Since the invasion of Iraq, liberals have been arguing that the war in Iraq is not part of the broader war on terror. John Kerry said that the war in Iraq was "a profound diversion" from the war on terror and "the battle against our greatest enemy: Osama Bin Laden and the al-Qaeda network." Paul Begala, the human echo chamber, agreed completely with Kerry: "John Kerry is right. Hasn't the president's war in Iraq made us weaker in the face of the terrorist threat?" Joe Klein of Time Magazine concurred on CNN, stating that the Bush administration "conflated the war on terror with the war in Iraq, which are two very separate things."
President Bush, meanwhile, steadfastly refused to separate the war on terror and the war in Iraq. Calling the war in Iraq a "central commitment" in the war on terror, Bush cited terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as evidence that the Iraq war and the war on terror were inextricably joined. "If Zarqawi and his associates were not busy fighting American forces, does Sen. Kerry think he would be leading a productive and useful life? Of course not. And that is why Iraq is no diversion."
This week, the evidence came pouring in for President Bush's position. Bin Laden sent in his latest audiotape to an Islamist Web site. On the tape, the al-Qaeda leader told fellow Muslims that they would be committing a "grave sin" if they did not wage jihad against U.S. forces and the government in Iraq. He labeled as "infidels" any Iraqis who participated in the upcoming Jan. 30 Iraqi election. He explained that al-Qaeda was spending at least $275,000 each week in Iraq. And he appointed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi his proxy in Iraq.
This puts liberals in a tight spot. It seems that the war in Iraq is indeed an integral part of the war on terror, since Bin Laden is now expending much of his energy fighting American troops there. The war in Iraq hasn't distracted us from the broader war on terror; it has distracted Bin Laden from his war on American cities. The war in Iraq wasn't a diversion for us; it was a diversion for him.
Diversion through offensive action has long been a part of military strategy. During the Civil War, Robert E. Lee used such strategy, invading Maryland in 1862 and Pennsylvania in 1863 in order to divert Union troops from marching on Richmond, Va. As Lee himself wrote to Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, "As long as the army of the enemy are employed on this frontier I have no fears for the safety of Richmond, yet I earnestly recommend that advantage be taken of this period of comparative safety to place its defence, both by land and water, in the most perfect condition." President Bush makes exactly the same point when he says that America must fight terrorists where they live, instead of fighting them on our own soil.
The war in Iraq has helped solve another problem as well. Islamist terrorism composes a network spanning the globe. The largest question in dealing with such a network is how to draw out the terrorists from the general population. Islamist terrorists are like iron filings in a sandbox; there is no sieve in the world capable of separating the malignant from the benign. The only way to draw the filings from the sandbox is by using a large magnet: You let the filings come to you.
That's the situation in Iraq. Terrorists from all over the Middle East and the world are seeping into Iraq, hot and heavy to do battle with coalition forces. For months, we've heard constant reports of terrorists from Iran and Syria crossing the Iraqi border. According to Iraqi Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan, Iranian and Syrian intelligence agents, as well as former Saddam Hussein loyalists, are allying with al-Zarqawi in Iraq.
In this respect, the old pacifist 1960s adage "What if they gave a war and nobody came?" could have proved disastrous if true. If the situation were too simple in Iraq -- if we gave a war and no terrorists came -- the invasion would have failed to serve one of its chief purposes.
It is crystal clear that the war in Iraq isn't merely another battle in the war on terrorism; it is currently the first and foremost battle. Other battles loom on the horizon: Iran's development of nuclear weaponry must be stopped; Syria's consistent support for terrorism must be ended; Saudi backing for international sharia must be curbed. But wherever the war on terror takes us, we must remember that wars are not won in one battle -- and each battle (e.g. the war in Iraq) is not a separate war.