The question posed -- does the Iraq war increase or decrease the world supply of jihadists? -- is itself an exercise in counting angels on the head of a pin. Any answer would require a complex calculation involving dozens of unmeasurable factors, as well as construction of a complete alternate history of the world had the U.S. invasion of 2003 not happened.
Ah, but those seers in the U.S. "intelligence community," speaking through a leaked National Intelligence Estimate -- the most famous previous NIE, mind you, concluded that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, slam-dunk -- have peered deep into the hypothetical past and found the answer. As spun by Iraq war critics, the conclusion is that Iraq has made us less safe because it has become a "cause celebre" and a rallying cry for jihad.
Become? Everyone seems to have forgotten that Iraq was already an Islamist cause celebre and rallying cry long before 2003. When Osama bin Laden issued his declaration of war against America in 1998, his two principal justifications for the jihad that exploded upon us on Sept. 11, 2001, centered on Iraq: America's alleged killing of more than 1 million Iraqis through the post-Gulf War sanctions and, even worse, the desecration of Islam's holiest cities of Mecca and Medina by the garrisoning of infidel U.S. soldiers in Saudi Arabia (as post-Gulf War protection from the continuing threat of invasion by Hussein).
The irony is that the overthrow of Hussein eliminated these two rallying cries: Iraqi sanctions were lifted and U.S. troops were withdrawn from the no-longer-threatened Saudi Arabia. But grievances cured are easily replaced.
Moreover, does anyone imagine that had the jihadists in Iraq remained home they would now be tending petunias rather than plotting terror attacks? Omar al-Farouq, leader of al-Qaeda in Southeast Asia, escaped from a U.S. prison in Afghanistan a year ago and was apparently drawn to the "cause celebre" in Iraq. Last month he was killed by British troops in a firefight in Basra. In an audiotape released Sept. 28, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq said that more than 4,000 of its recruits have been killed there since the American invasion. Like Omar al-Farouq and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, they went to Iraq to die in Iraq.
It is clear that one of the reasons we have gone an astonishing five years without a second attack on the American homeland is that the most dedicated and virulent jihadists have gone to Iraq to fight us, as was said during World War I, "over there."
Does the war in Iraq make us more or less safe today? And what about tomorrow? The fact is that no definitive answer is possible. Except for the following truism: During all wars we are by definition less safe -- and the surest way back to safety is victory.
I don't have a lot to add to his analysis, but I do think that if some people would rather count angels on the head of a pin instead of appreciating the fact that no attacks on the homeland have taken place for the last 5 years, then they are probably so far beyond the reach of reality; and steeped in Bush hatred too deeply to appreciate the bottom line. As I said in this post:
Think back for a moment and remember that no one--NO ONE--imagined for even a brief moment after 9/11 that there would not be more attacks on this country that would be even worse than what occurred on that September day in 2001.
No matter what happens in the days and months to come, the policies of the Bush Administration--however imperfect, and including invading Iraq--have resulted in no attacks on U.S. soil since that day.
And for me, that is the bottom line.
Meanwhile, you get to decide which scenario you prefer this coming November!