Washington News Forum

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Tuesday, October 26, 2004

With Bush, the world is not safer for Americans, Theodore Fuller


Fuller is a professor of sociology at Virginia Tech.

The war in Iraq was not necessary and, in fact, has made the world more dangerous for Americans.
Why was the war in Iraq not necessary?
First, President Bush and his administration argued that the war was necessary because Saddam Hussein had a stockpile of weapons of mass destruction that he might use against us or give to terrorists.
By now, however, most reasonable people have concluded that Saddam did not have WMDs. Thus, the primary stated basis for the war has turned out to be a false premise.
Second, while Saddam was in power, he actually did little to directly attack the United States or our interests. He did invade Kuwait in 1990. We went to war with him in 1991 and forced him to leave Kuwait.
Then, in 1993, Saddam (unsuccessfully) plotted to assassinate the first President Bush (who had left office but was visiting Kuwait). In retaliation, we destroyed Iraq's intelligence headquarters and sent a message through back channels that if Saddam did anything else against the United States, our response would be far greater.
He apparently took us seriously, and did nothing else against the United States for 10 years - until we attacked Iraq.
Was Saddam a thorn in our side? Certainly. Did he bear close watching? Certainly. We were watching him closely, including having our planes patrol the "no-fly" zone (where his planes were not allowed to fly).
But he didn't attack us, he didn't threaten to attack us, and the primary reason given for the war, the weapons of mass destruction, apparently did not exist.
Why has the war in Iraq made the world more dangerous for Americans?
First, it has diverted resources from the war against al-Qaida, which should be the real war. Al-Qaida was responsible for the first World Trade Center bombing, the bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa, the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole and the catastrophic attack on Sept. 11, 2001.
The United States went to war against Afghanistan in 2001 to track down and eliminate al-Qaida. This was, of course, necessary. But then, we scaled back our operations in Afghanistan, removing troops and CIA operatives searching for Osama bin Laden. Three years later, bin Laden is still at large and still a threat to the United States.
As grave as that mistake is, an even bigger reason why the war in Iraq has made the world more dangerous for Americans is that the war has infuriated much of the Muslim world and has been a priceless recruiting tool for al-Qaida.
For many Muslims, their religion is a core aspect of their identity - even more important than nationality. An attack on Muslims anywhere affects Muslims everywhere.
There are about 1 billion Muslims in the world. For the sake of argument, suppose one-tenth of 1 percent of Muslims are so enraged over the war that they are willing to join al-Qaida's military force. That would be 1 million new soldiers for Osama bin Laden.
For the sake of argument, suppose two-tenths of 1 percent of Muslims are so enraged over the war that they are willing to contribute financially to al-Qaida. That would be 2 million new contributors to al-Qaida.
Muslims are angry at the United States? The question is how many and how angry.
Zogby International conducted a poll of public opinion in several Arab countries in 2002 and again in 2004. People were asked whether they have a favorable or unfavorable view of the United States.
In 2002, we were already very unpopular in most, if not all, Arab nations. By 2004, the unfavorable ratings increased in most of these countries. In Jordan, they increased to 78 percent in 2004 from 61 percent in 2002; in Morocco, to 88 percent from 61 percent; in Saudi Arabia, to 94 percent from 87 percent; and in Egypt, to 98 percent from 76 percent.
Not all Muslims live in the Middle East. In fact, Indonesia has the largest number of Muslims. A different survey reported that the number of people in Indonesia viewing the United States favorably plummeted from 61 percent in 2002 to 15 percent in 2004.
When large numbers of people are so angry with us that they are eager to kill us and willing to become suicide bombers in order to do it, then we have to be concerned about what others think of us. In the last two years, we have angered millions of Muslims.
Several recent books have been extremely critical of the decision to go to war with Iraq.
One is "Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror," by Richard Clarke. Clarke was a counterterrorism expert in the first Bush White House, during both of Clinton's terms and in the second Bush White House. Another is "Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror," published anonymously by a current counterÂterrorism analyst in the CIA, where he has worked for 22 years. A third is "Where the Right Went Wrong: How Neo-conservatives Subverted the Reagan Revolution and Hijacked the Bush Presidency," by Patrick Buchanan, a well-known Republican.
"Many thought that the Bush administration was doing a good job of fighting terrorism," Clarke wrote, "when, actually, the administration had squandered the opportunity to eliminate al-Qaida and instead strengthened our enemies by going off on a completely unnecessary tangent, the invasion of Iraq."
Clarke wrote, "Rather than seeking to work with the majority in the Islamic world to mold Muslim opinion against the radicals' values, we did exactly what al-Qaida said we would do. We invaded and occupied an oil-rich Arab country that posed no threat to us, while paying scant time and attention to the Israeli-Palestinian problem. We delivered to al-Qaida the greatest recruitment propaganda imaginable and made it difficult for friendly Islamic governments to be seen working closely with us."
President Bush claims that the war in Iraq is part of the war on terrorism. But he fails to understand the cultural reasons why so many Muslims oppose the United States and why so many Muslims support al-Qaida.
Failing to understand the beliefs that provide the foundation for radical Muslims, Bush has taken America in the wrong direction, which has made the world more, not less, dangerous for Americans.