Reuel Marc Gerecht--who's about as Serious as Serious People get--points me to a compelling reason why those of us who want to see our foreign policy become less terrible ought to resist the temptation to lazily use the term Al Qaeda in Iraq. Namely that it's not particularly accurate and--since the U.S. has a legitimate bone to pick with the real Al Qaeda--it needlessly stirs up the passions of people who might otherwise be on the side of withdrawal. Also, any rhetorical term people like Gerecht use really ought to be viewed suspiciously. And then there's this:
To [Obama's] credit, he sees that Iraq and al Qaeda do not define Muslims and Islam. What he does not seem to grasp--and the Bush administration is no better--is that America is the cutting edge of a modernity that has convulsed Islam as a faith and a civilization. This collision will likely become more violent, not less, as Muslims more completely enter the ethical free fall that comes as modernity pulverizes the world of our ancestors. Barack Obama's newly devised "Mobile Development Teams," which will bring together "personnel from the State Department, the Pentagon, and USAID . . . to turn the tide against extremism" are unlikely to make America more attractive to devout Muslims who know that America is the leading force in destroying the world that they love. The senator can leave Iraq, shut down Guantánamo, apologize for Abu Ghraib, and build "secular" schools all over Pakistan, and he will not change this fact. This is the deep well from which al Qaeda draws.
Boiled down--and coming from Gerecht--I think this means we should stay in Iraq because no matter how we behave in the Muslim world, terrorists will still draw from a deep well, and so we should continue to louse everything up over there. Which is about the most insipid argument I think I've ever heard. Muslim terrorist groups draw from a well of people who believe, or can be convinced, that U.S. policies in the Muslim world are bad for Muslims. Under such circumstances, recruiting becomes easier when our policies in the Muslim world are actually bad for Muslims. It's not that doing everything Obama suggests will kill off Al Qaeda by drying up its pool of participants, but not torturing Muslims and not bombing their countries will in fact make that pool of participants smaller and easier to fight in reasonable ways. It also happens to be a morally sound way forward.