Thursday, October 27, 2005

On 2000, And 'Taking The Fight To The Enemy'

by Tom Bozzo

One of the president's long-running rationalizations of the carnage in Iraq — which is less notable for the recent milestone so much as the absence of any reason to expect that we won't be talking about the next one this time next year, if not sooner — is the 'flypaper' notion that combat in Iraq diverts terrorist resources that could have been deployed on U.S. soil, heard as recently as this past Tuesday from Bush himself.

I've thought this to be very unlikely to be valid logic given the shoestring nature of many terrorist operations, but as part of the occasional Marginal Utility series on counterfactualism, I will note that even if it were true, it suffers from the increasingly glaring additional flaw that we are already owed at least one avoided 9/11-level attack, specifically due to the Iraq war, merely to "break even" on the spilled blood of coalition troops.

Perhaps by way of addressing this concern, the administration had recently released a list of disrupted terrorist plots (link via Dartblog):
  1. The West Coast Airliner Plot: In mid-2002 the U.S. disrupted a plot to attack targets on the West Coast of the United States using hijacked airplanes. The plotters included at least one major operational planner involved in planning the events of 9/11.
  2. The East Coast Airliner Plot: In mid-2003 the U.S. and a partner disrupted a plot to attack targets on the East Coast of the United States using hijacked commercial airplanes.
  3. The Jose Padilla Plot: In May 2002 the U.S. disrupted a plot that involved blowing up apartment buildings in the United States. One of the plotters, Jose Padilla, also discussed the possibility of using a "dirty bomb" in the U.S.
  4. The 2004 UK Urban Targets Plot: In mid-2004 the U.S. and partners disrupted a plot that involved urban targets in the United Kingdom. These plots involved using explosives against a variety of sites.
  5. The 2003 Karachi Plot: In the Spring of 2003 the U.S. and a partner disrupted a plot to attack Westerners at several targets in Karachi, Pakistan.
  6. The Heathrow Airport Plot: In 2003 the U.S. and several partners disrupted a plot to attack Heathrow Airport using hijacked commercial airliners. The planning for this attack was undertaken by a major 9/11 operational figure.
  7. The 2004 UK Plot: In the Spring of 2004 the U.S. and partners, using a combination of law enforcement and intelligence resources, disrupted a plot to conduct large-scale bombings in the UK.
  8. The 2002 Arabian Gulf Shipping Plot: In late 2002 and 2003 the U.S. and a partner nation disrupted a plot by al-Qa'ida operatives to attack ships in the Arabian Gulf.
  9. The 2002 Straits of Hormuz Plot: In 2002 the U.S. and partners disrupted a plot to attack ships transiting the Straits of Hormuz.
  10. The 2003 Tourist Site Plot: In 2003 the U.S. and a partner nation disrupted a plot to attack a tourist site outside the United States.
There's little reason to think that our activities in Iraq had anything substantive to do with these plot disruptions. That the list quickly proceeds to plots to conduct attacks outside the U.S. does not strengthen the argument, as we've clearly lost others. I also find the list notable for the absence of evidence of any plotters, including Padilla, brought to justice in the conventional sense. As Bush noted in the Tuesday speech:
In four years since September the 11th, the evil that reached our shores has reappeared on other days, in other places -- in Mombasa and Casablanca and Riyadh and Jakarta and Istanbul and Madrid and Beslan (*) and Taba, Netanya, Baghdad, and elsewhere. In the past few months, we've seen a new terror offensive with attacks in London, Sharm el-Sheikh, and a deadly bombing in Bali once again.
In short, as many plots were successfully carried out outside the U.S. as the administration is willing to take credit for disrupting. Sadly, it seems likely that the U.S. will only be charmed for so long. Security-oriented Bushists should consider just how much struggle they're getting out of the administration.


(*) A particularly strange line of illogic that has emanated from Bush recently is to connect attacks by Chechen terrorists in Russia with Russian non-support for the Iraq war, as an inevitability-of-attack meme, as if there wasn't a significant causal factor via Russian military operations in Chechnya.
Hey, of the 15 items listed, one was important enough and detailed enough to prosecute (Brooklyn Bridge).

Some of the descriptions there are just too precious, even for covert operations. And how many were conducted by the oft-maligned CIA? Just asking.
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