Sticking to the flypaper

Americans don't think the war in Iraq is making them safer anymore. The White House says they're wrong.

Published July 12, 2005 9:16PM (EDT)

Karl Rove's involvement in the outing of Valerie Plame was subject A, B and C at the White House today -- try as he might, Scott McClellan just couldn't get anyone all that interested in Alvaro Uribe's upcoming visit to Crawford -- but a few other issues did manage to find their way through McClellan's cone of silence.

Among them was Iraq. A new Gallup Poll out today shows a sharp increase in the percentage of Americans who think the war in Iraq has made them less safe. Just two weeks ago, a Gallup survey had only 39 percent of the public saying that the war is making the United States less safe. In the new poll, taken after the bombings in London last week, 54 percent said so. Although the president's approval rating has ticked up a few statistically insignificant percentage points since last month, it seems that the public isn't buying the administration's "flypaper" theory for fighting terrorism anymore.

That won't stop the White House from promoting it. Four days after the London attacks, George W. Bush told an audience at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va., Monday that the United States and its allies are "fighting the enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan and across the world so we do not have to face them here at home." And today, when he wasn't busy saying nothing about Karl Rove, McClellan held forth at length about the benefits of "fighting [terrorists] abroad so that we don't have to fight them here at home."

The problem is, the facts keep getting in the way. Dick Cheney said in 2003 that the United States and its allies are "confronting the terrorists" in Iraq and Afghanistan "so that innocent civilians will not have to confront terrorist violence in Washington or London or anywhere else in the world." But Britain's role in Iraq didn't keep Londoners from confronting terrorist violence there; more than 50 people are dead in bombings that British authorities believe were carried out by British-born attackers. And the war in Iraq hasn't exactly put an end to terrorist violence "anywhere else in the world," either. A recent report from the government's National Counterterrorism Center concludes that there were 3,192 acts of terrorism worldwide in 2004, with 28,433 people killed, wounded or kidnapped. While the center's report may not lend itself well to year-to-year comparisons, an earlier report from the State Department indicated that the number of serious international terrorist attacks more than tripled between 2003 and 2004.

So it's no wonder Americans are feeling a little skeptical when they hear that the war in Iraq is making them safer. And it's no wonder that the White House and its supporters keep trying so hard to write Iraq into the story of what happened on a Tuesday morning almost four years ago.

Sometimes that requires bizarre lies. Other times, as McClellan showed today, it just requires re-arranging the timeline of history. Asked to justify the "flypaper" theory in the wake of the London bombings, McClellan said that "terrorists have chosen to make Iraq a central front in the war on terrorism" and that "the president made a decision after September 11th that we were going to take the fight to the enemy." That would all be exactly right if only it weren't entirely upside down. It's fair to argue that Iraq is the "central front" on the war on terror now, but that designation was earned after Bush decided to invade the country, not before.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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