Bringing the War Home

In the 1960s, during the Vietnam era, the radicals of Students for a Democratic Society vowed to “bring the war home.” It was meant as a threat: that they would visit the same destruction on the U.S. that American troops were visiting on Vietnam. In the present age, however, it is George W. Bush and war supporters in both parties who have brought the Iraq war home – as evidenced by the recent terrorist threat to New York City.

According to the local authorities, the plot involves 15 to 20 suicide bombers carrying backpacks or pushing baby carriages on New York City subway lines. A memo just now being made public says remote-controlled or timed explosive devices are involved. Three people have already been arrested – not in the U.S., but in Iraq.

Today – Sunday – is said to be zero hour, but maybe not. Mayor Bloomberg, however, isn’t taking any chances. Random searches, more visible security, and the high-profile warnings emanating from city hall have heightened the general sense that a new nightmare is beginning.

We are fighting that enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan today so that we do not meet him again on our own streets, in our own cities.”

How many times have we heard this endless refrain from our government officials and other war supporters? If only I had a dime for every time I’ve heard it in the post-9/11 era! Back in January, I challenged this nonsense head on:

“What if occupying Iraq and fighting the insurgency means we will almost certainly have to fight them on our own streets, in our own cities?”

This is something I would rather not be right about, but I would remind you that there was every reason to expect the long arm of the Iraqi insurgency to reach out and strike us where it hurts, i.e., right here at home. Regular readers of this column will recall that the Islamic Army of Iraq made an explicit threat along those lines to mark the New Year:

“‘This year ‘will bring woes on America. The mujahedeen [holy warriors] have prepared big surprises for your sons outside America and a big surprise for you inside America,’ said the statement, the authenticity of which could not be confirmed. The mujahedeen ‘will take the battle from inside our country [Iraq] to yours. We address you after you finished celebrating the new year, hoping that you are no longer drunk. … We will give American civilians a taste of what civilians in our country go through.'”

Bin Laden himself has long warned us that this was coming: so why is the Department of “Homeland Security” so eager to downplay the seriousness of the current threat? As one official put it, “There are real questions about the credibility” of the information. One might say the same thing about the Department of Homeland Security, and with more reason. According to CNN, the threat was revealed by a “tipster” who “failed some sections of the polygraph test, but passed the section pertaining to the information about the New York threat.” Polygraph tests are far from infallible, and, what’s more, ABC News is reporting that 19 of the terrorists are already in the U.S. It’s hard to believe that any federal official would want to bet the ranch that these reports are wrong.

The New York Times ran an article entitled “New York and Washington Try to Explain Two Views of Threat,” but wound up only deepening the mystery of why Washington officials are broadcasting their skepticism. The response by New York’s Mayor Bloomberg, we are told, is “being viewed with some astonishment on Friday in Washington, where counterterrorism officials described the differences as the latest indicator of a rivalry between two power centers.”

“Power centers”? What are these people talking about? If New York experiences what London went through, the Homeland Security bureaucracy is going to get the Michael Brown treatment, and Michael Chertoff may be looking for another job. The only real cause for astonishment is the apparent inability of the Washington bureaucrats to understand this.

How do we explain the strange reluctance of the Homeland Security crowd to take this threat seriously? It has little, really, to do with rival “power centers” pitting the feds against state and local government. After all, appearing alongside Mayor Bloomberg at a press conference were top FBI officials, who added their voices to those defending the measures taken by New York authorities. Last I heard, the FBI was a federal agency.

What explains Chertoff’s reluctance to get behind Bloomberg and the FBI is the clear implication that this threat is a demonstrable consequence of our suicidal foreign policy of relentless aggression in Iraq. Chertoff is answerable to Bush, and the party line dictates downplaying a threat emanating directly from Iraq: taking effective countermeasures is left to the “reality-based community,” such as the FBI. While Chertoff goes public with his skepticism and even the president fails to endorse Bloomberg’s efforts, it is left to former counterterrorism official Richard Clarke to state the painfully obvious: “It’s entirely possible for terrorists with the support of a terrorist infrastructure to leave Iraq and end up in Manhattan.”

In considering the implications of this latest terror scare – which seems entirely credible – I am reminded of General William Odom‘s recent remark that the Iraq war may well turn out to be “the greatest strategic disaster in American history.” Odom, now retired, is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a professor at Yale University. He served as director of the National Security Agency from 1985 to 1988, and was the Army’s senior intelligence officer from 1981 to 1985. Odom believes that the war makes fighting the real threat to America – the terrorist threat to the homeland – much more difficult, if not impossible. He urged a swift withdrawal from Iraq early on, a position he maintains and continues to advance with increasing urgency.

It is a message that the rest of us need to take up, because the stakes are extremely high. The specter of suicide bombers in the New York City subways – or on the Bay Area Rapid Transit system, which has gone from “orange alert” to “enhanced orange alert” – shows, in vivid terms, what “the greatest strategic disaster in American history” would have to mean.

Osama bin Laden is recruiting hand-over-fist as a direct result of the invasion and conquest of Iraq – there should be no shortage of applicants to al-Qaeda’s Suicide Bomber Academy. As we go door-to-door in Tal Afar, hunting for “foreign fighters,” will they turn up in Grand Central Station and blow the place to smithereens?

Our rulers are so swollen with hubris, so convinced of their own unchallenged power, that they would rather downplay a very real threat than admit that their policies have endangered the country. Michael Scheuer, a former CIA analyst who headed up the bin Laden unit until the mid-1990s, has been saying all along that we are playing right into al-Qaeda’s hands and are woefully unprepared for another terrorist attack – an attack he regards as “pretty close to inevitable.”

In helping to convince much of the Muslim world that we are embarked on a crusade to destroy Islam, the U.S., says Scheuer, is bin Laden’s “only indispensable ally.” In his book, Imperial Hubris, this is presented as being metaphorically true, but Chertoff & Co.’s state of denial demonstrates the extent to which it is becoming literally true.

Our foreign policy of global intervention undermines the defense of the United States in every conceivable way: it disarms us ideologically, and leaves us vulnerable to the depredations of suicide bombers set loose in the crowded mazes of our inner cities. Yes, we lord it over a mighty Empire – but the irony is that it isn’t defensible, not even at its core. To our world-conquering leaders, however, this hardly seems to matter: they are globally minded, and are quite capable of trading off terrorist attacks in a few American cities in exchange for holding on to Iraq.

We are fighting that enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan today so that we do not meet him again on our own streets, in our own cities.”

Now that this malarkey has been completely and thoroughly debunked, and the war in Iraq is being brought home to Americans as they ride the subway or cross the Golden Gate Bridge on the way to work, what new line will they come up with to justify the continuation of a bankrupt and counterproductive policy of perpetual war? I can hardly wait to hear it…

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Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com, and a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He is a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and writes a monthly column for Chronicles. He is the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].