, but by their sacrifice, help install the Shiite Mullahs that have been the bane of our existence in Iran. Muqtada Al Sadr didnít stop the violence because he saw the light, but because democracy was soon going to hand him the keys to the kingdom.


Now Bush wants to deal with the long smoldering flames in Iran, a clear and present danger risen to white hot with their real massive nuclear program- what we should have confronted rather than Iraq. But the squandering of our wealth, resources, integrity, and good will in Iraq; will make that difficult or impossible.



* Ansar al-Islam was a fanatical group on the Iran border loosely allied with Al Qaida and formed after 9-11, but they were warring against the Kurds, who had great incentives to exaggerate connections and support by Saddam and Osama; Eradicated in beginning of war. Saddam also supported terrorism in Israel by paying bounties to suicide bombersí families


Michael Hammerschlag's commentary ( and articles have appeared in Seattle Times, Providence. Journal, Columbia Journalism Review, Hawaii Advertiser, Capital Times, MediaChannel; and Moscow News, Tribune, Times,  and Guardian. He's been a TV reporter, foreign correspondent, and produced documentaries over 25 years. He spent 2 years in Russia as the empire collapsed, reported on Deanís savaging by the media, and had the first big scoop on all the media mistakes on Election Night 2000.

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