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The Legacy of Bush: the End of an Error? PDF Print E-mail
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by Malou Innocent
Exclusive for Al Waref
Translation Editor: Jennifer Young

Towards the end of his term, the outgoing President Bush defended the message of his mandate. “The decisions I made as your commander in chief have not always been popular,” Bush said at a ceremony at Fort Myer in Arlington, “but the reasons have always been fair and appropriate.”

Once again, the outgoing president demonstrates his talent for emphasizing the bravery of the U.S. military while diverting attention from its disastrous policies, starting with Iraq and ending with Afghanistan. For years President Bush has not stopped reinforcing that, thanks to his leadership, Americans are now more secure since September 11. However, the senior intelligence, military, and diplomatic experts agree that Bush's fixation on Iraq has not made the U.S. a safer place.

Whatever gains the U.S. could have expected from the "surge" (reinforcement of troops in Iraq), has instead shaped a new generation of terrorists, thus expanding both the number and geographical coverage of jihadists. It has also exacerbated the mistrust vis-à-vis the United States around the world even as their leaders are content to see themselves as benefactors. The goal of bin Laden was to provoke the United States into an excessive retaliatory attack that was ill-defined against the Muslim world. The Iraq policy of the Bush administration has fallen into the trap.

Worse than the unification of the enemies of the United States, Bush has divided its allies. When abroad, the inclination of the commander in chief for the rhetoric of "us against them" has led to snub its potential allies and ignore the voices of caution. The days following September 11, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and Russia jointly issued an unprecedented declaration of support to the United States in its fight against Islamic radicalism. Even Iran has offered its assistance in search and rescue of American pilots falling in Afghanistan. Now, seven years later, even the NATO allies are divided about their commitments to send troops to a mission they consider to have been mismanaged by Bush. Experts warn against the emergence of a cold war with Russia. Worse yet, the influence of the clerical leadership in Tehran have spread across the Middle East, due in part to the elimination by the Bush administration, an "against-strategic power, Saddam Hussein.

Another aspect of Bush's argument on the greatest security in the U.S. since September 11th has been undermined by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace. He confirmed in 2007 in a confidential report to the Congress, that the efforts deployed in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan prevents the United States from responding fully to an international crisis. With an army scattered, a shortage of "first responders" at home, and a weakened ability to fight international threats, it is easy to understand why 27% of Americans approve only the maintenance of the foreign policy of Bush, according to a survey from the Wall Street Journal  and NBC in December 2008.
The invasion of Iraq will undoubtedly be remembered for several reasons, including forged documents on Niger uranium and false allegations about Saddam's links to al Qaeda. But even more damning than the details of the error diagnostic from Bush was his refusal to take into account the costs, which have diverted attention and resources from the U.S. military in Afghanistan to Iraq. Accordingly, the mission in Afghanistan is now at risk because the security situation in this region continues to deteriorate.

2008 was the worst year for the U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan. The Taliban, though tormented by internal divisions, has become a dominant presence in many provinces in the south and east. Some of them have now become areas of "no right" to coalition forces. Due to military personnel, 70,000 troops of the United States and NATO are inadequate to prevent insurgents from entering areas previously "cleaned". Worse yet, the militants operating across the border in Pakistan, with the nuclear bomb, began attacking supply trucks from NATO to landlocked Afghanistan. In December, armed men burned more than 160 vehicles for coalition troops near Peshawar in Pakistan, which is the administrative center for the tribal areas and the capital of the province of North-West Frontier. This environmental deterioration along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border creates an ideal setting for al-Qaida and the Taliban to grow. The threat of Al Qaeda, which seemed close to subsiding in 2002, has now been revived with an alarming zeal. This development certainly does not make the U.S. more secure.

President Bush deserves to be remembered for his error in calculating the strategy to divert U.S. military forces away from those who had attacked the United States on September 11th, to invade a nation that had done nothing, and thus further destabilizing his country.
Malou Innocent is a foreign policy analyst at the Cato Institute in Washington DC.
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