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Bush's War on Terror

The Bush administration's refusal to learn any lessons from its continuing disastrous presence in Iraq is only lending credibility to acts of terrorism worldwide and leading to a resurgent Taliban.

Bush’s War on Terror

The Bush administration’s refusal to learn any lessons from its continuing disastrous presence in Iraq is only lending credibility to acts of terrorism worldwide and leading to a resurgent Taliban.


PW summarised my article titled ‘Lies, Damned Lies, and Mr Bush’ published on the eve of the invasion of Iraq (EPW, March 1, 2003), as follows:

Whichever way the current confrontation ends, either with a war or without one, there are two likely developments about which one can be reasonably sure: The attempt to install an alternative government in Iraq may well lead to chaos and anarchy in that country on a scale perhaps bigger than in post-Taliban Afghanistan. Secondly, there surely will be an Islamic backlash perhaps in the form of more terrorist attacks against Islam’s perceived enemies. And, this could well cost us heavily.

Three and half years later, it is evident that every apprehension expressed in the article has come true. On the other hand, what I did not foresee at the time was the atrocities that would be committed by the US forces: the torture of suspected terrorists, other atrocities in gross violation of basic human rights, the abuse of law – and all these ostensibly in the holy cause of spreading democracy. One famous quote attributable to a senior US official during the course of the equally disastrous Vietnam War was that “we would have to destroy the village in order to save it”! Following the Vietnam doctrine, the George Bush administration seems to believe that it is necessary to violate all democratic norms in order to bring democracy in west Asia, with the help of established “democratic” allies in the region like the king of Saudi Arabia and the president of Pakistan. Incidentally, the Americans have given currency to yet another euphemism in their prosecution of the war: “rendition” of suspected terrorists in foreign countries and holding them captive in secret camps in Europe and west Asia. As far as I can see, whatever the dictionary meaning, “rendition” is nothing but a euphemism for kidnapping.

It is obvious by now that all the stated and unstated objectives of the invasion of Iraq have failed and failed disastrously:

  • Control of oil supplies – oil prices have risen since the invasion;
  • No weapons of mass-destruction were ever found.
  • The expectations that American troops would be welcomed as liberators and seen as deliverers of Iraq from a cruel dictator, have been belied. For most Iraqis, they remain invaders and occupiers.
  • Creating a functioning democracy. Elections, of sorts, were held but the government, which took a long time in getting formed after the election, is hardly functioning, even in terms of maintaining a modicum of law and order, let alone providing social services.
  • While Osama bin Laden is still evading capture, US congressional investigations conclude beyond any doubt that Iraq had no involvement in what happened on 9/11, which was the initial excuse to invade that hapless country.
  • Bush’s flamboyant and theatrical gesture on May 1, 2003, announcing the end of the war, has turned out to be somewhat premature. The attack changed Iraq and west Asia – but not quite in the way he and his neocon theoreticians and self-righteous (and incompetent) vice president and secretary of defence imagined.

    To me at least, unless Bush is completely irrational, the motive could only have been control of Iraq’s oil. Recently he inadvertently acknowledged as much saying that abandoning Iraq now is not an option as its oil could then pass into wrong hands.

    Economic and Political Weekly November 25, 2006 Possibly, British prime minister Tony Blair, the other leader of the coalition, may have had more concrete and desirable objectives

    – he could well have felt that by supporting Bush in Iraq, he would gain some leverage with the White House to pursue his goal of peace in the region by settling the Palestinian dispute. If so, these hopes have been totally belied, with America as partisan as ever in backing Israel.

    Commitment to Democracy

    Once it was established that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, nor possessed any weapons of mass destruction, which were the ostensible reasons for invading that unfortunate country, the objective changed to bringing democracy in that part of the world. It is truly amazing how this objective is propounded even as Bush asserts the right to act pre-emptively “against... emerging threats before they are formed”. Quite apart from the “democratic” allies of the US referred to earlier, the torture and arbitrary kidnapping and imprisonments, the atrocities, etc, the problem with democracy is that country after country is electing governments which Bush does not like – whether it is the Hamas in Palestine, the Shia government in Iran, the results in Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua, the latest example. In fact, Nicaragua voted in Daniel Ortega against whom a previous Republican Administration sent armed guerillas. Increasingly, the definition of democracy seems to be that people should vote and elect a government which should be subject to the approval of Bush: the model is no different from the Iranian theocracy where the president is elected, but is subject to the final authority of the Ayatollah!

    Breathtaking Incompetency

    One of the surprises of the war on terror was the way the US legislators and the media swallowed the extremely dubious and unfounded basis on which Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was invaded. Bush then got near unanimous congressional and media approval for his action. One was left wondering where the investigative skills and efforts for which the US print and electronic media were famous for, had disappeared. Even Bob Woodward of the Washington Post, who gained fame a long time back for his expose of the Nixon administration and the Watergate scandal, produced two very laudatory books on the decision to invade Iraq and its implementation.

    Lately, however, as the disillusionment about the Iraq war rose, a spate of books has appeared throwing into sharp focus the incompetency of the administration – in the way the decision was taken, and even more so the way it was implemented. One of the reasons for the way the matter has been mishandled is the smug self-righteousness of the Bush administration, starting with Bush himself, a self-righteousness prompted as much by religious zeal as anything else. The second reason is that Bush prizes loyalty over competence, accountability or honesty. After reading media reports, the strong impression one gets is that of a quasi feudal atmosphere in which the signals given by the Clinton national security adviser, as also the CIA, about the possibility of terrorist attacks, before 9/11, were ignored.

    The two books which probably capture best the way the war on terror was prosecuted, are Thomas Ricks’ Fiasco and Bob Woodward’s State of Denial. Ricks argues that Washington’s strategy was badly framed right from the start; the troops allocated were insufficient, perhaps in the belief that they would be welcomed with garlands. The choice of the person to head the post-war civilian administration was completely wrong and any number of mistakes were committed, thanks to the astounding ignorance of the occupying powers about local culture, the social and religious relationships, the lack of basic institutions of governance, etc, leading to the present fiasco.

    Woodward’s book argues that Bush is incurious, optimistic to the point of delusion and the feudal atmosphere in the White House persuades his aides to suppress the bad news and keep their doubts to themselves. He is particularly critical of the vice president, the secretary of defence and the then national security adviser (present secretary of state).

    And, the litany of foolish decisions continues, the latest being the way Washington encouraged Israel in invading Lebanon. For once, Israel had to be satisfied with a stalemate, which can only encourage the Islamic militants. Israel was also encouraged to spurn the efforts of the new Palestinian government, which was prepared to accept 1967 borders, to reach an agreement on the most intractable problem in west Asia. Israel’s identification with Bush’s crusade against Islamic terrorists can only weaken the possibility of a solution to the problem.

    Another manifestation of the incompetence is the stubborn refusal of the US to talk to countries which it does not like, howsoever important they may be for arriving at some solution to the current imbroglio

    – in this case, Iran and Syria. As ex-president Jimmy Carter, recently in India, remarked, “The stupidest thing a government can do when it has a real problem with someone is to refuse to talk to them”.

    The incompetency of the Bush administration is manifest not just in the war against terror, but also in other areas: the way it mishandled the floods in New

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    Economic and Political Weekly November 25, 2006

    Orleans; the way the US fiscal deficit has ballooned; the refusal to accept the reality of global warming and the disaster it can spell for the world; the taxation policies which have led to the rich growing richer even as, in the last six years, real median income has fallen; the corruption and scandals in the Republican Party and the religious zealots who support Bush.

    Present Position

    One unintended consequence of the war has been that US prestige and credibility worldwide, and in the Muslim world in particular, is as low as it has ever been. (Even Kiran Desai, the recent winner of the Booker Prize, said in the Guardian that “I dropped the idea of becoming a American citizen once George Bush won”.) Indeed, even in the US itself, more and more Americans believe “that the US government somehow took down the twin towers on 9/11 and that the plane hijacks never happened” (Jurek Martin, Financial Times, September 16/September 17). European voters have punished in elections every leader who supported the invasion of Iraq – in Britain, in Spain, in Italy, etc. In contrast, Bush won his re-election at the end of 2004, prompting one British tabloid to question in a huge front page headline: “How Could 6,20,40,610 Americans Be So Stupid?” But even the stupid Americans seem to have grown wiser in recent years. The Republicans suffered a major setback in the congressional election earlier this month.

    The present position in the two countries in the region which the US invaded after 9/11, is as bad as it could be. In fact, a strategic disaster for the US, on the scale of the Vietnam war, now looks a distinct possibility. Islamic terrorism has not only not been defeated but has gained many more recruits, and suicide bombings have become an accepted part of the fundamentalist’s creed. Bush’s rhetoric is perhaps encouraging new entrants to join the jihadist brigade. There may be no single functioning apex organisation like Al Qaida, but any number of offshoots are gaining recruits and becoming increasingly bold.

    In Afghanistan, the “democratic” government barely controls the capital. The rest of the country is in the throes of complete anarchy and, with the fundamentalist Taliban gaining strength every day, the British, in particular, are being reminded that controlling Afghanistan by military force in the 21st century is as difficult, if not impossible, as it was in the 19th century! Meanwhile, the production of drugs has reached record levels and is financing the Taliban movement. (When Taliban was in power, it had successfully banned the production of drugs.)

    The situation in Iraq seems no better. The US army has formally conceded failure to bring peace in Baghdad; the UK army chief has gone further in claiming that the very presence of foreign troops is making security problems even worse. Iraq is fast sinking into a civil war, firstly between the majority shias and the minority sunni Muslims, and secondly within shia factions. The shia-sunni divide could deepen further after the sentencing to death of Saddam Hussein after his trial on one charge: this will be widely seen as the revenge by the ruling shia majority against their former sunni rulers. As Time reported in its issue of October 9, “Life in Iraq has become so bloody and death so ever present, random and unpredictable that some Iraqis are nostalgic for Saddam’s tyranny”. By one estimate, as many as 6,50,000 Iraqis have been killed since 2003. One can foresee the possibility of the country effectively splitting into three, quasi-sovereign regions – the southern shia-dominated one, which also controls much of the oil; a central northern sunni region; and a kurdist region on the border with Turkey. Quite possibly, the shia dominated southern Iraq would become a close ally of the theocratic regime in Iran, which would then emerge as the most powerful country in the region, with huge oil resources. At one time, Bush had clubbed Iran, Iraq and North Korea as the “axis of evil”. In fact, there was no Iran-Iraq axis; as recently as the 1980s, they had fought a 10-year war with the US in full support of Iraq. It is only after the invasion of Iraq that the shia majority in that country has gained power and could well ally itself with the shia theocracy in Iran.

    Bush’s own National Intelligence Council has issued a report saying that the administration’s policies are adding to the number of terrorists the world over. “The Iraq conflict”, it says, “has become the cause celebre for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement.” In a way, the word “war” itself has dignified (glamorised?) Islamic terror. If it ends in a stalemate, let alone a defeat for the US, the holy warriors will gain enormous confidence in god’s support for their cause: how else could they have humbled both the superpowers – the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s and the US in Iraq in the 21st century?

    In many ways, the confrontation is increasingly looking like a clash, not of civilisations (as Huntington argued), but a clash of fundamentalists. The US foreign policy has extremely strong and, indeed, frightening religious undertones. (Gerhard Schroeder, the former German chancellor who was in power at the time, has said in his recently published memoirs that Bush took major political decisions in conversation with god himself!) The belief that one has been “chosen” can lead to a complete unwillingness to look at reality, to see and hear only what one wants to hear, not allowing facts to get in the way of the mission. Supporters of Bush on the right want to purge the academic world and media in the US of liberal and secular influences – exactly what the Iranian theocracy is doing.

    Despite all that has happened – the huge costs in men and material, and, particularly, Iraqi lives; the much stronger and larger Islamic terrorist pool, and a resurgent Taliban; the complete chaos in both Iraq and Afghanistan; “democracy” in shambles – would Bush start another war, this time in Iran? Don’t rule it out. Iran, like Iraq, has oil; it is an Islamic theocracy in contrast to Iraq’s dictatorship; Iran can threaten the security of the US’ closest ally in the region; Bush’s popularity is at a low ebb; and he remains as self-righteous, as fundamentalist in his beliefs, as ever. And, the US military has issued a “Prepare to Deploy” order, which precedes military hostilities. The positive side: the American media seems more distrustful, more questioning of the administration’s claims, than it was in 2001 and 2002 when it swallowed the administration’s lies – hook, line and sinker. His poodle and closest ally seems more chastened. And, hopefully, even Bush might learn from the election reverses.

    As Bob Woodward reports in his latest book, “Bush once said that he will not leave Iraq, even if the only ones still supporting him were his wife and his dog Barney”. If the jihadist war against the US continues gaining momentum, Bush may be left with just Barney. The fact is that military force alone seems ever less likely to defeat Islamic terrorism, which has a political agenda. Meanwhile, the resurgent Islamic terrorists will continue to stalk us in India. And, the Iraqis, both sunni and shia, will continue to suffer.



    Economic and Political Weekly November 25, 2006

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