Prior to the attacks of September 11, 2001, newly-selected President George W. Bush was enjoying a fairly decent approval rating of between 50-60%. Then, as he so heartlessly stated, he won the “trifecta.” And America was frozen in time, much as Bush was frozen for several minutes in that Florida classroom after the second of the two World Trade Center towers was hit.
After those attacks, George Bush had the full support of nearly every American – and, of our allies across the world, including Iran, which was led by a much more moderate faction at the time. And what did he do with this political capital? He spent it – and made sure that we would be mired in the 20th Century for the entire length of his Reign of Error.
Bush used Bin Laden’s attacks as an excuse to push America into a bizarre “war on terror.” This was, he warned, going to be a war that would take many years and be unconventional in its approach. What he did not tell us is that the “war on terror” would be used as an excuse to seize an unprecedented amount of executive power, invade a country that did not attack us first, and would actually INCREASE the strength of Al Qaeda and the number of terrorist attacks around the world.
Now, when the World Trade Center was attacked in 1993, Bill Clinton did not go to war. He captured those responsible – as far as he knew at the time – and put them in jail. Other terrorist attacks were also stopped by President Clinton just before the millennium, with very little fanfare.
Yet Bush wanted us to be afraid. In that respect, he and Bin Laden were on the same page (the terrorist wants to terrify), but for very different reasons. When an electorate is afraid, it doesn’t question things too closely. Like, why there were so many warnings about 9/11, but it happened anyway. (The conclusion of the 9/11 Commission was that the attacks were, indeed, preventable.) Like why we are still in Afghanistan. I don’t have any idea what the mission is there. Do you? The Taliban is back. Bin Laden is in Pakistan. What’s the reasoning behind us remaining? Like why we invaded Iraq in the first place, since every given reason for that invasion has been thoroughly debunked. Like why we are spending all our money on two foreign occupations, paying “private contractors” billions of dollars for personnel and services, while there is “no money” to address the burgeoning economic and structural problems of our nation.
And by the way, the site of the original World Trade Center remains nothing but a hole, seven years later. So that moment, too, is still frozen in time.
But perhaps the most important way in which we are stuck in the 20th Century is the very fact of war itself. At this point in time, war is simply an outmoded way of accomplishing international objectives. The advent of nuclear weapons made that eventuality a foregone conclusion. No nation is going to attack another nation if that nation possesses these ultimate weapons of mass destruction. Thus, what we have are either non-state actors attacking nations (like in the attacks of September 11), or nuclear nations attacking and occupying non-nuclear nations for one reason or another. This type of warfare is almost never successful in advancing the interests of the attackers.
For example, the larger goal of Al Qaeda, which is to establish a Muslim Caliphate over the entire world, will never be achieved. Short-term goals, like terrifying a population, can be achieved, if the leader of the attacked nation wants them to be. But for the most part, the terrorists are a small group of non-state actors, groups of nutjobs who really have no power, other than the power the state grants them.
The other type of war, the invasion and occupation, is bound to become a quagmire unless the invader is set on conquering the occupied, and comes with absolutely overwhelming force in order to do so. Many generals told Dubya that he could not succeed in Iraq without using at least 500,000 troops. He ignored their advice and demoted them, and went in anyway. Five years later, Iraq is a hellhole. Never mind the happy talk about the surge. Yes, our military are, of course, performing extremely well in a very difficult situation, but they can only do so much. What about the people of Iraq? Millions displaced to surrounding countries, hundreds of thousands killed or wounded, a smoldering civil war and insurgency, a government that is a joke, no clean water, no electricity, no jobs. Where is our concurrent Marshall Plan, which makes the people of the occupied country feel that that the occupiers are a beneficent force?
Finally, our modern world is too interdependent now for nations to invade and occupy other nations with impunity. Look at the price of oil, which has quadrupled since the invasion of Iraq. Look at the terrible relationships we now have with Muslims all over the planet. Al Qaeda makes up a tiny percentage of the one billion Muslims in existence, yet we have let this minority rule our hearts and make up our minds about this religion. Imagine if Christians were only judged by groups like Christian Identity, or if Jews were only judged by groups like Kach and Kahane Chai.
This whole outdated “war first, war forever!” approach is something that needs to be phased out, both for its ineffectiveness and for its immorality. Yet thanks to George W. Bush and his Cold War mentality, we are still stuck in the past, unable to move forward.
For this, as for so many other reasons, George W. Bush is, now, and ever shall be: the Worst President Ever.
All peace and healing thoughts today to the victims of the 9/11 attacks, and a fervent wish that we humans of all shapes, sizes, colors, nationalities and religions can move into a more peaceful future, find a way to beat our swords into plowshares, and study war no more.
Cross-posted at The Confluence