Al Qaeda's Best Publicist

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Wednesday, July 25, 2007; 1:32 PM

Like any terrorist organization, al-Qaeda wants attention. It wants to be perceived as powerful. And it particularly wants Americans to live in fear.

Could al-Qaeda possibly have found a better publicist than President Bush?

At a South Carolina Air Force base yesterday, Bush mentioned al-Qaeda and bin Laden 118 times in 29 minutes, arguing that the violence unleashed by the U.S. invasion in Iraq would somehow come to America's shores if U.S. troops were to withdraw.

But the majority of that violence in Iraq is caused either by Iraqis murdering each other for religious reasons or by Iraqis trying to throw off the American occupation. The group that calls itself al-Qaeda in Iraq is only one of a multitude of factions creating chaos in that country, and the long-term goals of its Iraqi members are almost certainly not in line with those of al-Qaeda HQ (which is safely ensconced in Pakistan).

Furthermore, the administration's own intelligence community has concluded that the war in Iraq has helped rather than hurt al-Qaeda.

What effect would a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq really have on al-Qaeda? Is it true that "surrendering the future of Iraq to al Qaida would be a disaster for our country," as Bush admonished yesterday?

Bush's predictions about the region have been uniformly abysmal, so the opposite may be at least as likely. And in that scenario, a U.S. troop withdrawal would rob al-Qaeda of its greatest recruiting tool. It would also free American and Iraqi fighters to hunt down bin Laden and his fellow vermin wherever they are and give them what they deserve -- which is not publicity, but ignominy and extinction.

The Coverage

Unlike his routine speeches about Iraq, Bush's remarks yesterday included a specific attempt to rebut critics who have accused him of unfairly conflating Iraq and al-Qaeda.

"Today I will consider the arguments of those who say that al Qaeda and al Qaeda in Iraq are separate entities," he said. "I will explain why they are both part of the same terrorist network -- and why they are dangerous to our country."

The resulting coverage was probably not exactly what he'd hoped for.

Caren Bohan writes for Reuters: "Mindful of his trouble selling the U.S. public on the war, Bush has worked harder to put the spotlight on al Qaeda, the Islamist group behind the September 11 attacks on the United States and whose leader, bin Laden, has eluded a U.S.-led manhunt.

"But war critics accuse him of overstating the connections between al Qaeda and Iraq-based militants in an attempt to de-emphasize the role of sectarian fighting in the country's turmoil and justify the U.S. military presence there."

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