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Is Bush a Clear & Present Danger?

By Robert Parry
August 23, 2006

Faced with George W. Bush’s disastrous policies in the Middle East and his adamant refusal to change course, the question now arises whether the President has become a “clear and present danger” to the security of the United States and, indirectly, to Israel.

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 and Venezuela.

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 leaders.

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 kill them.

Iraq War

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.

Osama's Ploy

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 Consortiumnews.com’s “The 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 Laden intended.

“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,” Suskind wrote.

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.

Reaping Rewards

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 wrong.”

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 presence.

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.”

Olmert's Blunder

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 prearranged scenario.

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 immediate justification.

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.

Consequences

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 option.

“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 remaining extremists.

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 ally, Israel.

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.'

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