George W. Bush: Islamism’s Best Friend

As 2006 comes to a close, the world is in flames and George W. Bush’s foreign policy is both directly and indirectly to blame. He has caused a civil war by invading Iraq, continued an occupation of Afghanistan that motivated a revival of the deposed radical Islamist Taliban movement, pushed for elections in Palestine that elected the Islamist group Hamas, cooperated with Israel’s failed attack on Lebanon that enhanced the status of the Islamist group Hezbollah in that country’s politics, and created an al-Qaeda-friendly Islamist threat to Somalia by supporting unpopular warlords. What other foreign policy disasters can George W. Bush perpetrate in his last two years in office?

Wars often beget civil wars and insurgencies, and the U.S. invasion of Iraq has given us both. According to the president, a unified democratic Iraq would be a model for the Middle East, thereby causing democratic reforms in other Arab countries that would result in more stability and less terrorism. Even if Iraq miraculously ends up as a democracy, it hardly would be a model. Other Arabic societies would probably conclude that they don’t want to go through that much pain to have a more open political system. More likely, Arab peoples would make the negative association of democracy with the military occupation of an “infidel” superpower, thereby reducing the chances that democracy would spread in the Middle East. More likely still, Iraq will not be a unified democracy and thus won’t provide a model, except for chaos and mayhem. Most Arabs quite perceptively believe that “democracy” is a smokescreen for the Bush administration’s hypocrisy and ulterior motives in the region. They see the hypocrisy of the intense U.S. pressure against the Islamists who run Iran, which has at least a bit of democracy in its system, while standing behind the governments of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, which are heavily reliant on the support of Islamists, but have no democracy at all. And while the Bush administration shuns the radical Islamic Shi’ite government in Iran, it actively supports a government in Iraq that has a bedrock of support from radical, Iran-supported Shi’ites. Lastly, even the U.S. intelligence community acknowledges that the U.S. invasion of Iraq has exacerbated terrorism worldwide. In reality, Iran and al-Qaeda, two of the United States’ principal adversaries, are the biggest beneficiaries of the Iraq war.

Even if the post-9/11 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and its removal of the Taliban government were justified, the Bush administration made a strategic error in trying to complete a political makeover of the country into a democracy using occupation forces. As in Iraq, the presence of non-Muslims on Muslim soil fuels the Islamist fervor to kick the “infidels” out. One major factor in the discredited Taliban’s resurgence has been the continued presence of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. A better strategy would have been for the United States to withdraw its forces and tell Afghans that they could choose any form of government that they wanted, but emphasize that any government sheltering anti-U.S. terrorists would again be taken out.

Israel, the chief U.S. ally in the Middle East, originally supported the creation of the radical Islamist group Hamas to compete with Fatah, Israel’s nemesis. More recently, the United States pressured Israel to allow elections in Gaza and the West Bank, which unsurprisingly brought Hamas to power in the Palestinian Authority. Leading to Hamas’ election victory was the Bush administration’s continued support for and subsidization of Israel’s refusal to give back all of the occupied territories to the Palestinians. Now, Israel may have a civil war on its borders in those territories.

Ehud Olmert, Israel’s weak prime minister, used Hezbollah’s killing and capture of a few Israeli soldiers as a pretext to launch a disproportionate pummeling of all of Lebanon. The war, designed to strengthen him at home, was botched and had the opposite effect. More important, it strengthened the Islamist group Hezbollah within Lebanon and in the Islamic world. Thus, Lebanon’s newly won independence from Syrian occupation and its democratic experiment may be extinguished on the road to civil war.

Finally, the Bush administration actually created the current Islamist threat to Somalia. The Islamists were not that potent a force in Somalia until the administration, through the CIA, began to support their opponents – unpopular warlords. The Islamists then became wildly popular and have taken over southern Somalia. With a wink and a nod from the administration, Ethiopia has now sent troops to fight the Islamists, triggering a nationalist backlash in Somalia that further helped the Islamists. The conflict in Somalia has already made that nation a haven from which al-Qaeda can launch attacks elsewhere, and it may be the spark that will ignite a regional war on the Horn of Africa.

Not every problem in the world can be laid at George W. Bush’s doorstep, but the aforementioned ones were generated by his aggressive foreign policy or similar policies he encourages in U.S. allies. The United States and the world would have been better served by the more “humble” foreign policy that the president promised us in his first presidential campaign in 2000. In 2007, perhaps these disasters will make a stubborn president learn his lessons, but probably not.

Author: Ivan Eland

Ivan Eland is a senior fellow at the Independent Institute and author of Recarving Rushmore: Ranking the Presidents on Peace, Prosperity, and Liberty.