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We are at war with hatred, fanaticism and despair

The Spectator, January 5, 2008

When will we ever learn? The murder of Benazir Bhutto should finally convince us that we are in the midst of a crucial international war to stop Islamist terrorists destroying all that is best in our imperfect world.

Bernard-Henri Levy, the French philosopher, points out that with Benazir Bhutto, they killed 'a spectacularly visible woman' who, whatever her flaws as a political leader, was astonishingly brave in fighting, uncovered, unveiled, for politics 'and refusing the curse that, according to the new fascists [the jihadists], floats over the human face of women'.

Levy suggests that Benazir's name should now become another password 'for those who still believe that the good genius of Enlightenment will win out over the evil genius of fanaticism and crime'. But the Enlightenment will be lost unlewe all realise that we have to fight for it.

First of all we have to give up the luxury of pretending that the war with Islamism is our fault. It is not. It is a deadly serious attempt by reactionary theocrats, Sunni and Shia, to enslave as much of the world as possible. It is powerful - it has the resources of a rich state, Iran, behind its Shia arm, and oil wealth gushes into the coffers of its Sunni side.

'The war on terror' may not be the best of phrases, but it is a reasonable shorthand. Islamist terrorist murderers don't kill decent and brave people because of mistakes made by President Bush or Tony Blair or President Musharraf or anyone else. They do so to destroy the chance of millions of Muslims and 'infidels' all over the world to live decent lives.

Secondly, the murder of Bhutto should also demonstrate - yet again - that this war is not the fault of the Israelis. The Islamists did not kill Benazir Bhutto because of concern about the West Bank. They killed her because they feared her power to give the Pakistani people more than the Islamists want them to have, and because they seek to push Pakistan into total chaos and unlimited carnage.

Third, Iraq is not the cause of this war - it is part of it. Remember one of the first terrible suicide murders committed in Iraq: in August 2003 al-Qa'eda killed Sergio Vieira de Mello, one of the UN's most gifted officials, and many of his colleagues. De Mello was Kofi Annan's special representative in Iraq and, like Annan, was opposed to the US war effort there. But al-Qa'eda denounced Annan as 'America's criminal slave' and abused de Mello as 'diseased'. They hated him in particular because he had helped Christian East Timor win independence from Muslim Indonesia - a heinous crime to al-Qa'eda.

Last month al-Qa'eda bombed a UN building in Algiers because, like de Mello, it was symbolic of the decent world which the Islamists want to destroy. Eleven UN officials were killed at once. And so it goes on.

The murder of Bhutto, the murder of UN officials, the countlemurders of innocent Iraqis, the murder of Lebanese who fight for their democracy, the murder of commuters in Madrid and London are all part of the same war against people and life. They are all part of the same deadly global ideology of hatred and despair. These assaults will not end if we retreat - from Afghanistan, from Iraq or anywhere else. Weaknewill cause the terrorists to redouble their efforts.

Maysoon al-Damluji, a brave Iraqi woman who returned from London exile after the overthrow of Saddam to help build a decent society, put it well recently. 'Both al-Qa'eda and Iran are working to create the most dangerous culture that humanity has ever known,' she said. 'It is based on hatred and ignorance and manifests itself through suppressing all kinds of freedoms, especially on women. If, God forbid, the American forces withdrew, mayhem would strike Iraq; it would spill out to the entire region and no country in the Middle East would be spared.' She is right. And not just for the Middle East.

Bush's Iraq/Vietnam speech

I am aware that not everybody would regard it as a badge of honour to be cited favourably by President Bush in a speech about Iraq.

But it happened to me last week when Bush warned that the consequences of leaving Iraq precipitously could be a bloodbath worse than happened in Indochina after the American defeat in 1975. Alas, I think he is right.

Iraq has certainly not gone the way that I and other supporters of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein had hoped. Now some British commentators and commentators argue for abandoning Iraq and concentrating all our effort on Afghanistan.

The consequences, I believe, would be infinitely more horrible than the horrors we already see today. The suggestion ignores the fact that for Islamic extremists and especially Al Qaida, the war to subjugate the west is indivisible. Bin Laden has said that Iraq is the front line. An Al Qaida victory in Iraq will strengthen the movement everywhere.

In Bush's long and rather literary speech - he also referred to Graham Greene's famous novel, The Quiet American, which scorned America's efforts in Vietnam - he said this:

"Recently, two men who were on the opposite sides of the debate over the Vietnam War came together to write an article. One was a member of President Nixon's foreignpolicy team, and the other was a fierce critic of the Nixon administration's policies. Together they wrote that the consequences of an American defeat in Iraq would be disastrous.

Here's what they said: "Defeat would produce an explosion of euphoria among all the forces of Islamist extremism, throwing the entire Middle East into even greater upheaval. The likely human and strategic costs are appalling to contemplate. Perhaps that is why so much of the current debate seeks to ignore these consequences." I believe these men are right."

Those two men, dear readers, were Peter Rodman, a former aide to Henry Kissinger and more recently assistant secretary of defence in the Bush administration, and your humble correspondent.

This is what happened:

When I covered the wars in Indochina for the Sunday Times, I was opposed to the US effort. After the communists won, appalling stories of brutality began to emerge. Thousands and eventually millions of people fled the cruelty of the Vietnamese communist victors, mostly as “boat people". In Cambodia the Khmer Rouge communist victors were far brutal and up two million Cambodians were murdered or died.

After talking to Cambodian refugees on the Thai Cambodian border, conducting scores of interviews in the USA and obtaining thousands of pages of official documents under the blessed US Freedom of Information Act, I wrote a book called Sideshow- Kissinger, Nixon and the Destruction of Cambodia, which was extremely critical of the Nixon White House's policies towards Cambodia. It argued that American carelessnebetween 1970-75 helped destroy the country and enabled the monstrous Khmer Rouge to come to power.

Kissinger had declined my requests for an interview before publication but afterwards his aide, Peter Rodman, published, in the American Spectator, a long, detailed and excoriating attack on me and my research in the American Spectator. I replied, Rodman counter attacked and so on - it was interesting and I included the whole exchange in subsequent editions of the book.

Almost twenty five years later, after the overthrow of Saddam, which I supported, I finally met Rodman for the first time and I am glad to say we have become friends. Earlier this year we wrote together for the NYT the article to which President Bush referred. We warned that abandoning Iraq would be a disaster.

Today as then the prehas a special responsibility. In Indochina the majority of American and European journalists (including myself) believed that the war could not or should not be won. Many also believed that Indochina would be better after the American defeat. At the end one New York Times headline read: “Indochina Without Americans: For Most, a Better Life."

Such naivety was horribly wrong, and I have always thought that those of us who opposed the American war in Indochina should be extremely humble in the face of the appalling aftermath. Similarly today I think that for too many pundits hatred (and it really is that) of Bush (and till recently Blair) dominates perceptions.

Many arm chair editorialists seem to dwell more on the American abuses at Abu Greib (quickly stopped and punished) than on the horrific, deliberate mamurders committed by the terrorists, both Sunni and Shia. Far too many Muslims have died in Iraq - and the vast majority have not been killed by American or British soldiers - they have been killed by other Muslims.

Above all we do not pay adequate attention to the millions of Iraqis who (like Vietnamese, Cambodians and Lao thirty five years ago) put their faith in the West. The fear of Iraqi interpreters to the British army being abandoned in Basra is only the tip of the iceberg.

We have not done as much in Basra as we could have done with mjore troops but we have done well in training the Iraqi 10th Division there. They will soon be able to take over. But they are not now.

Yet, many British commentators and politicians are now suggesting that we should abandon Iraq and fight only in Afghanistan. Ironically this debate is happening when, for the first time, America is making real progreagainst Al Qaida in its strongholds in the Northwest of the country and Baghdad.

Under one of America's best generals, David Petraeus, Bush has committed some 30,000 more American troops into these areas and driven Al-Qaida out. Local insurgents have been revolted by Al Qaida atrocities - decapitating babies, slicing off peoples' faces with piano wire, using chlorine gas tankers and vast car bombs as weapons of madestruction to kill as many innocents as possible - and have rallied to the government. Confidence is beginning to return : even Fallujah, a hell of torture chambers and Islamist violence until the US Marines drove Al Qaida out, now has a growing Chamber of Commerce.

Next month Petraeus has to make a keynote speech to the US Congress, where both Republicans and Democrats are increasingly skeptical if not downright hostile to the President's policies. He can justifiably praise the courage, commitment and successes of his soldiers. But alas their progrehas not been matched by reconciliation and progrebetween the Sunni, Shia and Kurdish members of the Iraqi government. That is where the real threat to Iraq now lies.

The consequences of an American defeat in Iraq are likely to be even worse than in Indochina. As the Al-Qaida leader in Iraq, Musab al-Zarqawi said before he was fortunately killed by a US air strike ‘The shedding of Muslim blood is allowed in order to disrupt the greater evil of disrupting jihad.' Islamist revenge on all those Muslims who have tried to build a better Iraq will be terrible.

Why do the horrors inflicted by Islamic extremists in Darfur appal us, but not those in Iraq ? Because, I suppose, in an orgy of self deluding hyprocisy, we prefer to blame the United States.

We should grow up.

The horror of Darfur will pale by comparison with the bloodbath in Iraq if we withdraw before we have done everything possible to complete our promise to build up the Iraqi security forces to enable them to defend their country against sectarian horrors.

Bush last week quoted bin Laden as saying that the American people must rise against their government over Iraq as they did over Vietnam. We should never forget that Al Qaida's brilliant propaganda war is designed to make that happen in Britain as well as the US.

I hope Gordon Brown and his advisers realize that the impression that we are seeking to leave will guarantee defeat. As in Indochina, leaving now will not make things better but far far worse.


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