The invasion of Iraq simultaneously created a killing zone so that jihadists could be dealt with in a centralized location away from the United States (the so-called "Flypaper Strategy") and became a rallying cry that generated more terrorists. We've killed or captured hundreds upon hundreds of al Qaeda terrorists, including scores of their senior leaders around the world, yet they have thus far, unfortunately, responded in hydra-like fashion.
Michael Scheuer argued in Imperial Hubris that fomenting an American-led invasion of an Arab Muslim country was beyond Osama bin Laden's wildest dreams when he launched the 9/11 attacks. Al Qaeda was hoping for a second rallying event like the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to gin up enthusiasm for the cause and turn latent anti-Western hostility into more troops for the cause. Others made similar arguments and few doubted that as a likely effect. Still, as I argued here in January, al Qaeda is 0-for-6 in achieving its strategic objectives.
While Osama and company managed to attract large numbers of troops to fight the atheist Soviets in Afghanistan, they gained far more out of the fact that the Soviets left Afghanistan in defeat. Similarly, it's quite likely that an American withdrawal from Iraq without accomplishing the barest part of our mission - a reasonably stable, democratic society - would embolden the jihadists. Afghanistan. Lebanon. Somalia. Each of those displays of weakness convinced the jihadists that the infidel was weak and could be defeated. Forcing the Americans to leave Iraq would be a far, far bigger prize.
Here, for completeness, is part of Mr. Joyner's article from January detailing the six al Qaeda objectives and what they've actually accomplished:
[W]ars are fought for strategic goals. Al Qaeda announced theirs in a 1998 declaration of Jihad. As summarized by Michael Scheuer, they were:
- The end of U.S. aid to Israel and the ultimate elimination of that state;
- The removal of U.S. and Western forces from the Arabian peninsula;
- The removal of U.S. and Western military forces from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other Muslim lands;
- The end of U.S. support for the oppression of Muslims by Russia, China, and India;
- The end of U.S. protection for repressive, apostate Muslim regimes in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, Jordan, et cetera;
- The conservation of the Muslim world's energy resource and their sale at higher prices.
How is it going for the Jihadists? The reality:
- Israel is stronger than ever and U.S. support could hardly be stronger. The 9/11 attacks, if anything, solidified U.S.-Israeli relations, since it brought home the everyday fear of terrorist attacks Israelis endure on a daily basis.
- Western forces have indeed left Saudi Arabia, only to be mobilized and reinforced in Arab lands.
- Western forces are deeply entrenched in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other Muslim lands and have toppled the first two regimes and strongly influenced the direction of others, notably Pakistan.
- The U.S. still does not support oppression of Muslims in Russia, China, or India but is certainly less sympathetic to the Chechnyan cause than before 9/11.
- The U.S. has drawn closer to the governments in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, and Jordan, although it is pushing for serious democratization.
- Oil prices have gone up rather dramatically, although owing more to economic growth in China and India than events in the Middle East.
Bin Laden might think he is winning. The facts, however, do not bear him out.