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The War On Terror Needs To Find Its Voice
March 28, 2002
By Tommy Ates

Just like Frank Bruni's adventurous biography of George W. Bush Ambling Into History, the Bush administration's war on terror appears to lack a clear direction. The original goal of the conflict, outlined in Bush's Sept. 19th special address to Congress, gave the United States and the free world a mandate to stop terror and to pressure regimes that support them. However, after six months, the terrorists among us have not been caught, and the Administration has had to appease the American media. Thus, to distract attention at not getting Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar, the President's strategic foreign policy has to resort to the use of 'bait and switch' tactics.

The Pentagon has continued to display pictures of American military prowess instead of intelligence operatives because Americans can believe we are making progress using action photos. This tactic and the use of 'old news' being recycled as breaking news (i.e., Iraq) have helped the Bush administration mainstream high public support.

But, this 'substitution' phase of the war cannot last for long.

In order to understand the meaning of the word 'substitution' in this instance, let's review events of the war thus far. With the fall of the Taliban and al-Qaeda forces in Afghanistan, Muslim remnants mostly have returned home (except for rebels regrouping in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan). Meanwhile, the American military said previously that the 'worst' Taliban and al-Qaeda had been sent to Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for questioning. But, in the light of heavy resistance with Operation Anaconda and the new commitment to train a national Afghan army, it appears that the job of the Afghan POW airlift and Operation Anaconda mission did not succeed.

With these Pyrrhic victories, President Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld desperately need an exit strategy as not to lose face or public confidence in the war. Both U.S. and Pakistan intelligence have known for some time that ex-Taliban and al-Qaeda would be lying dormant during the winter. Now spring is coming, and rather than face a splintering Afghanistan, a training brigade will come to quickly build an army in a year's time and leave them with the English peacekeepers (who have had uneasy relations with the Northern Alliance). As a result, responsibility of an Afghan government collapse would no longer lie with the U.S. Sounds like a plan? On its face, the scenario creates beautiful public relations cover for the Bush administration (especially Donald Rumsfeld) whose eagerness to get out of the potential quagmire is as evident as the melting snow thawing in the mountain passes near Gardez, Afghanistan. Shifting the blame for possible failures and taking credit for alliance successes is nothing new in U.S. foreign policy (Clinton did it as well as Reagan). The only problem for the Pentagon and Donald Rumsfeld is how to marshal the forces needed to quiet the usurping, guerrilla movement afoot in the Afghan-Pakistan border region and tackle the next terror target, Iraq's Saddam Hussein.

Unfortunately for the administration, the spectre of getting Saddam in a military operation seems problematic at best. Vice President Dick Cheney's visit to the Middle East came up short on Iraq support and long on the need to enter the Israel-Palestine fray, and a foreign policy stalemate has developed in which the U.S. cannot 'go it alone' on Iraq without condemnation from Europe and the Middle East (and probably the United Nations). In addition, placing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein on the top of the list of most wanted terrorists belies the fact that none of the attackers on Sept. 11 were Iraqi and that the investigation behind the Iraqi intelligence contact (that ringleader Mohammed Atta met in Germany) never turned up any leads.

If Saddam is the 'Rosetta Stone' in the next step on terror, then what is Osama bin Laden? A "marginalized" player as the Bush administration contends? And with blasť pace of the terror war, an Achilles heel has appeared for President Bush in the long-term: domestic security. With the current state of the active American military, achieving the mission objectives to preserving the fledgling Afghan democracy and sending U.S. Special Forces teams to the Philippines, Somalia, and Yemen, already risk the United States being in a state of "unpreparedness" should another homeland emergency arrive (i.e., Sept. 11). Already, current domestic terror-prevention techniques such as airline security are coming under fire from both the right and the left because of civil liberty concerns, glaring holes associated with foreign hires, and still inadequate training.

Domestic security woes should be a concern for White House. The Bush administration's vague, high-opinion ratings have been based the ascendancy of American military might (and patriotism), which cannot be questioned. Should there be another domestic terror attack, this criticism may move on to foreign policy, shaking the pillars upon which American support for the war is based.

In order to have a cohesive war policy on the war on terror, the Bush administration must address the issue of terror from many sources: Saudi, Palestinian, Afghani, and Israeli. The circle of violence and fear will not be broken unless the U.S. takes on the dual role of dealmaker and impartial judge. The use of substitution policy regarding the future of Afghanistan and Iraq (as a military threat) only creates roadblocks for the Arab world in reaching out to the West, fueling speculation of a religious war, helping radical Islam. The war on terror needs to find its voice.

Tommy Ates loves the left because the left is always right! He wants to help the underdog become the Top Dog.

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