The article, entitled “Bay
of Pigs Meets Black Hawk Down,” argued that one of Bush’s most
egregious miscalculations was his assumption that the Iraqis wouldn’t
fight a foreign invader. Like the wishful thinking in the Bay of Pigs
disaster (Cuba, 1961), U.S. policymakers assumed an invasion would be
welcomed, not opposed.
And, like the Black Hawk Down fiasco (Somalia,
1993), Washington misunderstood the cultural dimension of a foreign
conflict, relying too heavily on “leadership decapitation.” In Iraq,
capturing Saddam Hussein and killing his two sons didn’t stop the
insurgency; instead, it may have cleared the way for more effective
Our March 30, 2003, article said, “Without
doubt, the Bush administration misjudged the biggest question of the
war: ‘Would the Iraqis fight?’ Happy visions of rose petals and cheers
have given way to a grim reality of ambushes and suicide bombs.”
The article added: “But
the Bush pattern of miscalculation continues unabated. Bush seems to
have cut himself off from internal dissent at the CIA and the Pentagon,
where intelligence analysts and field generals warned against the
wishful thinking that is proving lethal on the Iraqi battlefields. …
“Instead of recognizing
their initial errors and rethinking their war strategy, Bush and his
team are pressing forward confidently into what looks like a dreamscape
of their own propaganda,” refusing to turn back “no matter how bloody or
ghastly their future course might be.”
The article – though
unpopular amid the heady war fever of March 2003 – looks almost
prescient 3 ½ years later. Indeed, in the wake of recent bleak U.S.
intelligence estimates on the Iraq War and Bob Woodward’s book, State
of Denial, our dire analysis may even have become Washington’s
But the enduring tragedy
of Bush’s “mother of all presidential miscalculations” is that his
underlying theory for addressing the problem of Islamic militancy hasn’t
changed. It is still a strategy of “kill, kill, kill” – get revenge for
9/11 even against Muslims who had nothing to do with it – and that is likely
to continue, if not expand, after the Nov. 7 elections.
And, just as the Iraq War
debacle was predictable 10 days into the fighting, so too is the end
result of Bush’s vision of waging “World War III” against Islamic
militants amid the one billion Muslims spread around the globe.
The deeply troubling
prospect is this: If Washington follows the “kill, kill, kill” strategy
in what Bush’s neoconservative advisers like to call the “clash of
civilizations,” the United States will lose.
America will bleed itself
dry of available troops; it will spend itself into bankruptcy; it will
transform itself into a grotesque caricature of what the United States
once was. It will strip its citizens of their constitutional rights; it
will imprison suspected “terrorists” and “sympathizers” without trial;
it will spread death and destruction around the globe.
Yet even after
sacrificing the very freedoms and respect for human rights that Bush
claims are despised by al-Qaeda terrorists, the deformed United States
will still lose the war. Bush’s strategy of “kill, kill, kill” will even
accelerate the process, much as the Iraq War ignited more Islamic
Bush is leading the
American people into a chasm of almost unbelievable depth, a Dante-like
descent into the nine circles of hell. There are literally no issues
more pressing than forcing the U.S. government to rethink this course of
action, because it will make addressing all other pressing issues – such
as global warming, budget deficits, the economy, health care, etc. –
Yet, even though official
Washington has finally begun to regret its earlier enthusiasm for
invading Iraq, it still has not come to grips with this larger reality.
Many prominent pundits and politicians are still testing out tough talk
about bombing Iran or boasting about punishing militants in
Palestine, Lebanon and Syria.
While the bellicose
rhetoric may play well politically with many Americans wanting payback
for 9/11, it actually plays into the hands of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda,
exactly the people who committed the 9/11 atrocity.
internal al-Qaeda communiqués make clear that bin Laden’s terrorist band
is counting on a long-term U.S. occupation of Iraq as crucial for its
plans to build its movement.
letter, dated Dec. 11, 2005, a senior al-Qaeda operative known as
“Atiyah” lectured the then-leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Jordanian
terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, on the necessity of taking a long view
and building ties with elements of the Sunni-led Iraqi insurgency who
have little in common with al-Qaeda except hatred of the Americans.
Atiyah told Zarqawi that “the most important thing
is that the jihad continues with steadfastness and firm rooting, and
that it grows in terms of supporters, strength, clarity of
justification, and visible proof each day. Indeed, prolonging the war
is in our interest.” [Emphasis added.]
Atiyah’s assessment that “prolonging the war is in
our interest” flies in the face of Bush’s claim that a prompt U.S.
military withdrawal would amount to a victory for al-Qaeda.
Instead, the “Atiyah letter” – like a previously
intercepted message attributed to al-Qaeda’s second-in-command Ayman
Zawahiri – suggests that a U.S. military pullout in 2005 or earlier
would have been disastrous for al-Qaeda’s militants in Iraq, which are
estimated at only about 5 to 10 percent of the anti-U.S. fighters.
Without the U.S. military presence to serve as a
rallying cry and a unifying force, the al-Qaeda contingent faced
disintegration from desertions and attacks from Iraqi insurgents who
resented the wanton bloodshed committed by Zarqawi’s non-Iraqi
The “Zawahiri letter,” which was dated July 9,
2005, said a rapid American military withdrawal could have caused the
foreign jihadists, who had flocked to Iraq to battle the Americans, to
simply give up the fight and go home.
“The mujahaddin must not have their mission end
with the expulsion of the Americans from Iraq, and then lay down their
weapons, and silence the fighting zeal,” said the “Zawahiri letter,”
according to a text released by the U.S. Director of National
The “Atiyah letter,” which was discovered by U.S.
authorities at the time of Zarqawi’s death on June 7, 2006, and was
translated by the U.S. military’s Combating Terrorism Center at West
Point, also stressed the vulnerability of al-Qaeda’s position in Iraq
and the need to mend fences.
“Know that we, like all mujahaddin, are still
weak,” Atiyah told Zarqawi. “We have not yet reached a level of
stability. We have no alternative but to not squander any element of the
foundations of strength or any helper or supporter.” [For details, see
Bin Laden’s Helper
Looking back over the past five years, it may seem
strange to some, but President Bush often has served as al-Qaeda’s most
important strategic ally.
Not only did he fail to finish off bin Laden and
other al-Qaeda leaders in the battle of Tora Bora in December 2001, but
Bush’s decision to shift the American focus to the secular government of
Iraq allowed al-Qaeda to regroup, recover and reorganize.
The invasion of Iraq then served as a major
recruiting tool for Islamic radicals, what the April 2006 National
Intelligence Estimate called the “cause celebre” for spreading militancy
throughout the Muslim world.
There is even evidence that bin Laden took an
extraordinary personal risk, breaking nearly a year of silence in late
October 2004 to release a videotape that superficially denounced Bush
but was interpreted by CIA analysts as a backdoor way of helping Bush
win a second term.
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,
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 abuse 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,”
Bush’s campaign backers, however, took bin Laden’s
videotape at face value, calling it proof the terrorist leader feared
Bush and favored Democrat John Kerry.
In a pro-Bush book entitled Strategery: How
George W. Bush Is Defeating Terrorists, Outwitting Democrats and
Confounding the Mainstream Media, right-wing journalist Bill Sammon
devoted several pages to bin Laden’s videotape, portraying it as an
attempt by the terrorist leader to persuade Americans to vote for Kerry.
“Bin Laden stopped short of overtly endorsing
Kerry,” Sammon wrote, “but the terrorist offered a polemic against
Sammon and other right-wing pundits didn’t weigh
the obvious possibility that the crafty bin Laden might have understood
that his “endorsement” of Kerry would achieve the opposite effect with
the American people.
Bush himself recognized this fact. “I thought it
was going to help,” Bush said in a post-election interview with Sammon
about bin Laden’s 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.”
In Strategery, Sammon also quotes Republican
National Chairman Ken Mehlman as agreeing that bin Laden’s videotape
helped Bush. “It reminded people of the stakes,” Mehlman said. “It
reinforced an issue on which Bush had a big lead over Kerry.”
But bin Laden, a student of American politics,
surely understood that, too.
Now, two years later, Bush seems determined to
expand the war in the Middle East to other countries. Last summer, he
quietly backed the Israeli bombardment of Lebanon and reportedly urged
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to attack Syria.
The Israelis balked at Bush’s recommendation, with
one source saying they considered Bush’s idea “nuts.” [See
Wants Wider War.”]
Eventually, Israel agreed to a cease-fire in
Lebanon after what was widely regarded as a disastrous military
Bush, however, did not appear deterred. In a Sept.
5, 2006, speech, Bush declared that the United States must broaden the
“war on terror” beyond al-Qaeda-inspired terrorists and the
Sunni-dominated Iraqi insurgency.
“As we continue to fight al-Qaeda and these Sunni
extremists inspired by their radical ideology, we also face the threat
posed by Shia extremists, who are learning from al-Qaeda, increasing
their assertiveness and stepping up their threats,” Bush said.
“This Shia strain of Islamic radicalism is just as
dangerous, and just as hostile to America, and just as determined to
establish its brand of hegemony across the broader Middle East,” Bush
continued. “And the Shia extremists have achieved something that al-Qaeda
has so far failed to do: In 1979, they took control of a major power,
the nation of Iran, subjugating its proud people to a regime of tyranny,
and using that nation’s resources to fund the spread of terror and
pursue their radical agenda.”
Bush also cited his determination to defeat
Hezbollah, a Shiite movement in Lebanon that is now a prominent part of
the elected Lebanese government and broadly popular because its militia
battled the Israeli army when it invaded Lebanon in July.
Bush referred to Hezbollah’s leader as “the
terrorist Nasrallah,” suggesting the United States has joined Israel in
its determination to kill Sheikh Sayyad Hassan Nasrallah who was rated
the most respected leader in the Middle East by an August 2006 opinion
poll in Egypt, which is considered one of Washington’s staunchest
Ranked second in that Egyptian poll was Iran’s
president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, another target of the Bush
administration. By contrast, Egypt’s pro-American president Hosni
Mubarak wasn’t even in the top 10, coming in 11th. Polls
across the Middle East also have shown almost universal disapproval of
the Bush administration and its policies.
So, Bush has set the United States on course to
battle not only the stateless terrorists of al-Qaeda and the stubborn
insurgents in Iraq but Islamic political leaders who have broad popular
support among the Muslim masses.
Bush’s virtual declaration of war on the Islamic
world ranks as possibly the most ambitious military plan in American
history – and without doubt the most reckless. This so-called “long
war,” which Bush’s followers hail as “World War III,” would mean
fighting large portions of a religious movement that has the allegiance
of about one-sixth of the planet’s population.
Muslims are concentrated in nations from northern
Africa to East Asia, but also include large numbers in Europe and North
Nevertheless, in his Sept. 5 speech, Bush talked
bravely about how confident he is that the United States will win this
war. “America will not bow down to tyrants,” he declared to applause.
By calling himself the “war president” and
asserting “plenary” – or unlimited – powers as Commander in Chief, Bush
also has turned this conflict to his political advantage.
Skillfully exploiting American memories of 9/11 and
residual fears of al-Qaeda, Bush has achieved a one-party Republican
government since 2002. Citing the terrorism threat, he also has
engineered an unprecedented rollback of U.S. constitutional liberties.
In September 2006, the Republican-controlled
Congress granted Bush the authority to ignore habeas corpus – a
right to a trial by jury dating back to the Magna Carta of 1215 and one
of the few rights expressly written into the body of the U.S.
Now, under a new counter-terrorism law, Bush will
have the power to jail indefinitely a person deemed an “enemy combatant”
or an individual “who has purposefully and materially supported
hostilities against the United States” or its military allies.
Since 9/11, Bush also has used the terrorist threat
to discredit political opponents in the eyes of many Americans. In 2002
and 2004, Bush challenged the anti-terror credentials of Democrats,
paving the way to Republican victories.
With Election 2006 a month away, Bush has fired up
the terror rhetoric again, saying Democratic criticism of the Iraq War
has proved that “the party of FDR and the party of Harry Truman has
become the party of cut and run.”
But Bush 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 plan short of
conducting 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 “kill, kill, kill” 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
The widening circles of violence will provoke more
attacks on Western targets and then more retaliatory strikes by the
United States against a multiplying Islamic enemy. This future of
endless war and expanding repression represents Bush’s grim vision.
But the countervailing question is this: Is there a
The answer is “yes, but.” There are still routes
that might lead to a more peaceful world that isolates, marginalizes and
eventually eradicates terrorist ideologues, like bin Laden. But these
strategies would require bravery, wisdom, patience and tolerance.
Most importantly, Israel and the West would need to
reach out to the Muslim world with generosity and understanding, despite
the certainty of occasional terrorist outrages that would cry out for
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; 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, 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 the “cause celebre” for
the worldwide jihadist movement and potentially set in motion the
eradication of the foreign al-Qaeda operatives in Iraq.
Given Bush’s personality, however, it seems
unthinkable that he would ever admit that he had made a mistake invading
Iraq or that he would withdraw the troops. Nor is he likely to cooperate
with peace initiatives by other nations that involve real compromise.
The only real hope for stopping Bush would have to
come from an electoral intervention by the American people. They would
have to vote in a way that puts the brakes on Bush’s “kill, kill, kill”
strategy and starts looking for a pathway toward a more peaceful future.
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.'