Bush was Right

The resurgence of al-Qaeda under Obama has proved that we were right to go to war in Iraq

Counterpoints War on Terror

It is the truth that dare not speak its name: George W. Bush got it right in Iraq. Of his intervention he told us: we’re fighting them there so we don’t have to fight them here at home. In February last year, Barack Obama outlined a hasty timetable for withdrawing US troops from Iraq. By August, American forces will have been cut by two-thirds. The result of this was inevitable — little over a year after leaving office, Bush has been proved right. 

Al-Qaeda is resurgent everywhere. Along with the Taliban it has brought the world’s most volatile nuclear power, Pakistan, to the brink of civil war. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb kidnapped two Italian tourists last December and a Frenchman in January. Then, of course, there is al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which celebrated its first birthday in January. It has already captured world attention by ordering, not just the abortive Christmas Day attack on a transatlantic flight, but also the attempted assassination of Saudi Arabia’s police chief, Prince Nayef. More broadly, al-Qaeda has inspired its fellow-travellers such as the al-Shabaab militia in the Horn of Africa and Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pakistan to become ever more brazen. 

That much was to be expected. Iraq was described as the flypaper strategy, giving the global jihad movement a regional target on which it would concentrate and exhaust its efforts. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of US ground forces in Iraq, explained the theory to CNN back in 2003: “This is what I would call a terrorist magnet, where America, being present here in Iraq, creates a target of opportunity…But this is exactly where we want to fight them…This will prevent the American people from having to go through their attacks back in the United States.”

These are the realities that opponents of our military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq cannot face: withdraw and terrorism increases, with the result that more civilians — on all sides — die. Now Bush can only look on, like Cassandra, as we learn this the hard way. 

Talk to the terrorists, cry his opponents. Perhaps we should. But it raises the question, what is there to talk about? A new book by John Bew, Martyn Frampton and Inigo Gurruchaga, Talking to Terrorists (C. Hurst), shows that bringing terrorists to the table almost always requires a strong military response to their activity first. Only that creates the conditions where there are tangible mutual goals to work towards.

War is, of course, never desirable, but there is little alternative when we are confronted by the unchecked nihilism of millennarian narratives. Tony Blair made that much clear when he gave evidence to the Chilcot Inquiry amid a chorus of condemnation suggesting that British intervention was illegal. Explaining the difference between tackling IRA and Islamist terrorism, he ended six hours of evidence by insisting that he had no regrets over the decision to invade Iraq. Not for him the trahison des clercs.