ARE WE SAFER THAN WE WERE BEFORE 9/11?
By Don Monkerud
[This article was published in: The Peaceworker, Volume 18, Number 8, October 2004, http://www.oregonpeaceworks.org. Don Monkerud is an Aptos, California-based writer who follows politics. His satirical book, “W’s Wacky World: Bush in the White House” is available for .95 from email@example.com. Contact Don Monkerud, 2220 Pleasant Valley Road, Aptos, CA 95003; 831-724-2059.]
Despite Bush’s confusing statements – on August 5, he said, “They (our enemies) never stop thinking about new ways to harm out country and our people, and neither do we,” and on August 31, he said, “I don’t think you can win it (the war on terror),” and spoke of our “catastrophic success” – the presidential campaign is being run on the basis that we are safer today than before the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.
Leaving aside the fact that Bush, who now calls himself “a war president,” didn’t have time to meet with Richard Clarke, his White House counter-terrorism chief, that he spent 30 presidency of his presidency “on vacation” before the WTC attacks, and that he could have done something to prevent the attacks, are we actually safer than we were before Sept. 11?
Of course, safety means many things, including support from friends and allies, vigilance, and resources as well as a sense of emotional safety. Let’s examine some of these issues to determine whether Bush’s leadership has made the U.S. a less likely target for terrorism and made us safer.
SHOOTING THE MESSENGER
Perhaps the strongest statements on safety came from Richard Clarke, who resigned from the White House before Sept. 11, out of frustration with the lack of action against Al-Qa’ida. Despite Clarke’s 10 years as the counterterrorism chief for Presidents Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Clinton, President Bush and his administration ruthlessly attacked Clark’s motives, credentials and character when Clark pointed out that the invasion of Iraq weakened the fight against terrorism.
Clark argued that sending a handful of special forces into Afghanistan allowed the Taliban and Al-Qa’ida forces to escape. Sending troops into Iraq inflamed Muslims around the world against the U.S. Of the invasion of Iraq, Clarke says, “Nothing America could have done would have provided Al-Qa’ida and its new generation of cloned groups a better recruitment device.”
Nor is Clarke alone. Rand Beers, who replaced Clarke at the White House as counterterrorism chief, also quit after raising similar criticisms of Bush’s handling of Iraq and terrorism. Flynt Leverett, a CIA Middle East specialist and member of Bush’s National Security Council also resigned.
MILITARY BRASS DESPAIR OVER BUSH-RUMSFELD ORDERS
In a July interview in Rolling Stone, Gen. Anthony Zinn, commander in chief of Centcom, said, “The strategy going into Iraq was patently ridiculous,” and has led to a wider “religious war,” fueled by “our own mad mullahs in America – the Jerry Falwells, the Pat Robertsons.” Zinni warns that as a result of Iraq, Al-Qa’ida as an ideology is stronger than before Sept. 11 “in terms of recruiting manpower willing to kill themselves.”
Former Defense Secretary William Perry, who headed the Pentagon from 1994 to 1997, describes Bush’s national security approach as “disastrous.” His advice to the Bush White House has been ignored and he now says, “I have never been as worried about the management of our country’s security as I am today.”
Director of the CIA, George Tenet told Congress that Islamic extremists will continue attacking the U.S. “for years to come.” The Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Adm. Lowell Joacoby states that since the invasion of Iraq support for the US has “plunged.”
A Pew Research Center poll finds mistrust of the U.S. growing to the point that ill will is eroding support for the “war on terrorism.” The poll of nine countries found that majorities in Germany, France and Turkey, and half those in Britain and Russia believe that the U.S. invasion of Iraq has undermined the struggle against terrorism. Large numbers find the U.S. insincere in its motives for the occupation. Majorities in Jordan, Morocco and Pakistan now rate Bush less favorably than bin Laden.
Whether we are safer because of our occupation of Afghanistan is also questionable. Knight Ridder reported in July, “it’s increasingly obvious that the military effort has failed to fully defeat the enemy.” Except for armed forays into the countryside, U.S. forces are isolated in Kabul and surrounded by powerful warlords with large private militias.
After a near total success in banning opium in 2000, Afghanistan produced almost 3,400 tons of opium last year and is likely to produce a record crop this year. Considering overall safety of the U.S., this is not a good sign.
Indeed, the way Afghanistan was invaded may have fed terrorism rather than destroying it. As a center for terrorist camps, Afghanistan is believed to have trained 15,000 to 20,000 people since 1996. Reluctant to use U.S. troops to hunt the terrorists, Bush ordered bombing. Terrorists poured out of Afghanistan and dispersed to Turkey, the Philippines, Pakistan, Malaysia, Morocco, Chechnya, Europe and the Middle East.
MULLAHS: WE’RE BAAAAACK…
Mullah Mohammed Khaksar, the former Taliban deputy Interior Minister, told AP, “Now these men have all returned to their homes. It is a grave risk for the security of the world.” On August 10, the New York Times reported that a fresh portrait of Al-Qa’ida was emerging as the lower ranks begin filling leadership roles, regenerating, rebuilding and recruiting new members.
At the same time, new groups are stepping in as dozens of regional militant Islamist groups, loosely affiliated and resilient, take aim on the U.S. The New York Times says, “Intelligence officials believe that the threat of terrorism against the U.S. and its allies remains high.” Gwen McClure, the director of Interpol counterterrorism, calls these groups, “little time bombs.”
Bush’s assertion that we are safer appeared at first to be supported by the annual U.S. Dept. of State report on terrorism. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage declared that Bush was “prevailing in the fight against global terrorism.” In what Secretary of State Colin Powell called a “very embarrassing” miscalculation, the report had to be revised to show that terrorist attacks actually reached a 20-year peak last year.
Turning to the domestic scene, a recent poll of 1,000 border security officers found that 44 percent believe that the U.S. is no safer or less safe than before Sept. 11. Overlooking the confusing and politics-tinged recent terrorism alerts in the U.S., which could prevent terrorism, we find unprecedented security at both national political party conventions this year. Delegates are safer in a fortress, surrounded by 8-foot-high iron barricades, but that also means the threat is higher.
Bush and his administration may continue to claim that we are safer as a result of his policies but evidence shows that the invasion and occupation of Iraq has only increased the number of terrorists. If Bush is elected president, he may fulfill his own prophecy: we can never win the war on terror with his policies.