Courtesy Reuters

Illusions of the War on Terrorism

Writing the obituary of al Qaeda has proven premature. Recent attacks in Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and Pakistan by al Qaeda and affiliated groups demonstrate that the war on terrorism is far from over. Indeed, there are likely to be more attacks against Western targets in coming weeks. Yet the Bush administration, and by extension the American public, are laboring under two misapprehensions about the conduct of that war.

The first miscalculation is that the war in Iraq was relevant to the war on terrorism. In reality the Iraq war was a sideshow, albeit an expensive one in terms of blood and treasure. Most Americans who saw the stirring television pictures of the statue of Saddam Hussein being toppled in Baghdad breathed a huge sigh of relief believing that the fall of Saddam's regime represented an important watershed in the war on terrorism. And who could blame them? Although Bush administration officials never explicitly claimed that Saddam had anything to do with the September 11 attacks (because the largest criminal investigation in history never turned up such a link), they repeatedly made speeches conflating Saddam's regime with September 11, with the result that a majority of Americans came to believe that there was such a link. In fact, the connection between Saddam and al Qaeda has always been tenuous at best. Iraqi functionaries may have met al Qaeda officials a handful of times in the past decade, but having meetings, as the United Nations continuously reminds us, does not make alliances, or even marriages of convenience. Indeed, al Qaeda has always been an NGO, a non-governmental organization, which was not sponsored by any country. (To the degree that al Qaeda had any official sponsorship it has historically come from Saudi Arabia.) In sum, while the war in Iraq deposed a despicable tyrant, it will have little lasting impact on the war on terrorism except insofar as large numbers of American troops indefinitely occupying Iraq will provide tempting targets for Middle Eastern terrorists for years

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