Own goal: Bush sponsored al-Qaeda
In his recent televised address US president Bush landed a serious own goal. Media commentators almost exclusively focused on his promise of troop reductions which the president announced and tried to make out as the result of a successful campaign in Iraq rather than an acknowledgement of ultimate defeat. Yet, the recurrent theme in the Bush address is the struggle to drive al-Qaeda out of Iraq and deny them a safe haven there. He makes the case, for example, that the people of Anbar province were suffering under the Taleban-like rule of al-Qaeda and asked the US to intervene, which ultimately drove al-Qaeda out, although it did not eliminate it as a threat. Likewise, he states that Diyala province was a sanctuary for al-Qaeda, but is no more. Mentioning al-Qaeda no less than eleven times in his short address makes them the central theme of the Bush Iraq strategy.
Leaving aside the highly suspect claims that al-Qaeda is operating successfully inside Iraq and trying to make the country its power base, the September 11 commission in the US, for all its failings to deal with most of the crucial evidence of 9/11, dismissed any link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. Whilst the Bush administration used al-Qaeda as an excuse to invade Iraq, any intelligence analyis worth his salt understood these links to be politically contrived. So if al-Qaeda has become a serious problem in Iraq, as the president is trying to assert, then his administration must be credited with having introduced al-Qaeda to Iraq. Far from making the world a safer place, therefore, they created a lingering problem in the region which continues to haunt them.
In his obsession with al-Qaeda, president Bush is also demolishing his other hobby horse argument, namely that Iran is fuelling and supporting the Iraqi insurgency. "One year ago, Shia extremists and Iranian-backed militants were gaining strength and targeting Sunnis for assassination. Today, these groups are being broken up and many of their leaders are being captured or killed.", he asserts, missing the point entirely, that al-Qaeda is defined as a Sunni terrorist organisation which considers Shia Muslims to be disbelievers and legitimate targets. It is unperceivable, therefore, that Iran would sponsor such an organisation.
In his televised speech Bush tried to placate the public mood which had turned seriously against him by offering a troop withdrawal on the near horizon. Instead, he has once more made a total fool of himself.