Typical was one e-mail that asserted, “they started
it; now we’re going to finish it.”
But I’m never clear who “they” are or exactly what
“it” is. If “they” are the Sunni Islamic fundamentalist terrorists of
al-Qaeda and “it” is 9/11, U.S. forces could have concentrated on al-Qaeda
strongholds along the Afghan-Pakistani border until Osama bin Laden,
Ayman Zawahiri and their followers were captured or killed.
Bush, however, expanded the “they” to include the
secular dictatorship of Iraq, the Shiite government of Iran, Syria’s
Assad family dynasty, Lebanese Shiite militants of Hezbollah,
Palestinian Sunni militants of Hamas, and a hodgepodge of other Islamic
radicals around the globe.
So, instead of finishing a winnable war against al-Qaeda,
Bush veered off into a diffused struggle against a diverse grouping of
Muslim leaders, nations and organizations lumped under a terrorism
Bush also has offered no coherent strategy for
winning what amounts to a global counterinsurgency war against Islamic
militants. Beyond vowing to stay on “the offensive” in Iraq and
elsewhere, Bush has promulgated a dubious theory that widespread
anti-Americanism can be overcome by imposing “democracy,” through force
But this “democracy” theory has run aground on the
hard reality that Muslim hatred of Bush is so intense that almost
whenever citizens get to vote they either act on behalf of narrow
sectarian interests (as in Iraq) or they vote for people who have earned
popular support by standing up to the United States (as in Iran,
Palestine and Lebanon).
That means that the only “reliable” U.S. allies are
still the “moderate” autocrats, such as the Saudi royal family, the
Jordanian monarchy, or the dictators of Egypt and Pakistan. If the
popular will in those countries were respected, the likelihood is that
the elected governments would join the “coalition of the hostile”
against the United States.
In other words, Bush has no real strategic plan for
winning the “war on terror,” short of waging a bloodbath against large
segments of the world’s one billion Muslims, a global version of the
carnage on display in Iraq since 2003 and in Lebanon during the Israeli
war against Hezbollah last summer.
Yet, even a bloodbath strategy along the lines of
the Iraq War is certain to fail. As the U.S. intelligence community has
recognized, the Iraq War has become a case study in how not to conduct
counterinsurgency warfare – as well as an example of how wishful
thinking and incompetent military strategies can make a bad situation
Still, the neoconservatives who surround Bush have
learned little or nothing from these lessons.
They insist that the United States must pursue a
“long war” or “World War III” by seeking violent “regime change” in
Iran, Syria and any area controlled by militant Islamists. During the
Lebanon conflict, Bush was so eager to spread the violence that he
reportedly urged Israel to launch an attack against Syria. [See
Wants Wider War.”]
But these widening circles of violence will surely
provoke more attacks on Western targets and then more retaliatory
strikes by the United States against a multiplying Islamic enemy, like
the chaos in the Disney fable, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.”
The downward spiral of violence also will be
accompanied by a drastic curtailment of constitutional rights in the
United States. As the terrorist threat continues to grow, so will the
pressure to transform America into a modern-day police state, with
arbitrary detention of terrorism suspects and high-technology spying on
citizens and non-citizens alike.
This future of endless war and expanding repression
represents Bush’s grim vision. But the countervailing question is this:
Is there a realistic alternative?
The answer is “yes, but.” There are still routes
available that might lead to a more peaceful world that isolates,
marginalizes and eventually eradicates terrorist ideologues. But these
strategies would require extraordinary bravery, wisdom, patience,
humility and tolerance.
Most importantly, Israel and the West would need to
reach out to the Muslim world with generosity and understanding, despite
continuing terrorist outrages that would cry out for revenge. Jesus’s
age-old teachings about “turning the other cheek” would be tested.
This alternative strategy would seek to reduce –
not escalate – tensions with Muslims. It would address their legitimate
grievances. It might include apologies for past Western wrongdoing. It
would try to build positive economic, commercial and political bonds. It
would seek to reduce Western dependency on Middle Eastern oil.
Also, given the Bush administration’s strategic
intransigence, new international players – such as the European Union or
Russia – might have to fill the leadership void in the region. Israel’s
Kadima leadership would have to reverse course from its crackdown in
Gaza and its bombardment of Lebanon, and start pursuing innovative peace
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, whose political star
has fallen since the disastrous war in Lebanon, would need to rise to
the occasion despite strong opposition from the Israeli right wing.
Olmert might start by seeking a peace treaty with
Syria that gives back the Golan Heights; make an overture to Iran
offering economic cooperation, such as technological help in building a
modern oil refinery; and begin unconditional talks with the elected
Hamas leadership in the Palestinian territories.
Though a permanent resolution of the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict would take time, Israel and international
parties could, in the meantime, take action to improve the living
conditions of the Palestinian people, thus lancing one of the festering
boils of animosity in the Middle East.
Another important step back from World War III
would come with a phased American withdrawal from Iraq.
Though Iraq would surely continue to suffer civil
strife, a U.S. military departure would remove what the U.S.
intelligence community has called the “cause celebre” for the jihadist
movement and would create a dynamic for Iraqis to go after any remaining
foreign al-Qaeda operatives.
As we have noted in the past, one of the major
worries of the al-Qaeda leadership – expressed in the so-called
“Zawahiri letter” – is that a rapid U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq
would cause the non-Iraqi jihadists to lay down their arms and go home.
[See Consortiumnews.com’s “Al-Qaeda
Letter Belies Bush’s Iraq Claims.”]
Bush-bin Laden Symbiosis
Though Bush presents himself as the tough-guy enemy
of bin Laden, Bush’s policies, in reality, often have served al-Qaeda’s
interests. For instance, Bush’s decision to divert U.S. military
resources from Afghanistan to the Iraq War enabled al-Qaeda’s top
leaders to survive and it gave them an issue to exploit in their
Indeed, Bush’s policies have dovetailed so
perfectly with al-Qaeda’s dream of engaging the West in a worldwide
struggle that CIA analysts believe bin Laden took the risk of releasing
a videotape only days before Election 2004 to help Bush gain a second
term. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “CIA:
Osama Helped Bush in ’04.”]
This “Bush-bin Laden symbiosis” is likely to
continue until Congress finally asserts its power over making war or
until Bush leaves office.
Given Bush’s personality, it seems unthinkable that
he would ever admit that he had made a mistake by invading Iraq or that
he would order a full troop withdrawal. Nor is he likely to cooperate
with peace initiatives by other nations that involve real compromise.
But a Republican defeat in the Nov. 7 elections
could at least limit Bush’s ability to interfere with initiatives by
other international players who might want to step back from the brink
of World War III.
Conversely, another Republican victory might well
lock in a future of near-endless war abroad and ever-increasing
political repression at home.
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.'