In a conversation the other day, I expressed the idea that the war in Iraq damaged rather than advanced our war on terrorism, which produced a reaction of surprise and skepticism from the party of the second part (who was ardently anti-war). This strikes me as among the most important reasons to oppose the war, both in real time and as we assess the consequences of the war after the fact. So, in a slapdash and largely link-free manner I’ve assembled, OTOH, all the plausible reasons I can think of why this war has or may have (or may in the future) undermined our ability to effectively fight terrorism. Please add anything I’ve forgotten or anything you think I’ve got wrong in comments.
1) Prevented military resources from fighting actual Al Queda terrorists in Afganistan and other places as the situation warranted.
2) Furthered the interests of the current Iranian regime. (see Rob’s post on this here)
3) In the minds of many, proved OBL right about Americans imperial dreams and wishes to control the fate of the middle east. Potential boost for Al Quada recruitment.
4) By lying/exaggerating in the case against Hussein on WMD, Nuclear, etc. will potentially hamper this and future administration’s ability to justify future military efforts in the effort to fight terrorism.
5) By refusing to work with UN allies, alienated states with which cooperation is necessary in fighting global terrorism/al queda (most specifically, we need Russia’s help in a serious way in the Central Asian region where radical Islam and Al Queda are strong. Russia will cooperate officially regardless, but we need vigorous, serious, committed cooperation).
6) By making us more reliant on our relationships with our allies in the Middle East who support terrorism (Pakistan, Saudi Arabia), we lessen our ability to pressure these regimes to change.
7) By inflaming anti-American sentiment in the region, we make it more costly and difficult for regimes to cooperate with us (the quality and quantity of intel from Syria dropped rather dramatically around the time of the war, IIRC).
8) By creating the environment that allowed the Abu Graib abuses to take place, we confirmed the worst fears of many in the region about American intentions and lack of respect for Arabs, both of which potentially further support for terrorism.
9) By removing a strong state apparatus from power, and replacing it with a weak one, we increase the chances that terrorists will be able to operate in Iraqi territory without the knowledge or consent of the central government.
10) By removing a secular government and creating conditions in which a government with some radical Islamic elements may emerge, we increase the access to government of Islamic leaders who might be inclined to support terrorism.
11) In order to keep the case for war (and the link between Iraq and terrorism) as strong as possible, a chance to take out the Zarqawi camp in Kurdish Norther Iraq may have been passed up prior to the war. (Sounds like an outlandish conspiracy theory? Perhaps. But take a look at Jacob Levy’s investigation of this issue before you dismiss it, here and here.)