Recent Iraqi protests about status-of-forces agreement negotiations, along with Senator McCain’s comment getting our troops out of Iraq is "not important," point to fundamental policy choices facing our country.
The argument about whether the ‘surge’ in Iraq worked is yesterday’s news. The issue going forward is whether we should accept the President’s post-surge policy that includes an endless, very expensive occupation of Iraq which undermines our needs in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
The hearts and minds of local populations are the battlegrounds where we will win or lose the fight to stop al-Qaeda.
Al-Qaeda peddles a violent, totalitarian ideology of subjugation, and our main foreign policy challenge in the coming years will be to confront, contain, and defeat that ideology. Terror cells and insurgencies depend on their acceptance into the local populations. They take advantage of the chaos inside a failed or failing state and resentment of U.S. policies to recruit and to proselytize. Often they insinuate themselves into the good graces of local populations by providing services that governments do not.
The policies of the current administration have left us ill-equipped to fight on the battlefield of the hearts and minds. The Bush Administration’s policies around the world have created enormous resentment in the Muslim world. It’s no wonder that al-Qaeda has seen a bump in terrorist recruiting and fundraising.
The National Intelligence Estimate released yesterday is the latest report of a rebuilding al-Qaeda working to kill Americans.
Specifically, the NIE states that al-Qaeda:
- Has a safe haven in the Pakistani Federally Administered Tribal Areas;
- Has regenerated its leadership structure; and
- Is using our occupation of Iraq to recruit new members and finance global operations.
Right now I’m reading Bob Woodward’s book Bush at War, and the author does a good job of conveying what I see as a key flaw in the Administration’s strategy post-9/11. After we toppled the Taliban in Afghanistan, the decision was made to broaden our focus beyond al-Qaeda. Woodward lays out three motivations for this decision: