There is a fascinating tidbit buried deep in this Washington Post story on America’s troubled relations with Pakistan’s military dictator Pervez Musharraf. After explaining why U.S. officials are bothered by Musharraf’s lackadaisical response to the Islamist extremists who have found a refuge in Pakistan’s tribal areas, Post reporters Karen DeYoung and Joby Warrick write:
Musharraf also had a complaint of his own: His leverage over the tribal militants had slipped because of the U.S.-led war in Iraq. Foreign fear of the might of the U.S. military, felt throughout the Muslim world immediately after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, was dissipating as U.S. troops became increasingly bogged down in Iraq. Now, he said, tribal leaders who had once cooperated with Musharraf because of his alliance with the Americans saw little reason to be afraid.
This confirms an essential and important point: that it was not the decision to invade Iraq per se that is causing an increase in terrorism, but our failure to secure victory, at least so far. And it contradicts one of the most common talking points used by Democrats such as Barack Obama, who argue for a pullout from Iraq: that a decision to leave Iraq will enable us to fight more effectively in Afghanistan. What this paragraph suggests—correctly I think—is that a pullout from Iraq would hurt us considerably in Afghanistan and other battlefields by heightening an impression, which already exists, of American weakness. It is that impression, as much as anything else, that emboldens our enemies, whether the Taliban or al Qaeda, to keep attacking us.