For more than five years – even predating the 9/11
attacks – Bush has insisted on a “unilateralist” approach toward the
world, asserting U.S. global hegemony under a strategy laid out by the
neoconservative Project for the New American Century.
At the center of this grandiose scheme was the
belief that the oil-rich Middle East could be remade through violent
“regime change” in hostile countries like Iraq. After 9/11, Bush
broadened his target to the “axis of evil,” adding in Iran and North
Korea and making clear that other lesser enemies included Syria, Cuba
While this neoconservative plan wrapped itself in
the language of “democracy,” the concept was always less about
respecting the will of indigenous populations than in restructuring
their economies along “free market” lines and ensuring compliant
In all of this, there was little room for
compromise or negotiations with the “bad guys.” It was as if the macho
rhetoric of AM radio and Fox News had swallowed U.S. foreign policy.
Real men don’t talk to people who stand in America’s way; you jail or
But this Bush Doctrine foundered on the hard soil
of Iraq, where ousting dictator Saddam Hussein was accomplished in three
weeks of fighting but was followed by a stubborn insurgency and a
sectarian civil war that has made the country effectively ungovernable.
More than 2,600 U.S. soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqis have died.
The disaster in Iraq put a crimp in the
neoconservative timetable. Instead of quick follow-up victories over
Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon, then regime change in Iran and a
thoroughly intimidated Muslim world bowing at Bush’s feet, the
administration faced mounting opposition and growing radicalism
throughout the region.
Meanwhile, Bush emerged as a despised figure not
only in the Middle East but around the world. The hatred of Bush also
dragged down America’s image and diminished the U.S. value to Israel as
an “honest broker” capable of defusing tensions with its Arab neighbors.
Over time, Bush became the perfect foil for Osama
bin Laden and other Islamic extremists. By portraying themselves as
defenders of Islam against the “big crusader” Bush, the extremists moved
from the fringes of Muslim society closer to the mainstream.
Iraq was transformed into both a rallying cry and a
training ground for al-Qaeda terrorists. But Bush’s response was to dig
in his heels even deeper and insist that the United States would “stay
the course” – exactly what bin Laden wanted. The longer the Iraq War
lasted the better it was for al-Qaeda.
So, in fall 2004, with Bush fighting for his
political life in a tight race against Democrat John Kerry, bin Laden
took the risk of breaking nearly a year of silence to release a
videotape denouncing Bush on the Friday before the U.S. election.
Bush’s supporters immediately spun bin Laden’s
tirade into his “endorsement” of Kerry and pollsters recorded a jump of
several percentage points for Bush, from nearly a dead heat to a five-
or six-point lead. Four days later, Bush hung on to win a second term by
an official margin of less than three percentage points. [See
Bush-Bin Laden Symbiosis.”]
The intervention by bin Laden – essentially urging
Americans to reject Bush – had the predictable effect of driving voters
to the President. After the videotape appeared, senior CIA analysts
concluded that ensuring a second term for Bush was precisely what bin
“Bin Laden certainly did a nice favor today for the
President,” said deputy CIA director John McLaughlin in opening a
meeting to review secret “strategic analysis” after the videotape had
dominated the day’s news, according to Ron Suskind’s The One Percent
Doctrine, which draws heavily from CIA insiders.
Suskind wrote that CIA analysts had spent years
“parsing each expressed word of the al-Qaeda leader and his deputy, [Ayman]
Zawahiri. What they’d learned over nearly a decade is that bin Laden
speaks only for strategic reasons. … Today’s conclusion: bin Laden’s
message was clearly designed to assist the President’s reelection.”
Jami Miscik, CIA deputy associate director for
intelligence, expressed the consensus view that bin Laden recognized how
Bush’s heavy-handed policies – such as the Guantanamo prison camp, the
Abu Ghraib scandal and the war in Iraq – were serving al-Qaeda’s
strategic goals for recruiting a new generation of jihadists.
“Certainly,” Miscik said, “he would want Bush to
keep doing what he’s doing for a few more years.”
As their internal assessment sank in, the CIA
analysts were troubled by the implications of their own conclusions. “An
ocean of hard truths before them – such as what did it say about U.S.
policies that bin Laden would want Bush reelected – remained untouched,”
Even Bush recognized that his struggling campaign
had been helped by bin Laden. “I thought it was going to help,” Bush
said in a post-election interview about the videotape. “I thought it
would help remind people that if bin Laden doesn’t want Bush to be the
President, something must be right with Bush.”
Bin Laden, a well-educated Saudi and a keen
observer of U.S. politics, appears to have recognized the same point in
cleverly tipping the election to Bush.
Bin Laden is now reaping the rewards of his
electoral ploy, as Bush continues to resist mounting calls from both
rank-and-file Americans and U.S. foreign policy experts for a withdrawal
of U.S. troops from Iraq.
At an Aug. 21 press conference, Bush pledged to
keep U.S. troops in Iraq until “the job is done.” Leaving before a new
Iraqi army can maintain order would be a “disaster,” he said.
Bush also vowed to make Iraq and the “war on
terror” central issues in Election 2006, much as they were in helping
Republicans win majorities in 2002 and 2004.
“What matters is that in this campaign that we
clarify the different points of view,” Bush said. “And there are a lot
of people in the Democrat Party who believe that the best course of
action is to leave Iraq before the job is done, period, and they’re
Bush indicated, too, that he will continue to take
a hard line against other nations and organizations in the Islamic world
that he sees as obstacles to U.S. policy. Looming ahead are
confrontations with Iran and Syria as well as proxy battles with
Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the Palestinians’ Hamas.
At the news conference, Bush also tossed in one of
his old Iraq canards – that rarely gets challenged by the U.S. press
corps – claiming that Saddam Hussein “had relations with” Jordanian
terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
In reality, Zarqawi was a Hussein enemy based in
northern Iraq beyond Hussein’s reach, protected by a U.S.-British
“no-fly zone.” Though Zarqawi did slip into Baghdad for medical
treatment once, there’s no evidence that the government knew of his
It was only after Bush’s invasion of Iraq in March
2003 and the ouster of Hussein in April 2003 that Zarqawi and his
foreign jihadists infiltrated into central Iraq. Soon, Zarqawi’s group
was putting down roots and drawing angry young Muslims across the border
to fight under al-Qaeda’s banner.
In the Islamic world, al-Qaeda shed some of its
well-deserved image as brutal extremists and began appearing more as
fierce defenders of Islamic holy lands, battling the new “crusaders.”
Following Bush’s bellicose lead, Israel’s new Prime
Minister Ehud Olmert also blundered into a messy conflict that hurt
rather than helped Israeli interests.
Olmert, who was elected earlier this year amid
hopes of finally settling the border disputes with the Palestinians,
surprised some followers when he came out of a May 23 summit with Bush
sharing the President’s view on the need for a hard-line against
intransigent Islamic governments and movements.
According to Israeli sources, Olmert and Bush
agreed at the White House meeting to make 2006 the year for neutralizing
Iran’s nuclear ambitions and for taking on Iran’s Shiite allies in
Lebanon, the Hezbollah militia. The leaders decided to defer a border
settlement with the Palestinians until 2007.
Bush’s neoconservative advisers were encouraged,
again seeing the possibility of a wider regional conflict that would
revive the stalled hopes for a “new Middle East” amenable to U.S. and
Israeli desires and interests.
From this viewpoint, the Israeli-Hezbollah war was
a confrontation waiting for a pretext, not an emotional response to
Hezbollah’s capture of two Israeli soldiers on July 12. That
“kidnapping” was sold to the American people as the precipitating event
for the conflict, but it now appears only to have been a trigger for a
Israeli sources indicate that Bush gave Olmert a
green light for the conflict at the May 23 summit. The sources said Bush
even encouraged Israel to expand the war by attacking Syria, although
Israeli leaders balked at that recommendation because they lacked an
One Israeli source said some Israeli officials
considered Bush’s interest in an attack on Syria “nuts” since it would
have been viewed by much of the world as an act of overt aggression.
Bush, however, was said to still hold out hope that reactions by Syria
or Iran – such as coming to the aid of Hezbollah – could open the door
to a broader conflict.
In an article on July 30, the Jerusalem Post hinted
at Bush’s continued interest in a wider war involving Syria. Israeli
“defense officials told the Post last week that they were receiving
indications from the US that America would be interested in seeing
Israel attack Syria,” the newspaper reported.
The end result of the Lebanon conflict was an
inconclusive month-long war that demolished much of Lebanon’s
infrastructure and killed nearly one thousand civilians but failed to
destroy the Hezbollah militia, which responded by firing hundreds of
rockets into northern Israeli cities.
As a United Nations cease-fire finally took hold,
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah had emerged as one of the most popular
leaders in the Middle East. Hezbollah also rose in stature, having
exposed Israel’s vulnerability to rocket attacks.
Since the fighting stopped, anger and even some
panic have spread across Israeli society where many citizens believe
that Israel’s Arab enemies have been emboldened.
Following the fiasco, Olmert found himself on the
political defensive, facing dissension even within his own Cabinet.
Public Security Minister Avi Dichter called on Israel to resume peace
talks with Syria.
But Olmert appears to have adopted Bush’s strategy
of setting such unpalatable terms for negotiations that they never
succeed, thus leaving military confrontation as the only feasible
“Before we negotiate with Syria, they should stop
financing terror,” Olmert said. “Before we negotiate with [Syrian
President] Bashar Assad, let him stop launching missiles by means of
Hezbollah onto the heads of innocent Israelis. And before we sit down to
negotiate, let them stop funding Hamas murder, sabotage and terror. If
they meet all these tests, we shall negotiate with them.”
Olmert then added, “The antitank weapons which took
the lives of very many of our soldiers were supplied by Syria. I can
tell you Syria is a committed, aggressive member of the axis of evil.”
[Washington Post, Aug. 22, 2006]
So, instead of a strategy of calming down the
region and addressing some of the root causes of Islamic extremism –
including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Iraq War – Bush and
Olmert seem determined to escalate the tensions further.
Many Middle East experts critical of Bush’s
approach argue that an over-reliance on military force is unlikely to
tamp down Islamic extremism but rather will fan the flames. The
alternative is a more subtle approach that removes reasons of
resentments, offers a realistic hope of a better life and isolates the
In the Middle East, such a strategy would demand an
equitable settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, steady support
for political reform, and expanded economic opportunities for the
region’s common people, not just the wealthy elites. A sensible U.S.
energy policy – less desperate for oil – would help, too.
Given the bitterness felt by many Arabs over what
they see as decades of humiliation by the West and the corruption of
U.S.-backed Arab leaders, there also must be some forbearance for
outbursts of violence.
Overreaction to provocations by small bands of
Islamic extremists may be understandable from an emotional standpoint,
but tit-for-tat attacks only accelerate the region’s cycles of violence.
But it now appears clear that Bush has no intention
of pursuing a conciliatory course toward peace. As long as he is
President, he is determined to maintain a sizable U.S. military force in
Iraq while pursuing confrontations with other Islamic adversaries.
Bush seems determined to press onward along this
course regardless of the prospects of success and even when the likely
outcome appears disastrous to U.S. interests and dangerous for America’s
Incapable of admitting mistakes and unwilling to
change direction, Bush is becoming less a national leader and more a
“clear and present danger” to the nation he leads.
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.'