Many, maybe even most, Americans have come to believe that Iraq is a diversion from the war on terror, that the primary battlefield against Islamist radicals is in Afghanistan. But the “insurgents” — led by al-Qaida in Iraq — have been very clear that for them Iraq is the central front in the war against America. ~Steve Huntley
Three objections occur to me. One is that “the insurgents,” broadly defined are not led by anybody. They are a diverse and contentious bunch gathered into a number of groups, some of which actively try to kill members of the other groups. Connected to that is the observation that many of the insurgents and even the once-and-future insurgents of Anbar are decidedly not led by Al Qaeda in Iraq. Thus there has been much crowing about the Sunni tribes’ turn against Al Qaeda, since this has transformed the uneasy tensions between Sunni insurgents and Al Qaeda into full-blown hostility. Another objection is that Iraqi insurgents would see their insurgency as the central front in the “war against America,” since the only war against America with which they are concerned is the one they are fighting. A third objection requires me to ignore for the moment the rather glaring flaws pointed out by the first two objections and say this: if Al Qaeda says that such-and-such a place is their central front in the “war against America,” they could be a) wrong or b) lying for their own advantage. Even if they are not exactly wrong, it might make more sense to choose ground more advantageous to us in any case. Think of it this way: if an enemy chooses a place as his central front, he may have miscaculated in his estimation of the strategic importance of that place.
Japanese high command believed that it was a good move to attack Pearl Harbor (on the assumption that it would destroy the entirety of the Pacific Fleet) and enter into a Pacific war with the United States–they were spectacuarly wrong. German high command resumed unrestricted submarine warfare, despite the near-certainty that it would bring America into the war to their tremendous disadvantage–this was a less obviously stupid move, but still ultimately a mistake. In Iraq, Al Qaeda has not been playing to their strengths with other Muslims. Their reputation as a supposed scourge of infidel invaders has been significantly qualified by their attacks on other Muslims, particularly on other Sunnis. Meanwhile, they continue to gain strength and allies in Pakistan. Arguably, the Afghanistan-Pakistan border is even more important today to anti-jihadism than it was in 2001-02, and Iraq remains a secondary concern at best. If Al Qaeda actually believes that Iraq is a “central front” and is not just gulling another empire into playing the game according to their rules, it seems clear to me that they have rather badly misunderstood their own position, as has the government in Washington. It’s a bit like the Confederates thinking that sending a detachment to capture New Mexico would make it possible for them to take California; the official Washingtonian response today is a bit like thinking that the victory of the Colorado volunteers at Glorieta represented the turning point in the Civil War. These were basically errors in judgement and a waste of resources on fruitless gambles. Much like our own invasion of Iraq. The thing about two sets of foreign interlopers fighting each other in someone else’s country is that, sooner or later, the locals are going to get sick of both sets of foreigners and try to force them out. They may be unsuccessful, but they will try. The hostility to our presence is caused by the same resentment at foreign meddling and occupation that Iraqis would have for the operatives of other outside forces.