Sunday, August 01, 2004

Misplaced Machismo

Supporters of the Bush administration say that our terrorist foes attack us because they believe us to be weak. They say that the administration is successfully fighting the war on terror because it is willing to play hardball against the terrorists. What exactly does "playing hardball" mean in this context?

Terrorists of the seventies and eighties were looking for minimal loss of life and maximum news coverage. They generally tried to get away with their lives at the conclusion of the operation. These terrorists may have been committed to a cause, but they were secular in nature.

In contrast, our new enemy has total faith in their warped religion. Today's adversary has a new objective: to commit mass murder and die during the attack.

Is there any action the United States could take that will discourage Bin Laden, al-Zarqawi and other hard-boiled terrorists from attacking us? Will Bush's willingness to apply torture, lock up suspects without due process, and use precision air strikes to target buildings in civilian areas impress al Qaida?

It's quite obvious that these actions will do absolutely nothing to deter terrorist leaders and their hidden armies.

However, it will definitely have an effect on those whose hearts and minds have not yet been won. To be sure, there will be some people with full lives and good jobs who will see that terrorism is not a game that they want to play. But George W. Bush's willingness to violate human rights in the name of playing hardball will probably create as many terrorists as it destroys.

President Bush's foreign policy is also affirming every terrorist claim. If millions of Americans can believe that George W. Bush cares more about Iraqi oil than about the Iraqi people, you can bet that the Islamic world thinks so too.

This issue goes to the heart of why so many Americans can be duped into supporting the Republicans. People want to believe there's a simple solution, a quick fix.

Unfortunately, as John Kerry said in his nomination speech, the world is complicated. And for every complex problem, there's a simple solution that doesn't work. There isn't one simple solution to the war on terror. You need one solution for each faction on the other side.

Marketing 101
You would think that an administration that is by, for and of corporate America would apply the lessons they supposedly learned in Marketing 101.

The target market might be segmented as follows:


  1. The enemy's leadership and dedicated recruits,

  2. The less dedicated recruits who support them,

  3. The idealists who may be swayed by the terrorists call to arms,

  4. The downtrodden peoples who see the terrorists as fighting for their cause,

  5. The states that actively sponsor terrorists,

  6. The rest of the world that now fears America's willingness to use pre-emptive military power and is looking for a counterweight to American strength.


A successful strategy must cater to each one of these market segments.

Segment #1: The Heart of the Enemy
So far, U.S. actions in the war on terror have nearly been appropriate to meet the challenge of market segment #1. I say almost because Bush showed inadequate resolve during the war in Afghanistan. Not wanting to suffer any casualties in fighting the enemies who attacked us, Bush sent in only a token force to coordinate the activities of the Northern Alliance and other mercenaries. As a consequence, much of al Qaida's leadership escaped from Tora Bora.

Segment #2: Potential Moles
As for the other market segments, Bush's policy has been an abject failure.

The CIA has badly handled several suspects from segment #2. There are reports that several suspects who were won over by the CIA, were later double-crossed and not given the deals that they were promised. One is the case of an American recruit who attended training in Bin Laden's Afghan camp, and whose story was features on the PBS show Frontline. The second story was that of an Iraqi official who was promised rewards for cooperating with U.S. forces who were looking for weapons of mass destruction. When the official revealed that no weapons existed, the deal was off and he was locked away.

These stories need not be true. Their message is clear: you can't trust the CIA, so you might as well stick with your criminal enterprise.

Whether it can make deals or not, the CIA isn't sending the right message.

Segment #3: Idealists
Segment #3 is populated by people who have been indoctrinated by state-run schools that teach hate. You would think that U.S. foreign policy would have insisted that these schools, many of which can be found in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, be shut down immediately. You would think. Perhaps Bush has called in all the favors he can from these two 'allies'.

Segment #4: The Downtrodden
To win over segment #4, the United States must see that the people of the Muslim world are not simply ignored and abused.

According to the polls, the number one issue that occupies Muslims everywhere is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is true even for states that are far from Israel like Morocco. No one expects the U.S. to abandon the only democracy in the region. However, at least maintaining some semblance of fairness, some credibility as a fair broker in the conflict, would seem an appropriate national security measure. Instead, Bush has taken actions that have perfectly aligned the United States with the hard-right Likud party in Israel.

The people of Iraq once fell into segment #4. However, the policy of the Coalition Provisional Authority (AKA, the U.S. government in Iraq) have made devastating mistakes. The U.S. State Department report that predicted the insurgency, also predicted the looting, the law and order problems and the infrastructure failure. However, it seems that President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and the Defense Department didn't trust the State Department not to get the U.N. involved. I suspect that Bush and Cheney, patrons of big oil business, were not keen on the prospect of sharing the oily spoils of war with French, German and Russian oil companies. The Pentagon chose to ignore the State Department report and just wing it. Needless to say, this failed miserably.

In the months that followed, billions of dollars of aid were not spent in a timely fashion. Then, $20 billion of Iraqi oil was sold and the money not accounted for. The money that actually was used was spent on no-bid contracts for U.S. companies that hired non-Iraqis to perform even the most menial tasks. The Iraqis now have a 70% unemployment rate.

The U.S. could have made postwar Iraq a success story. They could have protected Iraqi infrastructure after the war, employed the people and given every man woman and child a stipend from the sales of Iraqi oil. The U.S. should have renounced any interest in Iraqi oil proceeds.

Segment #5: Terrorist Sponsors
The invasion of Iraq has tipped our hand. We do not possess the standing army to handle Iraq alone. Syria, Iran and North Korea see weakness. Instead of overstretching our military forces in a war for oil, we should have established a clear set of rules by which we would deal with terrorist sponsors. Instead, the U.S. sent the following murky message:


  1. We have a list of terrorist supporting states.

  2. We invaded and almost broke up al Qaida's leadership.

  3. We shall invade (and did invade) Iraq and were not going to be satisfied by any kind of inspection and verification scheme.



That's it. In its entirety. In other words, it sent the message that the U.S. intended to invade all those states on its list and there was nothing those states might do to avert invasion so long as the U.S. considered the invasion a simple task.

It's no wonder that Iran and North Korea have accelerated their nuclear development in the wake of U.S. foreign policy moves. These states are officially 'on the menu', so their only hope is to make invasion as painful as possible for the United States.

The U.S. could instead have used a carrot and stick approach. The U.S. should have laid out what was expected of these states in return for normal relations. The U.S. could also have made it clear to terrorist sponsors that nuclear terrorist attacks on American soil would be answered in kind, independent of whether there was proof of complicity by said sponsors.

Segment #6: The Rest of the World
It's simple. Work with the U.N. and compromise wherever possible. Some see the U.N. as a threat to U.S. sovereignty, but this perspective is, frankly, just plain daft. The U.N. is a forum where almost nothing happens without U.S. support. If the U.N. ever did manage to take an action that the U.S. objected to (a one in a million shot), it could refuse to abide by International law.

The Bush administration (in another bid to keep things simple, no doubt) decided to spurn the U.N. and world opinion by removing the U.N. inspection regime and invading Iraq. In doing so, the U.S. has brought about exactly those consequences it would have encountered in the one in a million scenario in which the U.S. sovereignty was threatened.

The Pinnacle of Incompetence
I could go on for a few more pages, but there are already plenty of authors who have covered the Bush administration's failures to win world support for American interests. Indeed, it is my opinion that McDonalds Corporation could do a better job of foreign policy than the Bush Administration.

What makes Bush's foreign policy record doubly negligent is that it is the cornerstone of his overall counterterrorism plan. From outward appearances, the only component of the national security plan is to disrupt cells abroad.

The administration has not properly funded police, fire fighters and other first responders. Port security is a sham, with 95% of containers lacking inspection. Borders have not been secured, and no civil defense plan has been implemented. After all, these things would require billions of dollars in tax revenues that Bush has promised his rich friends.

Since Bush has not significantly improved security at home, you might at first think that he actually believes his plan is working (i.e., Bush is drinking his own Cool Aid). But then you hear Tom Ridge at the Department of Homeland Security tell us that a major terrorist attack is expected in the next 3-4 months.

There's a strange, almost surreal, feeling I have while writing this. We stand on the brink of national disaster, and our so-called free press stands idly by.

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