Vice President Dick Cheney’s daughter Liz was given prime space on the Washington Post’s Op-Ed page to question the wisdom and the patriotism of Americans who disagree with George W. Bush’s long war against Muslim militants.

To Liz Cheney, who surely qualified on merit for her former job as principal deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, there’s only one option – to stay the course in Iraq and to remain firmly in line behind President Bush.

“We are at war,” she wrote in bold type. “America faces an existential threat. … Quitting [Iraq] helps the terrorists. … Retreat from Iraq hurts us in the broader war. … Our soldiers will win if we let them.” [Washington Post, Jan. 23, 2007]

In normal type, Liz Cheney also reprised one of Bush’s favorite refrains about how the American people must listen to what al-Qaeda says and do the opposite. Since al-Qaeda’s leaders supposedly want a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, so they can build a giant caliphate “from Spain to Indonesia,” as Bush says, the United States must stay in Iraq and fight.

“Let’s be clear,” Liz Cheney wrote. “If we restrict the ability of our troops to fight and win this war, we help the terrorists. Don’t take my word for it. Read the plans of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Ayman Zawahiri to drive America from Iraq, establish a base for al-Qaeda and spread jihad across the Middle East.”

But U.S. intelligence knows that al-Qaeda’s public statements must be taken with a grain of salt.

By contrast, analysts give more weight to intercepted al-Qaeda communiqués describing the leaders' private views. Those messages reveal that – even as al-Qaeda baits the United States about leaving Iraq – the group actually worries that a sudden U.S. withdrawal could collapse its position.

Intelligence analysts estimate that al-Qaeda's forces account for only five percent or less of the armed opposition fighting U.S. and allied forces – and many of those young jihadists are not considered committed fighters.

As Zawahiri said in one captured letter, a rapid American military withdrawal could cause al-Qaeda’s new foreign jihadists, who have gone to Iraq to battle the Americans, to simply give up the fight and go home.

“The mujahaddin must not have their mission end with the expulsion of the Americans from Iraq, and then lay down their weapons, and silence the fighting zeal,” Zawahiri wrote, according to a text of a July 9, 2005, letter released by the office of the U.S. Director of National Intelligence.

Bogged Down

According to the internal communications, al-Qaeda’s real wish is for the United States to stay bogged down in Iraq, so the terrorist group can continue recruiting and training young jihadists while buying time to overcome the hostility of Iraqis toward outsiders.

In another captured letter, dated Dec. 11, 2005, “Atiyah,” a top aide to Osama bin Laden, described the work that must be done to overcome the many obstacles facing al-Qaeda in Iraq. Atiyah then added, “Prolonging the war is in our interest.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Al-Qaeda’s Fragile Foothold.”]

So, if the Bush administration truly based its decisions on doing the opposite of what al-Qaeda wanted, it would immediately withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq and let al-Qaeda in Iraq either disintegrate or get decimated by angry Iraqis who would no longer find al-Qaeda’s anti-American brutality particularly useful.

But Bush and fellow hard-liners, like Liz Cheney, are selective in deciding when Americans should heed the words of al-Qaeda and do the opposite, i.e. only when that matches what the administration wants to do in the first place.

That selectivity was demonstrated again after Bush announced his decision to escalate U.S. troop levels by more than 20,000 soldiers. Zawahiri issued a public statement offering mocking praise for Bush’s decision and urging him to expand the U.S. commitment even more.

“I ask him, why send 20,000 only – why not send 50,000 or 100,000?” Zawahiri said. “Send your entire army to be annihilated at the hands of the holy warriors to free the world from your evil.” [AP, Jan. 22, 2007]

Following the Bush/Liz Cheney logic, one would have to conclude that the advocates of Bush’s “surge” or the neoconservatives who want an even bigger escalation are doing exactly what Zawahiri wants. Conversely, those who call for a phased withdrawal are actually the ones thwarting al-Qaeda’s desires.

Of course, the “logic” behind Bush’s insistence that Americans must do the opposite of what al-Qaeda wants was never meant to be logical.

It was a rhetorical device to intimidate Americans into falling in line behind Bush – or they would face the intimidating question, as expressed in Liz Cheney's words: Why are you trying to “help the terrorists”?

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'

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