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Does the Iraq war keep the US safe?

In a recent discussion about the war in Iraq, someone I know (and respect a lot) suggested that by having the war in Iraq going on, the US is giving the “terrorists” “easy targets” in Iraq. The presence of these “easy targets” makes it more likely that the terrorists will attack them instead of bringing an attack to US soil.

I have to admit: this was an idea that I hadn’t run into before, and I had to spend some time cogitating before I wrote about it. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

First of all, I’m not convinced that the attacks on our troops are the main goal of the “terrorists”. We’ve triggered a civil war in Iraq, and we’re stuck in the middle of it. I believe that the “terrorists” probably are taking advantage of the instability we have created in order to further their own goals, but I also believe that the majority of the fighting taking place in Iraq is simply the continuation of the struggles that have been going on in the mideast for over 3,000 years. Yes, the terrorists are using the civil war to recruit new members, and are almost certainly doing whatever they can to keep the civil war going. Why shouldn’t they? The Iraq war has proven to be the best thing that has ever happened to a small fringe group of extremists: it has validated their assertions, and justified their actions. They are no longer “terrorists”, they are “freedom fighters”. Lets face it, the whole area has been fairly unstable since the beginning of recorded history, and when the US invaded Iraq, we simply threw a rock into the hornets nest. We still haven’t figured out how to get away from the hornets…

This is not to say that there isn’t a real terrorist threat. The world trade center, London tubes, and more recent piccadilly circus attacks all show that there is a real threat to the western world. Of course, this threat has always existed – both from internal sources and from foreign sources. There has never been a large government that hasn’t faced some level of revolutionaries, disenchanted citizens, and outright nut jobs. So, the question is: does keeping US troops in Iraq really keep the terrorists focused there, making US soil safer?

If the US action  in Iraq and Afghanistan had not created such a huge surge in the recruiting capabilities of Al Quaida and other such organization, the answer would probably be “yes”. If nothing else, there simply weren’t enough men in the extremist organizations to really manage more than one major attack at a time. However, the US action has not only created an environment that creates huge numbers of potential recruits for the extremists, it has also justified the extremist groups claims: that the US is imperialistic, has no respect for sovereignty, and is insensitive to the culture, mores, and values of the cultures in their “colonies”. As long as the US insists on maintaining a dominating presence in Iraq, and continues to indiscriminately kill Afghani civilians, the militant groups that are fighting against us will continue to be succesful in recruiting new soldiers.

As in any military campaign – especially a campaign where one side has vastly superior arms and technology – the weaker side will use whatever mechanisms possible to achieve their goals. If the goal if the militants is to get the US out of Iraq, and establish a stable government (their governmet) they will simply continue fighting the civil war. At least as long as they think they have a chance of winning in the long run. If, on the other hand, what they really want is local instability so that they can recruit extensively and expand the instability into other areas, the best thing they can do is ensure that the US remains in Iraq as a destabilizing force. Right now, support for the Iraq war is incredibly low in the US. If the US is really looking like it is going to pull out, the absolute best thing the militants could do would be to stage another attack on US soil. The demonstrated US knee-jerk reaction would be to pour huge forces into the imagined source of the attack. The militants have succeeded in continued destabilization.

The simple reality is that the US has played along very well in achieving the goals of Al Quiada, the Muslim Brotherhood, and other radical Muslim organizations. Our actions have turned what was a small collection of disenfranchised extremists into a large, well organized, world-wide army. We have created ideal recruiting opportunities, and actually increased the likelihood of another attack on US soil. The attack will come at a time that will achieve a goal of the extremists, and in all probability, will succeed.


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