September 11, 2005
Troubled thoughts on a troubling warBy Steven M. Warshawsky
The War on Terror is over. What started as a bold campaign to 'bring justice to our enemies' across the globe has been redefined as, essentially, a counter—insurgency action in Iraq, the express goal of which is to prepare the new Iraqi government to defend itself, 'and then our troops will come home with the honor they have earned.' As President Bush himself stated during his June 2005 speech at Fort Bragg:
'Stand down.' In military parlance, this means to stop fighting. But while we have made significant progress in disrupting and eliminating terrorist cells worldwide, and the Taliban and Saddam have been deposed, our enemies have not yet been defeated, and they continue to plot our death and destruction. Nevertheless, pressured by domestic opposition and an undersized military, Bush clearly has retreated from the promise he made to the country on September 20, 2001, the night he declared the War on Terror:
Remember the Bush Doctrine?
In a series of speeches following 9/11, the President articulated what became known as the Bush Doctrine. The Bush Doctrine was considered, by supporters and opponents alike, as a 'startling' and 'radical' new approach to combating the threat of international terrorism. The Bush Doctrine consists of four fundamental principles. The first is that the war on terror 'begins with Al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.' (Address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People 9/20/01.) In other words, the war on terror would not be a limited engagement, aimed solely at punishing the terrorists responsible for 9/11. Bush rightly recognized that Al Qaeda was just one among many groups of Islamic extremists operating worldwide whose 'directive commands them to kill Christians and Jews, to kill all Americans, and make no distinction among military and civilians, including women and children.' American security, and world peace, therefore depends on rooting out and destroying every one of these groups.
The second principle underlying the Bush Doctrine is that our enemy in this war is not just the 'radical network of terrorists,' but 'every government that supports them.' As Bush put it in his statement to the nation on 9/11:
The Bush Doctrine thus promised to end this nation's decades—long practice of turning a blind eye to the regimes that aided and abetted terrorism. Henceforth, Bush declared, 'we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism.' In addition to Afghanistan, where Al Qaeda was based, these nations (according to the State Department ) included Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Cuba, and North Korea. Further, every nation now had a 'choice to make': 'Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.' As Bush bluntly warned in October 2001 when announcing that military operations had begun in Afghanistan, countries that make the wrong choice 'will take that lonely path at their own peril.'
The President elaborated on the vital importance of this element of his anti—terror strategy in his State of the Union address in January 2002:
Although President Bush singled out Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, neither his analysis nor his prescriptions were limited to these three 'rogue' states. As he explained in his graduation speech at West Point in June 2002, the real danger 'lies in the perilous crossroads of radicalism and technology,' specifically, 'chemical and biological and nuclear weapons.' With such weapons, 'even weak states and small groups could attain a catastrophic power to strike great nations.' At bottom, then, it was the risk posed by the spread of weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups and regimes that provided the impetus behind the Bush Doctrine. President Bush pledged to oppose these nations and groups 'with all our power.'
The third principle of the Bush Doctrine is the concept of preemption. Put simply, in fighting the war on terror, America will take military action — unilaterally if necessary — to deter and prevent attacks before they occur, instead of merely responding after the fact (as happened after 9/11). This principle flows inexorably from the recognition that terrorists and their state sponsors are trying to obtain WMDs and will not hesitate to use them against America and her allies. Thus, in his 2002 State of the Union speech, Bush declared:
If there was any doubt about President Bush's meaning, in his West Point speech he made clear that traditional notions of deterrence, containment, and negotiation did not apply to 'tyrants' who could not — and would not — be trusted. Instead, '[w]e must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans, and confront the worst threats before they emerge.' As we saw in Afghanistan and Iraq, the ultimate expression of this policy would be armed conquest and regime change.
The fourth principle of the Bush Doctrine is not really a principle, but a vision. A moral vision. President Bush is the first president to denounce the Islamic terrorists for what they truly are: evil. As he told the graduating cadets at West Point: 'We are in a conflict between good and evil, and America will call evil by its name.' Rejecting decades of 'multicultural' pieties, President Bush was not merely saying that the terrorists use evil methods; he was saying that they have an evil way of life, as represented by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Furthermore, he made clear that the terrorists' way of life was in fundamental conflict with our own:
Although President Bush disclaimed any 'intention of imposing our culture,' he in fact unabashedly picked up the gauntlet on behalf of our way of life:
The President's full—throated endorsement of this historically western understanding of liberty and justice as 'right and true and unchanging for all people everywhere' was, perhaps, the boldest and most inspiring aspect of his strategy for defeating international Islamic terrorism.
In sum, what President Bush promised the country after 9/11 was a global military campaign against Islamic terrorists and the nations that harbored and supported them. It was well—understood that the nations at the top of the hit list, besides Afghanistan, were Iraq, Iran, and Syria. Although President Bush cautioned the country that '[t]his war will not be like the war against Iraq a decade ago, with a decisive liberation of territory and a swift conclusion,' and that diplomacy, intelligence, law enforcement, and covert operations would play an important role, there was no question in anyone's mind that 'American military power is the most important part.' Those words came from Senator John McCain, who seconded the President's call to arms in a fire—breathing Wall Street Journal editorial in October 2001. Senator McCain understood the goal that President Bush had enunciated: 'the complete destruction of international terrorism and the regimes that sponsor it.' Eschewing all diplomatic niceties, Senator McCain urged the nation to
The public was as solidly behind the war as Senator McCain. Flags were flying across the nation. There was an increase in volunteerism and blood donation. Practically all of the major polls showed President Bush's approval ratings to be in the 80% range for a full six months after 9/11; they remained in the 60—70% range until the end of 2002; then, after dipping early in 2003, they shot up again after the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Even in the face of war (and an expanding economy), the military met its recruiting and re—enlistment goals for 2002, 2003, and 2004. As Norman Podhoretz described the scene in his famous essay 'World War IV,' following 9/11 there was 'an outpouring of rage and an upsurge of patriotic sentiment.' Despite the predictable opposition of the anti—American Left, the country was ready to strike back at our enemies with overwhelming military might.
A Missed Opportunity to Mobilize for War
And yet, after inspiring the country with robust rhetoric about destroying our enemies wherever they are found — and self—consciously linking the war on terror to the great struggles in the past against fascism, nazism, and communism — President Bush incongruously urged the American people 'to live your lives, and hug your children,' and expressed the hope that 'in the months and years ahead, life will return almost to normal.' (Address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People 9/20/01.) Return to normal? In months? This should have been a clue — a flashing neon sign could not have been more obvious — that President Bush in fact was not prepared to fight the war he promised America, and warned the world, he was going to fight. Thus, instead of encouraging young people to enlist in the military, police, and homeland security forces, President Bush cautioned Americans about 'unfair treatment or unkind words' towards people of Middle Eastern heritage. Instead of asking all Americans to donate some of their time, money, and energy on behalf of the war effort, he merely asked for 'patience' with the delays and inconveniences caused by tighter security, as well as for the 'long struggle' ahead. Even his proposal for a 'USA Freedom Corps,' which President Bush revealed in his 2002 State of the Union address, was more reminiscent of Bill Clinton than FDR.
While President Bush talked of 'war,' he did not mobilize the country behind a real war effort. I will leave it to other commentators more knowledgeable than I to analyze the personal, political, and economic reasons why this happened. Whatever the reason, the result is that the United States now lacks the military resources, and homefront commitment, to fight the war Bush originally envisioned. Our military today is one—third smaller than it was during the First Gulf War, and only 40% what it was during the Vietnam War. For a nation of nearly 300 million people, with a gross domestic product of $12 trillion (more than Japan, Germany, Britain, and France combined), the truth of the matter is that our current defense budget ($400 billion or 3.3% of GDP) and troop levels (1.4 million active duty) represent a meager commitment of the nation's wealth and manpower to fighting international Islamic terrorism, let alone meeting our other military needs. Given the enormous stakes involved in this struggle, President Bush's failure after 9/11 to mobilize the country for an all—out war against the 'radical network of terrorists and every government that supports them' was inexcusable, and undermined the Bush Doctrine from the start.
What About Iran and Syria?
Because of our limited conventional military capabilities, what began as a 'war on terror' quickly devolved, after a swift Afghanistan campaign, into a war to liberate Iraq. For the past three years, the focus of the war has been almost exclusively on Iraq, and it appears that dealing with Iraq will occupy the remainder of the Bush presidency. I supported, and continue to support, our efforts to topple Saddam and establish a free, democratic society in Iraq. But the war on terror was supposed to be about much more than simply eliminating Saddam Hussein. It was supposed to be about defeating the 'global terror network.' Most urgently, this requires regime change in Iran and Syria.
Iran is the world's foremost sponsor of international Islamic terrorism, and is rapidly developing nuclear weapons of its own. No serious observer doubts that there is a significant risk that Iran will give nuclear weapons to terrorists, or threaten to use them against American interests in retaliation for our anti—terror efforts. As for Syria, that country harbors numerous terrorist organizations, has a stockpile of chemical weapons and is pursuing nuclear and biological WMDs, and is working closely with Iran to oppose American efforts to stop terrorism and spread democracy in the Middle East. Indeed, the evidence is undeniable that Iran and Syria are funneling jihadists and weapons into Iraq to be used against American and allied forces there.
Under the Bush Doctrine, the above facts should lead to one conclusion: Assad and the mullahs must go. Instead, the Bush Administration merely issues harmless warnings to Syria, and imposed limited economic sanctions on that country. More troublingly, President Bush has acquiesced in the Europeans' feckless efforts to deter Iran's nuclear ambitions through diplomacy. Recall how spectacularly unsuccessful similar efforts were with North Korea. Incredibly, in interviews with European media earlier this year, President Bush expressly denied having plans to take military action against Iran: 'I hear all these rumors about military attacks, and it's just not the truth.' He even refused to say, in response to a direct question, that he did not trust the Iranian government, but only replied: 'Well, it's hard to trust a regime that doesn't trust their own people.' Whatever this was supposed to mean, it was a far cry from the President's unequivocal declaration to the cadets at West Point in June 2002 that '[w]e cannot put our faith in the word of tyrants, who solemnly sign non—proliferation treaties, and then systematically break them.'
As one commentator aptly noted, the Bush Doctrine will 'look hollow' if Iran succeeds in acquiring nuclear weapons. Preventing such an eventuality was one of the express goals of the Bush Doctrine, and is absolutely critical to maintaining American security at home and the safety of our troops abroad. Nevertheless, it now appears that President Bush is willing to let the 'diplomatic process' go on until Iran's atomic bomb, like North Korea's, is a fait accompli. Why would the President allow this to happen?
I have little doubt that Bush 'the cowboy' would prefer to take military action against Iran and Syria, but he is hamstrung by an undersized military that lacks the additional resources needed for a successful attack on these two countries. Unfortunately, the time to mobilize the American people for war has long passed. Any proposals to significantly expand the size of the military, whether through a draft or sharply increased recruitment efforts, would be met with fierce political opposition. Sadly, I think it will take another major terrorist attack on American soil before the American people are prepared once again to rally to the defense of their country, as they were ready to do after 9/11. I hope the next president does not let that opportunity slip away as President Bush did.
Towards the 'Vietnamization' of the War
In his recent speeches about the war on terror, President Bush has unmistakably backed away from the aggressively martial rhetoric he used after 9/11. He no longer speaks in terms of destroying 'every terrorist group of global reach.' Or 'pursuing nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism.' Or 'confronting the worst threats before they emerge.' The Bush Doctrine, as originally understood, is a dead letter. All the talk now is about Iraq, and why we should remain in Iraq despite a rising death toll that has eroded public support for the war. Indeed, Bush's last four major statements on the war — his 2005 State of the Union address, his speech to the troops at Fort Hood in April 2005, his graduation speech at the Naval Academy in May 2005, and his national address from Fort Bragg in June 2005 — were devoted almost exclusively to making the case for remaining in Iraq. While I agree with the President on this issue, the fact remains that this is not the 'war on terror' he spoke about after 9/11.
A close reading of the President's recent speeches reveals that his wartime policy now revolves around three very different ideas. First and foremost is the President's endorsement of Natan Sharansky's argument that the only viable long—term solution to Islamic terrorism is to promote the spread of freedom and democracy in the Middle East. This idea was the centerpiece of President Bush's 2005 State of the Union address:
Similarly, in his 2005 Naval Academy speech, President Bush declared:
In other words, President Bush has adopted a variant of the 'root causes' theory of terrorism — only in place of the Left's emphasis on American 'imperialism' and Israeli 'aggression,' Bush has substituted 'tyranny' and 'despair.'
I agree there is something compelling about the Bush—Sharansky view, but I am not persuaded it is grounded in anything more than wishful thinking. After all, the most tyrannical regimes of the last sixty years — the Soviet Union, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, and North Korea — did not spawn international terrorist organizations on par with al Qaeda, the PLO, Hamas, Hezbollah, et al. Another problem with the 'root causes' theory is that many terrorists come from privileged, prosperous backgrounds, often living in the west and enjoying the exact same freedoms the rest of us enjoy. Yet that did not stop the 9/11 hijackers or the London bombers from doing their evil deeds. As President Bush himself points out, the terrorists and the regimes that support them are opposed to America's pro—democracy agenda and hate the very freedoms we hold dear. (See Iranian President Ahmadinejad's recent pronouncement.) Thus, even assuming that President Bush is right about the long—run, in the short—run we still have to (in Senator McCain's words) 'get on with the business of killing our enemies as quickly as we can, and as ruthlessly as we must.'
However, this is no longer the message that President Bush is sending. Instead of vowing to 'take the battle to the enemy,' he now speaks in terms of 'supporting democratic movements' and 'standing with democratic reformers.' The quiet anger, the steely resolve, the trembling emotion — even the 'braggadocio' — are gone. In his 2005 State of the Union speech, President Bush spoke tepidly about 'confronting' — not 'pursuing' or 'destroying' — regimes that continue to harbor terrorists and develop WMDs, which he correctly described as 'weapons of mass murder.'
And how will we 'confront' these regimes that seek to commit mass murder? Through economic sanctions (Syria) and diplomacy (Iran). Further demonstrating the President's wholesale retreat from the Bush Doctrine was his remark 'to the Iranian people' — who yearn to be free of their harshly repressive rulers — that '[a]s you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you.' Whatever this was supposed to mean, no one believes anymore that it involves the 82nd Airborne or the United States Marines. I do not think it is a coincidence that as the Bush Doctrine has withered, the flowering of democratic movements throughout the Middle East has slowed. As Victor Davis Hanson wisely notes, diplomatic solutions follow, not precede, military reality.
The second major idea behind the President's new approach to combating terrorism is his vision that a newly democratic Iraq will 'set an example for people across the Middle East' of self—government, the rule of law, and political and economic freedom. (Fort Hood speech 4/12/05.) Accordingly, the President's principal war aim is now 'to help the Iraqis succeed.' As President Bush explained in his speech from Fort Bragg in June:
In that same speech, President Bush explained the logic of his vision:
The President's focus on ensuring the success of democracy in Iraq is thus the practical application of his newfound 'root causes' theory of terrorism, just as the military conquests of the Taliban and Saddam were the practical application of the original Bush Doctrine.
No one should be misled, however, by the President's continued use of Bush Doctrine—sounding language. For example, in his Fort Bragg speech, President Bush declared:
As I demonstrated earlier, President Bush no longer backs up his words with action. Otherwise, Iran and Syria would have been overthrown already. In practice, the Bush Doctrine has been dashed on the shoals of insufficient military resources. In its place, he now offers the country a strategy for fighting terrorism that links American security to the prospect — a highly dubious one, in my opinion — that events in Iraq will inspire 'millions' of Iranians, Syrians, and other oppressed peoples of terror—loving nations to overthrow their governments and expel the terrorists in their midst — all before Iran acquires nuclear weapons and the terrorists carry out additional catastrophic attacks on the United States and its allies.
It is difficult to see how the revolutions President Bush hopes for will occur without significant American military intervention and support, which neither President Bush nor the next president (Republican or Democrat) is likely to give. Moreover, as a practical matter, it is difficult to see how the new Iraqi government will ever be stable, let alone serve as a 'beacon' of democracy in the Middle East, so long as it is bordered by pro—terrorist regimes in Iran and Syria bent on its destruction. Yet the President has made clear that the United States will not take military action against these two countries — even to ensure the success of Iraq. President Bush's failure to gird the country for war in the aftermath of 9/11 thus may doom not only the Bush Doctrine, but the President's new, more limited war aim of establishing a 'free society' in Iraq.
The third major idea behind the President's new wartime policy is his express commitment to ending the fighting and bringing our troops home. The notion of a 'long struggle' against the 'radical network of terrorists and every government that supports them' has been replaced with his pledge, repeated in every speech, that '[w]e will stay in Iraq as long as we are needed, and not a day longer.' (Fort Bragg speech 6/28/05.) Hence, as soon as President Bush (or more likely the next president) decides that the new Iraqi government is capable of defending itself — or the political cost of our remaining in Iraq is too great — American troops will leave.
The parallels to Nixon's 'Vietnamization' strategy are strikingly obvious. President Nixon's goal during the Vietnam War was to build up the South Vietnamese Army, so that it could fight the war against the communists on its own. Then the United States could have 'peace with honor.' Similarly, President Bush's goal is 'to train the Iraqi security forces so that they can defend their people and fight the enemy on their own.' (Fort Bragg speech 6/28/05.) Then American troops 'will return home with the honor they have earned.' (SOTU address 2/2/05; Fort Hood speech 4/12/05; Naval Academy speech 5/27/05.) For tactical and propaganda reasons, President Bush has avoided setting a timetable for our withdrawal from Iraq. But the day that the last American chopper will be lifting off from Baghdad International Airport is coming. President Bush sees it, the American Left sees it, and so do the terrorists.
In both word and deed, therefore, the President has transformed the 'war on terror,' pitting the United States and its allies against the forces of international Islamic terrorism, into a counter—insurgency action in Iraq, pitting the new Iraqi government against the Baathist—Islamist coalition that wants to destroy it. The entire conceptual framework underlying the Bush Doctrine has been replaced, in just a few short years, with a Vietnam—era retread. Although President Bush tries to mask this strategic retreat with tough—sounding words about 'fighting terrorists in Iraq, so we do not have to face them here at home,' there is something hollow, even a bit craven, about this new slogan. It also is demonstrably untrue, as proved by the Madrid and London bombings. And by President Bush's repeated promises to bring American troops home just as soon as the Iraqis are capable of fighting the insurgents themselves, not after the insurgents are defeated.
The awful truth is that President Bush has reverted to pre—9/11 thinking about how we should be dealing with the terrorist threat. Simply compare his 2002 and 2005 State of the Union addresses. In 2002, President Bush spoke about how
In 2005, he spoke about how
All worthy efforts, certainly. But not the bold, preemptive military strategy that Bush articulated in the aftermath of the worst terrorist attack in American history. The Bush Doctrine, R.I.P.
Steven M. Warshawsky frequently comments on politics and current affairs from a conservative perspective. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.