Peter Bergen at the New Republic has declared Osama bin Laden the victor over President Bush. The claim is absurd on its face. Al Qaeda has failed to attack our homeland since 9/11 and has had little success in attacking our interests anywhere else in the world, a rather big place. Nor has al Qaeda succeeded in toppling or seriously threatening any regime in the Middle East. To the contrary, American policy has deprived AQ of its host government in Afghanistan and has toppled a friendly regime and potential collaborator in Iraq.
Bergen’s analysis rests almost entirely on the view of one Georgetown professor and on a dispirited letter written in 2002 by “an al Qaeda member.” Bergen ignores dispirited letters from al Qaeda leaders bemoaning developments in Iraq, letters that were written before the tide turned so strongly against al Qaeda in Iraq.
Indeed, as Peter Wehner points out, Bergen’s argument seems particularly ill-informed in light of recent developments in Iraq. Wehner juxtaposes Bergen’s assertions with this report in yesterday’s Washington Post regarding the devastating and possibly irreversible defeat AQI has suffered. Wehner acknowledges that AQI hasn’t necessarily been defeated for all time and that, even if it has, al Qaeda might still make gains elsewhere. But if Bergen is going to base so much on one letter from “an al Qaeda member,” he should also at least consider the series of pronouncements by bin Laden, which Wehner has collected, to the effect that the war in Iraq is central to the struggle of al Qaeda as a whole.
If anything, it seems to me that Wehner understates the potential impact of an al Qaeda defeat in Iraq. In the context of the demise of Saddam’s Sunni regime, the Sunni population of Iraq was the closest thing to an important natural ally al Qaeda is likely to find in a major state. If AQI is crushed in Iraq because that population turned against it in revulsion, the consequences are likely to be profound. More profound, I would think, than the consequences of the U.S. military driving al Qaeda out of Afghanistan, the event which, according to Bergen, represents the high water mark in the fight.
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