One of the most annoying and disingenuous memes coming from the White House these days—and Bush repeated it in his speech last night—is the idea that it is better to fight the terrorists in Iraq than it is to fight them here. When I first heard that message, I dismissed it as silly rhetoric . . . but then, I kept on hearing it. So I actually thought about the premise and implications of that meme, something which I doubt many war supporters have done.
Now, on its face, in a factual vacuum, the meme is appealing. Obviously, I would prefer that the terrorists fight our soldiers in Baghdad than interrupt me on my way to work. Everybody would prefer that.
But George Bush is basically admitting that we have turned Iraq into a terrorist battlefront . . . so that the United States can be safe. “Better there than here”?!? Some humanitarians we turned out to be!
Also, I wonder how Iraqis feel about that. As one Iraqi who listened to Bush’s speech last night said about the United States: “Why don’t they find another place to fight terrorism?”
Matt Labash of the Weekly Standard also slaps down this meme, with two more points:
The first, is that we’re not altogether sure we are fighting terrorists, in the al-Qaeda sense of the word. As Newsweek recently reported in a piece entitled “War In the Dark,” “what the Americans don’t know is who, exactly, they’re fighting."
The second thing to remember, for most of the people declaring where they’d rather fight the terrorists, is that they are not personally doing much of the fighting.
But my main criticism of the meme is that, even if the people we are fighting in Iraq are terrorists, they certainly don’t represent ALL, or even MOST, of the worldwide population of terrorists. And if they start losing (and I suspect that eventually, at some point, they will), the remaining insurgency probably will not remain in Iraq to die to the last man. Instead, equipped with their new skills that they acquired in the Terrorist Training Ground known as Iraq, they will disperse throughout the world—including (wait for it!) . . . here.
“Better there than here”?!?
The enemy is not the German Army. There is no Berlin. In the next ten years or so, we may finally bring stabilty to Iraq. But it will not have furthered our interests in the Global War on Terrorism—indeed, just the opposite.
UPDATE: Juan Cole has the final say on the “better there than here” meme:
This is monstrous and ridiculous at once. The people in Fallujah and Ramadi were not sitting around plotting terrorism three years ago. They had no plans to hit the United States. Terrorism isn’t a fixed quantity. By unilaterally invading Iraq and then bollixing it up, Bush and Vines have created enormous amounts of terrorism, which they are now having trouble putting back in the bottle.