Bungling the "War on Terror" while Dreaming of Reelection
Robert Fisk has recently described Iraq as being “on the brink of anarchy.” The disastrous recent situation is entirely due to the US occupation’s bungling. Paul Bremer has turned the hitherto minor Al-Sadr into an Islamist Che Guevara with his own burgeoning army simply by shutting down Al-Sadr’s 10,000-circulation newspaper and making arrests of some of his henchmen. Bremer has failed miserably in protecting the Iraqi people, and in his threats against the Falluja attackers and personal vendetta against Al-Sadr he has inflamed national passions against the occupation.
The idea of the US bringing “democracy” to Iraq, which seemed hubristic and naïve at first, is now an increasingly obvious sham. If and when the occupation “turns over” government to the Iraqis, there will be no elections, and there will be binding laws issued by Bremer and the CPA severely limiting autonomy and promoting outside economic exploitation. So whatever happens to the June 30 deadline for a “turnover,” there will be no end to US control at any time in the foreseeable future under a Bush administration.
If Iraq is Bush’s Vietnam, it’s America’s Vietnam too. A recent report by UPI’s Mark Benjamin points out that in addition to the nearly 700 American deaths (not to mention 10,000 Iraqi ones), there have been 18,004 evacuations, which represent 11,700 US military patients. And Bush has not witnessed one funeral or greeted one returning injured soldier.
The administration has done all it could to stonewall all inquiries in response to its peculiar handling of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, but its timing has proved faulty. Because it held back its publication as long as it could, Richard Clarke’s book, Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror, came out just in time to be current for Clarke’s testimony before the 9/11 Commission Clarke and several translators who’ve been outspoken recently have brought out two key issues: warnings of possible aerial Al-Qaida attacks on US soil were there and ignored both before Bush took office and after, and Iraq was always a Bush target even before he took office, a theme stressed earlier this year by former Bush Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill. As CBS summarized O’Neill: “’From the very beginning, there was a conviction. . . that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go’ . . . going after Saddam was topic ‘A’ 10 days after the inauguration -- eight months before Sept. 11.”
The global situation for Bush has altered dramatically in other ways. After a lively campaign with a number of well-qualified contenders, John Kerry has emerged unquestionably as the Democratic Party’s strong opponent to Bush in the November election. The train terrorism attack in Spain that killed 190 rapidly led to the defeat of José Maria Aznar by the socialists, thus losing Bush his major European support. Aznar’s socialist replacement José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero immediately declared the Iraq war a disaster and pledged to withdraw Spanish troops. For those who watch the US’s heavy hand abroad and care about sovereignty and democracy, the way American troops abducted Haiti’s elected president to the Central African Republic and engineered a coup simply by failing to maintain order was an extremely blatant example of illegal, self-interested meddling.
American association with the murderous Sharon government has become increasingly problematic – and passive. On Sharon’s orders Israel very provocatively assassinated Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmad Yassin and the US vetoed UN efforts to censure Israel for this. How to win friends and influence people in the Middle East? Hardly. A way to win popularity at home? It doesn’t look that way.
Despite a presidency that has been little more than an endless reelection campaign (relieved of course by long holidays in Crawford), Bush’s stock has not done well this year (though it has shown a slight rise recently). According to Gallup, “If an incumbent's job approval rating falls below 50% in an election year, then it historically has been the death knell for that president's re-election chances. . .Right now, Bush is on the edge.” The main reason is that his so-called “war on terrorism” is an increasingly blatant failure. But the growth in unemployment (even despite a recent addition of available jobs) isn’t any help either. Nor are the losses in public services and education caused at every local level in the United States by Bush’s wild extravagances and tax cuts for the rich.
As for the pretexts for going to war in Iraq, the missing WMD’s are a staple of late night talk show jokes now. Even Bush made jokes about his inability to find them at a TV and radio correspondents’ dinner, for which he drew much criticism. In fact he showed an admirable ability to laugh at himself on that occasion, but leading the richest, most powerful country in the world is more than goofy frat boy humor, a smile and a photo op. His jokes were not appreciated by the families of the victims of 9/11, or those who died in Iraq because of nonexistent WMD’s.
Commenting on both Bush's failures -- in the local and the international sphere -- and saying “November can’t come too soon,” Senator Ted Kennedy just declared that the President has “broken the basic bond of trust with the American people.” In Worse than Watergate, a new book by John Dean arising out of a column he wrote in June 2003, Dean declares that the current administration is much more secretive and dangerous than Nixon’s.
Bush has done nothing to combat terrorism; his wars have only strengthened Al-Qaida, strained American’s relations with countries all over the world, and multiplied our enemies. His policies have continued to rob a lot of ordinary Americans of their livelihoods and their basic freedoms. If there was any possibility of waging a “war on terrorism,” this is certainly not the way to do it.
Yes, November can’t come too soon. The question is: how many American citizens will see through the lies? How many are clear about the fact that there were no weapons of mass destruction and that Saddam was not connected with Al-Qaida?
As Voltaire said, “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” He also said, “Common sense is not so common,” and “In general the art of government consists in taking as much money as possible from one class of citizens to give it to the other.” Up to date fellow, that Voltaire!
Chris Knipp is a writer based in San Franciso. Visit chrisknipp.com.
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This story was published on April 9, 2004.