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Bush's Permanent War

by David Corn

What does Bush do for an encore?
That wasn't so hard. The Taliban appears routed. And, as I write, experts are declaring Osama bin Laden will be located -- and, as seems to be the reasonable preference of the Bush Administration, killed rather than apprehended -- within days, if not hours.

His number two has already been dispatched to Allah's kingdom. High-tech, precision bombing, it turns out, can be quite effective when the target is a small army of fascistic extremists who enjoy little support among the populace. (The Taliban is/was not the Viet Cong.) Fortunately for George W. Bush, the Taliban collapsed before civilian casualties led to any serious political pressure overseas against the bombardment of Afghanistan.

With many Afghans celebrating the demise of the Taliban -- let's not spoil the moment by raising the human rights and corruption record of portions of the Northern Alliance -- the war doesn't look too bad at the moment (as long as you were not a civilian killed by an errant missile or forced to flee as a refugee). If bin Laden is soon neutralized, in the parlance of the military experts, and his al Qaeda network severely disrupted, President Bush would be in a position to claim victory.

That is, if he had not responded to September 11 by declaring a war on terrorism around the world.

Yet Bush did proclaim that the enemy stretches beyond the violent cult of bin Laden. Because he announcd a war of global proportions and said it was a conflict that would last for years, Bush is obligated to keep the fight going -- even if he succeeds in defeating the "evildoers" directly responsible for 9/11. Might he now be saying to himself: "What was I thinking? Wouldn't it be better if, after defeating the Taliban and smashing a good piece of al Qaeda, I claim an outright win and then get back to pushing my faith-based initiatives and promoting small-government projects, like encouraging email between grandparents and grandchildren?"

That doesn't seem to be case. The day before Thanksgiving, Bush spoke to thousands of members of the 101st Airborne Division in Fort Campbell, Kentucky -- not a tough audience -- and said, "Afghanistan is just the beginning on the war against terrorism." He reiterated his global designs: "Across the world, and across the years, we will fight these evil ones." He again rattled his saber against nations that harbor terrorists, in essence saying, you may be next.

So if bin Laden and the Taliban have indeed been decimated, what does Bush do for an encore? He has committed himself to waging war beyond Afghanistan. When will he let the citizens of this republic know what he has in mind? Or inform Congress? It is true Congress supplied him a veritable blank check in the war resolution it passed after September 11, permitting Bush to fire away at any state or party he deems to have been involved in the attacks. Nevertheless, it would be good manners for the President to clue in the people's representatives as to where the war is heading next.

Bush suddenly becomes a nation builder
Military experts tend to doubt the Bush Adminstration will soon unleash extensive military action in another country, despite Bush's rhetoric. But hawkish conservatives, in and out of the government, have a plan. Onward to Baghdad, they cry. Since September 11, they have urged quickly taking the war to Saddam Hussein. Damn the coalition, and all that. After an initial flirtation with this approach, the Bush Administration drew back from targeting Iraq.

But militarism, like nature, abhors a vacuum. And with enemy targets diminishing in Afghanistan, the Back To Desert Storm Gang is pushing Bush to turn his Big Mo against Hussein. As the Taliban began to crumble, rightwing commentator William Kristol, who a week earlier had pronounced the war a failure, was griping that Bush had not discussed a strike against Iraq with Russian President Vladimir Putin during their summit.

Be prepared for an intensified conservative crush on Bush. The more-war crowd will argue that if Bush is serious about his campaign against global terrorism, he has no choice but to blast Iraq. There's plenty of baggage in this imbroglio. Bush's old man was lambasted for not finishing off "Sad-um." Bush the Younger -- surrounded by alumni of the 1991 war against Iraq -- may be particularly sensitive to the charge he is soft on Hussein.

For the moment, Bush is talking tough about the next phase and reserving the power to decide on his own what happens in phase two. As Cato Institute's Tim Lynch complained, "The power President Bush is wielding today is truly breathtaking. A single individual is going to decide whether the war is expanded to Iraq. A single individual is going to decide how much privacy American citizens are going to retain."

It is no secret a United States move against Iraq would piss off many European allies and most of the anti-terrorism coalition Secretary of State Colin Powell pulled together. Without evidence that Iraq was involved in the September 11 attacks, the action could look like crass exploitation of the assaults in New York and Washington. The only evidence cited by the get-Hussein set is a supposed meeting between Mohammed Atta, the presumed gang leader of the 9/11 terrorists, and an Iraqi intelligence office. But there is no transcript of the session -- at least, none publicly available. Possibly, Iraq was providing assistance to Atta. But it also is conceivable this intelligence officer was operating on his own or merely trying to find out what bin Laden was up to. If a country can be bombed and invaded because one of its intelligence officials met a terrorist miscreant, then the United States many times in the past decades would have been be open to justifiable attack from nations throughout the world.

Moreover, what would be the mission objective of a strike against Iraq? The obvious answer is, to give Hussein the boot. But think beyond that. Washington cannot assume a non-threatening democracy would blossom in the manure left behind. Would the United States then be responsible for rebuilding Iraq and its political system? How many nation-building tasks does the Bush Administration -- which once scoffed at the notion of nation-building -- wish to embrace?

Bush has already promised to assist Afghanistan -- a mighty challenge that will cost tens of billions of dollars. In a recent speech, Powell noted, "The vast majority of the Afghan people awaken hungry, cold and sick every morning. All of us know that the international community must be prepared to sustain a reconstruction program that will take many, many years." And Bush said his aim is to help establish a government in Afghanistan "that is broadly based, multiethnic and protects the rights and dignity of all Afghan citizens, including women."

It is wonderful the Bush Administration is dedicating itself to social justice and democracy in Afghanistan. At least in sentiment, for the food drops so far have been ineffective, and the chances for a true democracy in A fghanistan are slim. Still, Bush and Powell have established high standards. There are many nations where people greet each day ill and malnourished, where they have no political rights. Do these people now have a friend in the Bush Administration?

And there seems to have been a change in the Powell Doctrine. When Powell was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he maintained the United States should not embark on a war unless the American citizenry was fully behind the endeavor, the military was free to deploy overwhelming force, and a clear goal and exit strategy were defined at the start. The latter two legs of this triad were disregarded in the case of Afghanistan. And Powell is pitching a new doctrine: bomb away and then spend billions to clean up the mess. That is something of a progressive notion: if the United States bombs, it must rebuild.

So how can the United States not offer the same deal if -- or when -- it whacks Iraq? With Washington accepting partial responsibility for reconstituting Afghanistan (since its beef is with the Taliban, not the people), then it can be expected to do the same in Iraq. As well as in Somalia, Sudan, and Syria -- other countries named by the hawks as potential recipients of U.S. bombs. An extended war on terrorism could lead to massive reconstruction obligations for the United States.

Which maybe isn't so awful. The Bush Administration entered office with no visible plans to rethink the country's lackadaisical commitment to the poorer nations of the world. And an improved relationship with developing countries could aid long-term counterterrorism efforts by possibly diminishing worldwide resentment toward the United States. Now these guys and gals are talking like globalist social workers, even going on and on about the lack of women rights in Afghanistan, as if they were the ones to discover this shocking mistreatment of women. (It must merely be an oversight that they do not speak of the repression of women elsewhere, such as in in Kuwait, where women cannot vote, or in Saudi Arabia, where women cannot drive or travel alone.)

Is it possible that a years-long war on terrorism could force the United States to use its wealth to assist people overseas who live in poverty and political disenfranchisement, to address the plight of the impoverished and repressed in lands other than Afghanistan? Too bad we will have to bomb them first.

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Albion Monitor December 2, 2001 (

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