As the second anniversary of the September 11 attacks rolls around, a report card on the Bush administration’s “war on terrorism” is long overdue. And much like the child who is anticipating a failing grade, the administration would like to intercept the bad news before it reaches home. But unsettling harbingers have been trickling into the homefront and a summary of them is in order.

To date, the biggest accomplishment—the elimination of Afghanistan’s Taliban regime that was harboring al Qaeda—has been significantly diminished by the al Qaeda leadership’s escape and by the nascent quagmire there that is embroiling the United States. Remnants of the Taliban are now using the continued U.S. military presence in the country as a rallying cry for a Chechnya-style guerilla war against the U.S. client government of Hamid Karzai. Yet the U.S. government intends to double the funds pouring into Afghanistan to try prop up the weak Karzai government and to socially engineer peace and stability in a nation that has a history of neither. Now that the threat to the U.S. homeland from al Qaeda in Afghanistan has been greatly reduced, rather than dig the Afghan hole deeper, the United States should declare victory, withdraw U.S. forces and turn the peacekeeping over to a coalition of the willing.

And the effects of U.S. policy go downhill from here. The hawks in the administration used the September 11 attacks to justify an unrelated policy agenda—settling old scores with Saddam Hussein. Because the administration hyped the threat of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and then didn’t find any, its fall-back position is that Iraq is better off without the despotic Hussein. Although before the invasion, Paul Wolfowitz, the architect of the hard-line policy, admitted that Hussein’s horrible human rights record would not alone justify removing him from power, let’s examine the claim.

U.S. policy toward Iraq has made things worse for the average Iraqi than Hussein ever did. After the first Gulf War, Iraq’s military was in shambles, about half of its original size, and little threat to the world. The United States, however, insisted on retaining the most grinding international economic sanctions in world history. My worst-case analysis of somewhat fragmentary U.S. State Department and Human Rights Watch data seem to indicate that the number of Iraqis killed by Hussein is exceeded by UNICEF’s estimate of 500, 000 Iraqi children killed by the embargo (the number of total Iraqis killed by the sanctions and the recent war is likely to be higher still). And some of those killed by Hussein were Kurds and Shiites who were abandoned by the United States after the elder President Bush encouraged them to revolt against Hussein subsequent to the first war in the Persian Gulf.

When bombs purposefully kill civilians, the U.S. government labels it terrorism; when a U.S.-led economic embargo does the same, it is justified as needed to make a despotic leader meet Western demands. Yet the history of economic sanctions shows that authoritarian regimes redirect the pain of economic strangulation to the weakest members of society, while keeping the pillars of the regime—the security forces—fat and happy. The United States knew that Hussein would take those very actions and sacrificed the welfare of the Iraqi people to continue its vendetta against an already weakened Hussein. Sanctions turned a once prosperous nation into a country where children died en masse.

Furthermore, Saddam’s repression centered on people and groups who threatened the regime. The effects of sanctions and the current post-war chaos have been more general in nature. Lootings, shootings or rapes can now happen to anyone. There are widespread electricity, fuel and water shortages, and only five of 38 hospitals in Iraq are operational. As bad as Saddam’s rule was, twelve years of American house calls made the cure worse than the disease. And, of course, American soldiers have suffered too—more of them have now been killed in the Pandora’s box that was opened by the war than by the war itself.

But what about the “demonstration effect” of eliminating Hussein on the behavior of other autocratic regimes in the region—for example, Iran. Other “rogue” states look at the difference in U.S. policy toward non-nuclear Iraq and nuclear North Korea. They note that Iraq got invaded, and North Korea will likely get concessions. What would you do if you were the leaders of Iran? Just what they are doing—accelerating their nuclear program (which somehow came as a shock to the administration). Both Iran and Syria realize that the United States is unlikely to preempt their quest for WMD. Launching an attack against and occupying either one of these countries is unlikely given that the already overstretched U.S. military is struggling to hold together deteriorating situations in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Moreover, in a final vengeful act against America, Hussein could have done what he had no incentive to do before the invasion—give any WMD to terrorist groups.

Finally, has the administration’s widening of the war on terrorism to include nations and terrorist groups (for example, Hamas and Hezbollah) that had nothing to do with the September 11 attacks made Americans safer? A broad war on terrorism—as opposed to a more narrowly focused war on al Qaeda—has swelled the ranks of Islamic terrorists streaming to attack U.S. interests and those of friendly nations in Iraq, the United States and around the world, according to U.S. officials. In fact, an upsurge of terrorism has already occurred in Indonesia, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, India and the multiple bombings in Iraq. Will the United States be next?

The administration’s war on terrorism was supposed to make Americans safer and impede the proliferation of WMD to rogue states and terrorist groups. Instead, it has drawn a bull’s eye on the American people and undoubtedly caused rogue states to speed their weapons programs. In the war on terrorism, I believe the president deserves an “F” on his report card.

Report Card on U.S. War on Terrorism
Removing al Qaeda haven in Afghanistan and neutralizing the group’s leadership
Avoiding a quagmire in Afghanistan
Finding weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq
Making Iraq better off by eliminating Saddam
Reducing proliferation of WMD to rogue states and terrorist groups
Adopting a more “humble” foreign policy to prevent overstretch of U.S. military
Making U.S. citizens and territory safer from terrorism and bringing 9/11 conspiracy to justice