On the May 20 broadcast of NBC's Meet the Press, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) suggested without challenge from host Tim Russert that the alleged plot by six men to carry out an armed attack on the Fort Dix Army base in New Jersey represents proof that if the United States withdraws forces from Iraq, terrorists "don't plan to stop in Baghdad. They are coming here as soon as they can get here." However, as Media Matters for America has documented, the assertion that terrorists will "com[e] here" following a U.S. troop withdrawal is widely challenged by experts.
While discussing the Iraq war with Gingrich and Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), Russert asked Gingrich, "[I]f we set a firm date for withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq, what happens?" Gingrich responded in part by citing the purported lesson of "New Jersey" -- an apparent reference to the Fort Dix plot:
GINGRICH: I think that we have dramatically expanded the excitement and incentives of the terrorists, both in the Iranian-funded Shia wing and in the Saudi-funded Sunni wing of Al Qaeda. And I think you'll see a dramatic upsurge. And a simple way to measure this: Watch what our enemies say. If this Congress passes a definitive end of American involvement, every enemy we have on the planet will exalt, and every terrorist group on the planet will claim it's an enormous victory, and they will increase their recruiting. And as New Jersey should just have taught us, they don't plan to stop in Baghdad. They are coming here as soon as they can get here.
But Russert failed to note in response that experts have reportedly disputed the notion that terrorists in Iraq would come to the United States after a U.S. troop withdrawal:
- According to an April 6 McClatchy Newspapers article, as Media Matters noted, "[m]ilitary and diplomatic analysts" say that a similar claim President Bush has repeatedly made about the Iraq war -- that "this is a war in which, if we were to leave before the job is done, the enemy would follow us here" -- "exaggerate[s] the threat that the enemy forces in Iraq pose to the U.S. mainland." The article also reported: "U.S. military, intelligence and diplomatic experts in Bush's own government say the violence in Iraq is primarily a struggle for power between Shiite and Sunni Muslim Iraqis seeking to dominate their society, not a crusade by radical Sunni jihadists bent on carrying the battle to the United States."
- A March 18 Washington Post article reported that "U.S. intelligence officials and outside experts" have said that Al Qaeda in Iraq "poses little danger to the security of the U.S. homeland," as Media Matters also noted.
- In an April 30 report from National Public Radio's All Things Considered exploring Bush's claim that "[i]f we do not defeat the terrorists and extremists in Iraq, they ... will follow us to the United States of America," NPR correspondent David Welna cited several experts challenging this claim. He reported that retired Brig. Gen. John H. Johns considers that warning "propaganda" and that, according to Johns, "It's actually leaving American forces in Iraq ... that increases the chances of a terrorist attack on the U.S." Welna also reported that retired Army Lt. Col. James Carafano, a research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, "calls asserting that terrorists will follow U.S. troops home naive and poor rhetoric." Welna's report also featured a clip of Carafano saying: "There's no national security analyst that's really credible who thinks that people are going to come from Iraq and attack the United States -- that that's a credible scenario."
Additionally, all six of the alleged Fort Dix plotters have been in the United States since at least 1999. A May 13 Philadelphia Inquirer article reported that three of them "entered the country in the mid-1980s"; a fourth suspect, now 22, entered "as a 2-year-old"; and a fifth suspect entered "in the late 1980s or early 1990s." A May 20 Philadelphia Inquirer article added that Agron Abdullahu "was 16 when he arrived here in 1999."
Moreover, as Media Matters has previously noted, no attack on Fort Dix was alleged to be imminent, and Fort Dix officials have reportedly claimed that the base was not, at any point, in immediate danger.
From the May 20 edition of NBC's Meet the Press:
RUSSERT: Let me go back to Iraq and give each of you a chance, in the closing minutes. Speaker Gingrich, if we set a firm date for withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq, what happens?
GINGRICH: I believe we send a signal to enemies to wait patiently and destroy the country as soon as we leave. I believe we send a signal to our own troops to cease patrolling and do everything you can not to be the last person killed on behalf of something that Congress has decreed will be a defeat. I think we send a signal to our allies around the world that we're unreliable. And I think that we have dramatically expanded the excitement and incentives of the terrorists, both in the Iranian-funded Shia wing and in the Saudi-funded Sunni wing of Al Qaeda. And I think you'll see a dramatic upsurge. And a simple way to measure this: Watch what our enemies say. If this Congress passes a definitive end of American involvement, every enemy we have on the planet will exalt, and every terrorist group on the planet will claim it's an enormous victory, and they will increase their recruiting. And as New Jersey should just have taught us, they don't plan to stop in Baghdad. They are coming here as soon as they can get here.
RUSSERT: Can you respond to that?
DODD: Yeah, I -- in fact, I think just the opposite. I think the very things you're talking about, you have the opposite reaction here. I think the world is waiting for the United States to lead again with bold leadership in the country. It's deeply worried about security, deeply worried about global terrorism, and looks on -- over this landscape of the world, says only one country can lead, it's the United States. The Chinese aren't going to do it, the Russians aren't going to do it, the Indians aren't going to do it, not in the foreseeable future. It's going to be the United States.
We're bogged down in a situation here where we're losing credibility. We're losing our moral value. The great moral reputation of the United States has suffered terribly as a result of this. That's a critical element and was critical in building the relationships that allowed us to develop the kind of international cooperation absolutely essential if you're going to deal with global terrorism. So my view is here, it's time for us to say that there's a new mission here, a new direction, a change in course here that will allow, I think, the possibility of Iraqis to decide they want to be a country. Allow us to encourage the moderate Arab states in the region to assume greater responsibility for their neighborhood than they presently are. I think the real opportunity, if you engage not as a means -- not as an end, but as a means to deal with the Iranian-Syrian issue, as we finally did in North Korea, you open up the, the perspective here -- the prospects, rather, of a wider, better set of alternatives for the United States and our allies around the world. That, at least, is a real opportunity. The status quo and escalating this conflict in Iraq on the assumption there's a military solution, I think has been disproven and discredited by most major people who've looked at this. I think they're right.
RUSSERT: Thank you both for making your views intelligently and passionately and in a civil environment. We appreciate it very much.