Peter Wehner

As we approach next month’s report by General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, the debate about Iraq will intensify. One key point of discussion will be a threshold question: How important is Iraq in the larger war against Islamic extremism? Is Iraq a central battleground in the fight against jihadists, or a distraction?

Many leading political figures seem to believe Iraq is almost incidental to the wider struggle. In the August 7 Democratic debate in Chicago, for example, Senator Barack Obama said this: “I want us to fight on the right battlefield, and what that means is getting out of Iraq and refocusing our attention on the war that can be won in Afghanistan.” In a June 3 debate, Governor Bill Richardson said he would “move them [troops from Iraq] to Afghanistan to fight al Qaeda.” And in the June 14 issue of The Politico, we read this: “[Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid again told Bush that it was ‘time to transition the mission in Iraq’ in order to refocus attention on Iran and, more specifically, Afghanistan, which both Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have called the real central battlefront in the war on global terror.”

The problem with this view is it constitutes wishful thinking of a high order. Whether we like it or not, whether we wish it were the case or not, Iraq is a central battleground in the war against Islamic extremists. The jihadists, and al Qaeda in particular, have made it so. They have declared their intentions time and again – and they have backed up their intentions with savagery.

Osama bin Laden has himself said, “The most important and serious issue today for the whole world is this Third World War, which the Crusader-Zionist coalition began against the Islamic nation. It is raging in the land of the two rivers. The world's millstone and pillar is in Baghdad, the capital of the caliphate." Bin Laden has also said this: "The whole world is watching this war and the two adversaries; the Islamic nation, on the one hand, and the United States and its allies on the other. It is either victory and glory or misery and humiliation.” And this: “I would like to tell you that the war is for you or for us to win. If we win it, it means your defeat and disgrace forever as the wind blows in this direction with God's help." And this (in a message to Muslims in Iraq): “This is a war of destiny between infidelity and Islam.”

Peter Wehner

Peter Wehner, former deputy director to the President, is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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