Friday, August 24, 2007

The 'Central' War on Terrorism

I spend an inappropriate amount of my life listening to C-SPAN. But gems like these make it worth it...

Last night, at a town hall meeting for Americans Against Escalation In Iraq, Rand Beers, former counter-terrorism adviser to the President, gave the most lucid and succinct explanation of the situation in Iraq and what we need to do about it that I've ever heard:

(Quoted in its entirety)

“There is a multi-sided civil war going on, of which, Al Qaeda is but one participant in that violence.

The President often says that ‘this is the central front in the war on terrorism.’ I fundamentally disagree with that conclusion. And in my last job, for those of you who don’t know, I was special assistant to the president- this president- for combating terrorism. And it was clear to me then, and it’s become even more clear to me now, that Al Qaeda was not in Iraq, is only there now because we are there, and is there in a fundamental strategic choice to fight us there, so that we can’t fight them where they are, which is in Pakistan.

Think for a minute... If you were in Pakistan, and you aren’t all that strong, why wouldn’t you want to have the United States diverted to another conflict- that you didn’t even have to fight by yourself- that other people willingly joined in pinning down the United States- in a struggle that sapped our people, our attention, our resources, so that we couldn’t concentrate on Al Qaeda, and dealing with a real threat to the United States that exists and is centered in Pakistan?

The London Bombings were run out of Pakistan. The effort to blow up airplanes crossing the Atlantic was centered in Pakistan.

Al Qaeda in Iraq would be extremely unlikely to get to the United States. The people who will come to the United States who are Al Qaeda, will come with passports from Western Europe, without being required to have a visa. If they’re coming from the Middle East, our visa system, to the extent that it works, and it does work reasonable well, is not gonna allow those people to come into the country.

Where are they gonna go? They’re gonna go to North Africa or they’re gonna go to other places around the Middle East, but they’re not coming to the United States.

Al Qaeda in Pakistan is what we ought to be worrying about. And the larger struggle against Al Qaeda and the Al Qaeda movement, is what is most threatening to the United States. And I find myself feeling that, while we’re bogged down in Iraq, we are unable, in fact, to deal effectively with who is, in fact, our real enemy.

But Congressman Davis put his finger on the problem, though. Because it’s all well and good to say, ‘I’m opposed to the war.’ It’s all well and good to say that, ‘it’s a tragic mistake.’ The issue is how to responsibly redeploy from Iraq. And I think that is really where we all have to try to bring our effort. It’s a situation of withdrawing from Iraq because we can’t be more committed to Iraq than Iraqis. But it’s to do it in a fashion that will minimize the damage and maximize the prospects for some kind of enduring stability.

Congressman Davis mentioned the Iraq Study Group. A number of other groups have all endorsed the notion that we have to talk to the neighbors. We have to talk to Syria and Iran and Turkey and Saudi Arabia and Jordan and Kuwait. [clapping].

They offer the opportunity…if we can’t stop the violence in Iraq, at least to contain it. And if we can’t talk to them, then we don’t have any chance of reducing the violence that’s in Iraq- whether we stay or leave.

It’s that critical to begin that dialogue in a way that brings people to the table instead of push[ing] them away as we, in this Administration, have often done.

So I leave with that thought, that we need to find a way to look at the broader framework, outside of Iraq, and create the stability that we’re all looking for with other people who are in the region, with the United Nations, with our allies in Western Europe and elsewhere around the world- in order to mitigate against the worst possible outcomes that the President is often reminding us are going to happen if we withdraw.

They will happen if we don’t work in the broader context. But we have to begin the withdrawal in order to enable the ability to talk to any of the neighbors in any any successful fashion... Thank you.”

It is amazing to me, although perhaps not surprising, that the most clear understanding of our misguided policies come from disenchanted, former officials in the Bush Administration. I wish speeches like this got more press than they do.

Please give C-SPAN radio a chance...


Lucas Winston said...

yo you gotsta look up a recent this american life episode called "Man vs History" that has the story about this one US businessman thought he could broker a cease-fire in Iraq...without any political connections or knowledge or anything. it didnt work obviously but it is wicked cool.

Harrison Lewis said...

Got it. Thanks for the heads up. This is wild.

Here's the link for anybody else who wants to hear it: