Thu, 15 Jan 2009 21:44:02 +0000 – Walid Phares, Ph.D.Terror Expert/FOX News Contributor
With the end of the Bush presidency in sight, it's time to take stock of the War on Terror, something that didn't begin with George W. Bush but which entered the American collective consciousness on his watch. So, where are we now, as we get ready to usher in a new era with a new president?
The measurement of the successes and failures under the Bush Administration isn't a simple matter of calculus. Many questions make the final assessment complex and inextricable. Here are few examples:
1) Did the jihadi war against America begin on September 11, 2001? Of course not! It began in the years and decades before the attacks of 9/11.
The ideology of jihadism rose in the 1920s. The Islamist movement, through both Wahabism and the Muslim Brotherhood, indoctrinated large pools of recruits around the world during the Cold War.
In the 1980s the United States was targeted in Tehran and in Beirut. In the 1990s, Americans were attacked in New York in 1993, massacred in 1993 in Somalia, killed at the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996, attacked in 1998 in East Africa and again in 2000 in Yemen.
By the time Bin Laden's men crumbled the towers in Manhattan and the Pentagon on 9/11, four presidents had been advised by their experts to avoid a "global confrontation" with terrorism.
In contrast, George Bush broke that taboo and on October 7, 2001 he declared a "War on Terror." He should have identified the enemy with its real name, the jihadists, but at least he informed the nation, that indeed, we were at war with "an enemy." And for that mere fact he was vilified for seven years.
The first root of Bushophobiain the region and within the West comes from those who wanted the U.S public to remain numb until the balance of power would give the advantage to America's enemies. Two players shattered this game: Usama Bin laden (by attacking too early) and George Bush (by responding too quickly).
2) Why was there an unusual demonization of George Bush by the widest array of regimes, radicals and international opinion makers? Although it will fall to historians to uncover the forces behind this campaign, the unprecedented attacks against the president of the United States are proportional to the powerful changes he wished to accomplish, even if the results didn't match his initial ideals. In short, Bush dared to "touch" the untouchable: the totalitarian regimes and the ideology of jihadism. The U.S. was tolerated when it bombed and changed regimes in the Balkans, Grenada, Panama and even when it supported Afghanistan's Mujahidin. But when its president spoke of "spreading democracy" in the region, America was walking into a hornets' nest.
The financial power of oil from Iran, the Wahabi quarters and even Qatar slaughtered Bush's image. In a moment of history, his name and changing the status quo merged for seven years, rightly or wrongly, unleashing the wrath of those who wanted to march backward in history: denying women, minorities, and opposition rights and unwilling to reach peace.
3) But was George Bush representing his nation as he challenged regimes and ideologies overseas? The public is yes, the bureaucratic answer is: no. -- Indeed, his re-election confirmed that on basic instincts and general directions, Americans mandated Bush to implement the content of his speeches on national security. Joe and Jane knew the enemy out there wanted to do harm unto them. But the intellectual elite of the U.S, including Bush's own foreign affairs bureaucracy failed him and dodged his ideals. The president and many congressional leaders aimed to advance the agenda of democracy and de-radicalization in the greater Middle East. But undoubtedly the bureaucrats and media elite in the U.S. fought fiercely against these higher goals and crushed most of them. Hence, Bush's words were aimed well but the high ideals expressed in his public speeches were rarely carried out by the executioners.
Here is a quick list of battlefields and the end results, so far:
Afghanistan: Removing the Taliban and throwing Al Qaeda out of that country was a victory but managing the rise of democratic culture was insufficient.
Pakistan:Pressuring Musharraf to contain Al Qaeda and the Taliban was slow but convincing him to allow elections brought about a more counter jihadi government.
Iraq:Removing genocidal Saddam under any plan was a duty for the UN to accomplish but America accomplished it. However, moving faster to achieve the successful surge earlier and to pressure Iran and Syria would have been a game changer.
Lebanon-Syria: Pushing the Syrian Army out of Lebanon was an achievement but allowing Hezbollah to cannibalize the country is a set-back.
Africa: Fighting Al Qaeda on the continent and countering the Jihadi Mahakem in Somalia, along with local allies was a good first step.
Arab-Israeli Conflict: Backing the Palestinian Authority in its dialogue with Israel and staying firm on Hamas' terror was right.
Homeland Security: Establishing a homeland security policy was a first step but Congress should have delivered the legal structure needed to isolate extremism and protect civil liberties. The debate will continue but the fact is that America has not been hit since 2001.
Ideological War: President Bush's speeches until 2006 were cutting edge on trying to name the doctrines of the enemy. However his bureaucracy stopped him from his role as educator in chief. Americans were made to wonder again if Jihad is Yoga!
So what's the historical bottom line? George W. Bush told the American people that it is a terrorist target and the U.S. needs to take action. The challenge now is for his successor(s) to stay the course or change it. Bush's national security decisions will certainly be scrutinized by politicians and historians in order to assess their value; but guess what? Americans are growing mature in this increasingly threatening environment. Deep down, a large segment of our society knows that the jihadists aren't going to practice yoga. The future will clarify further the difference between America's instincts as embodied by George W. Bush and many of his critics and bureaucrats who got stuck in the 1990s.
Dr. Walid Phares is the Director of the Future Terrorism Project at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and the author of "The Confrontation"