Joe Conason's Journal

An important -- and grim -- report on how the Iraq war has "increased al-Qaida's recruiting power."

Published May 16, 2003 2:36PM (EDT)

Famous victories
Those murderous explosions in Riyadh have silenced, for the moment, the president's round of triumphal speechifying about American progress in the war on terrorism. As we are now beginning to learn, there is a "Potemkin village" quality to the U.S. victory in Afghanistan, which is descending into chaos. And there is an equal likelihood that we will be in more peril, not less, as a result of the Iraq invasion. Dividend taxes will be cut, but U.S. ports, factories and nuclear installations remain inadequately protected. No weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq, but unknown amounts of radioactive material were left unguarded and have gone missing. Our ties with allies are frayed when we need international cooperation more than at any time since the end of the Cold War.

You don't have to take my word for this bad news. (Or the word of Paul Krugman.) Instead, attend to Jonathan Stevenson of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, who released the institute's "annual strategic survey" this week. The institute more or less supported the U.S.-British position in the Iraq war, but its analysis of the aftermath is nevertheless grim. Stevenson told the Guardian that the Riyadh bombings "bore the hallmarks" of an al-Qaida operation, and "may be the first indication that the regime change in Iraq in the short term is going to cause a terrorist backlash and be an inspiration for terrorists." The Iraq war, he said, might create a "suppressive effect" on terrorism but just as likely "increased al-Qaeda's recruiting power."

Stevenson's report indicates that al-Qaida is "just as dangerous as in its pre-September 11 incarnation." While the U.S. and our allies have captured or killed a number of leaders and cadre, the group is far from disabled, as Bush sought to claim before the Riyadh bombings.

A few Democrats, like Bob Graham and Russell Feingold, are at last standing up to question the president's questionable national security policies. Many more should, for this is a responsibility that goes beyond partisan calculation. Despite its battlefield victories against weak regimes, the Bush administration is not sufficiently focused on destroying our most determined enemies -- and it is the duty of the opposition to expose and debate that perilous error.
[8:05 a.m. PDT, May 16, 2003]

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