Richard Clarke warns Iraq War strengthens terrorism
The al-Qaida network is "alive and well," assured former senior White House counter-terrorism adviser Richard Clarke, in a public lecture at Pitt Tuesday.
Clarke said that al-Qaida and affiliate groups, which he described as "the jihadists," have carried out twice as many attacks around the world since Sept. 11, 2001, compared to the three years prior.
He added that the "mistake" of invading Iraq, and the current occupation, is in fact "strengthening the jihadists."
In relation to what the United States could do about the situation, Clarke said, "If we pull out now, [Iraq] will have become what President [George W. Bush] said it was [before the invasion]: a terrorist haven."
Clarke is an internationally renowned expert on issues of security and terrorism, and he has served under the last three presidents as a senior adviser in this capacity. For 19 years before his White House service, Clarke worked at the Pentagon, in the intelligence community and in the State Department.
The publication of his memoir, "Against All Enemies," earlier this year sparked significant controversy, as it sharply criticized the Bush administration's response to the attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.
On CBS's "60 Minutes," which aired the week "Against All Enemies" was published, Clarke said he thought Bush had "done a terrible job on the war against terrorism."
On Tuesday, Clarke expressed his dissatisfaction with the phrase "war on terrorism."
"Terrorism is a tactic," he said. "We are not fighting a tactic."
The jihadists, Clarke explained, form an organization whose goal is to "replace modern, moderate Muslim governments in the Middle East with 14th-century theocracies."
Contrary to what the Bush administration has claimed, Clarke said, the jihadists "do not hate us for what we believe, or what we have done, but because they see us as a major roadblock to [this] goal."
In "Against All Enemies," Clarke said that in the days immediately following Sept. 11, 2001, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld pushed for retaliatory strikes against Iraq.
"There was no connection between Iraq and al-Qaida," he said in his lecture Tuesday.
The bipartisan 9/11 Commission, he added, reiterated this judgment.
Since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, Clarke has argued that support for the al-Qaida network in the Islamic world has amplified. Support has grown, he said, from between 20 and 50 million people, to about 400 million.
"Popular support," he said in the lecture, "translates into political and financial support."
Al-Qaida members, Clarke said, have long argued that America is instituting a "new crusade." He contended that, in the last two years, popular opinion in the Islamic world has swung to this view.
"Muslims have seen the U.S. invade a country that had not threatened it," Clarke said. "They have seen the U.S. occupy Muslim lands and install a puppet government. What al-Qaida had argued has come true to them."
Clarke asked, why do Muslims see it this way?
"They see the same things we see, but from a different angle, and it's not totally untruthful," Clarke said, trying to explain the sources of these perceptions. In covering battles in Iraq, he said, Arab news networks do not reflect on the two or three U.S. soldiers killed, as U.S. coverage does, but on the 150 Iraqis killed.
Clarke argues in "Against All Enemies" that in the mistake of invading Iraq, and the claim that Iraq is the "front" of the war on terrorism, the Bush administration has "squandered the opportunity to eliminate al-Qaida."
"A new al-Qaida has emerged and is growing stronger," he said.
To the Bush campaign's claim that "three-quarters of al-Qaida's key commanders have either been captured or killed," Clarke said on Tuesday that those leaders have been replaced.
Clarke recounted a "slip" made by Rumsfeld earlier this year, in which the defense secretary said, "We are creating terrorists quicker than we are capturing or killing them."
"The Bush administration needs to do something about Rumsfeld," Clarke said. "Every now and again, he lets out the truth."