The plea copped by Najibullah Zazi is another vindication of the Obama administration’s belief that the threat of terrorism does not necessitate the abandoning of the U.S. legal system, and its discarding of a militaristic “war on terror” frame generally. But the Washington Post’s story on Zazi’s plea deal contains a couple of other interesting “new details about the path that led the suburban Denver man into terrorism” that further demonstrate the stupidity of the Iraq war specifically:
Zazi, an Afghan immigrant residing legally in the United States, traveled to an al-Qaeda stronghold in Pakistan in August 2008 to receive weapons training so he could fight alongside the Taliban, according to Justice Department and FBI officials. But jihadists redirected him and two confederates to focus their energies on a suicide attack on the U.S. mainland.
Zazi returned to Colorado in January 2009 with notes on how to mix explosive chemicals. He procured large volumes of beauty supplies that contained hydrogen peroxide to make TATP, the explosive involved in the 2005 bombings of London’s transit system, authorities said.
There are two points to be made here. The first is that, had the Bush administration stayed to finish the job in Afghanistan and Pakistan and not diverted resources, expertise, and attention to Iraq, it’s very possible that there would not have been an al-Qaeda stronghold in Pakistan for Zazi to travel to in August 2008 to receive weapons training, and no remaining Taliban insurgency for Zazi to hope to fight alongside. The Obama administration has, through focused and painstaking diplomacy, recently had some success in encouraging the Pakistani government to move against Taliban elements on its own territory. What if, instead of being distracted by Iraq for the last seven years of his presidency, President Bush had actually applied his administration’s efforts to this problem?
Second, the Zazi case destroys (yet again) the “flypaper theory” of the Iraq war that was popular among pro-war types in 2003. The idea was that the war would attract radical Islamic jihadists from around the region and distract them from attacks on the American homeland. In addition to being just basically stupid — it was premised on the assumption that there was some finite number of extremists who, upon arriving in Iraq, would obligingly die — it was morally indefensible, as it involved using the Iraqi people as bait for a jihadist flytrap. Not only did the Iraq war not deter Zazi from pursuing a career as a terrorist, it’s very possible that in Pakistan he was exposed to hardened jihadists who, having been initially radicalized by the Iraq war, brought tactics and bomb-making methods learned in Iraq to Pakistan, just as they have done to Yemen and North Africa.
A predictable response to these points will be that “we shouldn’t re-litigate the Iraq war,” but that’s silly. It’s not “re-litigating” anything to take the measure of the continuing consequences of a strategic blunder.