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A 'Long War' Against Whom?

By Robert Parry
December 31, 2004

George W. Bush’s vision for America’s future is coming into clearer focus following Election 2004: For the next generation or more, it appears the American people will be asked to sacrifice their children, their tax dollars and possibly the remnants of their democracy to what a top U.S. commander now candidly calls the “Long War.”

While Central Command’s Gen. John Abizaid defines the “Long War” as the indefinite conflict against Islamic extremism around the world, Bush and his supporters have already opened a second front at home, determined to silence or neutralize domestic dissent that they see as sapping American “will.”

Not only has Bush continued to purge his second-term administration of even the most soft-spoken skeptics, but his disdain for criticism has emboldened his supporters to routinely refer to public dissenters as “traitors.”

Take, for instance, this letter from a Bush supporter who was infuriated when USA Today’s founder Al Neuharth suggested in an opinion column that U.S. troops should be brought home from Iraq “sooner rather than later.”

“This is war and you should be put in prison NOW for talking like this,” wrote someone by the name of Mel Gibbs. “You give aid and comfort to our enemies and aid them in murdering our proud soldiers. You people are a disgrace to America. Your families should be put in prison with you.”

In case readers think the extreme contents of this letter represent either parody or an aberration, they should peruse other comments that Neuharth’s modest suggestion elicited. Editor & Publisher editor Greg Mitchell has compiled a number of responses in a follow-up column. [See Editor & Publisher, Dec. 29, 2004]

Similar sentiments, of course, can be heard on right-wing talk radio or from commentators, such as best-selling author Ann Coulter. To many Bush backers, extremism in defense of W. is no vice.

No Doubts

Meanwhile, at the White House, there appear to be few of the second thoughts about the Long War that some Washington pundits expected as Bush headed into his second term. They foresaw a retreat from the grandiose neoconservative vision for violently remaking the Middle East.

Instead Bush seems to be throwing in his lot even more with the “neocons” while throwing out the likes of Secretary of State Colin Powell, who was regarded as a counterweight to their influence. Even life-long Republicans who served Bush’s father aren’t welcome in Bush’s second term if they disagreed with the invasion of Iraq.

Retired Gen. Brent Scowcroft, George H.W. Bush’s former national security adviser who warned about the risks of getting bogged down in Iraq, is being dumped as chairman of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, according to journalist Sidney Blumenthal.

“The transition to President Bush's second term, filled with backstage betrayals, plots and pathologies, would make for an excellent chapter of ‘I, Claudius,’” wrote Blumenthal, who was an adviser in President Bill Clinton’s White House. “The elder Bush's national security adviser was the last remnant of traditional Republican realism permitted to exist within the administration.” [Guardian, Dec. 30, 2004]

The Kerik Fiasco

While banishing doubters, Bush has been recruiting sycophants.

Bush’s ill-fated choice of Bernard Kerik to run the Department of Homeland Security collapsed after disclosures of Kerik’s questionable judgment in other jobs and his possible hiring of an illegal alien as a nanny. But the more troubling story may have been that Bush wanted a yes man like Kerik to oversee a department with broad powers over the civil liberties of American citizens.

Though Bush judged the former New York police commissioner to be a “good man,” others who knew Kerik had different opinions. For instance, while working for a Saudi hospital 20 years ago, Kerik ran the investigative arm of a security force that allegedly harassed and spied on American employees because they weren’t complying with strict Saudi rules governing alcohol and dating, according to former hospital employees interviewed by the Washington Post.

“Kerik was a goon,” said John Jones, a former hospital manager who also called Kerik and his security team “Gestapo.”

“Kerik used heavy-handed tactics in following single men around and keeping them away from some women,” said Ted Bailey, a doctor at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital in Riyadh. A paramedic named Michael Queen said, “Men and women had to be careful with security, but Bernie was the one we watched out for the most.”

In his 2001 autobiography, The Lost Son, Kerik said the Saudi moral code put him in an awkward position of having to investigate the private lives of Western employees. “It was challenging, negotiating such a closed, rigid system and trying to find justice in laws that, to an American, were unjust,” Kerik wrote.

Yet, while expressing discomfort over the demands from his Saudi boss, Kerik followed orders and kept tabs on fellow Americans. Eventually, even Saudi authorities apparently concluded that the hospital security team went too far. Kerik and five other members of the security staff were fired and deported, the former hospital employees told the Post. [Washington Post, Dec. 8, 2004]

Yes Men & Women

Though Kerik bowed out for the Homeland Security job, Bush has displayed a readiness to appoint other top officials who will say and do pretty much whatever the president wants.

Bush’s choice for Attorney General is White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, who participated in legal opinions asserting Bush’s right as commander-in-chief to override international law and abrogate constitutional protections for U.S. citizens by labeling them “enemy combatants.”

In summing up the White House position on Bush’s right to authorize torture, one military lawyer called the scope of authority being asserted “presidential power at its absolute apex.” [Wall Street Journal, June 7, 2004]

To replace Secretary of State Powell, Bush has picked his close confidant and national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, who helped whip up American fears of Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction by alluding to possible “mushroom clouds.” Rice is so close to Bush that she once slipped up at a dinner party and referred to Bush as “my husb…” before catching herself and replacing that with “President Bush.”

Possibly more than any other administration in memory, Bush has prized loyalty over all other virtues. Reinforcing this notion, Bush has bestowed high honors on subordinates who complied with his wishes no matter how wrongheaded.

On Dec. 14, Bush gave Medals of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, to former CIA Director George Tenet, who gave Bush the false intelligence on Iraq’s WMD to justify the war; to retired Gen. Tommy Franks, who agreed to divert troops from chasing al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden to Bush’s other priority of invading Iraq; and to former Iraq administrator Paul Bremer, who presided over the chaotic U.S. occupation made worse by the administration’s decision to disband the Iraqi army.

Future of War

Now, as Bush looks forward to his second Inaugural, the disturbing view of the future is of the Long War, fought across the Islamic world with no end in sight. In a blunt interview with the Washington Post’s David Ignatius, Gen. Abizaid acknowledged that the Long War is still in its early stages and will likely consume decades. Victory also will be hard to measure, Abizaid said.

“Success will instead be an incremental process of modernization of the Islamic world, which will gradually find its own accommodation with the global economy and open political systems,” Ignatius wrote in summarizing Abizaid’s position. [Washington Post, Dec. 26, 2004]

Despite the gravity of this moment, there has been remarkably little debate in the United States about whether the “Long War” strategy to remake the Middle East is, first, necessary and, second, achievable.

For its supporters, the war’s necessity is beyond debate, given that Islamic extremists from al-Qaeda attacked U.S. targets on Sept. 11, 2001. Bush himself was sold on a military-oriented solution to the threat in the days after the attacks as well as on the wisdom of making the invasion of Iraq a centerpiece of the strategy, though Saddam Hussein’s secular dictatorship had nothing to do with Sept. 11.

The neoconservative thinking went that U.S. military force in Iraq would give rise to a pro-American government in Baghdad, followed by similar changes in other Middle Eastern capitals. The only worthwhile discussion was over tactics for “winning,” not the wisdom of hitting back hard in the Islamic world.

Alternate View

But the challenges posed by the Sept. 11 attacks could be viewed quite differently. Indeed, investigations of the terror attacks have revealed that al-Qaeda’s daring blow was somewhat a lucky punch that landed in part because the newly arrived Bush administration rebuffed warnings from Clinton administration holdovers.

The Bush newcomers believed the Clinton team overemphasized dangers from Islamic terrorism while underestimating the threat of missile attacks from North Korea and other “rogue states.” Bush didn’t even convene his counter-terrorism experts in August 2001 when the CIA sent him a warning, “Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the U.S.”

Though the answer will never be known, a strong response to the CIA warning might have disrupted the attacks that killed 3,000 people.

If one concludes that the Sept. 11 attacks were a lucky punch, that would suggest that a more targeted reaction to Islamic terrorism might be in order – a mix of defensive measures at home, special military operations aimed at hard-core terrorists, and steps to address root causes of Islamic animosity, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Under that analysis, waging a Long War and occupying a major Islamic country such as Iraq could be putting the United States in greater danger, not less. The goal of killing “a lot of bad guys” – as Abizaid’s advisers put the challenge – may be emotionally satisfying, but it can only work if U.S. policy doesn’t generate more hatred across the Islamic world and thus more “bad guys.”

When U.S. troops engage in torture, sexual humiliation of captives, execution of battlefield wounded and the killing of civilians – which have been unfortunate but predictable results of the U.S. invasion of Iraq – it is equally predictable that antipathy toward the United States will deepen. [For example, see the Los Angeles Times’ Dec. 29, 2004, article “Getting an Education in Jihad” about a Lebanese teacher who grew furious over U.S. mistreatment of Iraqis and traveled to Iraq to join the insurgents.]

The hard truth is that Abizaid’s Long War may not only be long, bloody and costly, it may be counterproductive, increasing danger to the American homeland, not reducing it. Meanwhile, the war is certain to exacerbate political animosities at home, while inviting the Bush administration and its successors to step up suppression of dissent.

Just as the long Cold War gave rise to the military-industrial complex that President Dwight Eisenhower warned against, the Long War against Islamic extremism will put the United States on a course toward a more militarized society, a form of government more like an Empire than a Republic.


Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His new 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.'

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