James Fallows's "Bush's Lost Year" (October Atlantic) contains several gaps and contradictions. I do not understand how Fallows can argue that our invasion of Iraq was a mistake without seriously addressing the belief held by most intelligence agencies that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Even if stockpiles have not been found, I've heard no one argue that Saddam Hussein did not have the capability to work on these weapons, especially as UN sanctions enforcement had begun to unravel. No cost-benefit analysis of the Iraq campaign is complete without an assessment of WMD potential. Fallows himself raises this question when he notes that many found the war costly but, based on WMD intelligence, necessary. He leaves the question unanswered, but I would argue that if the war was necessary, then discussing its opportunity costs is an intriguing but pointless game.
Fallows ends his article with a discussion that I believe would have been better placed at the beginning: he writes that the terrorists attack us not because of our values but because of our policies. This charge is so incendiary that it colors everything else. First, I do not see how such an argument can be made without acknowledging the work of Thomas Friedman in The Lexus and the Olive Tree. Western media, entertainment, and business, and most especially women, are a constant threat to Islamic extremists and a constant temptation to the hearts and minds of youths in the Middle East. The mullahs, Friedman argues, see the West as their enemy. Fallows supports his claim that the terrorists are attacking us for our policies by quoting the observation that Norway has not yet been attacked, but earlier he contradicts this argument by noting that terrorist attacks "especially against Americans and Europeans" have increased. Does Fallows seriously contend that terrorism is not a global threat to civilization but merely a reaction to U.S. policy? Following the massacre in Beslan, we are reminded that the terrorists' only logic is the logic of a love affair with death.
Fallows argues that the first casualty of Iraq was Afghanistan, but his view of Afghanistan is confused and distorted. First, he fails to mention the elections then scheduled for October—an achievement of consequence. Second, he assumes that the continued influence of the warlords is a defeat of U.S. objectives, although Afghanistan has always been a collection of tribes. And finally, Fallows suggests that U.S. troops should have forcibly entered Pakistan to cut off avenues of retreat for bin Laden, even at the risk of destabilizing Pakistan's government. Here Fallows grossly underestimates the dangers of unleashing Islamic extremism in Pakistan. There is, of course, the nuclear question; but beyond that Saddam would have been left with a free hand while we got dragged into a quagmire in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Fallows proposes a nightmare scenario: the entire Middle East in chaos, with nuclear weapons loose in Pakistan, and Saddam wielding biological and chemical weapons in Iraq—all for the off chance of nabbing bin Laden in some remote cave. Our troop numbers are and have been low in Afghanistan not to save soldiers for Iraq but because of a deliberate policy choice to keep a low profile. U.S. policy has always been to approach Afghanistan lightly, and this choice has had slow but effective results.
Corey R. McCool
I have read James Fallows's articles and editorial comments for a number of years, and I respect him as one of the more astute observers currently writing on foreign policy and politics. But I take serious issue with the conclusions he has drawn in his October cover story. Or perhaps I should say that I take issue with his major premise, as stated in the sub-headline "How the War on Iraq Undermined the War on Terror." What Fallows apparently doesn't understand—and the media won't tell the American public—is that the war on terror and the war in Iraq are part and parcel of the same effort. Iraq is currently the focal point and principal battleground in the war on terror.
Marine Major William Truax said it best—in a recent letter from his position on the staff of the multinational headquarters in Baghdad—when he observed, "The bad guys did us a huge favor by gathering together in one place and trying to make a stand. It allowed us to focus on them … there rather than hunt them down in their home countries." If Fallows needs any reinforcement of this point, consider that the interim Iraqi Prime Minister, Ayad Allawi, told both the UN and Congress that more than half the terrorists in Iraq—not militants, insurgents, or freedom fighters but terrorists—are from foreign countries, principally Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Chechnya, and Afghanistan, and from groups such as the PLO, Hamas, and Hizbollah.
The Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a high-ranking al-Qaeda operative, is widely acknowledged as the leader of those trying to prevent the democratization of Iraq. The remaining terrorists under his control are the hardcore Baathists and the remnants of Saddam's Republican Guard, which evaporated at the end of major combat with barely a shot fired, only to re-emerge as killers of their own people—as they were in their previous existence. Until the world comes to realize that Iraq is an integral part of the war on terror and is currently its most decisive battleground, we face the very real possibility of abandoning the field to the terrorists, only to be forced to engage them in our own country at some future date.