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July 15, 2004

Bush's Twisted Idea of 'Safer'

by Juan Cole

President Bush gave a speech on Tuesday in which he made specific claims about how the United States is safer as a result of his military action. I dispute assertions about particular Middle Eastern or South Asian countries.

Bush: "The world is changing for the better because of American leadership. America is safer today because we are leading the world. Afghanistan was once the home of al-Qaeda. Now terror camps are closed, democracy is rising, and the American people are safer."

The Afghanistan war was the right war at the right time, and it did break up the network of al-Qaeda training camps from which terrorists would have gone on hitting the United States. But the fact is that Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld did not want to fight that war after September 11. Rumsfeld sniffed that "there were no good targets" in Afghanistan. Bush, Rumsfeld and Cheney all wanted to leave al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and attack Iraq first. At first Wolfowitz was leaked as the proponent of this crazy idea, and although he did back it, it is now clear from insider accounts like that of Richard Clark that the three top leaders just mentioned wanted Iraq first. The UK ambassador to the U.S. maintains that it was Tony Blair who talked Bush into going after al-Qaeda in Afghanistan first, with a promise that he would later support an Iraq war. MI6 would have been briefing Tony about the dire threat coming from Afghanistan, and he, unlike the Bush team, could see the dangers of getting bogged down in an Iraq quagmire while al-Qaeda and the Taliban were still in control of Afghanistan. (Can you imagine the full scope of that disaster that Bush had planned for us?)

Even after Bush was dragged kicking and screaming into doing the right thing by Blair, he did it half-heartedly. He let Bin Laden and al-Zawahir escape. (I'll repeat that. He let Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri escape). Instead of rebuilding and stabilizing Afghanistan, as he promised, he put almost nothing into reconstruction for that country.

Then he let the poppy growing industry come back with a vengeance. Afghanistan's GNP is $5 billion a year. At least $2 billion of that is poppies, and Afghanistan has become the top source for heroin in Europe. With al-Qaeda and the Taliban still powerful in the country or its borderlands, Afghanistan is on the way to becoming a terrorist's dream – a place worse than Colombia from which narco-terrorism can be funded and launched. This looming disaster will certainly blow back on the American homeland. Yet Bush is doing nothing to avert it.

As for democracy and liberating 50 million people, neither the people of Afghanistan nor that of Iraq have elected national governments by popular sovereignty. It is not entirely clear when they will be able to do so. For the moment, there hasn't been any introduction of anything like democracy. The U.S. invaded each and installed a government of its choosing. That isn't democracy. In Iraq, Paul Bremer repeatedly blocked democratic municipal elections. That was a great lesson for the people in democracy, all right.

Bush: The dictator in Iraq had the "capability of producing weapons of mass murder. And now, the dictator is a threat to nobody, and the American people are safer."

Bush must think we are a nation of retards if he believes we will buy this language of Saddam having the "capability" to produce weapons of mass destruction. All countries have the "capability." The point is that Iraq had given up its WMD programs and destroyed the stockpiles. The U.S. was not in any danger from Iraq, and so cannot be safer because it was invaded.

Worse, the American invasion of Iraq is a major recruitment poster for al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda's message was that the Americans are coming to Muslim lands. "They will invade your countries, expropriate your property, rape your women, and humiliate your men," al-Qaeda screams. What does Bush do? He proves al-Qaeda right. More angry young Arab men are ready to fight the United States now than ever before. Bush is less popular than Bin Laden in most Muslim countries according to polls.

Not only has the Bush administration angered the Sunni Muslim world with its invasion and ham-handed occupation of Iraq, but it has managed to turn the Shi'ites against us, too, by desecrating the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala this past spring.

The U.S. is arguably much less safe because of the invasion of Iraq.

Bush said Pakistan used to be a safe transit point for terrorists on missions of murder. "Now Pakistani forces are rounding up terrorists, and the American people are safer."

This is a nice soundbite but bears no resemblance to reality. The major jihadi groups in Pakistan are still operating, and the Pakistani government has been largely unable or unwilling to stop them. The Pakistanis did arrest some 500 al-Qaeda Arabs, but Pakistani courts have not cooperated with its attempts to subject the jihadis to mass arrests. A major jihadi leader was sitting in parliament until he was assassinated recently!

Moreover, Pakistan remains virtually a military dictatorship, where parliament is not sovereign and where Gen. Musharraf basically appoints and removes prime ministers by fiat (PM Jamali was recently forced out).

From the article covering Bush's speech: "In Saudi Arabia, terrorists were meeting little opposition, but today the Saudi government is taking the fight to al-Qaeda, and the American people are safer, he said."

In Saudi Arabia, Americans were relatively safe before the Iraq war. Now Americans are in danger in Saudi Arabia, and are fleeing the country. This is an improvement?

From the article: "Not long ago, Libya was spending millions to acquire weapons of mass destruction. 'Now, thousands of Libya's chemical munitions have been destroyed. Libya has given up nuclear processing equipment, and the American people are safer,' he claimed."

Oh, give it up. Libya had been trying to make that deal for years. (The European pressure and boycott was what had done the trick). What really changed was that the Americans became more receptive to such a deal. But then right in the middle of Gaddafi coming in from the cold it surfaced that he had gotten up a plot to assassinate a Saudi leader! Made it hard to crow too loud about rehabilitating him.

Plus, Bush does not mention that the entire Muslim world is royally pissed off at the United States for coddling Ariel Sharon while he gobbles up nearly half of the West Bank, expropriating and brutalizing the Palestinians in the process. Even the World Court has condemned his greedy fence, which annexes massive amounts of Palestinian land. Bush has just lain down on the ground and pleaded with Sharon to walk all over him with hobnail boots, and then smiled for the privilege. Arab satellite television shows Israelis repressing Palestinians every day. The Bush administration has actually endorsed the forcible Israeli annexation of Palestinian land, which violates the United Nations Charter and the Geneva Accords!

Pursuing a policy that makes us highly unpopular with 1.3 billion people is not a means of making us safer.

So, no, Americans are not safer, Mr. Bush. They face the threat of substantial narco-terrorism from Afghanistan. Iraq is a security nightmare that could well blow back on the American homeland. Pakistan remains a military dictatorship with a host of militant jihadi movements that had been fomented by the hardline Pakistani military intelligence. Saudi Arabia is witnessing increased al-Qaeda activity and attacks on Westerners. And the Israeli-Palestine dispute is being left to fester and poison the world.

These are not achievements to be proud of. This is a string of disasters. We are not safer. We face incredible danger because of the way the Bush administration has grossly mishandled the Middle East.

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    Juan Cole is Professor of History at the University of Michigan. Visit his blog.


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