Talking Points by Terry M. Neal

Iraq War Hasn't Made United States Safer, Author Says

By Terry M. Neal Staff Writer
Monday, July 18, 2005; 8:00 AM

Americans are willing to spare no expense to ensure their safety. Thus the bill for the war in Iraq, which is soaring well into the $200 billions, would not be an issue at all if most people felt the essential policy -- making America safer -- was being met.

But apparently, fewer and fewer Americans believe this is the case. And this is becoming an even greater problem for President Bush, whose reputation has taken a hit. In the latest Gallup poll, taken shortly after terrorists struck London this month, the number of people who say the war in Iraq was not worth it climbed to 53 percent (compared to 44 percent who believe it was). Perhaps more significantly, only 40 percent of Americans think the war has made the United States safer from terrorism, compared to 52 percent who believe it has made America less safe.

These numbers represent an astonishing turn of events from the days leading up to the war through the president's battleship photo-op declaration of victory more than two years ago.

The president was only partly correct that day. America and its allies had won the battle to remove Saddam Hussein. But the war was just getting started.

Meanwhile, Iraq has surged ahead of "economy and growth" as the leading concern among Americans. And approval of the president's handling of Iraq has dropped five points from an already low 44 percent a month ago, compared to 55 percent disapproval, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC poll.

The war in Iraq was billed as a war of necessity, an effort to make the nation safer. Even after the justification for war evaporated, many of the president's supporters argued that it accomplished its purpose -- the United States had not been attacked again after 9/11.

The terrorist attacks in London shattered some of that argument. While the United States wasn't attacked, its closest ally, Great Britain, was. And it was attacked in a way that struck home to many Americans, a fact evidenced by the jump in poll numbers of people who say they believe America will be attacked by terrorists in the near future.

So the question is, did Iraq make us safer?

In his best-selling book "America the Vulnerable: How Our Government Is Failing to Protect Us From Terrorism," Stephen Flynn, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former U.S. Coast Guard commander, argues essentially that Iraq was a "phony war" based on the president's oft-repeated assertion that America is "fighting the terrorists abroad so we don't have to face them at home."

Every nation, even one as rich as the United States, has finite resources. And America is spending large portions of its resources, both in terms of human and economic capital, fighting a conventional war against a nation-state that does not address America's biggest vulnerability -- its openness to unconventional attacks by terrorists who don't respect borders.

America remains astonishingly vulnerable to attacks from al Qaeda, which has morphed under Bush's watch, from an organization to a worldwide movement, Flynn argues.

"The degree to which the Bush administration is willing to invest in conventional national security spending relative to basic domestic security measures is considerable," Flynn argues in an article he wrote for Foreign Affairs magazine based on his book.

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