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The End of the War on Terror

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The failure of the Bush Administration's foreign policy has had a variety of consequences: The disastrous invasion of Iraq stymied the Neo-Con's drive for an American empire in the Middle East. The Administration's pro-Israel stance led to the invasion of Lebanon and demolished the notion of the U.S. as a neutral broker in the conflict between Jews and Arabs. Bush's failure has also discredited the notion that America is engaged in a war on terror. It raises the questions: Who are the terrorists? And, what is the best way to fight them?

The Administration's concept of the war on terror arose in the days after 9/11. Bush spoke to the nation on 9/20, "Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated." Bush made it clear that while the immediate target was al Qaeda, his "war" would not stop there. He indicated that the locus of the war would be Muslim countries:" the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. Therefore, his "war" would not include non-Muslim groups that have been called terrorists, such as the IRA and Zapatistas.

In his 9/20 speech, the President indicated his war on terror lacked a distinct target, noting that terrorism extended across national boundaries and, therefore, securing Afghanistan would not be synonymous with victory. "Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen." Accompanying Bush's opaque definition of the "war" was an equally vague notion of when the war would end: America's objective was to "defeat terrorism," to "lift a dark threat of violence from our people and our future."

At the time, Bush noted, "Americans are asking: How will we fight and win this war? We will direct every resource at our command -- every means of diplomacy, every tool of intelligence, every instrument of law enforcement, every financial influence, and every necessary weapon of war -- to the disruption and to the defeat of the global terror network." However, in the months that followed it became clear that America actually was relying upon the U.S. military. Not only did Bush disdain other possible resources, such as diplomacy, he failed to involve the American people. "Americans are asking: What is expected of us? I ask you to live your lives, and hug your children." Americans were told that their lives were at peril, but they were not involved in Bush's "war."

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After Bush's 9/20 speech, some critics asked whether it was possible to win his war on terror. They observed that terrorism is a complex social phenomenon, a product of the cultural eddies of the twentieth century, and cannot be "defeated" only ameliorated. These writers suggested that equally important as strengthening America's defenses and eradicating Al Qaeda, was destroying the roots of terrorism-the socio-economic bases of the terrorist groups. Bush gave a superficial explanation for Al Qaeda's motivation, "They hate our freedoms." Although little noted at the time, his glib explanation indicated that the focus of his "war" would be on destroying their physical infrastructure-camps, weapons, and leadership-rather than going deeper and removing the systems that produced terrorists; for example the support for Wahhabism by Saudi Arabia's ruling class and the system of Pakistani Madrassas that steadily churn out new terrorist recruits. History has shown that while Bush talked about terrorists hating our freedoms, he believed that the conduct of his war on terror required Americans to give up their freedoms; for example, by an unprecedented expansion of the powers of the Presidency and unauthorized domestic surveillance.

Thus, Bush's war on terror was launched with severe flaws: it had an unclear objective and, therefore, an uncertain duration; it utilized only America's military prowess; it failed to involved the U.S. public; and it treated our adversaries as two-dimensional villains rather than the products of a malevolent social system. From the onset Bush's "war" was doomed. It was as if he had decided to attack crab grass by simply mowing it, rather than devoting the time and energy to pulling it out by the roots.

From the beginning the war on terror had problems. America's "war" in Afghanistan suffered from an over reliance on technology and mercenaries, who failed to capture the Al Qaeda leaders. Instead of mounting a multi-phased campaign to deal with the factors that birthed terrorists, the U.S. treated Afghanistan solely as a military problem. Al Qaeda was blunted but not destroyed. And the seeds of terrorism were widely dispersed.

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in the 2002 State-of-the-Union Address, the President announced an expansion of his war on terror. Bush denounced the "axis of evil" and accused Iraq, North Korea and Syria of being "state sponsors" of terrorism. The Administration claimed that Al Qaeda, the organization, had close ties with Iraq, the state. Bush mentioned terrorist organizations beyond Al Qaeda, "groups like Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, Jaish-i-Mohammed." Bush convinced Congress and much of the American public that the war on terror necessitated an invasion of Iraq. Administration insiders hinted that if the Iraqi occupation was successful, the White House planned to take out Syria. The Administration started calling Hezbollah a terrorist organization sponsored by Syria. This warped perspective fueled the Israeli invasion of South Lebanon.

It's time for liberals to tell the truth: President Bush's war on terror has failed. Keeping America in a permanent state of "war" isn't a foreign policy objective but rather a political one. It's part of an Orwellian Bush strategy to keep Americans paralyzed with fear and Congress in emergency mode where Bush Administration budgetary, military, and human rights abuses are overlooked.

Liberals should declare that Bush's "war" is over and propose a real strategy for combating terrorism.
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Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.

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