Dark Bilious Vapors

But how could I deny that I possess these hands and this body, and withal escape being classed with persons in a state of insanity, whose brains are so disordered and clouded by dark bilious vapors....
--Rene Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy: Meditation I

Home » Archives » January 2006 » War? What War?

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01/27/2006: War? What War?

At No Quarter, Larry Johnson calls bullshit on Bush and the War Red Herring:

When President George Bush is feeling political heat generated by questions about illegal domestic spying, secret overseas prisons, or prisoner torture, he seeks refuge in the solemn proclamation, "we are at war." The war excuse, which is usually accompanied by the elaboration that these excesses are necessary to protect the American people, does not hold water. If President Bush was serious about his insistence that we are at war, his Administration would be on a war footing. But, we are not.

If we were serious about this war there would be a supreme commander in charge of tracking down Bin Laden and the remnants of the Al Qaeda network. Instead, the NSC job for coordinating the war on terror has been held by seven different people since the President assumed office. General Wayne Downing, who held the post from October 2001 until September 2002, ultimately resigned in frustration after being repeatedly sand bagged and undercut by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Rather than impose order and discipline, President Bush has allowed the coordination function to atrophy.

Today there is no one individual or agency in charge of finding Bin Laden or dismantling Al Qaeda. This fact was highlighted by the recent attempt to kill Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al Qaeda's real number two honcho, with a military strike inside Pakistan. That attack was carried out under the direction of the CIA. US military forces operating in the area were not directly involved. Instead of a single, focused effort to destroy Al Qaeda, the CIA and the Department of Defense are pursuing separate tracks. A case can be made for having either organization in charge. I have no dog in that fight, notwithstanding my previous employment with the CIA. President Bush, despite his tough war talk, is sadly disengaged and has been unwilling to organize his Administration to win the war.


Perhaps it is time to acknowledge that we cannot fight and win a war against an ideology or theology relying primarily on military tactics and resources.. There is no doubt that Bin Laden and other Islamic extremists share a vision of creating a new world where people will be governed by the laws of God as contained in the Quran. They are pursuing a religious crusade. Fortunately, the vast majority of muslims, both Shia and Sunni, have not embraced this vision. At least not yet.

An exclusive military response would make sense if the Islamic extremists congregated in mass formations and drilled at fixed installations. They do not. which ensures that a narrow military strategy is doomed to failure. The Islamic terrorists intermingle in civilian populations. They do not wear uniforms and are not easily identified. We may have killed some senior Al Qaeda personnel in Pakistan earlier this month, but we also killed some women and children.

This much is certain, when the United States uses military forces and kills innocent civilians (we excuse it with the euphemism, "collateral damage") Al Qaeda's public support increases. Similarly, when Al Qaeda operatives kill muslims in a prominent attack, such as the hotel bombings in Jordan last year, their popularity wanes. Recent polls in Jordan show that support for Al Qaeda has slipped from almost 80% to around 20%. There is a lesson here for us. In the long run we are better off if we win the hearts and minds of people rather than alienating civilian populations and inflaming grieving relatives.

The road to a more realistic policy starts with language. If President Bush insists on calling the effort to quash Al Qaeda a war then his actions and policies should reflect this fact. However, to call it a war while treating it as a political prop does nothing to rally the public nor isolate the Islamists. It simply creates cyncism that eats away at the body politic.

Len on 01.27.06 @ 06:45 AM CST

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