What "the enemy" wants

The other day Pat suggested to me that Lieberman was right to say that if the US were to leave Iraq it would satisfy "the enemy." (For clarification purposes, though Pat originally supported the war and the occupation that has followed, he now wants the US to withdraw its troops.)

Nothing infuriates the left more than when those in favor of the war suggest that to leave would bolster the enemy. But it's nearly impossible to argue that this isn't the case. Of course our defeat plays into the hands of our enemy, that's what defeat in war means.

I took issue with this assessment arguing that al Qaeda (who is often cited as America's main enemy in Iraq) benefits from the US presence.

It is certainly not impossible to argue that leaving would not bolster "the enemy." (Of course, you fail to say who the enemy is, and no, its not obvious. Is it Iran, al Qaeda, who? The distinction matters, different groups will have different reactions to a US withdrawal)

In fact, it is almost impossible to argue that our continued presence isn't bolstering the enemy ... if the enemy is, al Qaeda, leaving Iraq could hurt them considerably. The US occupation of Iraq has empowered al Qaeda to new levels.

In the latest edition of Foreign Affairs (the publication for the Council for Foreign Relations -- hardly a a group of left-wing pacifists) Bruce Riedel makes a similar argument.

(Bin Laden) seeks to, as he puts it, "provoke and bait" the United States into "bleeding wars" throughout the Islamic world; he wants to bankrupt the country much as he helped bankrupt, he claims, the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The demoralized "far enemy" would then go home, allowing al Qaeda to focus on destroying its "near enemies," Israel and the "corrupt" regimes of Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. The U.S. occupation of Iraq helped move his plan along, and bin Laden has worked hard to turn it into a trap for Washington. Now he may be scheming to extend his strategy by exploiting or even triggering a war between the United States and Iran.....

"[I]t is time to recognize that engagement there is more of a trap than an opportunity for the United States. Al Qaeda and Iran both want Washington to remain bogged down in the quagmire. Al Qaeda has openly welcomed the chance to fight the United States in Iraq....

"Rather than reinforce its failures, the United States should disengage from the civil war in Iraq, with a complete, orderly, and phased troop withdrawal that allows the Iraqi government to take the credit for the pullout and so enhance its legitimacy.

I am not sure I agree with him that Iran wants the States to stay there for much longer. I think Iran feels adequately empowered by the US failures at this stage. They know the coming realignment of the region will benefit them, but I think at this point they view the US as a destabilizing force in the region who will only contribute to further problems along their border if they remain in Iraq.

Nonetheless, I think he is right to say that al-Qaeda would prefer the US to stay in Iraq. The US presence "emboldens" them more than a withdrawal would.