THERE IS A STRANGE PAIRING of positions on the left.
The first is that Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda were not connected. The work of Stephen F. Hayes and Thomas Joscelyn in THE WEEKLY STANDARD, which is supported by other serious investigative reporters such as Claudia Rosett has already established beyond any reasonable doubt that there was a web of connections, but the combination of the left's indifference to inconvenient facts and the international version of the soft bigotry of low expectations--an Arab dictator couldn't have had a sophisticated intelligence service capable of hiding such matters--make it an article of faith among Bush haters that there was no connection.
Exactly the opposite approach to facts and evidence is emerging on the left's claim that Iraq is a breeding ground for terrorists. "Breeding ground" means something quite different from "killing ground." The term conveys the belief that had the United States and its allies not invaded Iraq, there would be fewer jihadists in the world today--that the transition of Iraq from brutal dictatorship to struggling democracy has somehow unleashed a terrorist-breeding virus.
The fact that foreign fighters are streaming across Syria into Iraq in the hopes of killing America is not evidence supporting the "breeding ground" theory. "Opportunity" to act is not the same thing as "motive" for acting. There is zero evidence for the proposition that Iraq is motive rather than opportunity, but the "motive" theory is nevertheless put forward again and again. As recently as Wednesday the Washington Post account of the aftermath of the London bombings included the incredible--and unsubstantiated in the article--claim that the "the profile of the suspects suggested by investigators fit long-standing warnings by security experts that the greatest potential threat to Britain could come from second-generation Muslims, born here but alienated from British society and perhaps from their own families, and inflamed by Britain's participation in the Iraq war."[emphasis added]
In an interview with the London Times, Prime Minister Tony Blair disputed the idea "that the London terrorist attacks were a direct result of British involvement in the Iraq war. He said Russia had suffered terrorism with the Beslan school massacre, despite its opposition to the war, and that terrorists were planning further attacks on Spain even after the pro-war government was voted out. "September 11 happened before Iraq, before Afghanistan, before any of these issues and that was the worst terrorist atrocity of all," he said.
While it is theoretically possible that some jihadists were forged as a result of the invasion of Iraq, no specific instance of such a terrorist has yet been produced. Reports in the aftermath of the London bombings indicated that the British intelligence service estimates more than 3,000 residents of Great Britain had trained in the Afghanistan terrorist camps prior to the invasion of Afghanistan--which suggests that the probability is very high that most of the jihadists in England date their hatred of the West to some point prior to the invasion of Iraq. And though two of the London bombers appear to have traveled to Pakistan for religious instruction post-March 2003, there is not the slightest bit of evidence that it was Iraq which "turned" the cricket-loving young men into killers. In fact, it is transparently absurd for anyone to claim such a thing.
So why is the claim being made, and not just post-London, but in all of the contexts where the "breeding ground" rhetoric surfaces?
Of course it's a convenient stick with which to beat the Bush administration. But it has a far more powerful lure than that.
As the bloody toll of the Islamist movement grows and its record of horrors lengthens from Bali to Beslan to Madrid to London, the incredible cost that can only be attributed to the Afghanistan metastasis that went unchecked from the time of bin Laden's return there in 1996 until the American-led invasion of 2001 becomes ever more clear. That was the true "breeding ground" of the world's menace, not the Sunni triangle, where jihadists are continually under pressure and increasingly desperate. The long years ahead in the global war on terrorism will be spent trying to undo the damage done by allowing the Islamist radicals a safe haven from which to export their ideology and to train and deploy their converts.
The realization of the price of inaction through the '90s has a huge political cost attached to it, one that the Democrats will bear if a full accounting is ever compiled. Thus the "breeding ground" rhetoric--empty and absurd as it is--is a convenient and even necessary bit of smoke. There's no fire underneath that smoke. Just a desperate hope that noise will drown out voices pointing to the real history of the rise of the Islamist threat.
In an exchange with Ron Reagan on MSNBC this week, Christopher Hitchens sharply rebuked the "motive" school of terrorist psychologists: "I thought I heard you making just before we came on the air, of attributing rationality or a motive to this, and to say that it's about anything but itself, you make a great mistake, and you end up where you ended up, saying that the cause of terrorism is fighting against it, the root cause, I mean." [emphasis added]
Hitchens's point, which must be made again and again, is Blair's point: The killers are killers because they want to kill, not because the coalition invaded Iraq, or Afghanistan, or because there are bases in Saudi Arabia, or because Israel will not retreat to the 1967 borders.
Until and unless the left gets this point, and abandons the idea that "breeding" of terrorists is something the West triggers, they cannot be trusted with the conduct of the war.
Hugh Hewitt is the host of a nationally syndicated radio show, and author most recently of Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation That is Changing Your World. His daily blog can be found at HughHewitt.com.