We did not expect Mr. Bush would apologize for the misinformation that helped lead us into this war, or for the catastrophic mistakes his team made in running the military operation. But we had hoped he would resist the temptation to raise the bloody flag of 9/11 over and over again to justify a war in a country that had nothing whatsoever to do with the terrorist attacks. We had hoped that he would seize the moment to tell the nation how he will define victory, and to give Americans a specific sense of how he intends to reach that goal - beyond repeating the same wishful scenario that he has been describing since the invasion.
-- Excerpt, New York Times
, Lead Editorial, todayThe troops here and across the world are fighting a global war on terror. The war reached our shores on September 11, 2001. The terrorists who attacked us and the terrorists we face murder in the name of a totalitarian ideology that hates freedom, rejects tolerance and despises all dissent.
Their aim is to remake the Middle East in their own grim image of tyranny and oppression by toppling governments, by driving us out of the region and by exporting terror. To achieve these aims, they have continued to kill: in Madrid, Istanbul, Jakarta, Casablanca, Riyadh, Bali and elsewhere.
The terrorists believe that free societies are essentially corrupt and decadent and, with a few hard blows, they can force us to retreat. They are mistaken.
After September the 11th, I made a commitment to the American people: This nation will not wait to be attacked again. We will defend our freedom. We will take the fight to the enemy.
Iraq is the latest battlefield in this war.
Many terrorists who kill innocent men, women and children on the streets of Baghdad are followers of the same murderous ideology that took the lives of our citizens in New York and Washington and Pennsylvania.
There is only one course of action against them: to defeat them abroad before they attack us at home.
-- Excerpt, Speech on Iraq by President Bush, last nightLiberals, as the whole world knows, are masters of nuance and of complex thinking.
It is Conservatives who deal in simplistic ideals, painting a complex world of ever-changing shades of gray a stark black and white and responding to detailed challenges by issuing jingoistic clichés. Bush the Buffoon is a standard, re-occuring character in our culture, one who refuses to recognize that things are complicated. As such, he is roundly ridiculed in the MSM and the Leftish corners of the Internet for his lack of nuance, his lack of comprehension, not to mention his chimpish smile.
So why is it that liberals persist in claiming to not understand the President’s central argument regarding the War on Terror, the Iraq War’s place in that larger conflict and the role of 9.11 in shaping his strategic worldview that made Iraq a necessary battlefield? Surely it’s not lack of nuance or understanding. Yet the fact that the President’s argument cannot be captured in a bumper sticker slogan seems to confound and anger the Left.
The President’s argument is easy to grasp, has been consistently articulated and argued and has been widely publicized. In its essentials, it goes as follows:
The attacks of 9.11 were not simply terrorist attacks—as the attacks on our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania as well as the U.S.S Cole were perceived and treated—but a declaration of war. This declaration of war was readily identifiable as such by the vast majority of the American people, yet carried with it a new and perplexing wrinkle. The enemy was not a nation-state or even the agents of a nation-state, but, instead, the vanguard of a wide-spread ideological movement that goes variably by the name of Wahhabism, Salifism, Islamism, Bin Ladenism or, our preferred moniker, Islamic Fascism. This new enemy shares a common cause not bounded by nationality or a specific grievance, but by an essentially fascist view that only the true people (i.e. Muslims, and, more specifically, only those Muslims who agree with the Fascists) are truly human, that the Fascists have a holy duty to decide who lives and who dies, that only the beliefs of the Fascists are acceptable, and that the unbelievers must be converted by force or be killed so that a return to some romanticized volkish past, the long-dreamed of restoration of the Caliphate in all of Islam’s historical homelands (this includes you, Spain), can be achieved.
Thus, after 9.11 the nation found itself at war with an organized ideological enemy. While most of this enemy were non-state actors, some received sanctuary and support from some states, notably the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan and the Islamic Republic of Iran. They also stood to benefit from other non-Islamic rogue states, such as North Korea, willing to sell instruments of death—as well as forged travel documents, sanctuary and counterfeit money—to any anti-American force.
However, at its core, the enemy was not a state or even a collection of states, but an ideology. To attack the enemy at its roots, nations did not have to be destroyed; an ideology had to be discredited. The central lesson of 9.11 taken away by the President was that if these (to borrow a classic liberal phrase) “root causes” of terror were not addressed in a vigorous and effective manner, it would be only a matter of time before the United States was attacked again. And the next attack may well be many times worse, given the state of modern weapons technology and our free and open society.
Here the President made a judgment as the chief exective, commander-in-chief and the man actually responsible not only for our safety but the safety of future Americans as well. In his judgment, the ideology of Islamic Fascism rose to prominence among a good proportion of the world’s Muslims for the same reason the same affliction rose among a good proportion of the world’s Germans a half-century ago: a sick and afflicted political culture has nurtured a violent popular ideology of grievance-fixation, anti-Semitism and murder. Nothing short of breaking the back of the conditions that gave rise to the ideology of fascism would deprive it of strength and recruits, thereby preventing future attacks on the U.S. from a foe that is neither deterrable nor destructible in the classic sense.
That being the case, once the immediate and relatively easy to identify goal of removing an obvious state sponsor of Islamic Fascism was accomplished in Afghanistan, the President needed to put his strategic vision into action. A number of reasons made dysfunctional Baathist Iraq the obvious choice: it was a once-prosperous, multi-ethnic community in the heart of the Islamic world that had been brutalized by an insanely aggressive regime that not only had invaded neighboring countries twice but had used long-banned chemical weapons in doing so. It also had an on-going program to further develop WMD for its use. It had used WMD against its own population to strengthen its rule by fear. It was still technically at war with the United States, violating a cease-fire almost daily by firing upon American pilots. It had attempted to assassinate an ex-President of the United States. It was supporting suicide bombing in Israel by providing financial benefit to such fanatic’s families. It had given refuge to terrorist groups and terrorist leaders. In short, Iraq was the poster child for the type of dysfunctional political culture that had given rise to the grievance-based ideology of Islamic Fascism.
Thus, Iraq presented the President with a convergence of strategic sense and tactical opportunity. Strategic, in that a conversion of Iraq to a more democratic and prosperous country would provide a counter-model to that proposed by the Islamic Republic and Bin Ladenism in the heart of the Islamic world; tactical in that its WMD program, aggressive behavior and some links to terrorist groups represented a threat to the United States.
In sum, the short-term problem of active Al-Qaeda support was solved (to some extent) by the change of regime in Afghanistan while the long-term problem of Islamic Fascism would be countered by the democratic rise of a new Iraq, leading to the spread of the ideals of democracy and liberty in the greater Middle East. Together, both prongs, along with the aggressive use of law enforcement domestically and abroad, diplomacy, and special operations in remote theatres, make up the wider War on Terror. Both were prompted by the adoption of war goals by the President, whose judgment was largely colored by what he felt were the central lessons of 9.11.
There are a number of obvious objections to this argument. One could argue that it is not at all clear that Muslims share our love for our concept of democracy and liberty and thus the project in Iraq is doomed to failure. One can argue that Saudi Arabia, as the font and treasurer of Islamist Wahhabism, presents a greater threat than the largely secular, if fascist, state of Saddam’s Iraq. One could argue that exemplary measures, while admirable, are unlikely to dissuade the hard-core and what is needed is a military defeat on the scale suffered by the Japanese or the Germans before the Muslims shake it off. One could wish the Administration had adopted a hands-off punitive approach, destroying enemy groups and states without worrying about the aftermath. And so on.
But one thing one absolutely cannot do is deny the President the right to make his argument with reference to 9.11. Because it is in 9.11 that the President forged his central judgment: that a phenomenon previously thought to be a regrettable but constant in life—Islamic terrorism—has now shown itself ready, willing and able to represent an existential threat to the United States and that, therefore, it must be fought aggressively, while on the offensive, in a wide-ranging campaign to deny it sanctuary, succor and room for growth.
Thus, for the NY Times
and liberals at large to say that Iraq had “nothing whatsoever to do with the terrorist attacks,” is to miss the larger point the President is making, made last night and will continue to make for the rest of his term. Iraq is central to the President’s war aims in that he seeks to inject a radical new order in the heart of the Middle East, one that will present an alternative and democratic space that will deflate the appeal of the fascism that gave rise to 9.11 and similar attacks.
For liberals to pretend not to understand all this—for them to lose their vaunted sense of nuance and understanding—reveals a profound and distasteful dishonesty on their part, as well as a whiff of desperation. Beyond indicting Bin Laden in District Court for the Southern District of New York, liberals have been without a strategic plan on how to win the War on Terror. In fact, they would deny such a war even exists.
Such is their right. But their standard-bearer, Senator Kerry, took that argument to the American people a mere 7 months ago and they soundly rejected it in favor of the strategic vision advanced by President Bush and his team. Disagree with him, argue with him, advance a competing vision: that is the American way and we welcome it. But you cannot fence off 9.11 and declare it out-of-bounds in the President’s reasoning as to why we are in Iraq today.
What is ironic in all this is that the President has been consistent on this point. Despite all the heavy-breathing, the liberal-left has been unable to come up with evidence to support its contention that the President has ever linked Iraq to the attacks on 9.11 in any way except in the sense we described above. Nor did he mention 9.11 a more than usual amount last night.
Clearly, it’s Bush who has a problem with complex arguments and nuance and not, say, the editorial board of the New York Times