"They've made no bones about the fact that once they've been able to establish a firm base in Anbar, or Iraq more broadly, that they intend to try to destabilize the neighbors and eventually attack the United States. They've not made any secret of that." So said Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates on Face the Nation this past Sunday morning. The people he is talking about, of course, are the terrorists, the members of al Qaeda, in particular. Let's assume that that is true. But what's puzzling about this is the notion that members of a terrorist group are going to wait until they have established some sort of quasi-political presence within specified terrain before they're going to attack locales elsewhere. Chances are, people who fly themselves into buildings or who don vests arrayed with high-explosives aren't worried about a career in politics.
What seems apparent to most people who haven't managed to establish a firm base on Pennsylvania Avenue or in Foggy Bottom is that there is a civil war going on in Iraq. Sectarian violence. Undoubtedly, there are terrorists who are involved in stirring the pot. But they aren't primary. There are Sunnis and Shia who are evidently capable of going after one another without the need for a third party.
At approximately the same time that Secretary Gates was on Face the Nation, there was a roundtable on Meet the Press that included Joe Sestak, recently elected representative from Pennsylvania's 7th Congressional District. He also happens to be a retired vice admiral of the U.S. Navy. He stated rather forthrightly, "The central front of terror is not in Baghdad. Osama bin Laden has not moved there. The central front. . .is in Afghanistan, including Southeast Asia.." Although Sestak is supporting the house bill that will have a date certain of U.S. troops leaving Iraq, in 2008, he can't be painted with the brush as some sort of defeatist, chicken or surrender monkey. The man spent 31 years in uniform. He is urging that what was said to be the mission actually become the mission: "The United States should not just do what [the] terrorists say and follow what they say they're going to do"—which is evidently at the bottom of Mr. Gates's thinking. "Take the initiative," Sestak urged. "Go to where the adversary is."
Remember when this was a "war on terror"?