WASHINGTON – Even some officials in the president’s administration worry that in his address to the nation Sunday night he glossed over his shifting rationales for war in Iraq, oversimplified the sources of anti-American rage there and overstated the benefits of victory, both to the war on terrorism and to American policy in the Middle East.
Making the war in Iraq a central part of the war on terrorism that Osama bin Laden started two years ago this week sidestepped Bush’s earlier rationale for war in Iraq – Iraq’s alleged chemical and biological weapons and its nuclear ambitions – and ignored the fact that it was the American-led invasion that made Iraq a magnet for international terrorists, these officials said.
Before the war, intelligence analysts at the CIA, the State Department and the Pentagon acknowledged there was no evidence of cooperation between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida and no evidence of an Iraqi hand in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. None has yet surfaced.
“There was no substantive intelligence information linking Saddam to international terrorism before the war,” said Vincent Cannistraro, the former director of counterterrorism operations and analysis at the CIA. “Now we’ve created the conditions that have made Iraq the place to come to attack Americans.”
The president also may have underestimated the complexity of the problem the United States now faces in Iraq. In his speech, he suggested that the enemy there consists of “members of the old Saddam regime” and “foreign terrorists.” Both are major parts of the problem, and foreigners appear to be a growing part of it, thanks in part to the fact that U.S. officials dissolved Iraq’s border guards without having enough American soldiers to police the borders.
But there’s growing evidence that some ordinary Iraqis are joining the enemy, motivated not by nostalgia for Saddam or hunger for holy war but by Iraqi and Arab nationalism, resentment of foreign invaders, suspicion of America’s motives and the continuing lack of electricity, public safety and other necessities.
“The war in Vietnam was not just about communism, and the war in Iraq isn’t just about terrorism,” one senior administration official said Monday, speaking only on the condition of anonymity because he disagreed with much of what his boss had said. “We lost in Vietnam because we didn’t understand that as well as we should have.”
And just as an American victory in Vietnam wouldn’t have dealt a mortal blow to Moscow or Beijing, much less Havana or Pyongyang, victory in Iraq isn’t likely to deal a mortal blow to al-Qaida, as National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice suggested it would Sunday.
Radical Islam is a faith, and its adherents in Indonesia, Yemen and Algeria aren’t likely to fold their tents because some of their brethren die in Iraq.