An excellent analysis from the Legal Fiction blog of just how (and how badly) the Bush administration has bungled the “War on Terror.” Truly sensible reasoning, pointing out the exact flaws in the strategy. They’re fatal flaws (I hope not literally fatal), and they’re flaws to which the administration is one hundred per cent wedded. They’re repeating them to this very day.
the fundamental error was the belief that nation-states are the most relevant actors in the war on terror. In reality, modern terrorism is “transnational,” meaning that it is funded and supported by networks of individuals who are actually hostile to most of the governments in the Middle East. The 9/11 Commission notes this over and over and over – and “transnational” was the word it used. It’s very similar to organized crime. And what I learned is that the Clinton administration realized the dimensions of the new terrorism too, well before the Bush administration took office.
But the Bush administration did not adapt to this new world. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz wanted to invade Iraq rather than Afghanistan. These men are not dumb. In fact, they’re brilliant. And their theory wasn’t crazy – it just had outdated assumptions. They were working from the premise that terrorism cannot exist without state support. It was a lesson they learned from their Cold War training, and the exchanges with Libya in 1986 and Iraq in 1993 (Bush’s assassination attempt). The lesson was that if you strike the root (the nation-state sponsor), the terrorism will wither on the vine. That explains perfectly the rationale for invading Iraq (to the extent it was related to terrorism) – it was to scare nation-states in the hopes they would stop supporting terrorism.
That also explains why they pushed so hard for missile defense prior to 9/11. They saw the most urgent threats as coming from rogue nation-states, rather than transnational terrorists. The fact that they continue to propose spending loads of money on missile defense makes me question whether they’ve learned anything from the past four years.
But however brilliant Bush’s advisors may be, they were wrong. Terrorism evolved, and they failed to realize that it had. What’s so especially tragic is that their misconceptions led to them to adopt a strategy (i.e., invading Iraq) that was actually counterproductive to battling the new terrorism. Again, you must remember always that we’re in a battle for the soul of the Middle East – we are not fighting a finite group of existential enemies that can be eliminated through force. The more the Arab world hates us, the stronger the fundamentalists will become, and vice-versa. When the anger rises, so does the level of financial support, volunteering, and public sympathy.
That’s why things like Abu Ghraib, General Boykin, and the fighting in Najaf’s holy cemetery are so absolutely devastating to our effort – more so than perhaps our national press realizes. It’s not just that they inflame public opinion, it’s that these actions fulfill the stereotype of the West as imperial Arab-oppressors and Islam-haters. And this of course meshes perfectly with bin Laden’s propaganda, and it makes it more palatable to young, angry, alienated Arabs. If you sat down and tried to think of the worst possible ways to combat Islamic terror (and political Islam more generally), invading Iraq would be near the very top of the list. It’s strange that men as brilliant as Wolfowitz, Perle, and Feith could be so colossally wrong about Iraq (assuming they’re being sincere as to the motives for invading). But they were. And our troops (and their families) are paying the price. (emphasis in the original)