One of Diehl’s most fantastic assertions is the claim that the United States “faced down al-Qaeda and eventually dealt it a decisive defeat.” Look, I was on the team after 9/11 that analyzed whether there was a relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda, and I was the chief targeting officer charged with following Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The war in Iraq provided al Qaeda with a new front for its struggle with the West. After the invasion, Zarqawi — the man who would lead al Qaeda in Iraq — pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden and, consequently, money and weapons flowed into the country. The United States didn’t “face down” al Qaeda in Iraq; it inadvertently helped Zarqawi evolve from a lone extremist with a loose network to a charismatic leader of al Qaeda. By extension, it would be safe to say that the al Qaeda in Iraq affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, exists because of the Iraq invasion, and likely would find new authority and power if the United States made Syria the next front for the global jihadist movement [bold mine-DL].
One of the many things I find so irritating about Iraq war dead-enders is that they still want to present their support for the war as if it were an understandable result of wanting to combat jihadist groups. The Iraq war enabled and empowered such groups more than anything they could have done on their own. As Michael Hanna noted today, it also created an opportunity for them to overreach and discredit themselves, but that is cold comfort to the thousands of people that jihadists in Iraq and their offshoots have murdered. The problem with Diehl’s argument isn’t just that he doesn’t consider the possibility that U.S. intervention in Syria could make jihadist groups more powerful, but that he fails to acknowledge that the Iraq war already did this. Instead, he tries to turn the Iraq debacle into an anti-jihadist success story, when that is exactly what it can never be. The most obnoxious part is that he does this while making an explicit argument in favor of collapsing the Syrian regime through U.S. military action, which would repeat some of the most significant errors of the Iraq war, and he does so while lecturing Iraq war opponents for having learned the wrong lessons.