By Robert Herold & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & F & lt;/span & ollowing the British success in stopping Islamic terrorists' ghastly plot to blow up airliners, the Bush Administration, predictably, used the episode to reiterate the continued threat of terrorism, which led, as it always does, to promoting the importance of winning the "War on Terrorism," which allowed them (and, they hope, us) to conclude that only they can win this war. The Bush bunch relies on this assertion, almost exclusively, to prop up support both for their largely discredited invasion of Iraq and the importance of "staying the course." America, the President has been reminding us almost daily, doesn't cut and run -- unless, of course, Republicans lose the Congress this fall. That, we are told, would almost guarantee that -- to borrow a line from Dick Cheney's Library of Amazingly Outrageous Utterances -- "they will hit us again." A=B=C=D=E to the nth power, followed by disaster. It's all so clear.
& r & Oh and for good measure let's haul out from our illegal prisons some really bad guys who we've been holding for, well, a long time. That way, just before the mid-term elections, they can put them on display before our equally illegal tribunals. That should cinch the deal. The point? Do you voters want these really bad guys running around again? No? Well then, re-elect the Congress that will do just as it is told and continue on with business as usual.
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Republican and conservative columnist George Will isn't impressed. To the contrary, he writes: "Cooperation between Pakistani and British law enforcements has validated John Kerry's belief ... that although the war on terror will be 'occasionally military,' it is 'primarily an intelligence and law enforcement operation that requires cooperation around the world.'"
& r & Will concludes that the Administration's logic (A=B=C=D =E to the nth power) "reflects the intellectual contortions required to sustain the illusion that the war in Iraq is central to the war on terrorism..."
& r & What's more troubling is that the Bush focus on Iraq has deflected our attention from where it should be placed: defending against terrorism. The 9/11 Commission, which only recently produced its five-year progress report card, gave the administration low marks on implementing the policing and intelligence recommendations that the Commission made in its now very famous and much-read official report.
& r & Louise Richardson, in her recently published book, What Terrorists Want: Understanding the Enemy, Containing the Threat, has studied and compared a number of terrorist organizations and examined successful tactics against them: the Irish Republican Army, the Aum Shinrikyo group that used nerve gas on a Tokyo subway, terrorist organizations in Malaysia, the Turkish response to the Kurdish PPK and others. Martin Walker, in his review of the book for the New York Times, draws attention to Richardson's central theme: "Al Qaeda is neither unique in its organization nor unprecedented in its scale and reach, or in its readiness to inflict mass casualties."
& r & To succeed, Richardson argues, all terrorist groups, including al Qaeda, need: "1. alienated individuals, 2. a complicit society community and 3. a legitimizing ideology." And what do all terrorists groups want? They all want revenge, renown and reaction from the enemy.
& r & Bush, by making his "War on Terrorism" inseparable from his War in Iraq, has managed inadvertantly to make it easier for al Qaeda to realize all three goals at once.
& r & Revenge? As an occupying force, that's an easy one regardless of all our efforts to be seen as a liberator.
& r & Renown? Many analysts and observers have concluded that because of 9/11 and the success of American forces in Afghanistan, al Qaeda was all but done. Their horrendous act had managed to alienate even "their base," radical Islamist playmates and cohorts. Notably, the Iranian government provided the United States with intelligence assistance during the Afghanistan campaign. But Bush, with his remarkably stupid "Axis of Evil" speech followed by his invasion of Iraq in pursuit of those imaginary weapons of mass destruction (a justification that quickly morphed into "making the region safe for democracy") managed to alienate most of the western world and inflame the Muslim world. About the time Osama bin Laden, isolated and desperate, needed a miracle, something, anything to re-establish al Qaeda as other than an international renegade organization, a pariah amongst even many of his sympathizers, along comes George W. "We are going to kick some ass" Bush. Presto, and al Qaeda went from ruins to renown.
& r & Which brings us to the terrorists' third goal: reaction. We recall the famous line uttered by the beleaguered Winston Churchill when he was told that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor and he realized that the United States would finally enter the war: "Thank God."
When the bombing began in Baghdad, "Thank Allah" had to have echoed through the canyons in Tora Bora.
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Lawrence Wright's central theme in his new book, The Looming Tower, is that better law enforcement might well have prevented 9/11. It is just that -- better law enforcement -- that has needed our undivided attention. Instead, through the administration's misguided, strained and even disingenuous associations of events and organizations, we have endured five years of political orchestrations, the purpose of which has been to deflect attention away from the real, if not quite so dramatic, challenge. It's been sheer propaganda, nothing more.
& r & That's why, five years later, we aren't as safe as we should be.