Reprinted from Consortium News
As security worsens in Afghanistan and Pakistan, it is clear that al-Qaeda and its Taliban allies outwitted President George W. Bush and his neoconservative advisers by tying down U.S. forces in Iraq for five years while the Islamic militants rebuilt their forces for the war on their "central front."
The growing U.S. casualty list in Afghanistan and the Taliban advances in nuclear-armed Pakistan also underscore the significance of a late 2005 message from a top al-Qaeda operative, known as Atiyah, to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was then leading al-Qaeda's faction in Iraq.
"Prolonging the war [in Iraq] is in our interest," Atiyah said in a letter that upbraided Zarqawi for his reckless and hasty actions. Atiyah, who is believed to be a Libyan named Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, emphasized the need for Zarqawi to operate more deliberately in order to build political strength and drag out the U.S. occupation of Iraq.
[The Atiyah letter was discovered by the U.S. military after Zarqawi was killed by an airstrike in June 2006. To view the "prolonging the war" excerpt in a translation published by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, click here. To read the entire letter, click here.]
It's easy to see the logic behind Atiyah's advice. In 2002 and 2003, as Bush redirected U.S. military and intelligence resources to Iraq, al-Qaeda and the Taliban gained a valuable respite. After the U.S. invasion, Bush got bogged down in the Iraqi quagmire, giving al-Qaeda and the Taliban more time to revamp and re-arm their forces.
Now, as the Obama administration moves to wind down U.S. involvement in Iraq and shift attention to the Afghan-Pakistan region, that belated interest may be too late to achieve American goals at anything approaching an acceptable cost.
Instead of the relatively receptive Afghan population that by 2001 had grown weary of the Taliban's harsh fundamentalism, the Obama administration faces a populace that has come to regard the eight-year U.S. and NATO military presence as a foreign military occupation, resented for killing thousands upon thousands of Afghan civilians.
What might have been possible eight years ago -- in rebuilding Afghanistan and winning the hearts and minds of many Afghans -- has become almost impossible because of Bush's "muddling through" strategy regarding what became "the forgotten war."
'Central Front' Myth
To sell the Iraq War to the American people, Bush and the neocons called it "the central front in the war on terror," a claim that was buttressed by false information fed to the Bush administration by captured al-Qaeda operatives in the face of torture or threatened torture.
Those lies told about an Iraqi-Qaeda alliance -- whether coerced or intentionally misleading -- reflected a symbiotic relationship that had grown between the neocons and al-Qaeda, at least over their mutual desire to kill Saddam Hussein, a secular Muslim who brutally repressed Islamic extremists and also was an enemy of Israel.
By invading Iraq, Bush and the neocons gave three key gifts to al-Qaeda: they shifted U.S. military focus away from the Af-Pac border region where Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders were hiding; eliminated al-Qaeda's rival Saddam Hussein; and intensified anti-Americanism, which helped al-Qaeda recruit more suicide bombers.
Beyond that, Bush and the neocons upgraded the prospects for Islamic extremists to destabilize the Pakistani government, whose collapse could deliver nuclear weapons into the hands of al-Qaeda terrorists, exactly the nightmare scenario that Bush and neocons cited to justify the invasion of Iraq.
How misguided the Bush-neocon Iraq strategy was comes into focus in a recently released letter by a U.S. Foreign Service officer and ex-Marine captain, Matthew Hoh, who resigned his reconstruction post in Afghanistan because he concluded that the drawn-out U.S. occupation no longer made any sense, nor offered reasonable hope of success.
"I have doubts and reservations about our current strategy and planned future strategy," Hoh wrote in a Sept. 10 resignation letter to a State Department superior, "but my resignation is based not upon how we are pursuing this war, but why and to what end.