Center for American Progress

After Iraq: The Next Steps in the “War on Terror”

After Iraq: The Next Steps in the “War on Terror”

Richard Clark says: escalation is not the answer, and continued military involvement is a distraction, a magnet for terrorism, and a waste of lives.

United States military involvement in Iraq is increasing, but it is not mitigating the threat of global terrorist networks. Richard Clarke, former head of counterterrorism at the National Security Council, delivered this message in a speech this week at the Center for American Progress.

Clarke said that President Bush used a false link between Iraq and terrorism in order to invade the country. It was not a terrorist haven before the invasion, but because the U.S. has stayed in Iraq, the country has become a harbor for terrorists and is now the major front in the fight against global terrorism.

Clarke expressed concern that the president’s push for military escalation “is probably motivated to delay the judgment of history.” He speculated that the Bush administration aims to push blame for the disaster of the war onto the next administration. “We have to face the truth that there is going to be a bad outcome in Iraq no matter what we do,” he said. The escalation plan merely “delays the day when we can address the remaining threats from Islamic fundamentalist terrorism.”

The administration continues to argue that the U.S. must succeed in its original military mission in Iraq, but Clarke looked further into the future and emphasized the unanswered question of what comes after the war is over. “Someday there will be no U.S. combat units in Iraq,” he said, “What will we do then?”

Our primary national security concern is that Iraq not remain a terrorist sanctuary. Clarke asserted that the U.S. can achieve this goal without having a military presence in the country.

“There are lots of things we need to do—most of which we cannot do while we are in Iraq,” he said. Clarke outlined what he sees as the threefold drain of fighting a fruitless war: The Iraq war requires massive amounts of funding that could be directed to more effective efforts; it requires the full attention of the administration, which cannot focus on diplomatic efforts; and fighting has depleted U.S. Army and Marine resources and has already cost more than 3000 American lives.

Clarke argued that the U.S. needs positive, meaningful engagement with Muslim countries in Southeast Asia and Muslim constituencies in Europe in order to build trust in the Middle East. Because of the Iraq war, Clarke said, “The United States is discredited in the Islamic world.” The U.S. must commit itself to real progress between Israel and Palestine to begin rebuilding trust, and the president must be a part of this process—an impossibility while the Iraq war continues.

The U.S. has also failed to stabilize the government of Afghanistan—a country that did have preexisting terrorist networks. According to Clarke, bringing order to Afghanistan was “the number one thing we needed to do after 9/11.”

He also expressed concern over unaddressed vulnerabilities at home. “We will probably see terrorism again in the United States,” he said. Critical insecurities identified in chemical plant facilities and mass transit systems remain—and go ignored even by Homeland Security legislation currently pending in Congress.

In his conclusion, Clarke cast President Bush as a gambler coming to the table with a stack of chips and making many foolish and costly bets in plain sight of a captive audience. “In order to save face, he is not only borrowing money—our grandchildren’s money, running up the deficit—he is gambling with the lives of Americans, with the lives of Iraqis, and with U.S. national security.”

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