George W. Bush was under orders from God to invade Iraq. That’s what he told the Palestinians, according to Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, who describes what transpired during his first meeting with the American president in June 2003. According to Abbas, Bush told the Palestinian leaders:
“God told me to strike at al-Qaeda and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did, and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East. If you help me I will act, and if not, the elections will come and I will have to focus on them.”
Unlike your typical secular liberal, I am not one to snark at any mention of a divine entity, be it Jehovah or Phoebus Apollo. Instead, I wonder: how does Bush know the voice he’s hearing is God’s? What if it’s the Devil‘s?
God, it seems to me, is the strong, silent type; it’s the Other Guy who’s a bit of a chatterbox, always whispering in people’s ears, trying to get them to do cool-but-forbidden stuff, tempting and flattering them at the same time. If Bush is hearing voices in his head, then I fear we ought to be very worried, because it’s either the delusions of a dry alcoholic, or something far more sinister.
If Bush thinks God Almighty wants him to “stay the course,” then that explains his imperviousness to facts, his fanatic certitude, when it comes to Iraq, and foreign policy in general. His most recent speech, delivered in front of that most useless and dangerous of government agencies, the National Endowment for Democracy, exemplifies the sort of worrisome dogmatism that seems to animate him. It is worth trying to understand what, exactly, is going on here, if only because we want to know how and why we’re being led to ruin and utter damnation.
Bush opens by conjuring the specter of 9/11, perhaps in the hope that fear and anger can still overcome reason and the likelihood of reassessing a foreign policy that reaped the whirlwind. The biggest terrorist attack in American history was a boon to the War Party, one that empowered them to unleash their armies on the world. That’s why they constantly hark back to it, like the memory of first love. However, even someone who hears voices in his head cannot miss the point that the American people don’t see the connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda: they don’t believe Saddam Hussein plotted the 9/11 attacks, and they are coming to realize that you don’t stick your hand inside a hornet’s nest without expecting to get stung, perhaps quite badly. So it’s time to bring out the big guns
A specter is haunting the world, says the president, the specter of “Islamofascism“! Aside from the laptop bombardiers of the “blogosphere,” however, it’s hard to know whom this is meant to thrill. Christopher Hitchens? Andrew Sullivan? He’s already got them on his side. While American armies sweep through the Middle East, wreaking destruction and calling their blitzkrieg a “liberation,” it isn’t the dispersed networks of Islamic radicals who come across as “fascists.”
As red-state fascism fastens its grip on the president’s followers, and the White House embraces a foreign policy that owes more to the Jacobins than the Jeffersonians, the only proper response to the president is: look who’s talking!
Fascism is metastasized nationalism and abhors any sort of decentralism: yet, as the president said early on in his speech, al-Qaeda is “more like a loose network with many branches than an army under a single command.” What kind of “fascism” is that? Fascism is a product of Western modernity that operates according to a super-centralist leader principle. Unless the term is now reduced to a simple epithet, bereft of any real meaning, bin Laden and his followers have little if anything in common with Mussolini, Juan Peron, or the German National Socialists. Bin Laden doesn’t advocate nationalism, which romanticizes a given geographical area and its culture: his movement and the ideology that motivates it is explicitly supranational. It isn’t blood-and-soil but blood-and-spirit that energizes the worldwide Islamic insurgency spearheaded by al-Qaeda.
“We know the vision of the radicals,” avers the president, “because they’ve openly stated it in videos and audiotapes and letters and declarations and Web sites.” What follows, however, is proof that Bush neither understands the enemy, nor does he have the slightest idea how to combat a danger he likens to international communism:
“First, these extremists want to end American and Western influence in the broader Middle East, because we stand for democracy and peace and stand in the way of their ambitions.”
This misunderstands the essentially religious character of the radical Islamist “vision,” which is readily apparent in the very next sentence of Bush’s peroration:
“Al-Qaeda’s leader, Osama bin Laden, has called on Muslims to dedicate, quote, ‘their resources, sons, and money to driving infidels out of their lands.'”
Ah, now we’re getting somewhere: they don’t care about our political ideology, it’s our religion or lack of it that they object to. It wouldn’t matter if genuine, old-style goose-stepping fascists or even Nazis had overthrown Saddam Hussein and taken over Iraq: bin Laden and his followers wouldn’t embrace them as fellow fascists, because the invaders would still be considered infidels.
They didn’t bring down the World Trade Center and attack the Pentagon because of the Bill of Rights, or even Roe v. Wade, but because American soldiers trod on the sacred soil of Saudi Arabia, defiling holy ground. They came over here because we were and are over there.
Michael Scheuer, former CIA analyst and chief of the special unit devoted to tracking and analyzing al-Qaeda’s ideology and tactics, has pointed out that bin Laden justifies his attacks on the U.S. mainland as part of what millions of his admirers throughout the Muslim world see as a purely defensive war. Bin Laden’s theology is not receptive to the idea of preemption: there is no bin Ladenite version of the “Bush Doctrine.” As Scheuer points out in Imperial Hubris, his deservedly best-selling book, al-Qaeda is not seeking to conquer the West, but only to regain what has been lost, lands formerly under the sway of Islam and now colonized or otherwise occupied by Western forces.
That is why the war in Iraq has proved such a fruitful recruiting ground for al-Qaeda’s foot-soldiers: it confirms the central organizing principle of the bin Ladenite worldview that the U.S. is the implacable enemy of Islam and must be utterly destroyed if Muslims are to live in peace. They come from all over the world to fight the “infidels,” just as they came to Afghanistan to “liberate” it from the Soviets, and when they return to their respective homelands, bearing the seeds of their hatred, American foreign policy virtually ensures their rapid germination and growth. But George W. Bush just doesn’t get it:
“Their tactic to meet this goal has been consistent for a quarter century: They hit us and expect us to run. They want us to repeat the sad history of Beirut in 1983 and Mogadishu in 1993, only this time on a larger scale with greater consequences.”
As Talleyrand said of the Bourbons, “They have learned nothing, and forgotten nothing.” Bush forgets, or does not know, that American intervention in Lebanon 25 years ago ended in tragedy precisely because we allowed ourselves to be sucked into a position where 241 Marines were sitting ducks and for what? For whom?
We intervened to support the minority government of President Amin Gemayel, which was allied with the Israelis who had invaded Lebanon earlier and annexed the southern portion. Reagan allowed himself to be talked into sending U.S. warships to support Israel’s puppet, and, in the name of “protecting” U.S. troops gone ashore, we shelled civilian population centers in the largely Shi’ite suburbs. When Muslim militias retaliated by bombing the Marine barracks, a military target, the Americans referred to it as an atrocity forgetting that they had just finished bombing hospitals, homes, and markets. Reagan wisely withdrew, but Bush, it seems, would return to the scene of the crime the American government’s crime and repeat it even more brazenly and brutally.
The president’s insistence that Iraq is the “central arena” in the “war on terrorism” is taken, in this speech, to absurd lengths. The idea that al-Qaeda could ever take over Iraq, that it could fill the supposed “vacuum” left by a retreating America in the grip of “a self-defeating pessimism,” as the president puts it, assumes that the Shi’ites who make up the majority of Iraqis will roll over and play dead. Iran, which already dominates the region on account of our incursion and enjoys excellent relations with the new “democratic” government might have something to say about that. Only a megalomaniac would proffer such a self-centered and self-serving rationale for this rotten war. The conceit of this unbalanced and unrealistic view must be particularly grating to Iraqis, regardless of political or religious orientation.
The president conjures the specter of Mogadishu, but what, pray tell, were we doing there to begin with? Western do-gooders, convinced that they and they alone could bring peace to a land of warring clans, only succeeded in prolonging the bloodshed. In the name of a “humanitarian” intervention, we perpetuated the rule of the warlords even as we tried to confront them and emboldened the radical Islamists who offer Somalis the only solid social structures in a fragile society.
We never learn, and certainly Bush the student of history! is an exemplar of ignorance:
“The radicals exploit local conflicts to build a culture of victimization in which someone else is always to blame and violence is always the solution.”
If foreign forces are occupying your country, will you be blamed for believing that violence is the only solution? It’s elementary, really, and you don’t have to be Robert Pape to understand that the presence of armed foreigners is likely to provoke a violent response from the natives. If radicals exploit this if it enables them to recruit suicide bombers by the hundreds, from all over the Muslim world then it makes sense to reexamine the policies that are grist for bin Laden’s mill. But not in Bush’s world.
There is a curiously ambidextrous quality to the president’s view of al-Qaeda. On the one hand, it is portrayed as a towering threat, along the same lines as fascism and communism in the last century, and, on the other hand, it is derided as essentially doomed to fall by the wayside as the “natural” drive of human beings toward “freedom” and “democracy” aided by the U.S. military sweeps away the reactionary medievalism of bin Laden and his ilk. The terrorists are likened to Hitler and the builders of the gulags, and also depicted by the president as essentially in retreat:
“We’ve killed or captured nearly all of those directly responsible for the September the 11th attacks, as well as some of bin Laden’s most senior deputies, al-Qaeda managers and operatives in more than 24 countries: the mastermind of the USS Cole bombing who was chief of al-Qaeda operations in the Persian Gulf, the mastermind of the Jakarta and the first Bali bombings, a senior Zarqawi terrorist planner who was planning attacks in Turkey, and many of al-Qaeda’s senior leaders in Saudi Arabia.”
Those most directly responsible for the 9/11 attacks perished in the act, so this comes across, first of all, as idle and empty boasting. Aside from that, however, our alleged “success” in combating al-Qaeda is best seen through the eyes of someone who understands exactly what we are up against. Once again, here is Scheuer:
“Compounding the threat posed by the next, larger generation is the possibility that analysts underestimated the first generation’s size. Western leaders have consistently claimed large al-Qaeda-related casualties; currently, totals range from 5,000-7,000 fighters and two-thirds of al-Qaeda’s leadership. If the claims are accurate, we should ponder whether the West has ever fought a ‘terrorist group’ that can lose 5,000-7,000 fighters, dozens of leaders, and still be assessed militarily potent and perhaps WMD-capable? The multiple captures of al-Qaeda’s ‘third-in-command’ most recently Abu Ashraf al-Libi and the remarkable totals of ‘second- and third-in-commands’ from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s organization suggests the West’s accounting of Islamist manpower at the foot soldier and leadership levels is, at best, tenuous.”
The contradictions in the Bushian view of the threat would be comical if they weren’t so potentially perilous. One minute al-Qaeda is the equivalent of Hitler’s armies, the next moment bin Laden is suddenly reduced to an isolated figure hiding in a cave. So which is it?
Garet Garrett described the psychology behind the American drive to empire as “a complex of vaunting and fear,” and surely both fear and vaunting permeate the president’s speech. Here’s the vaunting:
“Overall, the United States and our partners have disrupted at least 10 serious al-Qaeda terrorist plots since September the 11th, including three al-Qaeda plots to attack inside the United States. We’ve stopped at least five more al-Qaeda efforts to case targets in the United States or infiltrate operatives into our country.”
And here’s the fear:
“New York City’s subway system is under its most specific threat of a terrorist attack ever, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said on Thursday, saying the threat came from overseas but had already been partially thwarted. Bloomberg told reporters the FBI had notified him in recent days about ‘a specific threat to our subway system’ but had not told the public until now because law enforcement officials were trying to head off the attack.”
Scheuer believes another terrorist attack is almost inevitable, and I, reluctantly, concur. How long can we defend our porous borders from the terrorist incursion? We are told that we’re fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here, but they are here, and there is no way to stop more of them from coming here short of militarizing American life far beyond anything we have witnessed in our history. Even then, the sheer size of the territory to be defended, the sheer number of inviting targets, will defeat us. Sooner or later, al-Qaeda is bound to get in another shot the consequences of which could be horrendous.
Is “democracy” in Iraq worth it? I say no. Screw the Iraqi “constitution.” I’m much more concerned with our own Constitution and its shredding by this administration especially in the wake of another terrorist attack.
The president declares that our enemies are intent on building a global Islamic “empire,” yet it is American armies that are now rolling through the heart of the Middle East, planting the flag of our “democratic” empire our oxymoronic “empire of liberty,” as some of the more unhinged neocons call it in Iraq’s bloodstained soil. Not only that, but Bush is constantly threatening as in this speech to move on to Syria and Iran.
This speech proves what the rest of the world already knows, and an increasing number of Americans are coming to realize: that there is no limit to the arrogance of our leaders, who preen and pose on the world stage as “liberators” and are, in fact, the world’s worst hypocrites.
In pursuing a costly and counterproductive war that we cannot afford to win or lose to the bitter end, the president is claiming to be following direct orders from God, but the verdict of history is more likely to be that the Devil made him do it.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
The original version of my Monday column, on what I’m calling “Scooter-gate,” contained a number of errors involving dates, which I have now corrected. I have also added a significant amount of new material so much that it is, for all intents and purposes, quite a different piece from the original. My apologies for the errors. For those who have read the original, I would caution that the first half, except for the material about Ahmed Chalabi, is pretty much as I originally wrote it. It’s when we get to the timeline, however, that most of the new material comes in. My apologies, again, for not getting it right the first time, but I think that the new material at least partially makes up for it. I have to say that doing a timeline intermixing the events of disparate investigations now taking place in the Bush administration clarified, at least in my own mind, just what is going on.
At any rate, check out the new version: “A Second Take On Scooter-gate.”