Iraq War and the War on Terror
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President of the United States George W. Bush consistently referred to the Iraq War as "the central front in the War on Terror", and argued that if the U.S. pulled out of Iraq, "terrorists will follow us here." While other proponents of the war have regularly echoed this assertion, as the conflict has dragged on, members of the U.S. Congress, the American public, and even U.S. troops have begun to question the connection between Iraq and the fight against terrorism. In particular, many leading intelligence experts have begun to argue that the war in Iraq is actually increasing terrorism.
Views of U.S. Congress, public, and troops
Calls for withdrawal from Iraq
First, was this war necessary or did it actually divert important resources from al Qaeda and the true war on terror? The withdrawal of American military forces from Iraq has been a contentious issue within the United States since the beginning of the Iraq War. As the war has progressed from its initial invasion phase to the more than four-year occupation, U.S. public opinion has turned in favor of troop withdrawal. As of May 2007, 55 percent of Americans believe that the Iraq war was a mistake, and 51 percent of registered voters favor troop withdrawal. In late April 2007, the U.S. Congress passed a supplementary spending bill for Iraq that sets a deadline for troop withdrawal, but President Bush vetoed this bill soon afterwards. In the wake of the veto, proponents of withdrawal appear to be shifting towards establishing benchmarks that the Iraqi government will need to meet, a plan that may be more palatable to President Bush and his advisers. Journalist Pepe Escobar points to the destiny of the Iraq oil law as the crucial point determining the will of the American administrations to withdraw.
Opinion from 2003 to 2005
At the outset of the war, the U.S. Congress and public opinion supported the notion that the Iraq War was part of the global war on terror. The 2002 Congressional resolution authorising military force against Iraq cited the U.S. determination to "prosecute the war on terrorism", and in April 2003, one month after the invasion, a poll found that 77% of Americans agreed that the Iraq War was part of the War on Terror. Much of the organized violence encountered by the U.S. military was framed by the metaphor of a crusade, or total conflict, that was taken up by the terrorists. In 2004, an Army War College report said the war diverts attention and resources from the threat posed by Al Qaeda and called for downsizing the war on terror and focusing instead on the threat from Al Qaeda.
Opinion from 2006 to date
The military and civilian death toll has mounted, the Iraqi insurgency has shifted to what many observers have labeled a civil war, and the politics of Iraq have remained unstable, many politicians and citizens from the United States and across the world have begun pushing for the U.S. to withdraw from Iraq. Significant American calls for withdrawal include the Iraq Study Group Report and the Center for American Progress's proposal for strategic reset.
As of spring 2007, surveys showed a majority of Americans in support of a timetable for withdrawal. While up to 70 percent of Americans in one survey favored withdrawal, most prefer to leave gradually over 12 months, and 60 percent say the U.S. has a moral obligation to the Iraqi people. In addition to voicing concerns over the human and financial costs of the war, supporters of withdrawal argue that the U.S. presence fosters ongoing violence by providing a target for al-Qaeda. It also allows Iraqi political leaders to avoid reaching a power-sharing agreement. The withdrawal will induce Iraq's neighbors to become more involved in quelling violence in the country and will relieve the strain on the U.S. military. The withdrawal debate has brought comparison of Iraq and Vietnam wars.
After the 2006 midterm Congressional elections, Congress has pushed to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq, in part based on the argument that Iraq is a distraction, as opposed to a part of, the war on terror. Likewise, a January 2007 poll found that 57% of Americans feel that the Iraq War is not part of the War on Terror. By June 2007, polls revealed that only 30% of Americans support the war. On July 12, 2007 the House passed a resolution by 223 to 201, for redeployment [or withdrawal] of U.S. armed forces out of Iraq. The resolution requires most troops to withdraw from Iraq by April 1, 2008.
Increase in terrorism
According to the Israel Intelligence Heritage & Commemoration Center, Saddam Hussein had a long history before the invasion of giving money to families of suicide bombers in Palestine. And, as part of the justification for the war, the Bush Administration argued that Saddam Hussein also had ties to al-Qaeda, and that his overthrow would lead to democratisation in the Middle East, decreasing terrorism overall. However, reports from the CIA, the U.S. State Department, the FBI, and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, as well as the investigations of foreign intelligence agencies found no evidence of an operational connection between Saddam and al-Qaeda. Some intelligence experts have a contrary view - that the Iraq war has increased terrorism. Counterterrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna frequently refers to the invasion of Iraq as a "fatal mistake." London's conservative International Institute for Strategic Studies concluded in 2004 that the occupation of Iraq had become "a potent global recruitment pretext" for jihadists and that the invasion "galvanised" al-Qaeda and "perversely inspired insurgent violence" there. The U.S. National Intelligence Council concluded in a January 2005 report that the war in Iraq had become a breeding ground for a new generation of terrorists; David B. Low, the national intelligence officer for transnational threats, indicated that the report concluded that the war in Iraq provided terrorists with "a training ground, a recruitment ground, the opportunity for enhancing technical skills... There is even, under the best scenario, over time, the likelihood that some of the jihadists who are not killed there will, in a sense, go home, wherever home is, and will therefore disperse to various other countries." The Council's Chairman Robert L. Hutchings said, "At the moment, Iraq is a magnet for international terrorist activity." And the 2006 National Intelligence Estimate, which outlined the considered judgment of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, held that "The Iraq conflict has become the 'cause celebre' for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement." According to Mohammed Hafez, "Since 2003, the number of suicide bombings in Iraq has surpassed all those of Hamas in Israel, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka combined."
Al-Qaeda leaders have seen the Iraq war as a boon to their recruiting and operational efforts, providing evidence to jihadists worldwide that America is at war with Islam, and the training ground for a new generation of jihadists to practice attacks on American forces. In October 2003, Osama bin Laden announced: "Be glad of the good news: America is mired in the swamps of the Tigris and Euphrates. Bush is, through Iraq and its oil, easy prey. Here is he now, thank God, in an embarrassing situation and here is America today being ruined before the eyes of the whole world." Al-Qaeda commander Seif al-Adl gloated about the war in Iraq, indicating, "The Americans took the bait and fell into our trap." A letter thought to be from al-Qaeda leader Atiyah Abd al-Rahman found in Iraq among the rubble where al-Zarqawi was killed and released by the U.S. military in October 2006, indicated that al-Qaeda perceived the war as beneficial to its goals: "The most important thing is that the jihad continues with steadfastness ... indeed, prolonging the war is in our interest.".
International opinion of the War on Terror
The declaration of a global war on terror in the aftermath of the attacks of in September 2001 constituted the single most ambitious reordering of America's foreign policy objectives since the Second World War. Alongside this re-evaluation of foreign policy priorities came a stark warning to the rest of the world. At the joint session of the United States Congress following the attacks, President Bush said that 'every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.' This ultimatum deepened America's relations with states that had a strong interest in destroying Al-Qaeda, and strained those with states that had mixed records in combating terrorism, such as Saudi Arabia. While September 11 did not change everything-the unipolar structure of the international system remained intact, for example-it nevertheless profoundly altered American grand strategy, reshuffling the alliance system that had served as the foundation of US foreign policy since 1945 and making the defeat of terrorism the chief object of American power. For a brief time the 'war on terror' appeared to chart a new, even revolutionary, direction for America's grand strategy.
After the United States was attacked by terrorists on September 11, 2001, its European allies were among the first nations to express sympathy and pledge their aid in the war to come. The fact that many European countries have long experienced terrorism themselves helped ensure a great deal of transatlantic empathy and cooperation- at least at first. France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom have suffered political violence over the past 30 years and were thus predisposed to help the United States its new struggle against al-Qaeda. But the kind of terrorism these European countries have suffered-“old” terrorism-differs substantially from that suddenly faced by the United States. As time passed, these differences started to erode the through going unity that had flourished right after September 11.
Starting in the 1970S and 198os, however, a rise of violent activity in Europe by international terrorist groups (such as the Palestine Liberation Organization and Hezbollah) began to prove these traditional European responses to terror inadequate. Governments reacted with more robust and effective-cooperative measures. Still, unlike the enemies the United States faces today, few terrorists in those days sought to debilitate European governments or recruit large numbers of members. And even those that did harbor global religious and ideological objectives (such as the Algerian Islamist Group, or GIA) still tended to employ "old" terrorist techniques.
Al Qaeda, on the other hand, represents a transnational threat-one very different in kind from that posed by the IRA or even newer groups such as Hamas. Al Qaeda has potentially thousands of members and no interest in bargaining with the United States or its allies. Instead, it seeks to cripple them, by inflicting mass casualties if p possible, potentially with weapons of mass destruction (WMDI).
To understand Europe's approach to counterterrorism, it helps to remember that its attitude has been informed by the region's experience with the old form of terrorism-not the new transnational kind. Because of the limited form that most of European terrorism has taken in the past, European governments remain more inclined than Washington to distinguish the political wings of terrorist groups from their military elements. This in turn helps explain why, although European governments have generally been very effective in stopping terrorists financially—they have frozen about $35 million in suspected al Qaeda assets since September 11 (compared to about $34 million in the United States and $124.5 million worldwide)—as of December 2002, they still had not frozen the assets of Hamas' political wing.
Before September 11, only six European countries-France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom-had specific counter terrorism laws (as distinct from ordinary criminal codes). Some of these six have since strengthened their laws still further or improved enforcement. Other countries such as the Netherlands, which did not have such laws or counterterrorism programs, have enacted and implemented them. Spanish magistrates, seasoned by long-standing Basque terrorism and equipped with tough statutes, have been among the most dogged pursuers of al Qaeda suspects. Germany has substantially increased funding for its border guard, prosecutor's office, and intelligence agencies, and has increased law enforcement's access to personal financial data. Berlin has also authorized the prosecution of foreigners associated with terrorist groups based outside Germany, and the deportation of those perpetrating political violence or otherwise threatening Germany's "basic order of democratic freedom." Italy, for its part, has similarly broadened its statutory authority for apprehending terrorists.
Other countries, however-such as Belgium-have done little, and even in European countries that have taken action, the measures have been largely remedial. Both Germany and Italy have long been plagued by bureaucratic in efficiencies and significant statutory gaps in their law-enforcement regimes. Prior to September 11, for instance, Germany had no provision outlawing foreign-based terrorist organizations, and Italy had not authorized surveillance of those suspected of belonging to such groups.
Still, there is no doubt that European leaders are aware that their countries were infiltrated by al Qaeda prior to September 11. This fact, along with more recent developments showing that al Qaeda has reconstituted itself and expanded its list of targets has energized EU law enforcement. This is not surprising, given that al Qaeda or its affiliates have attacked German tourists in Tunisia; French submarine engineers in Pakistan; a French oil tanker in the Gulf of Aden; U.S. marines in Kuwait; Australian, European, and American tourists in Bali; and Israelis in Kenya. As this list indicates, until it is ready to stage another mass-casualty attack in America, al Qaeda will content itself with soft targets over a wider geographical range. Confirming the point, in an audiotape that surfaced in November 2002, Osama bin Laden expressly cited Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, and the United Kingdom as targets.
In response, several European governments departed from their relatively circumspect, low-key approach to terrorism alerts and issued stark warnings about planned attacks in Europe.
Nevertheless, these incentives off or improving territorial security in Europe remain subject to countervailing attitudes and political forces. Germany, the United Kingdom, and France all have large Muslim populations. And whereas the roughly1 5million Muslims living in the EU'S 15 current member states constitute about four percent of the total EU population, the 6 million Muslims (a liberal estimate) living in the United States compose only slightly higher than two percent of the U.S. population-a significant difference. European Muslims, however, are only half-accepted socially and are politically underrepresented. This marginal status makes them susceptible to radicalization-one factor that has helped prevent governments from taking steps that might seem anti-Muslim.
Concern about terrorism varies significantly around the world, with the highest levels found in the Middle East, South Asia, and Western Europe—all regions that have suffered significant terrorist attacks. Despite 9/11, Americans are only average in their level of concern. Asked how big a problem terrorism is in their country, in sixteen out of forty-seven nations a majority or plurality said it was a very big problem; in fifteen nations a majority or plurality said it was at least a moderately big problem; and in thirteen nations a majority or plurality said it was a small problem or not a problem at all. An average of 41 percent of respondents across all countries polled said that terrorism is a very big problem in their country, while 23 percent said it was a moderately big problem, 19 percent said it is a small problem, and 14 percent said it is not a problem at all.
All of the countries that show the highest levels of concern are ones where there have been significant terrorist attacks. The highest levels of concern are found in the Middle East and South Asia, led by Morocco (81 percent calling it a very big problem), Bangladesh (77 percent), Lebanon (76 percent), Pakistan (76 percent), India (72 percent), and Turkey (72 percent). But concern is also strong in European countries that have experienced terrorist attacks over the years, including Italy (73 percent), Spain (66 percent), France (54 percent), and in other countries around the world with such experiences—for instance Peru (70 percent) and Japan (59 percent).
Despite September 11, though, Americans are only average in their level of concern, with 44 percent saying it is a very big problem and 38 percent saying it is a somewhat big problem. In fourteen countries a majority or plurality said terrorism was only a small problem or not a problem at all. These include most of the African countries polled, some Eastern European countries, as well as several Asian countries (including China).
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