The perspicacious Lawrence Wright, spoke to WNYC's Brian Lehrer.
It was a tragic mistake to go into Iraq.
If you read the memoirs, the internal documents of al Qaeda - their own leaders talk about how 80% of the al Qaeda membership was captured or killed after Tora Bora in November/December, 2001, and the leaders - the survivors who did get away - were scattered, destitute, unable to communicate, and repudiated all over the world. The movement was essentially dead, the war on terror was over, and it was the invasion of Iraq that brought that movement back to life.
So... knowing al Qaeda as you do, let me put you on the spot and ask you what you think about the central political debate that our country is having now over continuing the Iraq war, because Republicans, like the president and Rudy Giuliani, say withdrawal would hand al Qaeda the victory they're seeking over the United States, which would then leave us more vulnerable to attack here at home. How much do you agree?
Well, I'm in a real miserable spot, Brian. I was opposed to going in, and now I'm opposed to getting out. I've been looking at the world through al qaeda's lenses for more than five years now, and I can see how in many ways they're in the cat bird seat. If we stay, they continue to attract young Jihadis to fight against us, and they can prosper over the fact that they're fighting against this 'imperial power' and it's a very attractive recruiting tool for a lot of young Jihadis.
But if we go, they'll be incredibly emboldened, and they'll have a sanctuary in Iraq where they can train future Jihadis.
It may well be that we'll create as many monsters by staying as we will by leaving, but I think we've got to leave as little victory on the table for al Qaeda as possible.