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Memo on the Status Report on the War on Terrorism

To: Interested Parties
Robert O. Boorstin

The U.S. war in Iraq has helped to revitalize and motivate the al Qaeda network and risks to Westerners have increased. That's the conclusion of a new report released by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. This is particularly important given the president's invoking of the global war on terrorism to justify the administration's actions in Iraq.

Highlights from Institute's annual Strategy Survey are given below. A summary is available here.

  • Al Qaeda fully functioning, growing. "The Madrid bombings in March 2004 suggested that al Qaeda had fully reconstituted, set its sights firmly on the U.S. and its closest Western allies in Europe, and established a new and effective modus operandi that increasingly exploited local affiliates." Furthermore, al Qaeda still has a functioning leadership despite the deaths or capture of key figures. Al Qaeda has more than 18,000 potential terrorists in more than 60 nations around the world.
  • Iraq used as al Qaeda recruiting tool. Iraq has become the new magnet for al Qaeda's recruiting efforts. Up to 1,000 Islamic fighters from foreign nations have infiltrated Iraqi territory, where they are co-operating with Iraqi insurgents. "In counter-terrorism terms, the intervention has arguably focused the energies and resources of al-Qaeda and its followers." Progress against al Qaeda "is likely to accelerate only with currently elusive political developments that would broadly depress recruitment and motivation."
  • Iraq has split the coalition. The war in Iraq has diluted "the global counter-terrorism coalition that appeared so formidable following the Afghanistan intervention in late 2001." "Politically, it split the U.S. and major continental European powers, leaving the United Kingdom uncomfortably in the middle, and induced uncertainty in other governments about the extent of any contribution to the post-conflict effort."
  • Failure in Iraq would be a strategic nightmare. "A failed Iraqi state would be a strategic nightmare for the U.S. and the West… It is key to regional security – and the stability of the international system – that the U.S. and its allies get Iraq right." "The U.S. is realizing the awful truth that the first law of peacekeeping is the same as the first law of forensics – every contact leaves a trace. Unfortunately, too many bad traces have been left recently, and many good ones will be needed for the U.S. to recover its reputation, its prestige and therefore effective power."

    Robert O. Boorstin is the senior vice president for national security at the Center for American Progress.

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