Of course things are worse, our side isn’t in charge

Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, both of whom served as staff members on President Clinton’s National Security Council while al Qaeda emerged and our government did essentially nothing to stop it, have a piece in the Washington Post called, “Of Course Iraq Made It Worse.” The title reflects the ipse dixit nature of column — the authors’ certitude that the threat of terrorism has become worse due to our action in Iraq substitutes for evidence of that proposition.

Benjamin and Simon brush off the absence of “metrics” supporting the proposition that there are more live terrorists prepared to attack U.S. civilians than there would have been had we backed down in our confrontation with Saddam and allowed him to remain in power. Such evidence is impossible to produce, they say. Fair enough. But evidence about the number of times we and our friends have been attacked at home is readily available. And the fact is that terrorists have not successfully attacked our homeland since 9/11, and that successful attacks against any western homeland have been few and far between.

This evidence is not dispositive, of course — things could be getting worse even in the absence of frequent (or even any) attacks. But at some point don’t Benjamin and Simon have to produce more than raw assertions and speculation in order to prove that, “of course,” things are getting worse?

The best they can do in this regard is to note that terrorists are killing Americans in Iraq. That’s true of course, as it’s true in Afghanistan and in any other war. More soldiers die if you send them to war than if you don’t. But better evidence than this is needed to establish that the Iraq war has made things worse, especially since by all accounts we’re killing more terrorists in Iraq than they are killing our soldiers.

Benjamin and Simon end their piece with the odd claim that the administration’s continued need to defend the Iraq war “is preventing the nation from crafting the necessary strategy to meet the terrorist challenge and make Americans safer.” If by this the authors means that our focus on Iraq is preventing us from, say, improving port security, their argument is absurd. If they are using the Iraq war as an excuse for the inability of the administration’s critics to propose new approaches, their argument is pathetic. If they are claiming that we can’t deal the terrorists a major setback as long as we’re in Iraq, they should read the NIE report upon which they rely. It argues, as bin Laden has, that defeating al Qaeda in Iraq would substantially assist in the war against global jihad.

Finally, Benjamin and Simon should consult the opening paragraph of their own piece. There, they note the importance to the war on terror of bringing about reform in the Muslim world and of reducing corruption and injustice. Our efforts in Iraq have brought about reform and have reduced injustice there. It seems to me that by attempting to undermine public support for these efforts, Benjamin, Simon and their ilk are the ones who are reducing our ability to meet the terrorist challenge and make America safer.

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