Speaking yesterday at Charleston Air Force Base, President Bush said the war in Iraq is a fight against Al Qaeda and that leaving prematurely would create a situation like pre-9/11 Afghanistan, a base from which the terrorist organization could launch attacks on the United States:
Those who justify withdrawing our troops from Iraq by denying the threat of Al Qaeda in Iraq and its ties to Osama bin Laden ignore the clear consequences of such a retreat. If we were to follow their advice, it would be dangerous for the world and disastrous for America….
If we were not fighting these Al Qaeda extremists and terrorists in Iraq, they would not be leading productive lives of service and charity. Most would be trying to kill Americans and other civilians elsewhere, in Afghanistan or other foreign capitals or on the streets of our own cities.
Prior to the U.S. invasion, of course, Iraq may have been ruled by a brutal dictatorship, but it was decidedly not a center of Al Qaeda activity or a terrorist haven resembling Afghanistan. While Bush may be right that some of the men fighting U.S. forces in Iraq would otherwise be carrying out attacks elsewhere, most have signed up with Al Qaeda in Iraq and other resistance groups because of the U.S. invasion, which our own intelligence agencies acknowledge has become a "cause celebre" and recruiting tool for Islamic terrorists. Robert Grenier, former head of the CIA's counterterrorism center, had this to say about Bush's remarks:
I think what the president is saying is in some sense fundamentally misleading. If he means to suggest the invasion of Iraq has not created more jihadists bent on killing Americans, and that if Iraq hadn't been there as a magnet they would have been attracted somewhere else, that's completely disingenuous.
[The war] has convinced many Muslims that the United States is the enemy of Islam and is attacking Muslims, and they have become jihadists as a result of their experience in Iraq.
Bush's warnings about the consequences of a precipitous withdrawal would be more credible if he could bring himself to admit his own role in creating the current situation. Then again, who would trust him to clean up the mess he made?