Get out of Baghdad

The London bombings should spur Bush and Blair to pull out of Iraq and renew the fight against our real enemies.

Published July 9, 2005 12:46AM (EDT)

Responding appropriately to the atrocities in London means mourning the dead and caring for the wounded, declaring defiance to terrorism, and proclaiming support for every effort to find and punish the perpetrators. On those matters we should all be able to agree and unite, just as we did on Sept. 11, 2001.

But this isn't Sept. 11 anymore. Americans and our traditional allies have come a long way since then, at great cost in blood and money -- while the unity that sustained us after the 9/11 attacks has been squandered in a dubious war and partisan politics.

George W. Bush and Tony Blair will understandably try to bolster their waning popularity with rallying cries against acts of terror. Their initial reactions to the London bombings were simple expressions of resolve, but we may soon hear them claim that this sickening assault proves the wisdom of their decision to invade Iraq.

The president, prime minister, and their surrogates will remind us that the war on terrorism is a global struggle with an enemy that respects no borders. Their sonorous phrases will be intended to silence those of us who believe that the war in Iraq is, at best, a distraction from the war to extirpate al-Qaida, and, at worst, an incitement of new terrorists.

Such tactics will no doubt resonate on the authoritarian right, where questioning the commander in chief is tantamount to treason. But sooner or later the hard questions will have to be answered, and when they are, the hollowness of the arguments used to justify the war in Iraq will be exposed.

We were told that the removal of Saddam Hussein's regime would deprive the terrorists of a friend and sponsor, and make the world safer. The evidence linking Saddam to al-Qaida was always somewhere between flimsy and nonexistent, and now, more than two years after the capture of Baghdad, we have uncovered no further proof. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was formerly isolated in a corner of northern Iraq, now roams that country at will, inflicting murder on Iraqis and Americans.

We were told that the war would concentrate the Islamists in Iraq, allowing us to confront them in warfare that guaranteed their destruction. This was the infamous "flytrap" theory floated by various amateur counter-terrorists, also known as war-bloggers. It has long been exposed as a stupid idea but the human price for that stupidity has only begun to be paid. Recent assessments by the CIA indicate that a new generation of urban terrorists is being recruited and trained for the Iraqi conflict, and that in years to come the survivors will disperse to wreak destruction elsewhere. Two days before the London bombings, Knight-Ridder reported that the use of improvised explosive devices or IEDs, the weapon of choice against both Iraqis and our troops, has now spread to Afghanistan.

We were told that the war in Afghanistan had ended in victory for democracy. In fact, as the New York Times reported earlier this week, the Taliban is gaining ground and Afghanistan is slipping into violent chaos. The just war against the Taliban, fought with the full support of all our allies, was essentially abandoned well short of victory, with the necessary resources pulled away to conquer and occupy Iraq. That the Taliban continues to torment the Afghans and kill our troops is a defeat for civilization and a disgrace to the president who swore vengeance on them. Damaged and depleted by the demands of the Iraq occupation, the Army and Marines may no longer be ready to finish the war in Afghanistan.

We were told that overthrowing Saddam Hussein and installing a friendly government in Iraq would be cheap and easy. Billions of dollars and thousands of lives have put the lie to those false assurances -- and no one has been held accountable. What could we have done to ensure our safety with $100 billion or $200 billion or $300 billion? What will we do if we are attacked again here and need the National Guard troops who have been deployed to occupy Iraq?

We were told that the war in Iraq would not distract from the essential tasks of securing our cities, borders, and transportation systems. The Department of Homeland Security remains in utter disorder, its priorities skewed by contractor lobbyists and pork-barrel deals. The waste and petty corruption wouldn't matter if the government were making adequate progress toward its own security goals. In late June, former DHS inspector general Clark Kent Ervin told the members of the 9/11 Commission that despite the warning provided by the Madrid train bombing, "relatively little has been done in this country" to secure mass transit from terror attacks. The same can be said for chemical and nuclear plants, among other potential targets.

There is no need for Bush and Blair to confess their grave error in Iraq. There is an urgent need for them to extricate us from that destructive distraction -- and to mobilize the resources and alliances we will need to defeat our real enemies in the years to come.

By Joe Conason

Joe Conason is the editor in chief of To find out more about Joe Conason, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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British Election George W. Bush Iraq Middle East Terrorism