Posted on April 16, 2007 in Washington Watch

Across the Middle East and North Africa, a series of tragic events occurred this week against the backdrop of still more bad news. With the discovery of an al-Qaeda cell in Morocco, and deadly suicide terrorist attacks against the Governmental Palace in Algiers and the National Parliament in Baghdad, it is now clear that bin Laden’s cancerous group has metastasized, spawning affiliates and copy-cat groups across the region. What is also clear is that war in Iraq is aggravating this growth in two other ways. On the one hand, the war itself, the occupation and the behaviors associated with it, have fueled extremism. Of equally deadly consequence is that fact that Iraq is now playing the role once reserved for Afghanistan. Reports coming out of Morocco and Algeria, establish that hundreds of young men from both countries have traveled to Iraq for training and combat, and have returned to their home countries with evil intent.

If all this were not bad enough, other news out of Iraq and Afghanistan combine to raise even more serious questions about the efficacy of the Bush Administration’s approach to combating terrorism and extremism.

In Iraq, demonstrations led by Muqtada al-Sadr brought out tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of Iraqis calling for an end to the U.S. presence in their country. In a surprising display in of unity in Najaf, Sunni and Shi’a clerics walked together in the mass mobilization. This outpouring came in response to al-Sadr’s call to all Iraqis to cease fighting each other in sectarian attacks and to unite around a single cause: ending the United States occupation of Iraq. A possible contributing factor to this display of united opposition may be found in a U.S. Pentagon report noting that casualties in Iraq have actually increased since the beginning of the Bush Administration’s surge. While it is true that violence has decreased in Baghdad, it is more than offset by killings in the rest of Iraq as insurgents and sectarian terrorists have dispersed to other locations.

But Baghdad is still not safe, as was made clear on Thursday when a suicide bomber penetrated multiple layers of security to detonate his bomb in the cafeteria of the Iraqi Parliament building. All of this directly challenged the notion that the surge is working.

In Afghanistan things are no better; Taliban attacks are up, as are NATO casualties. A recent report by a former U.S. Army General claims that much of Afghanistan has reverted into a lawless narco-state. Others are now blaming the current setbacks in Afghanistan on the lack of U.S. attention to unfinished business in that country, accusing the Bush Administration of diverting its resources and its focus to Iraq.

Allied Defense Ministers met yesterday in Canada to deal with growing concerns about lack of forces and lack of adequate equipment, and increased lethality of Taliban attacks, with the fear that more are yet to come. With the spring thaw literally preparing the ground for a renewed Taliban offensive, the Defense Ministers of the six NATO nations with troops on the ground in Afghanistan discussed a new strategy that focused more heavily than ever before on providing assistance to the Afghan people, particularly in rural areas. Why? Because the assembled leaders realize that after five years of fighting they are no closer to a military solution than before. It is clear that the gathered Defense Ministers, retired military personnel, and analysts familiar with the situation agree that the effort will require at least ten more years and tens of billions of dollars. Many doubt that there is sufficient commitment from the Bush Administration to follow through and provide what is needed to get the job done.

All in all, a bad week.

What is required is a change of course that would help stabilize and build Afghanistan, create national reconciliation and promote reconstruction in Iraq, and work toward a comprehensive Middle East peace that will foster the emergence of a strong regional coalition capable defeating extremism and terrorism. That of course would require and admission that current policy is not working. But despite bad news, the Bush Administration seems to believe that its policies are working and, therefore, seems convinced that the way out of this hole they have dug for themselves and the region is just to keep digging.