Part III - Bush Has Mismanaged the War on Terror
In the aftermath of September 11, the World looked to America for leadership in the global War on Terror. All democratic nations stood ready to join the fight. In the past two years, however, Bush has squandered this historic opportunity to fight back the root causes of terrorism and raise democracy in the developing world. America's credibility has been harmed abroad, and Bush's own objectives in the War on Terror have not been met.
Bush's Terror Advantage
Some pretty damaging testimony has come out of the commission set up to investigate the intelligence failures that allowed the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 to occur. Supporters of the Bush Administration have come to question the motives of such experts as Richard Clarke, who claimed that the Bush Administration was not serious about terror in its first nine months of governing. Others have called the commission surprisingly partisan, using the September 11 tragedy as a political battering ram against the Bush Administration.
It would be unfair to use the tragedy of September 11 as the sole reason to pillory the Bush Administration. This was a serious disaster that nobody expected. Since Japanese kamakazees rammed their small planes into American battleships, only a handful of thriller writers and extreme war game designers considered the possibility of terrorists hijacking planes and using them as missiles to create carnage. Disasters happen; that is the sad truth. It would be, at best, academic to debate whether or not a President Gore could have prevented the attacks from happening.
It would be unfair to say these things, if the Bush Administration didn't take up the other side of the argument so often. In the two years following September 11, opinion polls consistently gave the Republicans a ten point edge over Democrats in voters' faith that they could deal with national security. The November 2002 elections were basically fought on the issue of national security and, where possible, Democrats were painted by their Republican opponents as obstacles to said security, despite the fact that the Department of Homeland Security was the idea of a Democrat, and the Bush Administration initially opposed it. Georgian senator Max Cleland, war veteran and patriot, had his patriotism impugned by his opponents. Columnists in the National Review and the Bush Administration itself have even claimed that the September 11 attacks were the Clinton Administration's fault, and that Bush's approach of viewing terrorism as an act of war to be fought back without nuance, was appreciably better than Clinton's approach of treating terrorists as criminals to be investigated and caught. More than a few people in the blogosphere have claimed that a vote against Bush's policies is a vote for the terrorists.
Fine. If this is fair in love and war, it is also fair to point out how the Bush Administration has mismanaged the War on Terror, strengthening the very enemy he hoped to defeat. The September 11 attacks did occur during Bush's watch, after all, and although the new administration had all of nine months in which to settle down and govern the world's sole remaining superpower, people seem to forget that Clinton presided over his own period of heightened terrorist threat: the millennium and its bevy of doomsday cultists and opportunists out to cause as much chaos as possible. It was under Clinton that American intelligence services actually caught terrorists and stopped terrorist operations before they occurred. Is it unfair to point out that Bush can't claim this to such a degree? Maybe. Is it unfair to note that there have been more Al Queda attacks in the months since September 11 than in the three year before September 11? Possibly. Is it unfair to point out that the Bush Administration cut counter-terrorism budgets during their first few months of office?
The World at the Ready; Bush Leads them... Where?
But all that could be water under the bridge. September 11 was a tragic wake-up call, but wake-up the world it did. The Bush Administration had the staunch support of Americans, Canadians, Europeans, Japanese, Russians, Chinese, and the whole democratic world, to find the perpetrators of this cowardly act and bring them to justice. The Taliban of Afghanistan was called upon to hand over Osama Bin Laden. They refused. America led the world on an invasion and toppled the brutally repressive regime. Nobody shed a tear. America and the world had dreams of finally bringing peace to a wartorn country, lifting up its beleaguered people, and creating something that wouldn't provide a haven for terrorism again.
Most of this was accomplished, but Osama Bin Laden escaped capture. Al Queda's terrorist cells dispersed and kept operating. The war on terror was not yet over. Bush, to his credit, warned us that it would be a long fight, but his actions since the middle of 2002 call into question his commitment to the struggle. At a time when Americans were willing to make significant sacrifices for the good of their country -- reducing their dependence on Middle Eastern oil through conservation, for instance, or paying more taxes to cover the cost of military operations and rebuilding Afghanistan -- Bush's prescription for the American war-effort was to encourage consumer spending and lower taxes, a move which underlies just how little the Bush Administration knew of the root causes of terror.
With Afghanistan pacified (but not fixed), the Bush Administration called for Iraq to become the next front in the global War on Terror. But the rest of the world did not make the connection between Saddam Hussein and Al Queda, or between Saddam Hussein and Saudi Arabia's clandestine funding of Al Queda, or between Saddam Hussein and the Al Queda operations in northern Pakistan. Then, as 2002 faded into 2003, it became clear that the Bush Administration was not interested in disarming or removing Saddam Hussein through diplomatic means. Instead, the Administration manipulated public perception in order to justify an invasion it considered to be a fait accompli.
When polls showed that the majority of Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the September 11 attacks, the Bush Administration fed off of that fallacy. No links between Saddam and Osama have since been found. Then the Bush Administration focused attention on Saddam Hussein's weapons building program, despite the fact that the issue had been dormant in the White House for four years. By the end of 2002, the Bush Administration claimed that Hussein had stockpiled weapons of mass destruction. None have since been found. When all of these elements, each designed to attract the support from the American public by scaring them out of their wits, failed to materialize, only then did the Administration champion the fact that a dictator was vanquished and a people were free.
To be fair, the Bush Administration may have been championing the dire straits of the people of Iraq all along, and this justification for invasion only materialized as the other reasons were stripped away, but the recent instability in Iraq is threatening even this reason to go to war. The security situation in Bagdhad is worse today than it was in the weeks following Saddam's fall; there is armed insurrection in Fallujah, and the people of Iraq are clearly getting more and more impatient with their occupiers.
The True Battle Plan
Was the invasion of Iraq about oil? No. It was about power. As important as oil is to our economy, oil carries a lot of power, and a lot of oil is controlled by the dictatorial regimes of the Middle East. To this end, there has always been some method to the Bush Administration's madness, so to speak. In theory, toppling Saddam Hussein provides a democratic beacon to counter the dictatorships of the Middle East and the terrorist groups they foster. It reduces world dependence on Saudi oil and allows the world to hold the Saud Royal Family to greater account over Al Queda connections in their country. All of these points follow logical reasoning, even though they may not be good enough reasons to invade a sovereign country that did not pose an immediate threat to the security of the United States.
Bush might well have been able to pursue this goal of rewriting the map of the Middle East if he had been more honest with his citizens and the citizens of the world. It may have forced the invasion of Iraq to have taken place at a later date, but he would not have damaged America's credibility to the extent that he has.
Furthermore, the Bush Administration hasn't even met its own objectives, which can only be a stable and democratic Iraq. Thanks to poor planning, inadequate resource allocation, and supremely boneheaded moves, Iraq is a long way from being either, and it is unlikely that the country America leaves behind on June 30 (if indeed they do) can put a lid on terrorism in their part of the Middle East. Even Iraq's contribution to the world oil supply has been delayed. All in all, America and the World are a long way from being weened off of Saudi oil, and they're a few steps back on a stable Middle East.
A Few Steps Forward, Several Steps Back
The Bush Administration's willingness to forge a direct link between Iraq and the War on Terror (a link that was not there) suggests either misplaced priorities or a frightening willingness to nationbuild on a grand scale. Its inability to plan for the aftermath of war suggests an inability or an unwillingness to manage the small important details once the grand plans have been accomplished. Either way, these problems suggest that not only are we a long way from winning the War on Terror, the Bush Administration may be harming our cause.
The rebuilding of the economy and the infrastructure of Iraq and Afghanistan has been slow and incomplete, increasing the likelihood of terrorism in the region. The guerilla warfare that has mired American forces in Iraq is costing many American lives and the unnuanced response to attacks has given plenty of fuel to the terrorist enemies to increase their fire. The apparent deception, hyping links between Saddam and Al Queda that did not exist, deriding opponents who questioned, and the barrelling into an invasion on flimsy pretences has harmed America's credibility abroad and squandered the historic reserves of good will the nation held in the aftermath of September 11.
It's hard to see how a different administration could have entered 2004 with international relations at such a low ebb, and its military might mired in two tricky regional wars. In the war between the western world and radical Islamic fundimentalism, it looks as though the Bush Administration have lost their focus.
The drumbeat is steady and growing louder. Bob Woodward, Rand Beers, Paul O'Neill, Richard Clarke, Bill Clinton, Karen Kwiatkowski? All have come forward with a remarkably consistent story -- That President George W. Bush and a coterie of others in his administration were fixated on getting rid of Saddam from before they came into office. They weren't focused on al Qaeda or other Islamic terrorism.
There may well be "plenty of blame to go around," as I was counseled yesterday. It's probable that Bill Clinton didn't do enough to fight terrorism. But when the WTC was bombed in February 1993, mere days after Clinton took office, I don't recall a bunch of Democrats running around blaming George H.W. Bush for the failure. And they certainly weren't blaming George H.W. Bush three years into Clinton's first term for the failure.
...Richard Clarke apologized to the families of the 9/11 victims for failing them. When will others in the Bush Administration admit a similar failing and apologize?
Most likely not ever, because to do so would require the Bush Administration to admit that they invaded a country that wasn't an imminent threat to the United States on a pretext to combat the influence of a country which is nominally our ally, and that they failed to meet their own objectives. There may be considerable doubt whether the September 11 terrorist attacks could have been prevented had Clinton's approach been continued, and there is no doubt that some good has come out of Bush's policies following September 11 (I'd still rate Afghanistan as better off now than it was September 10, 2001), but for the most part, America and the world are not safer.
And it's no surprise that Bush's terror advantage over the Democrats is steadily weakening...
Next Article: A Fundimental Inability to Communicate