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Reality Check
April 2, 2002
By Michael Shannon

While I have every confidence that the memory of the horrors of September 11th will forever be seared into the collective American psyche, now that the fever pitch of emotion has subsided somewhat it is due time to re-examine the performance of those who have been charged with seeing that not only will the guilty parties be brought to judgement but that such an atrocity is never again visited upon us. Upon such reflection, the conventional wisdom that we are being well served does not stand up quite as unscathed as the apologists of the Bush administration would have us believe.

In the interest of brevity I will limit my remarks to the arena of foreign affairs.

Bringing Those Responsible for September 11th to Justice. It is now been seven months since the attacks on the United States. In that time very few members of the Al Qaeda leadership has been captured or, to the best of our knowledge, killed. Yes, their ability to operate in the safety of a Taliban controlled Afghanistan has been successfully denied them but running the bad guys out of town is not the same as locking them up. As long as these murderers have their freedom they are free to murder once more.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, in an interview with MSNBC's Brian Williams, not only dismissed the notion that the success of America's war on terror can be linked to the capture or death of their ringleader, Osama bin Laden, he was incredulous that anyone would attach such importance to any one man in such a struggle. Mr Williams on his part was very polite to not bring up the fact that it was Mr Rumsfeld's boss who was without question the party most responsible for personalizing the process in the first place.

Coalition Building. Mr Bush has been given high marks for his ability to form an alliance of nations to assist us in ridding the world of this human vermin. Those nations who have responded to the call such be commended for doing so. However, their response was based far more on an intrinsic desire for the perpetrators of these horrible crimes to be punished and made impotent than to their being swayed to do so by our silver tongued Chief Executive.

In addition: one of the basic tenets of the NATO treaty is that an attack on any member of the alliance is considered an attack on all. Therefore, it was not due to any astute and skillful diplomatic consensus building of the part of the President, it was merely the member states living up to their responsibilities and obligations so clearly established in the NATO charter. Had they not done so their standing in the alliance would be null and void.

How many of these and other nations will be willing and active participants in the next phases of this struggle is far less predictable.

The Case for War Against Iraq. The picture of Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia embracing, and kissing, the head of the Iraqi delegation to the Arab League summit meeting was nothing less than a dagger in the heart of the delusion that the United States was going to be able to depend on our "friends" in the Persian Gulf region for their wholehearted support of our efforts to depose Saddam Hussein by any means necessary. By such a public display of hatchet burying the Saudis made the task of selling the necessity of a regime change in Iraq far more daunting than it already was.

That the United States retains the power to act unilaterally against the government of Hussein is also been made much more difficult. Yes, we still have the ability to launch air and missile strikes with devastating effectiveness, and with almost total impunity, from both naval vessels and long range bombers. But even those who argue most strenuously for the need to oust Hussein admit that doing so will require a massive US ground force. A commitment that is much easier said than done. Deep water ports that can handle the gigantic ships necessary to transport the troops and their equipment -- not to mention the cranes it takes to pull a 70 ton Abrams tank out of their holds -- are not exactly a dime a dozen in the Persian Gulf. If the US is denied the use of any of those ports that can handle such unloading it will make the logistics of an already exceedingly complex operation a virtual nightmare.

The icing on the cake is that Vice President Cheney -- a man whose wide experience and expertise in the affairs of the Persian Gulf region were counted on as an indispensable asset in this cause -- failed miserably during his recent swing through the area to win the hearts and minds of those whose help we will need the most.

Israeli/Palestinian Conflict. In the interest of fairness; if there ever was a situation which could defined as damned if you do and damned if you don't the Gordian Knot that is the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is it. Even so, there is little to praise in how the Bush administration has handled the matter to this point. Despite pleas from many on both sides of the coin they made a concerted effort to stay as far away as possible from the day to day challenges for the entire first year of the Bush presidency. What did that laissez faire approach accomplish? Exactly nothing but increased bloodshed. And by the time that Team Bush did become fully engaged it was not only too late to do anything substantial but their belated entry was made to look all the more ineffectual.

Nuclear Review. It has yet to be determined -- at least publicly --whether the release of this inexplicable document was deliberate or a unauthorized leak. If it was the latter, it was an inexcusable lapse in security. If the former, it is an unfathomable misjudgement.

This document has done nothing to increase the security of the United States. To those it was meant to intimidate, it has only emboldened. To those it was meant to reassure, it has only baffled.

Summation. The piece in this week's Weekly Standard by William Kristol and Robert Kagen -- two diehard conservatives -- sums up the blessing and the curse of the Bush presidency very succinctly. The blessing being that no matter how badly the Bush team screws up -- in K&K's words the past two weeks of Bush administration diplomacy have been "amateur hour" -- it is always somebody else's fault, never the President's. The curse being that the ultimate responsibility for the success of failure of US foreign policy in the next several crucial years lies in the hands of George W Bush himself.

Contact Mike Shannon at

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