According to one of the main findings of the 9/11 Commission, the U.S. governments failure to anticipate the grave threat from al Qaeda prior to the September 11 attacks was a failure of imagination. Since those attacks, however, the Bush administrations broad war on terror has exhibited nothing but imagination.
To begin with, President Bush has the chimerical and dangerously naïve notion that al Qaeda attacks America because of its freedomsthat is, the United States is attacked for what it is and not what it does. All evidence is to the contrary. Both Western and Islamic authorities on al Qaeda tell us that the group attacks the United States because of its foreign policy toward the Moslem world. Osama bin Laden believes the U.S. militarys presence and actions in Islamic lands, as well as its support for corrupt governments there, are tantamount to a modern day crusade. President Bushs disastrous use of the c-word to describe U.S. policy merely confirmed the obvious to many Moslems around the world. Repeated polls of the Islamic world demonstrate that intense anti-U.S. hatred is generated by U.S. foreign policy, not by U.S. culture, technology, or political and economic freedoms. In fact, those latter characteristics of U.S. society are often admired in Moslem lands.
The Bush administrations immediate response to 9/11invading Afghanistan, removing the Taliban regime, and remaining to remake the countryhas been widely praised in the West. But on two separate occasions, instead of risking American casualties by using U.S. Special Forces, the Bush administration imagined that the unreliable Northern Alliance could round up al Qaeda fighters trying to escape from Afghanistan to Pakistan. Osama bin Laden and other dangerous high-level members of al Qaeda escaped and have not been rounded up in almost three years. Moreover, instead of hunting down the terrorists, leaving, and threatening to return if Afghanistan again becomes a haven for al Qaeda, the continuing American nation-building program in that countryas well as U.S. support for an unrepresentative Afghan puppet governmenthave fueled a resurgence of al Qaeda and the Taliban. Both are conducting a defensive jihad against what they believe is an infidel occupation of Islamic territory.
Instead of fully neutralizing those who attacked us on 9/11, the Bush administrationlike Don Quixoteimagined other threats that were nonexistent. The administration took advantage of the September 11 attacks to go after many terrorist groups around the globe that do not currently focus their attacks on the United States (for example, Arab groups that attack Israel) and countries that supported them (for example, Iraq). In fact, the administration fantasized that Iraqs involvement in sponsoring terrorism was much greater than it was. Iran and Syria are much greater state sponsors of terrorism than was Iraq. The few groups that Iraq sponsored focused their attacks on Iran and Israel.
The administration also imagined that Iraq had large stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons and an advanced nuclear program. More important, even if all of those weapons had actually existed, the administration still exaggerated the threat to the United States. In the very worst case, if Iraq had had a few working nuclear weapons, the United States could have deterred an Iraqi nuclear attack with the multitude of warheads in the most powerful nuclear arsenal on the globejust like it did when the radical communist Mao Tse-Tung obtained nuclear weapons in the 1960s. The threat of Iraq giving nuclear, chemical or biological weapons to anti-U.S. terrorists was also grossly inflated by the Bush administrations concocting of an operational link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. In fact, Saddam Hussein would have been unlikely to give such weaponswhich are expensive to research and produceto any radical terrorist groups that could have brought him needless trouble with a superpower.
Now the administrations post-9/11 war on terror is bogged down in the Iraqi quagmire, predictably siphoning official effort, resources, and attention away from the critical fight against al Qaeda. But thats not the worst implication of this Quixotic and unnecessary invasion of a sovereign nation. Invading a second Islamic country has energized Osama bin Ladens zealous global defensive jihad to throw the infidel crusaders off Moslem soil. Bin Laden has been able to recruit many locally-absorbed Islamic radicals to refocus their attacks on the United Statesfor example, Islamic fighters in Algeria. The frequency of al Qaeda attacks since September 11 has been greater than before that fateful day. Unfortunately, the overflowing anti-U.S. hatred in the Islamic worldwhich has spawned those attacks and has been generated by the Bush administrations fanciful foreign policyis not imaginary.
Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University. He has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, and he spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. He is author of the books Partitioning for Peace: An Exit Strategy for Iraq, and Recarving Rushmore.
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