It was inevitable -- in an election year, with Bush' popularity near its nadir, with an administration and titular leader whose hallmark has been to do exactly what they exhort their opponents not to do -- that promises of a nonpolitical address on the evening of September 11 would be a lame attempt to limit the political fallout Bush created when he took what should have been an opportunity for grief, mourning, perhaps thoughts of peace, and turned it into another in a now familiar series of delusional and self-congratulatory paeans to failed policies and actions.
Recycling phrases from his Iraq phrase book, Bush continued his practice of lumping terrorists worldwide into an undifferentiated mass. Calling his efforts to combat terrorism "the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century," Bush implied that terrorists are united by "a totalitarian ideology that hates freedom, rejects tolerance, and despises all dissent."
A 2004 report by the Defense Science Board rejected the notion that radical Islamists "hate freedom."
In the war of ideas or the struggle for hearts and minds, American efforts have not only failed, they may also have achieved the opposite of what they intended.... American direct intervention in the Muslim world has paradoxically elevated the stature of, and support for, radical Islamists, while diminishing support for the United States.... Muslims do not 'hate our freedoms,' but rather they hate our policies.... In the eyes of Muslims, the American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq had not led to democracy there, but only more chaos and suffering. US actions appear in contrast to be motivated by ulterior motives, and deliberately controlled in order to best serve America national interests at the expense of truly Muslim self-determination.
As we've written elsewhere in The Dubya Report, conflating all terrorists, as Bush continues to do, reflects a fundamentally flawed view of terrorism and the Middle East. Last month, in an article titled "We're Not Winning This War," 9/11 commissioner John Lehman, who served as Secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration wrote:
The Bush administration continues to muddle a national understanding of the conflict we are in by calling it the "war on terror." ... This not a war against terror any more than World War II was a war against kamikazes.
James Dobbins, who was the Bush administration's first envoy to Afghanistan echoed Lehman's opinion in an editorial published in the International Herald Tribune:
In its search for moral clarity, the Bush administration has divided the Middle East into good guys and bad guys, with the United States, Israel and conservative Muslim regimes on one side, and Iran, Syria, Hamas and Hezbollah on the other. This view plays well with the American public, but poorly in Muslim nations and much of the rest of the world. In fact, one of its most important effects has been to unite feuding Sunni and Shiite Muslims in opposition to America....
The Middle East cannot usefully be divided into radicals, democrats and conservatives. For most of its inhabitants - whether Muslim, Jew or Christian - religion tends to be more important than ideology, and nationalism tends to be more important than religion.
Consequently, the divide between Muslim and non-Muslim regimes is seen by most of the population of the Middle East as more significant than the division between radical and conservative. As the United States has discovered in Iraq, the divide between Shiite and Sunni Muslims is wider - for most adherents of each sect - than the division between democrat and authoritarian. And finally, the gulf between occupier and occupied is the most important distinction of all.
As long as America treats the Middle East's dynamics as a win-or-lose, zero- sum game in which gains by Syria, Iran, Hezbollah or Hamas are American losses, and vice versa, Washington will continue to lose.
What Clear Threat?
"I'm often asked why we're in Iraq when Saddam Hussein was not responsible for the 9/11 attacks," Bush said. "The answer is that the regime of Saddam Hussein was a clear threat."
Even while admitting the non-connection between 9/11 and Saddam, Bush sought to portray the administration's pre-war assessment of Hussein's "threat" as having been shared by Congress and the UN. Bush has claimed previously that his decision to go to war was based on intelligence that was also available to Congress. That assertion was contradicted by a 2005 report by the Congressional Research Service (the "research arm of Congress"). The 14-page report, made public on December 15, 2005 stated "... [T]he President and a small number of presidentially-designated Cabinet-level officials, including the Vice President -- in contrast to Members of Congress -- have access to a far greater overall volume of intelligence and to more sensitive intelligence information, including information regarding intelligence sources and methods." An unclassified version of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq's "weapons of mass destruction" released in October 2002 did not include many of the qualifications and caveats of the classified version.
Bush's discussion of Iraq in a speech nominally dedicated to the 9/11 attacks continued the administration pattern of simultaneously associating the two and acknowledging the absence of a connection. The success of this associative marketing campaign was evidenced by a Zogby poll conducted over Labor Day weekend that found that 46% of those surveyed still believe there was a connection between Hussein and the 9/11 attacks.
The topic generated resentment on the part of some in Bush's audience, and not only among his political opponents. According to MSNBC News reporter Norah O'Donnell an unidentified senior Republican who served in several administrations was so disgusted when Bush mentioned Iraq that he stopped watching the speech. O'Donnell's colleague Keith Olbermann voiced a not atypical reaction: "Just as the terrorists have succeeded, are still succeeding, as long as there is no memorial and no construction ... at Ground Zero, so too have they succeeded and are still succeeding as long as this government uses 9/11 as a wedge to pit Americans against Americans."
On Tuesday, 9/12, house majority leader Rep. John Boehner responded to characterizations of Bush's speech as a political defense of the war: "I listen to the questions today and I listen to my Democrat friends, and I wonder if they are more interested in protecting the terrorists than protecting the American people." In the Press Briefing later that day, spokesman Tony Snow was forced to repudiate Boehner's remarks. After claiming repeatedly that he had not heard Boehner's statement, Snow was finally asked if he believed Democrats were more interested in protecting terrorists than the American people. He responded "No." Republican Senator John Sununu of New Hampshire questioned whether his party's narrow focus on national security was an effictive campaign strategy. "I don’t think the inside-the-beltway discussion about political tit-for-tat makes any difference in the majority of races around the country," he said.
What Clear Plan?
"[W]e are carrying out a clear plan to ensure that a democratic Iraq succeeds.... We will not leave until this work is done," Bush said, adding later "We are fighting to maintain the way of life enjoyed by free nations.... With our help, the people of the Middle East are now stepping forward to claim their freedom."
As Antonia Juhasz has brilliantly outlined in The Bush Agenda, Bush's "clear plan" is more concerned with ensuring that US corporations have unfettered access to Iraqi markets and resources, and that Iraqi public services are open to privatization regardless of the effect on the Iraqi economy, than it is with promoting the rights of Iraqis. Staying "until the work is done" is less a promise to ensure a quality of life for the average Iraqi than it is a threat to ensure that US corporations have a secure grasp on the Iraqi economy and infrastructure.
Juhasz demonstrated in considerable detail how the neoconservative vision of a legal context favorable to global corporations has been enshrined in the the Iraqi constitution. This is a working out of a policy that US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick articulated on September 14, 2001, in anticipation of the World Trade Organization negotiations that took place in November of that year in Doha, Qatar.
America has been attacked by those who want us to retreat from world leadership. Let there be no misunderstanding: the United States will continue to advance the values that define this nation -- openness, opportunity, democracy and compassion. Trade reinforces these values, serving as an engine of growth and a source of hope for workers and families in the United States and the world.
The foreign investment rules in Coalition Provisional Authority order #39 are the key mechanism by which US corporations were given virtually free reign to exploit the Iraqi economy and capitalize (no pun intended) on business opportunities related to reconstruction. Key provisions of order #39 allow:
- Privatization of all of Iraq's government industries (except oil extraction), including utilities, schools, hospitals, factories, airlines, media, and housing. This is an interesting definition of "freedom." Juhasz noted, "To change the system from one that support itself to one that also generates revenue, the company must either reduce costs or increase fees. Usually, a combination of the two is chosen, often resulting in increased prices, reduced services, and reductions in number of workers and./or worker wages or benefits." CPA administrator L. Paul Bremer himself wrote in November 2001 "Privatization of basic services, for example, almost always leads to price increases for those services, which in turn often lead to protests or even physical violence against the operator."
- 100% foreign ownership of Iraqi business, overriding Iraqi commercial law that prohibited investment in Iraqi businesses by persons who were not residents of Arab countries. Limits on foreign investment are common in developing and developed countries, and help ensure that money earned locally contributes to local economic development.
- Foreign companies may work on reconstruction without hiring Iraqi workers, companies, or use Iraqi products.
- Foreign investors may "transfer abroad without delay all funds associated with investment...." Juhasz wrote, "US corporations are therefor invited to enter the Iraqi economy, exploit a nation at its most vulnerable point, with no obligation to reinvest in the country at a time when rebuilding Iraq is professed to be the Bush administration's most vital assignment."
- Forty year leases on Iraqi real estate with unlimited renewal options.
- Foreign companies may refuse to use Iraqi courts in any dispute arising from Order #39.
If This Is Adapting...
"We're adapting to stay ahead of the enemy.... We're training Iraqi troops so they can defend their nation. We're helping Iraq's unity government grow in strength and serve its people."
As we've reported elsewhere in The Dubya Report, there's no indication that a viable Iraqi security force is about to emerge. Increased violence has led US commanders to increase troop levels to 20,000 above those of last June. The Iraqi Interior Ministry disclosed recently that 1,200 policemen and other ministry employees had been convicted in the past of murder, rape, and other violent crimes. The offenders, few of whom have been fired, included some who were on death row. The criminal records came to light as a result of a fingerprinting campaign.
Assaults by gunmen dressed in the uniforms of the Interior Ministry's paramilitary forces are fairly common. Col. Dalmon Penn, US adviser to an Iraqi police unit admitted "there are still some militias operating within the national police." Iraqi, American, and UN inspectors have found evidence that police units have abused prisoners in their custody, including "lesions resulting from torture" and "equipment used for this purpose." After one prison, known as Site 4, was inspected, the Iraqi government stopped allowing joint US-Iraqi teams to inspect prisons.
In a report dated August 16, Col. Pete Devlin, chief of intelligence for the Marine Corps in Iraq, concluded that conditions in the Anbar province, in western Iraq, are so dire that there is very little that the US military can do to improve the political and social situation. According to the Washington Post, Devlin reported that there are "no functioning Iraqi government institutions in Anbar," and that the vacuum had been filled by al-Qaeda in Iraq, "which has become the province's most significant political force." A person familiar with the report told the Post that it concludes that the US has "lost" in Anbar. The Anbar province comprises 30% of Iraq's land area, and extends from Baghdad to the borders with Jordan and Syria. It includes Ramadi and Fallujah, which, the Post notes "with Baghdad pose the greatest challenge U.S. forces have faced in Iraq."
The Post's Thomas Ricks, author of Fiasco suggested that the insurgency in Anbar began in Fallujah, in April 2003, shortly after US troops arrived. It has continued up to the present; thirty-three US military personnel died in Anbar in August 2006 alone. Among the problems Col. Devlin reported in Anbar is a lack of Iraqi and US troops. Military operations are unable to project security beyond their bases; local governments have collapsed; the central government has "almost no presence" Devlin's conclusions are difficult for the military establishment to dismiss, because he is reportedly regarded as one of the Marine Corps' best intelligence officers, and he has been stationed in Iraq since February. Devlin's conclusions are particularly striking, Ricks wrote
... because, even after four years of fighting an unexpectedly difficult war in Iraq, the U.S. military has tended to maintain an optimistic view: that its mission is difficult, but that progress is being made. Although CIA station chiefs in Baghdad have filed negative classified reports over the past several years, military intelligence officials have consistently been more positive, both in public statements and in internal reports.
Former Secretary Lehman described the war as being fought on three fronts, which he termed the home front, the operational front, and the strategic-political front. Lehman granted the Bush administration some credit for there having been no "successful Islamist attacks in the United States" since September 2001. He had harsh words, however, for the administration's complete rejection of the 9/11 Commission recommendations for reforming the intelligence establishment. Rather than breaking down layers of bureaucracy and bringing in skilled personnel from the private sector, Lehman wrote, the administration "decided instead to leave this sprawling mess untouched and to create yet another bureaucracy of more than 1,000 people in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence." "It was the exact opposite of what we had recommended," he added.
Giving the administration some credit for its prompt action against Afghanistan, Lehman nonetheless criticized a "total misunderstanding of the requirements for successful occupation" of Iraq. Lehman was particularly critical of the decision to disband Iraqi security forces and civil service "with no plan to fill the resulting vacuum." "Certainly it is hard now to understand the logic of that decision," he wrote. Moreover, with the occupation of Iraq consuming nearly the entire military budget, "our ability to deter enemies around the world is disintegrating" -- something, Lehman suggested, that is "understood quite clearly by both our friends and our enemies."
From Indonesia and Malaysia, to Egypt and Algeria, Lehman observed, governments are coming "under increasing Islamist pressure." He noted North Korea's firing of seven missiles on July 4th, and China's build-up of its navy "to fill the military vacuum that we are creating in the Pacific as our fleet shrinks well below critical mass." The religious establishments responsible for recruitment and training jihadists throughout the world are "supported overwhelmingly by the Saudi and Iranian governments." Even inside the US, Lehman, wrote, many mosques are aligned with Wahabbism and "heavily dependent on Saudi funding." This matter, Lehman suggested, has apparently never been raised as a high-level issue with the Saudi government, or with the American people.
Thus Rumsfeld's question -- are we killing, capturing or deterring jihadists faster than they are being produced? -- must be answered with an emphatic no.
In reviewing progress on the three fronts of this war, even the most sanguine optimist cannot yet conclude that we are winning or that we can win without some significant changes of policy
A Survivor's View
Bill Lorenzo, a survivor of the World Trade Center attack, wrote in a letter to the NY Times
The president’s own speech on Monday night outlined, in the starkest terms, the magnitude of the administration’s failure.
According to President Bush, the United States and the rest of the world are now locked in ideological warfare for decades to come that includes weapons of mass destruction with no mutually assured destruction mechanism as a deterrent.
Is there any possible worse outcome?
Americans have to wake up and realize that there are alternatives to the future the president described. This has to start with the coming election. Only Americans, with their power to vote, can alter the future our president has put before us.
Dobbins, James "Moral Clarity in the Middle East" International Herald Tribune 13 Aug. 2006
"Zogby Poll: 9/11 + 5 Reveals Dramatic Partisan Split" Zogby International. 5 Sep. 2006
Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Strategic Communication Office of the Under Secretary of Defense For Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics. Sep. 2004
Juhasz, Antonia The Bush Agenda. New York: Harper Collins, 2006.
Cumming, Alfred Congress as a Consumer of Intelligence Information Congressional Research Service. 14 Dec. 2005
Dafna Linzer "Report: Bush Had More Prewar Intelligence Than Congress" Washington Post 16 Dec. 2005
Countdown. Anchor, Keith Olbermann. MSNBC. 11 Sep. 2006.
Rutenberg, Jim and Carl Hulse "In the Debate on Security, Perhaps a Misstep or Two" NY Times 13 Sep. 2006
"Bush's 9/11 speech sparks bitter partisan squabbles" CNN.com. 12 Sep. 2006
Press Briefing. Office of the Press Secretary. White House. 12 Sep. 2006
Cloud, David S. "U.S. to Maintain Iraq Force Levels" NY Times 19 Sep. 2006
Wong, Edward And Paul Von Zielbauer"Iraq Stumbling in Bid to Purge Its Rogue Police" NY Times 17 Sep. 2006
Ricks, Thomas E. "Situation Called Dire in West Iraq: Anbar Is Lost Politically, Marine Analyst Says" Washington Post 11 Sep. 2006
Lorenzo, Bill. Letter. NY Times 13 Sep. 2006
Lehman, John "We're Not Winning This War" Washington Post. 31 Aug. 2006
"President's Address to the Nation " Office of the Press Secretary. White House. 11 Sep. 2006
INTELLIGENCE: National Intelligence Estimates Council on Foreign Relations. 15 Jul. 2004
- Spy Agencies Say Iraq War Worsens Terrorism Threat (NY Times, September 24, 2006)
- Campaign in Iraq has increased terrorism threat, says American intelligence report (Guardian UK, September 25, 2006)
- Study of Iraq War and Terror Stirs Strong Political Response (NY Times, September 25, 2006)
- The House Intelligence Committee report on al Qaeda, completed in June but only released in September 2006, acknowledges that the war in Iraq has provided a major rallying point and recruiting ground for Islamic terrorism.
- Study Doesn.t Share Bush.s Optimism on Terror Fight (NY Times, September 27, 2006)