In campaign stops across the country, George W.
Bush is delivering a medley of his favorite lies, half-truths and non
sequiturs about Iraq and the “war on terror.” Yet the President’s
listeners seem to revel in the distortions, celebrating with shouts of
“USA! USA!” and responding on cue when Bush has them mock the Democrats.
Some appearances have a Lord of the Flies
quality, as excited Republicans rally around their strong man hailing
his pronouncements even when they make little or no sense, or when they
celebrate the misjudgments that led to the disaster in Iraq.
“One of the lessons of September the 11th
is that when we see a threat we have got to take that threat seriously
before it materializes,” Bush told a cheering throng in Springfield,
Missouri, on Nov. 3. “It’s an essential lesson in this new war. I saw a
threat in Saddam Hussein.”
In that remark, Bush reaffirmed his commitment to
what he calls “preemptive war,” but what others call “preventive war”
and we have termed “predictive war.” Bush’s strategy is not classically
“preemptive,” which implies the other country is poised to strike.
Bush’s idea is to predict a future threat and then attack before the
While “preemptive” invasions are illegal under
international law, “preventive” or “predictive” wars represent even
greater threats to world order. They effectively guarantee endless
warfare based not on real security threats but on vague perceptions of
the future, a prescription for one, two, many Iraq Wars.
But on the stump, Bush’s talking point about this
“essential lesson” is greeted like a golden oldie from the
rally-round-the-President days after 9/11. Though the consequences of
Bush’s faulty prediction about Iraq can now be measured in the deaths of
more than 2,800 American soldiers and other horrible costs, it still
works as an applause line.
Bush then repeats another part of his mantra, how
Americans must listen to al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden when he boasts
about driving the United States out of Iraq: “He understands the stakes.
He says that victory for the terrorists in Iraq will mean America’s
defeat and disgrace forever. That’s what the enemy says.”
However, as U.S. intelligence knows, bin Laden
actually views the U.S. invasion of Iraq as a great boon to his cause.
Not only did Bush’s invasion divert military pressure away from bin
Laden’s battered forces in Afghanistan in 2002, Bush then knocked off
one of bin Laden’s secular enemies, Saddam Hussein, and turned the U.S.
occupation of Iraq into al-Qaeda’s chief recruiting poster.
An April 2006 National Intelligence Estimate,
representing the consensus view of the U.S. intelligence community,
called the Iraq War the “cause celebre” that has spread Islamic
extremism around the world.
In June 2006, U.S. intelligence also learned from
an intercepted al-Qaeda communiqué that bin Laden’s terrorist band wants
to keep U.S. soldiers bogged down in Iraq as the best way to advance al-Qaeda’s
“Prolonging the war is in our interest,” wrote “Atiyah,”
one of bin Laden’s top lieutenants, in a letter dated Dec. 11, 2005.
[For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Al-Qaeda’s
What al-Qaeda leaders seemed to fear most was that
an early U.S. military withdrawal would contribute to a disintegration
of their fragile position in Iraq. In Atiyah’s view, the longer the
United States stayed in Iraq the better for al-Qaeda as it put down
deeper roots and hardened its new recruits through indoctrination and
Just as U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that
the Bush administration’s occupation of Iraq was the “cause celebre”
that spread Islamic radicalism around the globe, so too does it appear
that an extended U.S. occupation of Iraq will help al-Qaeda achieve its
goals there – and elsewhere.
The Imaginary ‘Caliphate’
But that isn’t what Bush wants Americans to
understand. Instead he presents an apocalyptic and highly unrealistic
vision of the future. If U.S. forces leave Iraq, Bush says, Islamic
terrorists will create a vast global empire for imposing “their view on
Bush told the crowd in Missouri that the terrorists
“believe that they should establish a caliphate, a governing body, a
governing organization, based upon their ideology of hate that extends,
initially, from Indonesia to Spain. That is their declared intention.”
Bush may have inserted the word “initially” to
frighten Christians into thinking that al-Qaeda would next subjugate the
non-Islamic world beyond “Indonesia to Spain.”
But none of this fits with the real-world
assessments by U.S. intelligence agencies. In 2005, they intercepted one
al-Qaeda missive purportedly from bin Laden’s deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri.
He wasn’t dreaming of world conquest but rather fretting about the
consequences of a quick U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq.
In the July 7, 2005, letter, Zawahiri worried that
the young jihadists, who had flocked to Iraq to fight Americans, would
give up the fight and go home if the Americans left.
“The mujahaddin must not have their mission end
with the expulsion of the Americans from Iraq, and then lay down their
weapons, and silence the fighting zeal,” wrote Zawahiri, according to a
text released by the U.S. Director of National Intelligence.
To avert mass desertions, Zawahiri suggested
talking up the “idea” of a “caliphate” along the eastern Mediterranean.
In other words, rather than a grand plan for controlling the world from
Spain to Indonesia, al-Qaeda was trying to keep its jihadists around by
selling the idea of a regional enclave.
But even that plan is unrealistic, unless the
United States continues alienating the Muslim world and driving more
young jihadists into al-Qaeda’s arms. Prior to 9/11, al-Qaeda was a
marginal movement of defeated exiles who had been chased to the ends of
the earth, or in this case, to the caves of Afghanistan.
Islamic radicals had faced defeat after defeat,
from Algeria to Egypt to Jordan to Saudi Arabia. That was why virtually
every al-Qaeda leader was an exile – bin Laden a Saudi, Zawahiri an
Egyptian, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi a Jordanian. In the late 1990s, al-Qaeda
was even booted out of the Sudan.
After the 9/11 attacks, al-Qaeda’s ostracism grew
worse. Many Muslims decried the group’s bloodthirsty strategies and
denounced the targeting of civilians. Hundreds of thousands of Iranians
marched in the streets of Teheran in sympathy with the Americans.
Only Bush’s blunderbuss “war on terror” – which he
first called a “crusade” – and his invasion of Iraq turned the tide of
Islamic sentiment against the United States, radicalizing populations
and pushing the mainstream closer to bin Laden.
Still, even in Iraq, the foreign jihadists made up
only about five percent of the anti-American fighters and their
commitment centered on the U.S. occupation, not on a strict allegiance
to al-Qaeda’s ideological goals.
What al-Qaeda leaders seemed to fear most was that
a U.S. military withdrawal would start a collapse of their forces in
Iraq, between the expected desertions of the foreign fighters and the
targeting of al-Qaeda’s remaining forces by Iraqis determined to rid
their country of violent outsiders.
Bush’s nightmare scenario of a global terrorist
“caliphate” also ignores the sectarian and ethnic animosities among
Muslims that have surfaced in the civil war raging in Iraq between the
Shiites and the Sunnis. The idea that some giant Islamic “caliphate”
could unify the Muslim population and stretch from Spain to Indonesia is
Fear and Ignorance
But Bush hopes to protect his Republican majority
in Congress not by educating the American people on the subtle
religious-political dynamics of the Islamic world. He’d rather exploit
their fear and ignorance.
In Missouri, after having sold this false premise
of the impending global “caliphate,” Bush packaged himself as the
“The best way to protect you from these enemies is
to stay on the offense and to bring them to justice before they can hurt
you again,” he said to applause.
Bush also pushed his old non-sequitur that fighting
“terrorists” in Iraq meant that Americans wouldn’t have to fight them at
home, even though there’s no logical reason to think that a legion or
two of new recruits couldn’t be spared to attack the United States.
Bush mocked a Democratic leader for suggesting that
the invasion of Iraq actually made America less safe from terrorists,
which prompted the crowd to shout, “No-o-o-o.”
Bush countered the seemingly reasonable Democratic
point – which is supported by the U.S. intelligence community’s April
assessment – with another favorite canard, blurring the lines between
the Iraq War and the “war on terror.”
“Iraq is not the reason why the terrorists are at
war against us,” Bush said. “When you’re out rounding up the vote, you
remind people that we were not in Iraq when they attacked the World
Trade Center in 1993. [Applause] We were not in Iraq when they blew up
our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. We were not in Iraq when they blew
up the USS Cole, and we were not in Iraq on September the 11th,
2001, when they killed nearly 3,000 of our citizens. [Applause] You do
not create terrorists by fighting terrorists.”
But none of that makes any sense. While al-Qaeda
and other Islamic terrorists were behind the earlier attacks, Iraq had
nothing to do with them. As he has since 2002, Bush continues to pull a
sleight of hand in blurring 9/11 and Iraq, though U.S. intelligence has
concluded there was no connection.
Also untrue is Bush’s assertion that “you do not
create terrorists by fighting terrorists.” In fact, as counterinsurgency
experts have long understood, you most certainly can create more
extremists if your attacks are indiscriminate. For counterinsurgencies
to succeed, precise military force must be mixed with effective
hearts-and-minds strategies to win over the bulk of the population and
isolate the extremists.
Bush’s “war on terror” has done the opposite,
killing large numbers of innocent people and embittering the vast
majority of the Arab world.
In other campaign speeches, Bush has made comments
about the “war on terror” that border on the idiotic, but were still
“In this new kind of war, we must be willing to
question the enemy when we pick them up on the battlefield,” Bush told a
crowd in Sellersburg, Indiana, on Oct. 28, as if in the old kinds of
wars, captured enemy troops weren’t questioned. (They were questioned,
but U.S. policy strictly forbade torturing or otherwise abusing them.)
Then, referring to the capture of alleged 9/11
conspirator Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Bush said, “when we captured him, I
said to the Central Intelligence Agency, why don’t we find out what he
knows in order to be able to protect America from another attack” –
as if CIA officers wouldn't have thought of that on their own.
Bush contrasted his eminently reasonable
suggestions with crazy positions that he attributed to the Democrats,
whom he claimed opposed detaining, questioning, trying and spying on
“When it came time on whether to allow the Central
Intelligence Agency to continue to detain and question terrorists,
almost 80 percent of the House Democrats voted against it,” Bush said,
as the crowd booed the Democrats.
“When it came time to vote on whether the NSA
[National Security Agency] should continue to monitor terrorist
communications through the Terrorist Surveillance Program, almost 90
percent of House Democrats voted against it.
“In all these vital measures for fighting the war
on terror, the Democrats in Washington follow a simple philosophy: Just
say no. When it comes to listening in on the terrorists, what’s the
Democratic answer? Just say no. When it comes to detaining terrorists,
what’s the Democrat answer?”
Crowd: “Just say no!”
Bush: “When it comes to questioning terrorists,
what’s the Democrat answer?”
Crowd: “Just say no!”
Bush: “When it comes to trying terrorists, what’s
the Democrat’s answer?”
Crowd: “Just say no!”
But Bush knows the Democrats are not opposed to
eavesdropping on terrorists, or detaining terrorists, or questioning
terrorists, or bringing terrorists to trial.
What Democrats – and many conservatives – object to
are Bush’s methods: his tolerance of torture and other abusive
interrogation techniques; his abrogation of habeas corpus rights
to a fair trial; and his violation of constitutional safeguards and
existing law, such as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act which
already gives the President broad powers to engage in electronic spying
inside the United States, albeit with the approval of a special court.
Bush’s critics argue that all his legitimate “war
on terror” objectives can be achieved without throwing out more than two
centuries of American constitutional traditions or violating human
rights, such as prohibitions against torture.
While Bush says Democrats don’t want to try
terrorist, their real complaint about his Military Commissions Act of
2006 comes from its denial of habeas corpus for non-citizens and
its vague wording that could apply its draconian provisions to American
citizens as well. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Who
Is ‘Any Person’ in Tribunal Law?”]
At times on the campaign trail, Bush acts as if he
recognizes no boundaries for what constitutes responsible debate. In an
Oct. 30 speech in Statesboro, Georgia, Bush said, “However they put it,
the Democrat approach in Iraq comes down to this: The terrorists win and
Bush’s supporters may argue that it’s common to
distort your opponent’s position in a campaign. But Bush’s extreme
rhetoric goes far beyond what is traditionally considered acceptable. He
casts aside almost all standards for honesty, logic and fairness.
As he crisscrosses the country in the days before
the Nov. 7 election, Bush is showing that his determination to protect
one-party control of Washington is so strong that he will let nothing
stand in his way. He will say whatever he feels he must to keep the
Republican majorities in the House and Senate.
What is perhaps even more unsettling is how willing
and even eager so many Americans are to be misled, finding some pleasure
or a sense of unity in Bush’s lies and deceptions. It is hard to imagine
a democratic Republic surviving with such a debased public discourse.
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.'