Both AQ and AQI leaders have plainly stated that they consider Iraq the central front in the global conflict they are waging. In an audio message in late 2004, Osama bin Laden said he looked forward to Baghdad becoming the capital of the new “caliphate” – the Islamic empire it is his ambition to resurrect and lead.
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who commanded AQI until being killed by U.S. forces in 2006, pledged that his followers would “fight today in Iraq, tomorrow in the land of the Holy Places [Israel], and after there in the West." And in May of this year, Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden’s top deputy, spoke in a video of AQ’s intention to use Iraq and Afghanistan as “launch pads” for the “establishment of the caliphate.”
American Enterprise Institute scholar Fred Kagan points out that in the 1980s, the mujahideen in Afghanistan appeared to represent no threat to anyone except the Soviets. But after forcing the Kremlin to withdraw from Afghanistan, elements of those groups evolved into the Taliban which hosted AQ – which quickly began plotting terrorism against the United States.
Perhaps Sen. Obama and my colleague are correct that al-Qaeda in Pakistan is a greater threat to us than is al-Qaeda in Iraq. But history, evidence and logic contradict their belief that we need not worry about AQI coming after us here at home, and their implication that accepting defeat in Iraq will not sharply increase our risks.
We have a choice: We can give Gen. Petraeus and his troops the time and tools they need to continue pursuing al-Qaeda in Iraq even as we ponder what to do about al-Qaeda in Pakistan. Or we can precipitously withdraw; we can leave AQI alone and cross our fingers.
That would not be a “new course.” It would be a return to an approach we’ve tried before. Too many members of the Foreign Policy Establishment and the political class have apparently forgotten how that turned out. Next month, there will be an anniversary that should remind them.