Returning over and over again, no less than 19 times by our count, to the phrases he knows resonate with many voters -- "terror," "terrorist," and "terrorism" -- President Bush tried to convince Americans last night he has a handle on national security, and that his fumblings in Iraq are all part of his grand strategy. Getting rid of Saddam Hussein "makes us more secure," he claimed, just as Afghanistan is now more secure since the U.S.-led operation there. (He should read this report today, about "the war the world forgot," that says Afghanistan is "on the verge of anarchy.")
But a leading London think tank issued a report today saying al-Qaida has been emboldened, not weakened. Thanks to unfinished business in Afghanistan and an unnecessary war in Iraq that was not originally about direct threats of terrorism, but is now, al-Qaida is alive, well-funded, widely-dispersed and frighteningly invisible. As a result, Westerners are even bigger targets for terrorists.
In its annual Strategic Survey, the International Institute for Strategic Studies said al-Qaida has more than 18,000 militants in its ranks around the world, and is represented in 60 countries. The Iraq war has been a boon for al-Qaida recruitment, the IISS says. While Afghanistan may have temporarily hobbled al-Qaida offensively, the network has regrouped and decentralized.
Here's a key paragraph from the report: "Overall, risks of terrorism to Westerns and Western assets in Arab countries appeared to increase after the Iraq war began in March 2003. With the miilitary invasion and occupation of Iraq, the United States sought to change he political status quo in the Arab world to advance the American strategic and political interests. Al Qaeda seeks, among other things, to purge the Arab and larger Muslim world of U.S. influence. Accordingly, the Iraq intervention was always likely in the short term, to enhance jihadist recruitment and intensify al Qaeda's motivation to encourage and assist terrorist operations. The May 2003 attacks in Saudi Arabia and Turkey confirmed this expectation. The Madrid bombings in March 2004 reinforced the perception that al Qaeda had fully reconstituted, set its sights firmly on the U.S. and its closest Western allies in Europe and established a new and effective modus operandi that increasingly exploited local affiliates. Al Qaeda must be expected to keep trying to develop more promising plans for terrorist operations in North America and Europe, potentially involving weapons of mass destruction. Meanwhile, soft targets encompassing Americans, Europeans and Isaraelis, and aiding the insurgency in Iraq, will suffice."