In a speech last week before the American Legion, George W. Bush declared -- as he often does -- that Iraq is the "central front in our fight against terrorism."
Well, it was, anyway.
The White House is out with a new-and-improved "National Strategy for Combating Terrorism" today, and Iraq isn't exactly at the center of it. The word "Iraq" comes up just nine times in the 29-page report, and at least a couple of those are attempts to minimize the role the Iraq war plays in the president's "global war on terrorism." "Countries that did not participate in coalition efforts in Iraq have not been spared from terror attacks," the report says. "The ongoing fight for freedom in Iraq has been twisted by terrorist propaganda as a rallying cry," the report says.
What about Iraq as the "central front" in the war on terror? Oh, it's in there, too -- as in, "Terrorists see Iraq as the central front of their fight against the United States."
So what's the central front in the GWOT now? Well, you might think it would be the hunt for the man who masterminded the attacks against the United States five years ago. But Osama bin Laden gets just a single mention in the report, and even then only as an example used to make a larger point: Arguing that terrorism isn't "an inevitable by-product of poverty," the report notes that "many terrorist leaders, like bin Laden, are from privileged upbringings."
It would all be so surprising if it were surprising at all. The president said long ago that he doesn't spend much time thinking about bin Laden, and the CIA last year quietly disbanded the unit that had been assigned to hunt for him. As for Iraq, the White House has some delicate detangling to do. If the polls are to be believed, the fight against terrorism remains the Republicans' sole strong point with voters. At the same time, a substantial majority of the public disapproves of the way Bush is handling the war in Iraq. Having spent the better part of the past four years linking 9/11 to Iraq and Iraq to the overall war on terrorism, the GOP now must find a way to cash in on voters' fears about future acts of terrorism without tainting the argument with the reality that has already come to pass in Iraq.
So just like that, Iraq becomes the central front in the war on terror only in the twisted minds of terrorists. The real central front? It's in Iran, in Syria, in North Korea, on the Internet and in small, decentralized terror cells. "Terrorist networks today are more dispersed and less centralized," the report says. "They are more reliant on smaller cells inspired by a common ideology and less directed by a central command structure."
Translation: Forget Iraq. Forget bin Laden. The terrorists are everywhere now. And if you want to keep your family safe from them -- unless, of course, one of your family members happens to be serving in Iraq -- you'd better vote for the Republicans on your ballot in November.