As promised last time and remembering my "Oglesbyism" that one must start from where we actually are, not from where one might prefer to be, let’s talk turkey about Iraq.
Regardless of whether invading and staying in Iraq was right or wrong, the fact is we are there, and there is from where any change must start. Regardless of whether al-Qaida was active and influential in Iraq before the invasion, the fact is they are a powerful active influence there now.
Those are facts. Here is an informed opinion. They lose in Iraq, that defeat sends a message that affected people are tiring of senseless terroristic acts sufficiently to overcome their fears of deadly reprisal should we and the coalition forces pack up and leave them to their fate, as so many in this country appear to want.
Back to fact. Throughout history, sides on the verge of losing become the most desperate and dangerous. Our true opponent is the war on international terrorism. It is centered in Iraq because al-Qaida has become the de-facto administrator of a sophisticated worldwide network of independent terror groups. They have varying and even opposing views and goals but cooperate where respective interests are similar. Almost always, their top common interest is destabilization of the existing government and its eventual overthrow. To encourage cooperation and maintain strong influence, al-Qaida has effectively seized control of a highly effective financial, logistical and propaganda network that was begun in 1966.
Any objective and informed analysis of whether we should stay the course in Iraq must understand this reality. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of Americans have been exposed to this deadly reality and have no basis from which to understand it. Thanks in large part to the highly effective work of the network’s propaganda organization, most consider only obvious facts — the war is costing lives, money and in some cases allied enmity. This culminates with political demands to get out and stop this hemorrhaging. Feeding on traditional American idealism, that network propaganda arm very effectively promotes intensification of these demands here and abroad.
Military deaths are one of its most effective messages. No one can deny them, and we all can mourn them, but let’s do put them into some kind of context. We repeatedly hear the number of combat deaths in Iraq so far is more than 4,000 for the five years. In one context, that averages a bit more than 800 a year. That’s about four months of alcohol-related traffic fatalities. Those are useless and preventable deaths, and one could ask where similar outcries and promises to end it, particularly from politicians, are. I’d observe the terrorists’ propaganda arm is more effective than that of the anti-drunken driving folks.
Another effective message is a supposed arrogant American imperialism trying to impose its will upon other sovereign states. Some context: I don’t recall any American wars to acquire territory. We’ve always acted to defend vital national interests, fulfill treaty obligations, restore or defend a balance of power, humanitarian reasons or some combination. When the job was done, combat ceased.
Another message’s effectiveness is magnified by presidential candidates who would "cut and run," giving terrorists the hope they need and fueling intensified insurgency. "We’ve badly managed the war." Some context: No one denies tactical mistakes have been made. There are in every war. Some strategic initiatives haven’t worked. Also true in war. Strategies have changed to meet changing conditions, as happens in every war.
A fact is our individual and the international community’s national interest requires a stable Middle East with a balance of power. Leaving before the job is done will leave Iran and its nuclear weapons ambitions and vowed threat to wipe out Israel the great power. In turn, Syria would have to become a loyally instead of legitimate competitor. And so the dominoes fall. Opinion: If we think energy costs (gas prices) are high and the economy is bad now, we’ve got a nasty wake-up call coming.
Bulli (the Brenau University Leisure and Learning Institute) has asked me to teach my six-session terrorism course again this fall. I’ve taught it a number of times, updating it each time. I trace the evolution of modern-day terrorism as it adapted to nations’ foreign policies and its informal cooperative organization into a highly organized, widespread, highly effective international network.
I’ve asked Bulli to make the series available to a considerably larger class than is normal given this year’s high interest. We’re working on that and will keep you posted. Meanwhile, I’d appreciate learning from you who might be interested. That can help our planning. You can reach me as shown below.
Ted Oglesby is retired editor of the opinion page. He can be reached at P.O. Box 663, Gainesville, GA 30503. His column appears biweekly and on gainesvilletimes.com.