“Nation building” has been a disaster. Part 1 of a two-part series.
(Page 2 of 2)
The answer to that question is that we have gotten very few things wrong. But those few are the only ones that are important.
George W. Bush made three mistakes which altered the course of American history and from which we may not recover because Barack Obama is compounding them.
First, President Bush never defined the enemy clearly and correctly: we are at war with the nations that sponsor Islamic terrorism and the religion-cum-ideology which propels them.
Second, and the inevitable consequence of the first, we have mistaken the terrorist groups as the enemy and — despite overwhelming evidence of their responsibility for the deaths of American troops — we have never attacked the terror-sponsors or even exacted a price for their actions.
Third, and with equally disastrous effect, Bush sunk us neck-deep in the neocons’ self-imposed quagmire of nation-building.
Nine days after 9-11, addressing a joint session of Congress, Bush seemed to have it right. In his speech to a joint session of Congress he said, “Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated,” and “Every nation in every region now has a decision to make: Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.” But in that speech he sowed the seeds of mistake and drift. He added, “The terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself. The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends. It is not our many Arab friends. Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists and every government that supports them.” The cognitive dissonance in that statement led Bush astray. Our “many Arab friends,” especially the Saudis, are a principal funding source for terrorist groups. The Saudis are also, through an international group called the Muslim Brotherhood, conducting an ideological insurgency in America. Other Arab states such as Syria openly sponsor terror while the rest turn a blind eye to it. And though Iran is Persian not Arab, it is the principal terrorist nation on the planet.
If Bush had meant what he said, the Saudis would have been forced to stop sponsoring terrorism and both the Iranian kakistocracy and Assad’s Syria would only be bad memories. But he never took action, far less decisive action, against any of them.
Terrorists only have global reach if they are sponsored and supported — and given safe harbor [- by nations.
Bush quailed at the idea of engaging the Islamists in the ideological half of the war they wage against us. Islam — radical or otherwise — is as much an ideology as a religion: an integrated system of beliefs intended to form the basis of government. To defeat the terrorist groups — and to divorce the terror-sponsoring nations from their chosen mission — the ideology has to be attacked and defeated just as communism and Nazism were.
Though some in his administration wanted to fight the ideological war (such as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and successive Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gens. Richard Myers and Peter Pace) the president was unwilling. So that battlefield was abandoned to soft euphemisms about Islam.
Bush refused to prosecute the ideological war. And now Obama intends to surrender outright.
Our young president apparently lacks the courage of Harry Potter, the fictional young wizard who dared say the name of his ultimate enemy, “Voldemort,” aloud. The “National Security Strategy” is a presidential statement to Congress required of each new administration. The terms “jihad” and “Islamic extremism” are banned from the one Obama is about to release. How can you defeat that which you lack the courage to name?
You can’t. And if you won’t fight the ideological war and don’t fight the source of terrorism, you can’t win at all. George Bush must bear much of the blame, but he wasn’t the first president to fail to take action against the state sponsors of terrorism.
With agonizing consistency, almost every president since Thomas Jefferson — who sent the navy to “chastise the Tripolitan pirates” — has failed to act against the terror sponsoring nations. Jimmy Carter’s presidency ended with that failure and Ronald Reagan, having recovered the Tehran hostages, bailed out of Beirut after the Marine barracks bombing without punishing the Iranian government for sponsoring it.
Bill Clinton’s casual attitude toward the terrorist threat certainly helped al-Qaeda grow to the existential threat it proved itself to be on 9-11. But in Afghanistan from the beginning, and in Iraq dating back even before the U.S. invasion of 2003, George Bush failed to confront and destroy the terror sponsors. He accepted the neocons’ way of war.
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