Are You Safer Today Than You Were Four Years Ago?
by Pete Rottier
During the 1980 presidential campaign candidate Ronald Reagan asked "Are you better off today than you were four years ago? " The question resonated with voters, as run away inflation engulfed the nation. Reagan won that election in a landslide. Today the questions are much different. The economy is in horrific shape as unemployment is near record levels and after a brief reprieve during the Clinton administration, deficit spending is spiraling out of control. Yet candidate John Kerry can not simply ask are you better off now than four years ago. 9/11 has placed economics on the back burner of politics for the first time since World War II. Today the question needs to be restated: Are you safer today than you were four years ago? Security is of paramount importance for our anxious nation.
I remember distinctly the events of 9/11 as they unfolded early in George
W. Bush 's tenure as president. The radio announcer reported that a
second plane had just hit the Twin Towers in New York and that this was
evidently an act of terrorism. Within minutes the announcer 's tone
turned from confused surprise to anger as he declared that he was happy
that Bush was president and not Al Gore, because it was now time for
someone to pay. President Bush obliged and American servicemen
continue to fight and die in this "war on terrorism. "
The rage felt by the radio announcer was a common reaction to the ghastly attack on our country. Many Americans wanted to hold someone accountable and strike back quickly. How could we let someone get away with such a horrendous deed? So there was widespread support, not only in this country, but around the world, to go after Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. The rush to attack quickly helped the gaping wound we had suffered feel a little better; at least we were doing something. Even if we could not capture or kill bin Laden, we could send him scurrying into a hole, where he would be a threat to no one.
The war on terror then found another enemy, or in reality an old enemy, Saddam Hussein. Hussein came to be seen as an accomplice to terrorism, someone who would not only shelter those who meant Americans harm, but someone who possessed devastating weapons with which he could supply his terrorist cohorts. The war on terrorism needed to be spread to include "regime change " in Iraq. Hussein also needed to be brought to justice in this new war without frontiers. So America armed and found enough allies to form a "coalition. " Even without support from the UN the US led coalition decided to go it alone in Iraq. This too made us feel good. Damn the French and Germans for interfering, Americans would fight for our own security. We would take care of ourselves, regardless of what others in the world thought. Forget about the unthankful French, we would get Saddam ourselves. The American flags began to wave and in the Congressional cafeteria freedom fries were served to inspire patriotism.
Americans are now waging war in Afghanistan and Iraq. We have conquered the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, so did we win the war on terrorism? Today flag draped coffins continue to arrive from Iraq, bin Laden is still apparently alive and active in planning attacks and a new alert issued by the White House warns that the US mainland could be "hit hard " this summer. After two and a half years of fighting, billions of dollars (almost 2 billion a week), and hundreds of US servicemen 's lives, have we made any progress?
Are we safer today that we were four years ago? The realistic answer is no. The United States made many mistakes in lashing out so quickly and without cohesive plans and goals. In reality the war effort has been little more than a feel good effort. It made Americans feel that we were doing something, when in fact the war on terror, as it has been conducted, has had the opposite effect. Al Qaeda is stronger now, with more volunteers everyday.
The fact of the matter is that bin Laden counted on President Bush to react the way he did. In fact, I would be willing to bet that the invasion of Iraq was a bonus that even bin Laden did not expect. It helped to confirm to his followers that the US is anti-Muslim and its real purpose is world domination, particularly, of the oil rich Middle East.
The war on terror did two things, both of which benefited al Qaeda. First, by declaring a war on bin Laden and al-Qaeda, Bush legitimated the group. You don 't declare war on one man, or even a terrorist organization. Bush needed to call 9/11 what it was, mass murder, a terrible crime. Bin Laden and his cronies are little more than common criminals, and that is how they needed to be portrayed and treated. By mobilizing the nation 's resources and declaring war on bin Laden, the rest of the world took notice. This empowered bin Laden and his movement. Secondly, the war in Afghanistan and Iraq took on the flavor of imperialism and western hatred towards the Muslim world. The arrogance that US troops would be greeted as liberators was particularly repugnant to the Muslim world. The wars, and subsequent mistakes such as the prisoner scandals, have become recruiting posters for al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations.
So what should have been the US strategy after 9/11. Had the US
not identified bin Laden and al Qaeda as even suspects and publicly looked
elsewhere, bin Laden would have been enraged. He would have
continued to make mistakes, use satellite phones, move in the daylight,
contact his donors, etc. We could have traced these activities as he
tried to gain the spotlight. As leader of the largest terrorist
network in the world, he certainly would have wanted credit for the
largest attack on US soil. In trying to ignite his world wide jihad,
he would have exposed himself; we would have had a better chance at
killing or capturing him without as much expense. Instead, the US
continues to spend billions, continues to lose the lives of our brave
young men, and is inadvertently supporting bin Laden 's dream, a world
wide jihad against us. Clearly as November approaches, we are not
safer today than we were four years ago. The Bush administration
could not have helped al Qaeda more.
Pete Rottier firstname.lastname@example.org teaches at Cleveland State University