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George W. Bush's presidency since 2005

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Bush's First 'War on Terror' Blunder

By Peter Dyer
March 15, 2007

Editor's Note: History is often the story of little-noticed opportunities missed, potential forks in the road not taken, an arrogant leader plunging ahead toward a catastrophe he is too headstrong to see.

In this guest article, Peter Dyer recalls one such moment in the early days of George W. Bush's "war on terror":

There is universal agreement that the events of Sept. 11, 2001 altered the course of history. However, the response of the Bush administration to 9/11 eventually had a far greater impact than the original tragedy.

Seen in that light, Oct. 14, 2001 was an even more momentous day.

That was the day President George W. Bush rejected an offer by the Taliban to hand over Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the 9/11 terror.

Afghanistan’s deputy prime minister, Haji Abdul Kabir, had announced that if the United States stopped bombing Afghanistan and produced evidence of bin Laden’s involvement in 9/11, "we would be ready to hand him over to a third country."

Bush responded: "There's no need to discuss innocence or guilt. We know he's guilty. … Turn him over.”

Some U.S. officials had doubts about the sincerity of Kabir’s offer as well as the ability of the Taliban to deliver bin Laden.

But according to Milton Bearden, a former CIA station chief who oversaw U.S. covert operations in Afghanistan in the 1980s: “We never heard what they were trying to say. We had no common language. Ours was, 'Give up bin Laden.' They were saying, 'Do something to help us give him up.' … I have no doubts they wanted to get rid of him. He was a pain in the neck.'' [Washington Post, Oct. 29, 2001]

The President’s Oct. 14 decision to continue the bombing closed the door on any possibility of a peaceful, legal and relatively rapid resolution of the shocking terror of 9/11.

It essentially cemented a course of American military aggression in the region which was to lead to the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq and to the threat of invasion of Iran.

If the United States had seriously pursued the Taliban’s offer, managed to apprehend Osama bin Laden peacefully and arranged a fair and transparent trial, such as the Madrid bombing trial currently underway in Spain, al-Qaeda might have been neutralized without firing a shot.

No war would have meant no Guantanamo, no Military Commissions Act, no suspension of habeus corpus or debates about torture.

Soon after 9/11, President Bush said: "I see opportunity.” He was right. This was an opportunity to provide the world with a splendid demonstration of American dedication to the rule of law and a world without war.

U.S. international moral authority, high in the weeks following 9/11, would have increased. Instead, the opposite has happened.

In a recent survey by the British Broadcasting Corp.'s World Service  more than 28,000 people in 25 countries were asked to rate 12 countries – Britain, Canada, China, France, India, Iran, Israel, Japan, North Korea, Russia, the United States and Venezuela – as having a positive or negative influence on the world.

The United States had the third highest negative ranking, behind only Israel and Iran.

“It appears that people around the world tend to look negatively on countries whose profile is marked by the use or pursuit of military power,” said Steven Kull, director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes.

The tragedies of 9/11 are still unresolved. The loss of innocent life has been compounded exponentially. Thousands of civilians have been killed in Afghanistan. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians and soldiers have been killed. Over three thousand U.S. soldiers have died.

In addition to the waste in human lives, the economic costs have been monumental. Congressional Budget Office figures show that between 2001 and 2006, the U.S. spent $503 billion on the “war on terror.”

This figure, of course, does not reflect the devastation of the economy of Iraq.

As high as the price of the “war on terror” has been, the results are even more discouraging, according to a study by Peter Bergen and Paul Cruikshank.

Based on data gathered by the National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism, an organization funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the study concludes that since the invasion of Iraq, the average yearly incidence of fatal terrorist attacks by jihadist groups around the world has risen 607% with a 237% increase in the rate of fatalities.

In other words, the decision made by President Bush on Oct. 14, 2001, has contributed to a seven-fold increase in worldwide terror.

Meanwhile, over five years later, Osama bin Laden remains at large.

Peter Dyer is a journalism student who moved with his wife from California to New Zealand in 2004. He can be reached at [email protected] .

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