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talking politics

Bush's Lost War


ARLY IN JUNE 2006, militias belonging to the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) took over Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia. The city's fall was a blow to Washington. The Bush Administration had thrown its support behind a group of warlords, hoping it would capture the al-Qaeda cell that had blown up American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Tacitly directed by the CIA, the capture operation boomeranged. Not only did the warlords fail to take the cell, but they lost Mogadishu to the UIC, which makes no secret of its ties to al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban.

John Prendergast wrote in allAfrica.com on June 7, 2006: "The U.S. counterterrorism approach in Somalia isn't working: The al-Qaeda leaders sought by the United States there remain at large, and the Islamists who protect them are gaining ground against U.S.-backed militias, as this week's events show. With a growing chorus of voices, rightly or wrongly, blaming the United States and the warlords for the fighting, public opinion in Mogadishu has been swinging in favor of the Islamists."

The problem is not just Somalia. Wherever we look, Bush's war on terrorism is in trouble. The situation in Afghanistan, for instance – five years after victory – looks bleaker by the day. The Taliban are getting back on their feet. They are regaining control over the southern part of the country, an area which US troops had transferred to Canadian forces. All attempts to rebuild the Afghan economy have failed. The domain of Hamid Karzai's government has shriveled to the Kabul area. Karzai's erstwhile allies from the Tajik minority, which had helped the Americans topple the Taliban, are taking distance from him. They claim that he has discriminated against them, favoring the Pashtun tribes to which he belongs.

The truth is that Bush declared war on terrorist organizations, but he never fought them systematically. Rather than make an all-out effort against Osama Bin Laden, he went after Saddam Hussein. This was a strategic error. After failing to find an Iraqi connection to the events of September 11, and specifically to al-Qaeda, Bush invaded Iraq anyway. Thus – irony of ironies – he paved the way for al-Qaeda to build itself up in Iraq. Here it found fertile soil among the Sunni minority, who were embittered at the rise of the Shia. The transformation of Iraq into a major al-Qaeda bastion would not have been possible under Saddam. Meanwhile, America's absorption in Iraq enabled the Taliban to regroup in Afghanistan.

Is there not a sense of déja-vu? In the 1980's, while campaigning to repel the Soviet forces from Afghanistan, the US financed, trained and supplied – one could almost say created – militant Islamic fundamentalism: the same fanatic strain that became, in its next incarnation, a synonym for terrorism. Bin Laden was made in the USA.

And now, at a time when the Americans search every nook and cranny for a way out of Iraq, they haven't time to conduct a real war against terrorism. They had thought they could fight in two theatres but are losing ground in both.

Such is the state of Bush's war against terrorism. He thought he was acting under divine command. Apparently, he didn't hear too well, or didn't quite grasp God's will.

The ship of fools sails on. Iran, listed by the White House as a "terror state," openly announces a nuclear program, yet Washington is struck with amnesia. Bush has forgotten the Bush Doctrine, which justifies preemptive action against any entity threatening US security. Instead, he offers dialogue. What a contrast with his treatment of Saddam, who denied possessing such weapons (truthfully, as it turned out) – but was dubbed a liar and invaded! Why does Iraq's neighbor, Iran – which boasts about its program – come in for such different treatment?

The answer lies in its regional status. Iran discreetly supported America's invasion of Iraq. It is the sworn enemy of the Taliban. It feels threatened by Sunni Islam. Its geopolitical position, bordering on both Afghanistan and Iraq, makes it a natural partner to the Americans on the basis of a common interest in preventing Sunni control of those lands.

To the general American debacle we may add the Palestinian issue. When the Iraq war started in the spring of 2003, the Americans and the Israelis saw the overthrow of Saddam Hussein as the prelude to the overthrow of Yasser Arafat. "Gone is the era of the dictators," we were told. "If the peoples can't get rid of them, we will." In the days when the sky seemed the limit, the Americans – backed by the rest of the Quartet – got Arafat to create the office of Prime Minister for their favorite, Abu Mazen. Arafat balked, but when US tanks began rolling into Iraq he yielded. Abu Mazen became the first Palestinian premier.

Since then much water has flowed down the Tigris and the Euphrates. Saddam has been toppled, Arafat has died his mysterious death, but the situation in Palestine has only become more entangled. Democratic elections (touted by Bush, after all else was lost, as the real goal of his Crusade) brought a Hamas landslide. And wonder of wonders: in the Palestinian Prime Ministry, created by Washington to weaken Arafat, sits Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas.

The God who whispered in Bush's ear must have been kidding. We can hear Him now: "I really didn't think you'd go fight a war that any idiot would know to avoid." Whatever the US touches turns to chaos: Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine and now Somalia. The legacy of this Empire will be a vacuum – which history, like nature, abhors. What will fill it? It is the present task of progressive forces to prepare a spirit of worldwide cooperation and mutual respect among peoples.

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