Americans increasingly see the war in Iraq as distinct from the fight against terrorism, and nearly half believe President Bush has focused too much on Iraq to the exclusion of other threats, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.The public's perception shouldn't be surprising, as there has been little mainstream media coverage of Iraq's historical ties to Middle East terrorism. Yet, as this Washington Times editorial from last April points out, a wealth of evidence linking Saddam's Iraq to Al Qaeda is emerging as more and more of the millions of documents from the former regime become declassified. For example, recently released information shows Iraqi intelligence supporting Al Qaeda propaganda efforts to destabilize Saudi Arabia, and there is new documentation as well indicating Uday Hussein's sponsorship of fedayeen terrorist training camps inside Iraq in 1994.
The poll found that 51 percent of those surveyed saw no link between the war in Iraq and the broader antiterror effort, a jump of 10 percentage points since June. That increase comes despite the regular insistence of Mr. Bush and Congressional Republicans that the two are intertwined and should be seen as complementary elements of a strategy to prevent domestic terrorism.
Should the trend hold, the rising skepticism could present a political obstacle for Mr. Bush and his allies on Capitol Hill, who are making their record on terrorism a central element of the midterm election campaign. The Republicans hope that by expressing a desire for forceful action against terrorists, they can offset unease with the Iraq war and blunt the political appeal of Democratic calls to establish a timeline to withdraw American troops.
Withdrawing from Iraq precipitously -- which is what would likely take place with Democratic victories in upcoming elections -- would seriously erode American efforts to counter Iran's program to establish Mideast regional hegemony, as this commentary by A. Yasmine Rassam in today's Los Angeles Times indicates:
IF THE ANTIWAR CROWD and Democrats have their way, the United States will be Iran's hostage once again. An immediate pullout from Iraq would be a victory for Iran, a regime that has declared its ambitions to wipe Israel off the map and establish a caliphate throughout the Middle East. If we allow democracy to be defeated in Iraq, it will only get harder to release Iraq and perhaps the greater Middle East from the grip of its would-be rulers in Tehran.
Decades ago, the United States underestimated the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's appeal to the Iranian masses and his ability to convert the latent hostility to modernism into political clout. Khomeini overthrew the shah and took more than 50 Americans hostage, thus delivering a significant blow to U.S. prestige and clout in the Middle East.
Now the U.S. is underestimating Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his willingness to use proxies — Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Muqtada Sadr in Iraq. In the short term, Iraqis, Lebanese, Palestinians and Israelis are paying for this sneaky strategy with their lives, but in the long term, it is the United States that will suffer the most....
Iraq is the crucial test of Iran's ambitions. The majority of Iraqi Arabs share the basic Shiite creed with the majority of Iranians. Iraq and Iran share a long history of conquest and reconquest, of intertwined culture. However, many Iraqi Shiites do not share the fundamentalist theology and hegemonistic ambitions of Iran's ayatollahs and its government. They are represented not by Sadr but by the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the revered and influential Shiite cleric and a voice of reason in Iraq.
It makes sense, therefore, that the first line of defense against Iran's ambitions is a stable, democratic Iraq, which would provide a formidable counterbalance to Iran. A pro-Western Iraq that develops its economic ties throughout the Middle East and beyond would compete over growing markets for oil with Iranian economic interests. More important, a democratic Iraq would be a long-sought beacon for the oppressed Shiites of the world, an alternative to the appeal of extremist Iran.
The U.S. military's presence in Iraq keeps Iran in check. An immediate pullout, as prescribed by antiwar liberals and demagogic Democrats, would leave Iraq to Iran — and to the likes of Al Qaeda. And that would be a hostage-taking far more harmful to the United States than the one that happened in Tehran nearly 30 years ago.