Finally, Iraq Emerges as Campaign Centerpiece

A new John Kerry will be debating George W. Bush.

For the first time, the Democrat is challenging the way the Republican president runs the country, the economy and the war in Iraq.

The United States has not pacified Iraq, although the war against Islamic terrorists shows some positive signs. The isolation of al-Qaeda continues. There are few signs that Islamic terrorists enjoy widespread popular support in Muslim countries despite Bush’s willingness to label all opposition terrorism.

A peculiarity of the political campaign is that no one is claiming success for the isolation of al-Qaeda. Osama Bin Laden had hoped that the 9/11 attacks and the Iraq invasion would generate massive protests from Muslims, and bring about the overthrow of pro-Western governments in countries like Egypt, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Actually, al-Qaeda achieved the opposite result.

Saudi Arabia turned against the terrorists. Pakistan’s pro-Western stance grew more pronounced and Egypt is unmoved by extremism. In the last ten days, Syria, a historic foe of Israel and the United States, announced troop movements that signaled a new cooperative spirit. One week later Israeli agents in Damascus set off a car bomb executing a top Hamas official. It was the first such attack in Syria, and signaled the country is no longer a safe haven for these Palestinian warriors. There is no sign that existing Muslim governments will be overthrown. The massive unrest and show of support that Osama Bin Laden expected never materialized. In this negative sense, the United States has achieved a strategic success.

On the other hand, al-Qaeda and other Muslim groups are not disarmed. Terrorist attacks continue. The United States remains vulnerable to new attacks.

The peculiarity is that Bush never boasts of the achievements or explain how these developments frustrated the Islamic terrorists. Nor does he make the point that the majority of Muslims have rejected terrorism leaving the cutthroat fundamentalist vulnerable to defeat. Perhaps these points would require him to distinguish between the terrorists and nationalists fighting in Iraq.

The Iraqi terrorist groups are in disarray. Two Italian aid workers have been released even though Italian troops remain in Iraq. The French are relieved that the seizure of two journalists in Iraq backfired. The kidnappers demanded that France end its ban on the wearing of headscarfs in public school. They hoped their action would be greeted by sympathetic demonstrations from Muslims in France, but the Muslims refused to rally to the cause. They rejected the militant action and instead protested the kidnappings. Clearly, the Islamic terrorists misunderstand the Muslim masses. American hardliners who believe we are in a war with Islam cannot explain these events.

On the other hand, John Kerry is correct; security problems in Iraq are not diminishing. The Defense Department doubts that January elections can be conducted safely throughout Iraq with Secretary Donald Rumsfeld telling Congress the elections will be “less than perfect.” The king of Jordan is warning that extremists will be elected and “there will be no chance the situation will get better.” In fact, the war in Iraq is about to heat up.

An invasion of the Sunni stronghold in Fallujah is likely after the U.S. elections. Even if American forces take the city, it may be a pyrrhic victory. True success requires that the Iraqi opposition grows weaker. So far, the evidence suggests the insurgency is growing and U.S. troops are no closer to pacifying Iraq. This problem has drawn the attention of Kerry.

He has been hammering President Bush for not recognizing the growing security problems in Iraq. Attacks on American forces are way up. September has been a bloody month. Newsday reported the full extent of American casualties. In Iraq 1,042 American troops have died and an additional 4,026 troops have suffered grievous injuries that prevent them from returning to active duty. Many of the wounded suffer injuries to their limbs or faces that are not protected by body armor. For every death, there are four more soldiers who are seriously injured or have mental breakdowns. On an average day, 30 to 35 soldiers are evacuated from Iraq and brought to a U.S. military hospital in West Germany.

Recent decisions show how hard it is for the United States to win the hearts and minds of Iraqis. Although Iraq has an interim government, decisions about spending money are still made by Americans. John Negroponte, the American ambassador in Iraq, recognized the growing turmoil and decided to spend more money on security and providing jobs for Iraqis. To pay for these priorities, he cut expenditures for sewage and water purification.

The New York Times reported that Iraqi health authorities are protesting that decision. Water and waste disposal are essential in urban settings and the quality of the water supply has deteriorated since the invasion. The predictable result is the increase in disease especially hepatitis and typhoid fever. A hepatitis E epidemic is striking pregnant women in Baghdad. It is hard to believe that the United States will gain support among Iraqis.

Are the terrorists failing? Yes. As of September 2004, a popular uprising seems unlikely. Is the United States winning in Iraq? No. Do the terrorists maintain the ability to strike innocent civilians? The answer is yes.

It is this reality that John Kerry understands and George Bush is denying.

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