Thursday, September 30, 2004

Rewriting history

John Kerry is at this moment stealing my idea for this post. During the debate, in response to a question about whether the Iraq war would make the president more likely or less likely to launch another pre-emptive war, he said he never imagined four years ago he would have to, but that the enemy attacked us.

Um, gee, didn't Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda orchestrate that attack?

Bush's response: "Of course I know Osama bin Laden attacked us. I know that."

Whew. I'm glad that's cleared up.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

In a larger context, I believe what Bush was trying to say (but can't handily articulate) was that the U.S. was dragged into a larger, global war on 9/11. He is not making the direct connection between a Baathist tyrant and Osama Bin-Laden, other than to say there was a growing threat from a Saddam regime more likely to give WMD technology and weaponry to transnational terrorist networks, including Al Qaeda (and their proxies, Ansar Al-Islam).

In that sense, I think Bush is absolutely right. The Clinton administration had been slow to pick up the growing menace of an armed Jihadist movement, one that was already consuming the Islamic world in civil war (see Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon, Israel, Afghanistan, Timor Phillippines, Singapore, Pakistan, Kashmir, Niger, etc.).

Clinton failed to perceive the threat even though U.S. intelligence clearly showed attacks against American troops in Somalia aided by Al Qaeda operatives, first Twin Towers attack, Khobar Towers, Tanzania/Kenya Embassies, USS Cole, etc.

To Clinton's credit, he also had to put out fires in The Balkans, India/Pakistan (nuclear brinkmanship), N Korean bilateral talks, Cambodia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Congo, Palestine, etc., not to mention a global financial meltdown from the Asian Tigers to Argentina to Russia.

There's only so much one administration can do, of course, but by 1996 Clinton apparently had determined that a rising Jihadist insurgency threatened our allies in the Middle East enough to increase troop levels in the Horn of Africa and the Persian Gulf.

Clinton held out hope -- and this isn't a naive assumption -- that "globalism," the transnational exchange of goods, services and information, could have a transforming effect on all closed or rogue societies, including traditional Sunni dictatorships.

In hindsight, one could say that the "global" flow went both ways. The same tools that made commerce and diseases move swiftly from culture to culture also allowed parasitical terrorist networks the ability to inflict mass casualties far from the home mosque. Money could be moved seamlessly through modern computer connections and banking networks. Munitions could be purchased from multiple stateless sources. The Internet and disposable cell phones became communication nodes. I could go on and on.

What the Clinton administration failed to see (yes, even Richard Clark) was the unification of globalism and brute nationalistic and religious extremism. They should've seen the writing on the wall in Bosnia, of course, but also in Afghanistan. They didn't to the extent that they could've prevented a 9/11.

What Bush is saying in his own cowboy patois is that the U.S. is now fully joined in a much larger civil war. This isn't an East vs. West or Christianity vs. Islam. It's more of a Secular vs. Tribe (in both the nationalistic and theocratic sense).

Saddam Hussein increasingly was showing his hand (with the support of Ansar, with a growing appeal to traditionalist Sunni clerics to combat a looming Shiite insurgency in his south), and Bush made the decision that it was better to fight the Baathists and Ansar now rather than later, when they might be better armed with WMD.

After 9/11, I think Kerry believed the same thing. I'm not sure, because Kerry is a salamander on the issue, sometimes in the water, sometimes out. I know the hawkish side of his party sure did (Lieberman and both Clintons).

What I want is both candidates to really lay all of this out for the American people. Explain what the stakes are of secular (sometimes democratic, but not always) life losing a battle against increasingly powerful and insurgent religious or nationalistic life.

Maybe the military isn't always the best way to fight this war, but it's America's strongest asset, and I have no doubt that if we didn't fight Saddam Hussein and a growing Ansar threat in 2003, we would've paid by 2008.

That's a tough choice for any president to make, to throw his lot in with secular societies worldwide, especially a president who does make decisions often based on prayer, much like McKinley.

Ironically, the secular left in the Middle East (and Singapore, and Iraq, and Indonesia, and PI and Jordan and Turkey) embrace this war because they see the U.S. military as a liberating force from a cruel past and an oppressive future.

It's also true that you find the greatest European support from the nations that only recently shrugged off the burden of dictatorship (see Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic). It's not universal, of course, just as the U.S. isn't universally hated in the Benelux countries, but I'd be honored to take support from 2,100 Polish troops any day of the week, given what they suffered under Hitler, then Stalin, then every Soviet despot until Gorbachev.

4:27 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, yeah, and if you think America doesn't have a Coalition here, you should read what Al Qaeda thinks.

4:51 PM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

It's not a question of whether the support of our coalition partners is admirable, but is it effective? The Wall Street Journal published an article not long after the war began that demonstrated that it was clumsy and/or lazy diplomacy on the part of the Bush administration that drove "old Europe" from our side. Russia turned against our war plans in large part because France and Germany got to them first.

Frankly, I don't know how John Kerry can convince other nations to take up greater responsibility in Iraq. But neither has Bush demonstrated that our rush to war was justified. I recall George Will asking, in the run-up to war, whether it would make a difference if, after deposing Saddam Hussein, we found he was six years away from acquiring nuclear weapons, or six months. I think it would have made a big difference.

4:52 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The reality is that the post-89 "peace dividend" has been spent by Germany and France. They can't deploy troops anymore because they don't have them. Last year for a peacekeeping mission in sphere of influence Cote d'Ivoire, French paratroopers had to rent a Russian transport to carry them to the continent. They no longer had the ability to project force overseas.

There's currently a battalion of marines and SOF soldiers in Djibouti, a longtime French protectorate, because Paris no longer has the military means to offer protection in the Horn of Africa.

In The Balkans, Benelux units flailed helplessly because they didn't have the logistics, will or training to duke it out with irregulars from Serbia. But they blamed Sarajevo on the U.S. anyway.

Russia's post-Soviet military is bogged down in Chenya.

The only country in the world with the ability, currently, to field a modern, high-tech army in the field overseas is the U.S. Even the UK, with a robust navy and air component, concedes it does not have the logistics train to conduct longterm campaigns on another continent.

Even the vaunted NATO was exposed as a paper tiger during the air war over Serbia. The U.S. ran more than 95 percent of the sorties and launched Wes Clark as a presidential candidate.

Some nations prove they can fight endless rounds of regional conflicts (Eritrea, Ethiopia, Congo, Rwanda, Serbia, Croatia, Indonesia, Nigeria, Kuwait, etc.), but they could never intervene in a country like Iraq without U.S support.

This is a reality. While there are a few French instructors in Afghanistan, and a scattering of troops in West Africa, you can't expect anything from them for Iraq. The same is true from Iraq's neighbors.

Riyadh, for example, can barely keep peace with a rag-tag jumble of Saudi National Guard units. They would be slaughtered by the remnants of a Baathist military. Ditto, Jordan.

Turkey could help out, but doesn't want to because of the Kurds.

This is the reality of the world's militaries in the 14 years since the build-up to Desert Shield/Storm. If you want to make regime change, you better call the U.S., something the world is reluctant to do.

5:46 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now that I think about it, it also should be noted that Bush's radical foreign policy certainly has a distinguishing feature, and that's a sense that democracy can be planted in any seedbed, even in the deserts of the Middle East.

It would be easy for the U.S. to side with the "secularists" of the Islamic world, and thus find ourselves in bed with Algeria, Libya, Syria and your favorite, Saudi Arabia.

But Bush has NOT done that. He has said that there will be a solution to the internecine fighting in this civil war, and it will be a democratic one. I'm not sure he's right, but I admire his faith in a political system too many of us take for granted.

6:16 PM


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