Chertoff's Gut Feeling

This week in Islamabad, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf ordered commandos to assault the Red Mosque, after a six-day siege against well armed Taliban-supporting militants. Less than twenty four hours later, Ayman al Zawahri, Osama bin Laden’s apparent successor to the command of al Qaeda, issued his third “Jihadist Exhortation” of the month — a new record.

Meanwhile, here in Washington, more Republicans joined the “get out of Iraq” chorus as Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff described his “gut feeling” that a major terrorist event against us is in the offing. The next day President Bush christened the new White House briefing room, explaining that public debate is not about whether or not to bring the troops home, it is between “those who think the fight is lost or not worth the cost and those who believe the fight can be won, and [know]…the costs of defeat would be far higher.”

Mr. Chertoff’s queasiness — my word not his — is well founded. The months ahead are very likely to be — as he put it — a period of “increased risk.” It’s not just because of “seasonal patterns of terrorist attacks” or “recent al Qaeda statements.” Rather, the greater threat of terrorist activity is very likely tied to a perception — widely supported by the U.S. press and an increasing number of politicians — that the west cannot stabilize Iraq or Afghanistan and will therefore “withdraw” from the unprovoked war radical Islam is waging against us.

Ever since liberal Democrats took control of the U.S. Congress in January, there has been much in the western media to encourage those who are dying to kill us. It has taken nearly five months for us to “surge” an additional 25,000 troops to the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates, and now, weak-kneed Republicans, more terrified of losing their seats than they are of vicious Islamic terrorists, are opting to abandon the battlefield in Iraq. Of the Senate seats up for reelection in 2008, 21 are held by Republicans, 12 by Democrats. GOP advocates for devising a “get out” strategy — Senators Lamar Alexander, Chuck Hagel, Gordon Smith, John Warner, Susan Collins and Pete Domenici — are all up for reelection. How these solons will explain the catastrophe that will follow a precipitous U.S. withdrawal from Iraq will be a challenge for their press spokesmen.

U.S. politicians aren’t the only ones who have lost their nerve or the big picture. In Great Britain, where Muslim doctors and medical professionals are accused of banding together to kill their patients with car bombs, Gordon Brown, the new Prime Minister, ordered his government spokesmen to abjure using terms like “Muslim terrorist” or “Islamic radical” to describe Muslim terrorists and Islamic radicals who intend to murder his fellow Britons. All of this follows in the wake of London’s decision — a poorly kept secret in Baghdad — to withdraw all but a handful of U.K. troops from Iraq by next spring. 

These developments — far more than events on the ground in Iraq — are disheartening to the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Guardsmen and Marines and their families who have borne the burden of a relentless campaign against the Jihadis. But signs of collapse in Washington and London are a source of great encouragement to the principal sponsor of death and disorder in the Middle East — the radical theocracy in Iran. Senator Joe Lieberman’s recent column in the Wall Street Journal entitled, “Iran’s Proxy War” summed up Tehran’s new aggressiveness: “In addition to sponsoring insurgents in Iraq, Tehran is training, funding and equipping radical Islamist groups in Lebanon, Palestine and Afghanistan — where the Taliban now appear to be receiving Iranian help in their war against the government of President Hamid Karzai and its NATO defenders.”

Senator Lieberman wrote that these “latest revelations should be a painful wake-up call to the American people, and to the U.S. Congress.” However, they haven’t been — nor was this week’s Interim Report from the Pentagon & State Department on the war in Iraq. The report — due in its entirety in September — shows disappointing political progress in Baghdad, but steady improvement in local governance and security — despite active Iranian intervention.

The impunity and effectiveness with which Tehran operates in support of organizations such as the Taliban and al Qaeda are much debated topics within the intelligence community which has been embroiled in a two-year long quest to develop an updated National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) focusing on threats to the United States. In testimony before the House Armed Services Committee this week, John Kringen, head of the CIA’s analysis directorate, said that al-Qaeda was, “well settled into the safe haven and the ungoverned spaces of Pakistan.” He went on to note that, “We see more training. We see more money. We see more communications. We see that activity rising.” Unspoken is the belief of several experienced intelligence and military professionals that there is a bidding war on between Sunni Wahabbis and the Shiites in Tehran for the affections of al Qaeda.

How the threat of a resurgent al Qaeda is ameliorated by a hasty U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, no Democrat, liberal Republican or member of the media has yet explained. Nor can any of them tell us how the situation improves once the Iranians acquire nuclear weapons. No wonder Michael Chertoff has these “gut feelings.”