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William Rivers Pitt: Terrorism and the Republican

Terrorism and the Republican Way

By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Thursday 28 September 2006

A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions tell me that's true, but the facts and evidence tell me it is not.
- Ronald Reagan, March 4, 1987

Former CIA Director James Woolsey was on CNN Tuesday evening to road-test a new talking point regarding Iraq and the so-called "War on Terror." The emergence of portions of a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) has served to blast all the old Iraq talking points to flinders.

The talking point that has failed most spectacularly because of the NIE is one you've heard a million times: better to have them all in one place than spread out, "over there" instead of "over here."

So much for that. Iraq is now the training ground for global terrorism, according to the new NIE, and the extremism fueling and funding that training process has an ever-swelling cadre of fighters to call on. Those who conduct attacks against our troops in Iraq have proven themselves to be effective fighters, simply because they know the ground far better than our soldiers do, because they were born there. Those who conduct these attacks are learning the tricks of the trade, and can now spread their fight into the wider world.

In short, the war in Iraq creates both more terrorism and more terrorists. Reports beyond the NIE bear this out. The Congressional Research Service's report, titled "Trends in Terrorism: 2006," summarizes and discusses trends in terrorism identified in recent analyses by the State Department, the National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC), and independent analysts.

Page CRS-7 of this report notes, "In 2005, the NCTC lists roughly 40,000 individuals wounded or killed in terrorist incidents as compared to 9,300 the previous year and in 2003. Reported terror-related deaths in 2005 numbered 14,602 as compared to 1,907 deaths in 2004 and 625 in 2003. The report placed the number of total reported terrorist attacks in 2005 at 11,111 as compared to 3,168 in 2004 and 208 in 2003. Foiled attacks are not included in the data reported."

Interesting numbers, no? 4,271 people were killed in terrorist attacks during 2003, and in the very next year, 9,300 were killed. The following year, 2005, saw 40,000 people killed in terrorist attacks. Between 2003 and 2005, the number of deaths from terrorism rose by orders of magnitude. The Iraq invasion was undertaken in the early spring of 2003. This is both simple math and straightforward statistics.

Ergo, a new talking point is needed, and Woolsey was on to roll it out. The new talking point, according to Woolsey, essentially boils down to, "Yeah, Iraq is fueling extremism but we've been at war with Islamojihadofascistoist extremism since 1979. So, therefore, this isn't new." This was an astonishingly facile sidestep, one that requires a dose of Republican history to frame the issue properly.

1979 was indeed a banner year for extremism and violence in the Middle East. In Iran, the American puppet regime of the Shah was overthrown in the Islamic Revolution, and that nation fell under the sway of Ayatollah Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini. In that same year, Saddam Hussein became President of Iraq, after the coup that placed the Ba'ath Party into power.

In January 1981, Ronald Reagan was sworn in as president. On the very day he was inaugurated, the 66 hostages who had been held by Iran for 444 days were released. The curious timing of this release unleashed persistent rumors that Reagan's agents had operated via back-channels to thwart President Carter's efforts at securing freedom for the hostages, thus destroying any hope Carter had of winning his re-election bid.

However true these rumors may be, the facts regarding Reagan's involvement with Iran are beyond dispute. He sold missiles and various other arms to Iran, despite their involvement in numerous terrorist attacks around the world, and used the money from these sales to illegally fund the Contras in Nicaragua.

While these arms sales to Iran were taking place, Reagan was simultaneously giving military and intelligence support to Saddam Hussein in Iraq, in order to assist Hussein in his war against Iran. This assistance included the delivery of chemical and biological weapons to Hussein, as well as the delivery of battlefield intelligence to assist Hussein's forces in using those WMD against Iranian troops.

So, here we have Reagan arming Iran against Iraq, while at the same time arming Iraq against Iran. The war between these two nations lasted eight years, killed upwards of one million people, and almost completely annihilated the Iraqi economy. Many observers believe it was the ravages of this war that ultimately compelled Hussein to undertake an invasion of Kuwait three years later.

As all of this was unfolding, Reagan was also arming, funding and training Afghan mujeheddin fighters in Afghanistan to fight the Soviet invasion of that nation. Central to this policy was the recruiting of Islamic extremists, who saw this as a war to defend an Islamic nation against a godless enemy.

In the fullness of time, after the defeat of the Soviets and the subsequent Afghan civil war, these American-recruited extremists morphed into the Taliban and al Qaeda. One key actor in this war, Osama bin Laden, was given the opportunity to see first-hand how best to undermine and ultimately subsume a global superpower through guerrilla and terror tactics. Bin Laden has since applied these lessons against America to good effect.

Mr. Woolsey attempted to undermine the damning facts regarding Iraq within the NIE by claiming that a war against Islamic extremism has been ongoing for almost 30 years. On the surface, this is true, but the conclusion sidesteps the simple fact that Republican presidents in those last 30 years have been remarkably helpful in spreading and augmenting this extremism.

Reagan propped up Iraq and was directly responsible for that nation's development of chemical and biological weapons. During the same period, he was selling missiles and other armaments to Iran, an avowed enemy of the United States. At the same time, he was laying the foundation for what eventually became the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, as well as the al Qaeda terrorist network that operated from that country.

George W. Bush used those Iraqi weapons of mass destruction as a pretext for a war of choice against Iraq, a move that has aided and strengthened Shia fundamentalism in Iran while undermining global security. His war against Afghanistan, to destroy the very regime whose roots were laid down by Reagan, has recently been exposed as a farce; the Taliban has come roaring back to life, bringing battles and bombs back into the daily routine of that battered nation.

Creating chaos and destruction in the Middle East, thus delivering a more dangerous world, stands as the main legacy for these two Republicans in that region. Reagan and Bush pursued policies that have made this nation and the world vastly less secure, and supporters of both would have us ignore these hard truths in lieu of empty talking points. Republicans are strong on national defense, you see. Republicans keep us safe.

With friends like these, who needs friends?


William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know and The Greatest Sedition Is Silence.

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