Saturday, September 09, 2006

Where's the Clarity?

Here's a good article on what all the Bush rhetoric is attempting to accomplish

WhereÂ’s the Clarity?
Five years after 9/11, little of Bush’s ‘war on terror’ rhetoric is making sense.
By Michael Hirsh

Updated: 4:18 p.m. ET Sept 8, 2006

Sept. 7, 2006 - Terrible as they are, wars can be clarifying events. Like thunderstorms, they purge the diplomatic air. They force people to take sides and, if they are total wars, they leave one victor standing. This is what happened during World Wars I and II (the latter being mainly an extension of the former) and the cold war. In the end, fascism and totalitarianism were vanquished—with the exception of a few redoubts, like North Korea—freedom was left the sole victor and America was seen as its champion. George W. Bush would have us view the "war on terror," which turns five years old on Monday, in this light as well. "This is the great ideological struggle of the 21st century—and it is the calling of our generation," the president said this week in a dramatic rendezvous-with-destiny speech timed to the 9/11 anniversary. "Freedom is once again contending with the forces of darkness and tyranny"—the terrorists who would seek to impose what he called a "totalitarian Islamic empire."

The president's opponents say the war on terror is nothing at all like the last century's biggest conflicts. With a crucial midterm election approaching, Democrats in particular are eager to portray what Bush calls the war on terror's "central front"—Iraq—not as another glorious fight against totalitarianism but as another Vietnam, a quagmire unrelated to the fight against Al Qaeda. Vietnam, of course, was not a clarifying war, at least for Americans. Indeed the war provoked so much confusion and self-doubt about U.S. policy that its impact is still felt today, 31 years after the fall of Saigon. To Bush's critics, the "Vietnam Syndrome"—a casualty-shy reluctance to use force—has now been replaced by a parallel, and equally paralyzing, "Iraq Syndrome."

The truth is that, year by year, the so-called GWOT (global war on terrorism) has become less and less clear in its direction and goals—and less and less like any previous war. What began as a crystal-clear fight against a small, self-contained group of murderers has become a kind of murky, open-ended World War III in which the identity of the enemy is less certain and our allies seem to grow less reliable. While at the beginning no one had any use for Al Qaeda—Americans, Russians, Chinese, Europeans, Arab regimes—now that the Bush administration has expanded the war to include all terrorists and their "state sponsors," very few nations seem to be buying fully into the U.S. vision. Many of those who hated Al Qaeda, for example, never accepted the link to Saddam Hussein's Iraq. And some of these countries are ambivalent at best about making Hizbullah and Hamas (both of which disavow any link to Al Qaeda), or their sponsors, Iran and Syria, part of the same struggle. "We're a nation at war," Bush says. But we all must now ask: with whom exactly?

In two remarkable speeches delivered in Washington this week, the president sought to recover some of the clarity of 9/11, returning the war on terror to its origins. On Tuesday he restored Osama bin Laden to his place as America's central bogeyman—after a three-year period of barely mentioning his name—and compared him to Hitler and Lenin. The next day, the president brought families of 9/11 victims into the East Room for a dramatic speech in which he acknowledged, for the first time, the existence of the CIA's secret prison program and an "alternative set of procedures" used to interrogate key Al Qaeda suspects rounded up in the early years after 9/11. He made a vigorous case that "questioning the detainees in this program has given us information that has saved innocent lives by helping us stop new attacks."

He also pointed to his most signal success: the lack of a follow-up assault on the U.S. homeland in the five years since 9/11 (except for the still-unsolved anthrax attacks of that fall). Both speeches were political masterstrokes, especially coming two months before an election that has Republicans in serious trouble over questions of the president's competence and credibility. The problem is that, measured against the policies the president has pursued over the past five years, Bush's rhetoric does not describe the war on terror we have come to know.

On Tuesday, speaking before the Military Officers Association of America, Bush exhorted his listeners to take bin Laden's rants seriously, reminding them of what happened when the world powers of the day ignored "an exiled lawyer" (Vladimir Lenin) and a "failed painter" (Adolf Hitler) who laid out their bloody, revolutionary programs early on. "Bin Laden and his terrorist allies have made their intentions as clear as Lenin and Hitler before them," Bush said. "The question is: Will we listen? Will we pay attention to what these evil men say?" Bush declared that "we will not rest ... until this threat to civilization has been removed."

In light of the facts that have since been confirmed, this description does not fully account for Bush's own conduct over the past five years. Bin Laden, after all, didn't just write a pamphlet on 9/11—he carried out his plans, directing his henchmen to kill thousands of Americans on their own soil. It was a moment of absolute, terrifying clarity: in retribution for 9/11, according to every Western code of justice and honor, bin Laden should have been relentlessly pursued until he was dead or captured. Yet we now know that the Bush administration allowed itself to be distracted from that task as the months passed after 9/11. Gary Berntsen, the CIA officer in charge of the operation, told me a year ago that he knows for certain that bin Laden was trapped in Al Qaeda's Tora Bora hideaway after the fall of Afghanistan's Taliban rulers in late 2001. As Berntsen records in his 2005 book "Jawbreaker," bin Laden told his followers, "Forgive me," and apologized for getting them pinned down by the Americans. But Bernsten says, the Pentagon refused to put in the necessary troops.

This account is corroborated by Bernsten's then boss, CIA senior officer Henry Crumpton (now the State Department's counterterrorism chief), who made clear to Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney that America's Afghan and Pakistan allies couldn't take out bin Laden. "We're going to lose our prey if we're not careful," Crumpton told Bush and Cheney, according to Ron Suskind's new book, "The One Percent Doctrine." Numerous accounts have also established that, shortly after Tora Bora, the president began diverting Special Forces troops, Predator drones and other resources involved in the hunt for bin Laden to Iraq.

Yes, Bush sought this week to clarify his broader strategic goals in the war on terror. "The experience of September the 11th made clear, in the long run, the only way to secure our nation is to change the course of the Middle East," he said. And that may well be true. But what about the short run and the medium run? The chief culprit of 9/11 and his top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, are still free. And Bush administration officials concede, anonymously, that there is a good chance the two will never be caught, especially now that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, with the administration's blessing, has pledged not to continue troop incursions into the tribal areas where bin Laden and Zawahiri may be hiding.

We also know—again, these are now historical facts, not opinions—that while Bush resorts to the rally-the-citizenry (or electorate) rhetoric of World War II and the cold war, he has sought to tax-cut his way to victory, driving up record budget deficits, underfunding the U.S. Army and quashing all talk of a draft. Even in Iraq, the Army is desperately trying to stabilize Baghdad with one brigade of Stryker fighting vehicles because there are no others that are ready. "We need several brigades, but we don't have them," a senior military official told me this week, citing the Army's pleas for emergency funding. "Since 9/11, for all the rhetoric about us being involved in a global war, there's been nothing of the kind," historian Robert Dallek, who has written of the national mobilization efforts during World War II and the cold war, told me. "It's generally been business as usual."

Then there is overarching issue of whether Iraq ever should have been part of the war on terror at all—or, instead, whether it made the GWOT hopelessly murky. In his speech Tuesday, Bush called Iraq the "capital" of Al Qaeda's would-be totalitarian caliphate and said it "is the central battlefield where the outcome of this struggle will be decided." But military experts now say that the continuing violence since the killing of Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, the top foreign terrorist in Iraq, last June is evidence that the insurgency there is mainly indigenous, largely unconnected to the larger war on terror. "This proves how small a part foreign fighters play in Iraq," says John Arquilla, an intelligence expert at the Naval Postgraduate School. "There's a real Lewis Carroll quality to all of this rhetoric, where what is up is down, and what is right is wrong. The president says that Iraq is the central front. But the president also says Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. A visitor from Mars just entering into this debate would surely be struck by the contradictions in these statements. And then to invoke bin Laden as a bête noire now while closing down Alec Station [the CIA's bin Laden monitoring group, which was disbanded earlier this year] seems a contradiction as well."

Five years on, little of the GWOT conforms any longer to Bush's clarifying rhetoric. The president argued again this week, as he has tirelessly, that "the lack of freedom" in the Middle East helped create September 11. No one doubts that more freedom and democracy will help to cure the pathologies of the Arab world. But the truth is that the group that orchestrated 9/11 grew up in Afghanistan—not part of the Middle East—during the anti-Soviet jihad of the 1980s. It was conceived by Arab men who'd left their countries and formed European- and Asian-based cells. Their philosophy, mainly based on ultra-orthodox Salafism, was spread by a nominal American ally, Saudi Arabia, underwritten by petrodollars supplied by oil-addicted Westerners. Initially at least, the "Islamo-fascism" that the Bush team refers to had little to do with the mainstream struggle in Islam. It also remains a distinct phenomenon from Hamas and Hizbullah, or the Muslim Brotherhood movement in Egypt.

Some scholars of Islam, such as Gilles Kepel, also argue that extremist Islamist groups were shaped at least as much by European fascist and communist influences as by Arab dictatorships. In an interview, a senior administration official who helped draft Bush's latest "national strategy for combating terrorism"—also released this week—could not cite any authoritative studies linking the rise of democracy with the defeat of terrorism, other than to say, "I'm personally a huge fan of John Stuart Mill." "There's a real disconnect here," says Princeton scholar G. John Ikenberry. "They've come to this without serious thought about how you get democracy and what its impact is."

A parallel lack of clarity led to the interrogation scandal that Bush sought to put behind him Wednesday. The president announced the transfer of CIA-held Al Qaeda suspects to Pentagon custody and the prospect of future trials, in what a senior administration official described as a concession to June's Supreme Court ruling that held Bush's enemy-combatant detention policies to be unconstitutional. In his big speech, Bush defended these policies as a way of applying his broad doctrine of pre-emption of terror to the interrogation room, justified by the need to "break" often zealous and uncooperative Al Qaeda prisoners for clues on forthcoming plots and insights into the global terrorist network. The president was eager to describe how a daisy chain of intelligence breaks from the 14 men he named this week led to the exposure of Al Qaeda's anthrax program and numerous averted attacks, including a "planned strike" on U.S. Marines at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti, another one on the U.S. Consulate in Karachi "using car bombs and motorcycle bombs" and "a plot to hijack passenger planes and fly them into Heathrow or the Canary Wharf in London."

Most Americans, frankly, wouldn't have much of a problem if someone like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the mastermind behind 9/11, was beaten to within an inch of his life in some dark room somewhere (which is probably what happened after he was captured in May 2003). But the exposure of the two-year-old interrogations scandal—culminating in an embarrassing series of stories about the CIA secret prison program—was also a direct result of the administration's conflation of the original "war on terror" with the counterinsurgency war in Iraq. As detailed in several Pentagon investigations, a handful of techniques that might be legally and even morally justifiable against a handful of true bad guys mentioned by Bush on Wednesday came to be used indiscriminately against many more detainees, a number perhaps running into the thousands in Iraq. What began as a carefully controlled experiment in new techniques used to ratchet up the pressure on resistant Al Qaeda leaders beginning with Abu Zubaida in the spring of 2002—handled by a small number of skilled operatives working for the CIA—came to be used by ill-trained guards at Abu Ghraib prison. If this conflation hadn't occurred, it's far less likely there would have been a scandal of this proportion in the first place.

Finally, another thing that hasn't been clarified five years on is the politics of the war on terror. And just two months from a critical election in which Bush won't be running, but his legacy will be at stake, the president has once again proved he is a master of the game, painting the congressional Democrats as defeatist. This debate, which we will hear a lot more about in coming weeks, is also very different from previous wars. During World War II and, to a lesser extent, the cold war, politicians made a conscious, painstaking effort to bridge party lines, which were every bit as viciously partisan as today. Democrat Harry Truman and Republican Dwight Eisenhower, says John Arquilla, "crafted grand strategy that everybody in America, right and left, accepted for decades. They knew they needed broad support. We don't have that now. We're trying to wage the war on terror with the support of only part of the American people."

Perhaps the only thing that is clear any longer is that the war on terror will continue for a long time to come. And so will the war of words over the war on terror.

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Native of the Philadelphia "Kensington and Alleganey" northeast area. I spent 4 years in the Air Force (Titan-II missles in Tuscon Arizona). I Am currently retired, and among other adventures I spent 28 years working for AT&T in Telecommunications. I've lived in Florida for 33 years....20 years in Hollywood Fla., and 13 years North Florida. I've been married 42 years, and am a proud father of three adult offspring. All of them contributing to society in a very useful and creative manner.