In The Washington Post’s October 2 article, “Iraq War Naysayers May Have Hindsight Bias,” author Shankar Vedantum asserts that “it isn’t quite true” that “we saw the disaster coming” in Iraq, with the “disaster” being a reference to the National Intelligence Estimate conclusion “that the war in Iraq was creating more terrorists than it was eliminating.”
The only problem with this argument, which would be more at home in the op-eds, rather than posing as an objective news item, is that it is perfectly true that an increased threat of terrorism was both predictable and well predicted.
That’s just a matter of simple common sense. The roots of the threat of terrorism against the United States are well understood, despite the pretense of naiveté in the mainstream media. The threat is real, and is a result of hatred for U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, particularly our support for Israel, such as the destruction of Lebanon and opposition to an immediate cease-fire during the recent violence, which was just the latest example of a long and consistent history. Other legitimate grievances have resulted from U.S. support for despotic regimes, such as the Saud regime, Saddam Hussein, and the Shah of Iran, the latter of whom the U.S. supported after a CIA-backed coup overthrew the democratically elected Mossadegh. The hatred of our foreign policy is in no small part due to our own acts of aggression against Arab nations, such as shooting down a civilian passenger jet in Iranian airspace; the bombing of a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan responsible for producing half the country’s medicines, which unknown dire consequences; the destruction of the Iraqi civilian infrastructure during the ’91 Gulf War, with continuous bombing of Iraq since, peaking again with the ’03 “shock and awe” campaign; the draconian sanctions regime against Iraq, directly responsible for more than a million deaths, including half a million children. The list goes on. It’s well known, the reaction well understood.
To suppose that it was not realized that the invasion would increase hatred of U.S. foreign policy, and thus increase the threat of terrorism, is to feign ignorance. And while such a pretense is certainly common amongst the intelligentsia, it is not very plausible.
Moreover, the realization of the fact that the invasion would increase the threat of terrorism was hardly limited to “Antiwar liberals”, as the Post article suggests. To name just a few examples, Brent Scowcroft wrote prior to the invasion that attacking Iraq “would stifle any cooperation on terrorism, and could even swell the ranks of the terrorists.” Daniel Benjamin wrote in The New York Times that it was “worth considering how a war in Iraq might further the jihadist cause” and in The Washington Post that “the greatest dangers will likely come not from Hussein’s cooperation with al Qaeda before the United States topples him but from the fact that his removal would present jihadists with rich new opportunities.” Iraq would be “an irresistable target” and “a magnet for jihadists from all over the world.” Arnaud de Borchgrave of the Center for Strategic and International Studies observed that “The last Gulf War spawned the evil of Osama bin Laden and his global Al Qaeda terror network,” and added that “A U.S. invasion of Iraq would most likely create a new generation of Bin Ladens…” He wrote that “There is no doubt that Muslim extremist groups would look upon a U.S. war on Iraq as an opportunity — indeed a duty — to strike America and its supporters.”
These were not acts of prescience by prophets warning of doom, but common sense observations of what would be a highly predictable result of any invasion of Iraq.
To suggest now that it “isn’t quite true” that an increased threat of terrorism was one of the predicted consequences of the invasion of Iraq is an interesting case of selective amnesia. The fact is that it is very much true that this result, reiterated once again in the National Intelligence Estimate, was both predicable and widely predicted.
The corollary is equally obvious as the prediction: despite pretenses, mitigating the threat of terrorism simply isn’t high on the list of U.S. government priorities.