One of Tom Friedman’s favorite column-writing techniques is to feature an Egyptian cab driver/Lebanese hotel clerk/Emirati businessman whose pithy comment conveniently underscores the point Friedman wants to make.
I believe that the most important reason there has not been another 9/11, besides the improved security and intelligence, is that Al Qaeda is primarily focused on defeating America in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world — particularly in Iraq. Al Qaeda knows that if it can destroy the U.S. effort (still a long shot) to build a decent, modernizing society in Iraq, it will undermine every U.S. ally in the region.
You’ll remember that after the WMD and “Saddam-Al Qaeda relationship” arguments for the war disintegrated, the “fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here” argument — which Richard Clarke mockingly termed the “puppy dog” theory of counterterrorism — became popular for a time. President Bush infamously taunted the insurgents to “bring ‘em on” — which they did. They brought it on so much that, six years later, Iraq accounts for more than half of all suicide terrorist attacks in the world since 1981, according to a study (pdf) by Assaf Moghadam of Harvard’s Belfer Center.
Who have been, and continue to be, the targets of these attacks? Mostly Iraqi civilians — tens of thousands of whom have been killed, with many more maimed and permanently disfigured and disabled. This, then, is what Tom Friedman — in antiseptic language designed to leave elite consciences undisturbed — would like to portray as successful American policy: Using the Iraqi people as bait to attract jihadists from around the region and distract them from attacking the American homeland.
But let’s say we grant this argument, intellectually dubious and morally repugnant as it is. Add it to the numerous other costs of the Iraq war, and what did it all earn us? A “long shot” chance at building a stable Iraq — one dominated by Shia factions with close ties to Iran, and viewed with deep suspicion by America’s allies in the region.
It’s not hard to understand why none of Friedman’s usual local interlocutors make an appearance in the column. I doubt he could ever find an actual Iraqi who would second such an argument, any more than you might expect to find an Israeli who would praise the strategic brilliance of Arab propagandists in directing jihadist rage toward Israel.