A good article in the Washington Post today debunking the idea that if we don’t fight al Qaeda in Iraq, we’ll be fighting al Qaeda in the United States.
You see this argument all the time. “If we fail there, the enemy will follow us here,” says President Bush. “I am convinced that if we lose this conflict and leave, they will follow us home,” says Papa McCain. It has always seemed unlikely to me that a bunch of young men with nothing but grenade launchers, IEDs, and the advantages of fighting guerrilla-style on their home turf would be able to launch a coordinated and sophisticated attack overseas — much less on the most well-protected country in the world — but now the experts have weighed in, and that instinct is correct.
What’s the main reason we’re unlikely to see al Qaeda in Iraq turn their attention to the United States? First, it’s doing so damned well in its own country:
“In a year, AQI went from being a major insurgent group, but one of several, to basically being the dominant force in the Sunni insurgency,” said terrorism consultant Evan F. Kohlmann. “It managed to convince a lot of large, influential Sunni groups to work together under its banner — groups that I never would have imagined,” Kohlmann said.
Second, al Qaeda’s leadership in Iraq is Iraqi, and it cares much more about determining the fate of its home country than taking pot shots at the U.S.:
…al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) has undergone dramatic changes. Once believed to include thousands of “foreign fighters,” it is now an overwhelmingly Iraqi organization whose aims are likely to remain focused on the struggle against the Shiite majority in Iraq, U.S. intelligence officials said.
…AQI’s new membership and the allied insurgents care far more about what happens within Iraq than they do about bin Laden’s plans for an Islamic empire, government and outside experts said. That is likely to remain the case whether U.S. forces stay or leave, they added.
Third, al Qaeda in Iraq is not on the best of terms with Osama bin Laden’s worldwide al Qaeda operation, and likely won’t take marching orders if they involve some kind of attack on the U.S.:
…under [former AQI leader Abu Musab Zarqawi’s] leadership, AQI was frequently estranged from al-Qaeda, and its separation has increased since his death last year.
Fourth, it is much easier for al Qaeda to organize major attacks in the lawless region between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“As people around the world sign up to fight jihad,” the intelligence official said, “before they were always going to Iraq. Now we see more winding up in Pakistan.”
As al-Qaeda recoups its numbers and organizational structure in the lawless and inaccessible territory along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, it is seen as having little need for major bases in western Iraq, where the flat desert topography is ill-suited for concealment from U.S. aerial surveillance.
What this means is that while a threat to the United States does come from al Qaeda, it comes from operatives outside of Iraq. You know, the ones we could be chasing down if we weren’t bogged down in Iraq trying not to get shot in the crossfire of a civil war. So preventing an attack on the United States has little or nothing to do with our success in Iraq — in fact, it has more to do with disentangling ourselves from Iraq and turning to the War on Terror. So, Messrs. Bush and Mccain, let’s put that twisted little piece of warmongering rhetoric to bed.