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Reports in the October 7 New York Times and October 6 broadcast of NBC's Nightly News misleadingly cast the Iraq war's impact on global terrorism as a partisan debate. Both the Times and NBC reported that President Bush claimed in an October 6 speech that the war in Iraq has not strengthened or invigorated global terrorists. But rather than noting that State Department and CIA reports contradict Bush's assertion, the Times and NBC simply reported that Democrats dispute the claim.
Both the Times and NBC reported that Bush, in his October 6 speech to the National Endowment for Democracy, rejected unnamed critics who, Bush alleged, argued that "extremism has been strengthened by the actions of our coalition in Iraq." Times reporter David E. Sanger noted that Bush "addressed criticism that he has deliberately conflated the battle on terrorism with the question of whether to remain in Iraq." NBC White House correspondent Kelly O'Donnell reported that Bush was "[s]peaking to critics who argue [the] U.S. presence in Iraq actually provokes more terrorism," when he cited the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the 2004 Beslan school massacre in Russia to show that "[n]o act of ours invited the rage of the killers."
But the Times and NBC news accounts only mentioned Democrats who have disputed Bush's characterizations by arguing that the administration's Iraq policies have actually strengthened terrorist groups. In fact, government analysts have also found that U.S. actions in Iraq have aided terrorist groups' recruiting and provided them with a training ground for their new followers. By contrast, the October 7 Washington Post report on Bush's speech noted that Bush's assertions challenged the findings of the State Department's annual terrorism report:
Bush, however, rejected the idea that "extremism" had been "strengthened" by the ongoing U.S. war in Iraq, taking strong issue with analysts who believe that Iraq has become a "melting pot for jihadists from around the world, a training group and an indoctrination center" for a new generation of terrorists, as the State Department's annual report on terrorism put it this year.
"To say Iraq has not contributed to the rise of global Sunni extremism movement is delusional," said Roger W. Cressey, a former White House counterterrorism adviser under Bush and President Bill Clinton. "We should have an honest discussion about what these unintended consequences of the Iraq war are and what do we do to counter them."
As Media Matters for America has documented, the CIA's National Intelligence Council -- "the Intelligence Community's (IC's) center for midterm and long-term strategic thinking" -- also identified Iraq as succeeding Afghanistan as the major training ground for terrorists. "The al-Qa'ida membership that was distinguished by having trained in Afghanistan will gradually dissipate, to be replaced in part by the dispersion of the experienced survivors of the conflict in Iraq," the council stated in a report titled "Mapping the Global Future." At the time of the report's release in December 2004, NIC chairman Robert L. Hutchings stated that Iraq is currently "a magnet for international terrorist activity." The report also found that Iraq had "joined the list of conflicts -- including the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate, and independence movements in Chechnya, Kashmir, Mindanao in the Philippines, and southern Thailand -- that have deepened solidarity among Muslims and helped spread radical Islamic ideology."
From the October 7 New York Times article:
Mr. Bush used his speech, before the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, to warn that Syria and Iran had become "allies of convenience" for Islamic terror groups, appearing to step up political pressure on both countries. He said, "The United States makes no distinction between those who commit acts of terror and those who support and harbor them," and he warned that the "the civilized world must hold those regimes to account."
A senior White House official said Thursday evening that the president's 40-minute speech arose from Mr. Bush's desire to remind Americans, after "a lot of distractions" in recent months, that the country was still under threat, and had no choice but to remain in Iraq so Al Qaeda did not use it as a base to train for attacks on the United States and its allies.
Democrats were quick to answer Mr. Bush, saying that he was gliding past major errors of tactics and strategy in Iraq, and that Al Qaeda began operating there only after the American invasion.
Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic leader, said: "The truth is, the administration's mishandling of the war in Iraq has made us less safe, and Iraq risks becoming what it was not before the war: a training ground for terrorists." Mr. Reid, of Nevada, said it was vital that the administration change course in Iraq.
[Bush] addressed criticism that he has deliberately conflated the battle on terrorism with the question of whether to remain in Iraq, an issue on which members of his own party are increasingly divided. He said those calling for an American withdrawal to avoid inciting militancy were engaging in "a dangerous illusion."
"Would the United States and other free nations be more safe, or less safe, with [Abu Musab al-] Zarqawi and [Osama] bin Laden in control of Iraq, its people and its resources?" he asked. "Having removed a dictator who hated free peoples, we will not stand by as a new set of killers, dedicated to the destruction of our own country, seizes control of Iraq by violence."
From the October 6 broadcast of NBC's Nightly News:
O'DONNELL: Speaking to critics who argue U.S. presence in Iraq actually provokes more terrorism --
BUSH (video clip): No act of ours invited the rage of the killers.
O'DONNELL: As evidence, Mr. Bush pointed out that on September 11th, the U.S. was not in Iraq. Another example, Russia had opposed the invasion of Iraq.
BUSH (video clip): Yet the militants killed more than 180 Russian schoolchildren in Beslan.
O'DONNELL: And he touted progress, planned attacks he says were stopped.
BUSH (video clip): At least 10 serious Al Qaeda terrorist plots since September the 11th, including three Al Qaeda plots to attack inside the United States.
O'DONNELL: But on that point, the president had essentially asked Americans to take his word on how many have been disrupted. The White House said the information was classified, until this evening, when it released this memo, giving some details on the foiled plots.
NANCY PELOSI (House Democratic Leader, video clip): I do not believe that the president's actions and his mismanagement on the war in Iraq have made America safer.
O'DONNELL: A deep divide as the president works to defend the continuing sacrifice in the war on terror. Kelly O'Donnell, NBC News, the White House.