Annotating Bush’s Iraq speech

One key to a healthy public discourse in America is for all sides to deal with their opponents’ ideas directly, without demonizing or creating straw men. To that end, I am examining a speech President Bush gave today, October 6, at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C. For brevity's sake I am not reproducing the complete transcript, but I will try to quote at sufficient length that I do not take the President out of context.

Recently our country observed the fourth anniversary of a great evil, and looked back on a great turning point in our history. We still remember a proud city covered in smoke and ashes, a fire across the Potomac, and passengers who spent their final moments on Earth fighting the enemy. We still remember the men who rejoiced in every death, and Americans in uniform rising to duty. And we remember the calling that came to us on that day, and continues to this hour: We will confront this mortal danger to all humanity. We will not tire, or rest, until the war on terror is won.

The point of Bush’s speech is to put the Iraq War into a context of the War on Terror. I do not believe it belongs in that context. You don’t have to be a Saddam fan to note that (prior to our invasion) Iraq was a secular state and not a sponsor of the kind of Islamic terrorism that Bush is invoking 9/11 against. If we are fighting Islamic Jihadists in Iraq now, it is because our invasion created an opportunity for the Jihadists. Bush’s policies have given the Jihadists prizes that they could not have won on their own.

The images and experience of September the 11th are unique for Americans. Yet the evil of that morning has reappeared on other days, in other places -- in Mombasa, and Casablanca, and Riyadh, and Jakarta, and Istanbul, and Madrid, and Beslan, and Taba, and Netanya, and Baghdad, and elsewhere. In the past few months, we’ve seen a new terror offensive with attacks on London, and Sharm el-Sheikh, and a deadly bombing in Bali once again. All these separate images of destruction and suffering that we see on the news can seem like random and isolated acts of madness; innocent men and women and children have died simply because they boarded the wrong train, or worked in the wrong building, or checked into the wrong hotel. Yet while the killers choose their victims indiscriminately, their attacks serve a clear and focused ideology, a set of beliefs and goals that are evil, but not insane.

Some call this evil Islamic radicalism; others, militant Jihadism; still others, Islamo-fascism. Whatever it’s called, this ideology is very different from the religion of Islam. This form of radicalism exploits Islam to serve a violent, political vision: the establishment, by terrorism and subversion and insurgency, of a totalitarian empire that denies all political and religious freedom. These extremists distort the idea of jihad into a call for terrorist murder against Christians and Jews and Hindus -- and also against Muslims from other traditions, who they regard as heretics.

Don’t look to me for a defense of Islamic terrorism, but the Jihadists want what religious extremists of all stripes want: their practices enshrined as the law of the land and backed by the disciplinary power of the government. A huge difference of scale separates the 9/11 bombers from, say, the radical Christians who assassinate abortionists or the Jewish militant who massacred 29 Muslims at the Cave of the Patriarchs in 1994. But I see no difference of kind.

When we picture the Jihadists as something totally Other, outside the experience of any other religious or ethnic group, we lose touch with the common sense and nuance that our experience gives us. A murderer of an abortionist, for example, is not doing a good job of practicing the religion of Jesus; but I think he is misinterpreting Christianity rather than cynically exploiting it. I suspect the same is true of the Jihadists. I don’t like their interpretation of Islam, but an American Christian is way out of his league if he claims that they are not really Muslims. Most Muslims, I suspect, are offended when Bush makes a statement like this -- even if they condemn the Jihadists themselves.

Many militants are part of global, borderless terrorist organizations like al Qaeda, which spreads propaganda, and provides financing and technical assistance to local extremists, and conducts dramatic and brutal operations like September the 11th. Other militants are found in regional groups, often associated with al Qaeda -- paramilitary insurgencies and separatist movements in places like Somalia, and the Philippines, and Pakistan, and Chechnya, and Kashmir, and Algeria. Still others spring up in local cells, inspired by Islamic radicalism, but not centrally directed. Islamic radicalism is more like a loose network with many branches than an army under a single command. Yet these operatives, fighting on scattered battlefields, share a similar ideology and vision for our world.

By lumping all these folks together, Bush is reinforcing al Qaeda's propaganda. Each of the local struggles is unique, and in some of them the Islamic forces have a certain amount of justice on their side. Bin Laden would like to totalize this struggle, so that offenses against Muslims anywhere justify Islamic jihad everywhere. (The dynamic here is similar to the way that Bush likes to use 9/11 to justify actions that have little direct connection to it.) One of the biggest blunders of the Bush administration has been to help bin Laden totalize the struggle by allying America with anti-Islamic forces around the world. We wind up being implicated in crimes committed by the Russians in Chechnya, the Indians in Kashmir, or the Israelis in Palestine.

We know the vision of the radicals because they’ve openly stated it -- in videos, and audiotapes, and letters, and declarations, and websites. First, these extremists want to end American and Western influence in the broader Middle East, because we stand for democracy and peace, and stand in the way of their ambitions. Al Qaeda’s leader, Osama bin Laden, has called on Muslims to dedicate, quote, their “resources, sons and money to driving the infidels out of their lands.” Their tactic to meet this goal has been consistent for a quarter-century: They hit us, and expect us to run. They want us to repeat the sad history of Beirut in 1983, and Mogadishu in 1993 -- only this time on a larger scale, with greater consequences.

This is a half-truth. The implication is that bin Laden expected us to roll over after 9/11 and was shocked that we aggressively invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. But bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders have stated on several occasions that their strategy is to draw the United States into expensive wars that will break the American economy, just as they believe they broke the Soviet economy in Afghanistan. The whole point of 9/11 was to get us to invade Afghanistan, and Iraq was a pure bonus. Bush has consistently played into bin Laden’s hand.

Second, the militant network wants to use the vacuum created by an American retreat to gain control of a country, a base from which to launch attacks and conduct their war against non-radical Muslim governments. Over the past few decades, radicals have specifically targeted Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan, and Jordan for potential takeover. They achieved their goal, for a time, in Afghanistan. Now they’ve set their sights on Iraq. Bin Laden has stated: “The whole world is watching this war and the two adversaries. It’s either victory and glory, or misery and humiliation.” The terrorists regard Iraq as the central front in their war against humanity. And we must recognize Iraq as the central front in our war on terror.

Again, we need to remember that it was Bush’s invasion that put Iraq into play. Al Qaeda had no shot at taking Iraq from its secular dictator, Saddam.

The image of a post-American vacuum should be contrasted with the pressures the American presence creates. The various factions that are allied in the Iraqi insurgency would be at each other’s throats if not for their common American enemy. Baathists are not Jihadists, and anti-American tribal leaders may have little ideology beyond getting the foreigners out of their territory.

Third, the militants believe that controlling one country will rally the Muslim masses, enabling them to overthrow all moderate governments in the region, and establish a radical Islamic empire that spans from Spain to Indonesia. With greater economic and military and political power, the terrorists would be able to advance their stated agenda: to develop weapons of mass destruction, to destroy Israel, to intimidate Europe, to assault the American people, and to blackmail our government into isolation.

What really rallies the Muslim masses is seeing American troops kill Muslims. The longer we stay in Iraq and Afghanistan, the greater will be the popular pressure to overthrow American allies in places like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Jordan.

Evil men, obsessed with ambition and unburdened by conscience, must be taken very seriously -- and we must stop them before their crimes can multiply.

I can just as easily imagine this line in a bin Laden speech about Bush.

Defeating the militant network is difficult, because it thrives, like a parasite, on the suffering and frustration of others. The radicals exploit local conflicts to build a culture of victimization, in which someone else is always to blame and violence is always the solution.

Isn’t that exactly what this speech is about: Turning 9/11 into an American culture of victimization in which someone else is to blame and violence is the solution?

The influence of Islamic radicalism is also magnified by helpers and enablers. They have been sheltered by authoritarian regimes, allies of convenience like Syria and Iran, that share the goal of hurting America and moderate Muslim governments, and use terrorist propaganda to blame their own failures on the West and America, and on the Jews.

Moderate here means pro-American, and has no other meaning I can grasp. Egypt and Pakistan are not discernably more free than Syria and Iran, nor less likely to blame their problems on America or the Jews.

The militants are aided, as well, by elements of the Arab news media that incite hatred and anti-Semitism, that feed conspiracy theories and speak of a so-called American “war on Islam” -- with seldom a word about American action to protect Muslims in Afghanistan, and Bosnia, Somalia, Kosovo, Kuwait, and Iraq.

Bush is definitely playing to the home crowd here, because no Arab or Muslim will be impressed by this argument. Kosovo and Bosnia were legitimately situations in which America tried to protect Muslims from Christian aggression. But in the others, America supported one group of Muslims against another. Muslims who distrust American motives can reasonably portray these latter actions as meddling, or even as an attempt to control the Middle East by installing and supporting puppet governments.

Some have also argued that extremism has been strengthened by the actions of our coalition in Iraq, claiming that our presence in that country has somehow caused or triggered the rage of radicals. I would remind them that we were not in Iraq on September the 11th, 2001 -- and al Qaeda attacked us anyway. The hatred of the radicals existed before Iraq was an issue, and it will exist after Iraq is no longer an excuse. The government of Russia did not support Operation Iraqi Freedom, and yet the militants killed more than 180 Russian schoolchildren in Beslan.

Over the years these extremists have used a litany of excuses for violence -- the Israeli presence on the West Bank, or the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia, or the defeat of the Taliban, or the Crusades of a thousand years ago. In fact, we’re not facing a set of grievances that can be soothed and addressed. We’re facing a radical ideology with inalterable objectives: to enslave whole nations and intimidate the world. No act of ours invited the rage of the killers -- and no concession, bribe, or act of appeasement would change or limit their plans for murder.

This is the heart of the speech, the key argument that I think you will hear again and again in the months to come. The flaw in it is obvious: I’ve never heard anyone argue that bin Laden himself or his most radical followers could be persuaded to stop attacking Americans. The question, rather, is how many allies they will have. If they have only a few allies in the general Muslim population, they will be easy to isolate and capture. But if they maintain a broad popular following they’ll be very hard to beat. Bush’s policies have guaranteed that bin Laden will find many allies in the decades to come.

Consider the Iraqi city of Fallujah, for example. Last December we depopulated this city of about 300,000 and destroyed large sections of it, driving hundreds of thousands out of their homes. Most have still not returned almost a year later. It is safe to assume that prior to the American invasion in 2003, relatively few of these people considered themselves to be active enemies of the United States. But how many of them are our enemies now? If they hear of another plot to fly airliners into American skyscrapers, will they alert the authorities or try to join?

Against such an enemy, there is only one effective response: We will never back down, never give in, and never accept anything less than complete victory.

Did anyone else think of Galaxy Quest when they heard this line? “Never give up. Never surrender.”

Insurgencies demand flexible responses, not rigid ones. The strategy Bush describes has been playing into bin Laden’s hand all along and will continue to do so. Let’s recall what bin Laden said in his October, 2004 message: “All that we have to do is to send two mujahidin to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al-Qaida, in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic, and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note other than some benefits for their private companies. This is in addition to our having experience in using guerrilla warfare and the war of attrition to fight tyrannical superpowers, as we, alongside the mujahidin, bled Russia for 10 years, until it went bankrupt and was forced to withdraw in defeat. All Praise is due to Allah. So we are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy. Allah willing, and nothing is too great for Allah.”

So do you think bin Laden is frightened when he hears that Bush will never accept anything less than complete victory? No, he's counting on it.

And while we’re here: What is complete victory, anyway? Has Bush or anyone else defined what victory is or made any estimate of when it might be achieved?

The murderous ideology of the Islamic radicals is the great challenge of our new century. Yet, in many ways, this fight resembles the struggle against communism in the last century. Like the ideology of communism, Islamic radicalism is elitist, led by a self-appointed vanguard that presumes to speak for the Muslim masses. Bin Laden says his own role is to tell Muslims, quote, “what is good for them and what is not.” And what this man who grew up in wealth and privilege considers good for poor Muslims is that they become killers and suicide bombers. He assures them that his -- that this is the road to paradise -- though he never offers to go along for the ride.

An awful lot of Bush’s attacks on bin Laden’s character are projection. Bin Laden left his life as a rich Saudi to live in the caves of Afghanistan and fight at his people’s side at considerable personal risk. Bush did not fight in his generation’s war in Vietnam, and no one in the Bush family is fighting this supposedly noble war in Iraq. The rich coward who sends poor people to kill or die in a war he refuses to fight personally -- it’s Bush, not bin Laden.

Like the ideology of communism, our new enemy teaches that innocent individuals can be sacrificed to serve a political vision.

In America we call it “collateral damage.”

When 25 Iraqi children are killed in a bombing, or Iraqi teachers are executed at their school, or hospital workers are killed caring for the wounded, this is murder, pure and simple -- the total rejection of justice and honor and morality and religion. These militants are not just the enemies of America, or the enemies of Iraq, they are the enemies of Islam and the enemies of humanity. We have seen this kind of shameless cruelty before, in the heartless zealotry that led to the gulags, and the Cultural Revolution, and the killing fields.

How many Iraqi children, teachers, and hospital workers have died in American attacks? It may be true that we go to great lengths to avoid such deaths, but I doubt that matters much to the Iraqis whose loved ones have died at our hands. I would guess that a lot of Iraqis blame America for all the deaths, including those killed by the insurgents. War is hell, after all, and we started it.

And by the way: It is hard to claim the mantle of justice, honor, morality, and religion at the same time that you are threatening to veto a law restricting your ability to order torture.

Like the ideology of communism, our new enemy pursues totalitarian aims. Its leaders pretend to be an aggrieved party, representing the powerless against imperial enemies.

And they get away with it because we play the role of imperial enemies so well. And we take sides against the authentically aggrieved Muslims in various local struggles.

Like the ideology of communism, our new enemy is dismissive of free peoples, claiming that men and women who live in liberty are weak and decadent. Zarqawi has said that Americans are, quote, “the most cowardly of God's creatures.” But let's be clear: It is cowardice that seeks to kill children and the elderly with car bombs, and cuts the throat of a bound captive, and targets worshipers leaving a mosque. It is courage that liberated more than 50 million people.

I don’t think I would have the courage to blow myself up. Ever since 9/11, Bush has been attacking the “cowardice” of the Jihadists, which is just ridiculous. This is more projection: Bush feels insecure about his own courage, so he throws around charges of cowardice.

The administration often repeats the claim that the 50 million people of Iraq and Afghanistan are “free” now. But they are not free in any sense that we would accept for ourselves. They live in a war zone under foreign occupation. Many are oppressed by local warlords and militias that do not recognize the rights supposedly guaranteed by the central government.

By fearing freedom -- by distrusting human creativity, and punishing change, and limiting the contributions of half the population -- this ideology undermines the very qualities that make human progress possible, and human societies successful.

In this, they differ only in degree from any other breed of religious fundamentalists, including those who turned out in droves to vote for Bush.

We didn’t ask for this global struggle, but we’re answering history's call with confidence, and a comprehensive strategy.

I believe Bush intends the rest of the speech to define this comprehensive strategy.

Defeating a broad and adaptive network requires patience, constant pressure, and strong partners in Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, Asia and beyond. Working with these partners, we’re disrupting militant conspiracies, destroying their ability to make war, and working to give millions in a troubled region of the world a hopeful alternative to resentment and violence.

First, we’re determined to prevent the attacks of terrorist networks before they occur. We’re reorganizing our government to give this nation a broad and coordinated homeland defense. We’re reforming our intelligence agencies for the incredibly difficult task of tracking enemy activity, based on information that often comes in small fragments from widely scattered sources, here and abroad. We’re acting, along with the governments from many countries, to destroy the terrorist networks and incapacitate their leaders. Together, we’ve killed or captured nearly all of those directly responsible for the September the 11th attacks;

At least we got the ones who blew themselves up.

as well as some of bin Laden’s most senior deputies; al Qaeda managers and operatives in more than 24 countries; the mastermind of the USS Cole bombing, who was chief of al Qaeda operations in the Persian Gulf; the mastermind of the Jakarta and the first Bali bombings; a senior Zarqawi terrorist planner, who was planning attacks in Turkey; and many of al Qaeda's senior leaders in Saudi Arabia.

This is body-count thinking. Al Qaeda expects to lose people; they blow themselves up, after all. The question is how easily these people are replaced and whether the overall capability of the network is growing or shrinking.

Overall, the United States and our partners have disrupted at least ten serious al Qaeda terrorist plots since September the 11th, including three al Qaeda plots to attack inside the United States.

It’s impossible to say whether this means anything or not. Consider Jose Padilla, for example. He was arrested at O’Hare Airport as he entered the country. From what little the government has released about him, he appears to be a big talker who may or may not have talked about exploding a dirty bomb in an American city. He never had such a bomb and probably had no idea how to get the ingredients for one. Is that one of the ten “serious” plots?

We will not relent until the organized international terror networks are exposed and broken, and their leaders held to account for their acts of murder.

Bin Laden has been laughing at Bush’s threats for four years now. In his last video tape he looked pretty healthy.

Second, we’re determined to deny weapons of mass destruction to outlaw regimes, and to their terrorist allies who would use them without hesitation. The United States, working with Great Britain, Pakistan, and other nations, has exposed and disrupted a major black-market operation in nuclear technology led by A.Q. Khan.

Khan was then pardoned by President Musharraf of Pakistan, our supposed ally. He’s a free man today.

Third, we’re determined to deny radical groups the support and sanctuary of outlaw regimes. State sponsors like Syria and Iran have a long history of collaboration with terrorists, and they deserve no patience from the victims of terror. The United States makes no distinction between those who commit acts of terror and those who support and harbor them, because they're equally as guilty of murder. Any government that chooses to be an ally of terror has also chosen to be an enemy of civilization. And the civilized world must hold those regimes to account.

Fourth, we’re determined to deny the militants control of any nation, which they would use as a home base and a launching pad for terror. For this reason, we’re fighting beside our Afghan partners against remnants of the Taliban and their al Qaeda allies. For this reason, we’re working with President Musharraf to oppose and isolate the militants in Pakistan.

(That’s the same Musharraf I mentioned before.) How exactly does this launching-pad theory work? The London bombings, for example, appear to have been a Western operation. It’s not clear how victory in Iraq and Afghanistan will stop such attacks.

And for this reason, we’re fighting the regime remnants and terrorists in Iraq. The terrorist goal is to overthrow a rising democracy, claim a strategic country as a haven for terror, destabilize the Middle East, and strike America and other free nations with ever-increasing violence. Our goal is to defeat the terrorists and their allies at the heart of their power -- and so we will defeat the enemy in Iraq.

Notice how casually “regime remnants and terrorists” slide together. These people had nothing to do with each other until we gave them a common enemy. Iraq is the “heart” of terrorist power because American troops drew terrorists there like honey draws flies. And in what sense is Iraq a “rising democracy” rather than a sinking anarchy or a slithering kleptocracy?

Our coalition, along with our Iraqi allies, is moving forward with a comprehensive, specific military plan. Area by area, city by city, we’re conducting offensive operations to clear out enemy forces, and leaving behind Iraqi units to prevent the enemy from returning.

When did we start this strategy and how has it been working? It looks to me like we keep invading the same places over and over again, like Mosul or Ramadhi. This is the way in which the Iraq War most resembles Vietnam.

Within these areas, we’re working for tangible improvements in the lives of Iraqi citizens.

Note the careful wording: He doesn’t claim that we’ve actually made tangible improvements, just that we’re working on them. In fact the numbers are discouraging. Electrical production, for example, peaked in August, 2004. Oil production is still below what it was before the invasion. See Brookings’ Iraqi Index Project for details.

And we’re aiding the rise of an elected government that unites the Iraqi people against extremism and violence.

If only. The country seems more and more to be polarizing on sectarian lines. Shiites and Kurds wrote the new constitution and like it. Chances are that they will eventually wind up with most of the oil if it passes. Sunnis don’t like it, probably won’t be able to defeat it, and will have little choice other than to submit or join the insurgency.

This work involves great risk for Iraqis, and for Americans and coalition forces. Wars are not won without sacrifice -- and this war will require more sacrifice, more time, and more resolve.

Sacrifice, that is, for the troops and their families. But nada for the rest of us: no draft, no taxes, no spending cuts. We’ll just borrow the money from the Chinese and let future generations sort it out.

Some observers look at the job ahead and adopt a self-defeating pessimism. It is not justified. With every random bombing and with every funeral of a child, it becomes more clear that the extremists are not patriots, or resistance fighters -- they are murderers at war with the Iraqi people, themselves.

See my comment above about the deaths of children. I think we are the ones who more and more seem to be at war with the Iraqi people.

In contrast, the elected leaders of Iraq are proving to be strong and steadfast.

And corrupt. And unscrupulous. Until the UN made them back down, the Shiite/Kurd alliance that dominates Parliament had interpreted the election rules in a way that made Sunni resistance irrelevant. The whole constitutional process has been riddled with irregularities and illegalities.

By any standard or precedent of history, Iraq has made incredible political progress -- from tyranny, to liberation, to national elections, to the writing of a constitution, in the space of two-and-a-half years.

This is our timetable, and has little to do with Iraqi progress towards democracy. All along, Bush has believed there is something magic about a constitution and some elections. There isn’t. The key question is whether a national consensus is developing that will cause anybody to forgo short-term power and profit to defend the rights of other people. That’s how you know if you have a real democracy or just some paper and a charade.

With our help, the Iraqi military is gaining new capabilities and new confidence with every passing month. At the time of our Fallujah operations 11 months ago, there were only a few Iraqi army battalions in combat. Today there are more than 80 Iraqi army battalions fighting the insurgency alongside our forces.

Different administration sources disagree about how combat-ready these Iraqi troops are. But the deeper question is whether they are truly Iraqi troops. Or are they just Shiite and Kurdish militias that we are preparing for the inevitable civil war with the Sunnis?

Some observers question the durability of democracy in Iraq. They underestimate the power and appeal of freedom.

Everybody loves their own freedom. The question is whether you will fight for somebody else’s. Will Shiites fight for Sunni freedom? Sunni for Shiite? I’m waiting for some evidence of that.

We’ve heard it suggested that Iraq's democracy must be on shaky ground because Iraqis are arguing with each other.

No, it’s the blowing each other up that’s got me worried.

But that’s the essence of democracy: making your case, debating with those who you disagree -- who disagree, building consensus by persuasion, and answering to the will of the people. We’ve heard it said that the Shia, Sunnis and Kurds of Iraq are too divided to form a lasting democracy. In fact, democratic federalism is the best hope for unifying a diverse population, because a federal constitutional system respects the rights and religious traditions of all citizens, while giving all minorities, including the Sunnis, a stake and a voice in the future of their country. It is true that the seeds of freedom have only recently been planted in Iraq -- but democracy, when it grows, is not a fragile flower; it is a healthy, sturdy tree.

A lovely thought, but completely false. Democracy is a fragile flower. If a constitution and an election were all you needed, all of Africa would have become democratic when the European colonies got their independence in the Sixties. I can’t think of a single example where warring tribes were successfully united in a democratic federal state. The European Union has been working towards some kind of federalism for decades; it’s a long slow process even among peaceful nations with similar cultures. When you force a federal union on groups that hate each other, it never works.

As Americans, we believe that people everywhere -- everywhere -- prefer freedom to slavery, and that liberty, once chosen, improves the lives of all.

I’m sure Africans love their own freedom and liberty as much as anybody, but that didn’t keep away the Mobutus and the Idi Amins.

Some observers also claim that America would be better off by cutting our losses and leaving Iraq now. This is a dangerous illusion, refuted with a simple question: Would the United States and other free nations be more safe, or less safe, with Zarqawi and bin Laden in control of Iraq, its people, and its resources?

The longer we stay in Iraq, the more likely that eventual result becomes. Zarqawi only has a chance if Iraqis decide he’s the best way to get rid of American troops and their puppets.

The fifth element of our strategy in the war on terror is to deny the militants future recruits by replacing hatred and resentment with democracy and hope across the broader Middle East. This is a difficult and long-term project, yet there’s no alternative to it. Our future and the future of that region are linked. If the broader Middle East is left to grow in bitterness, if countries remain in misery, while radicals stir the resentments of millions, then that part of the world will be a source of endless conflict and mounting danger, and for our generation and the next. If the peoples of that region are permitted to choose their own destiny, and advance by their own energy and by their participation as free men and women, then the extremists will be marginalized, and the flow of violent radicalism to the rest of the world will slow, and eventually end.

Another lovely thought. What happens, on the other hand, if the Iraq War spills over into Syria, Iran, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the rest of the Middle East the way that the Vietnam War spilled into Cambodia and Laos? What if the whole region turns into one big Lebanon with American troops pulled in all directions to prop up our allies or overthrow our enemies?

Bin Laden knows that only one force can re-unite the Muslim world and restore the Caliphate of old: America as a common enemy. If he can tempt American troops into more and more countries and get the Muslim forces in those countries to recognize their local struggle as part of one big American Crusade Against Islam, then it makes sense for all the pro-Islamic forces to unite under one heroic leadership. That’s his dream. That’s what he prays to Allah for every night.

America is making this stand in practical ways. We’re encouraging our friends in the Middle East, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, to take the path of reform, to strengthen their own societies in the fight against terror by respecting the rights and choices of their own people.

This is a joke and will be widely recognized as a joke in the Muslim world. Egypt and Saudi Arabia are no closer to democracy than Syria and Iran. This kind of rhetoric makes Muslims cynical about our motives: Clearly democracy is just a code word for a pro-American puppet regime.

We’re standing with dissidents and exiles against oppressive regimes, because we know that the dissidents of today will be the democratic leaders of tomorrow.

People like, say, Chalabi. This is another joke. What Egyptian or Saudi dissidents are we standing with?

We’re making our case through public diplomacy, stating clearly and confidently our belief in self-determination, and the rule of law, and religious freedom, and equal rights for women, beliefs that are right and true in every land, and in every culture.

And we’re pushing an Iraqi constitution that sells out equal rights for women.

Many people of the Muslim faith are proving their commitment at great personal risk. Everywhere we have engaged the fight against extremism, Muslim allies have stood up and joined the fight, becoming partners in a vital cause. Afghan troops are in combat against Taliban remnants. Iraqi soldiers are sacrificing to defeat al Qaeda in their own country. These brave citizens know the stakes -- the survival of their own liberty, the future of their own region, the justice and humanity of their own tradition -- and that United States of America is proud to stand beside them.

The fact that the army is the only reliable job in Iraq is just a coincidence.

Throughout history, tyrants and would-be tyrants have always claimed that murder is justified to serve their grand vision -- and they end up alienating decent people across the globe. Tyrants and would-be tyrants have always claimed that regimented societies are strong and pure -- until those societies collapse in corruption and decay.

More projection. Putting faith in the people: Is that why we need the Patriot Act? Detentions without due process? Torture? Last I heard, it was Bush who had alienated decent people across the globe and the Republican Party that was collapsing in corruption and decay.

That’s it. That’s the best that the Leader of the Free World has to offer as an explanation for thousands of troops lost and hundreds of billions of dollars spent. Happy?

Doug Muder
6 October 2005
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