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  • The President’s Perspective

    Posted by Ginny on December 18th, 2005 (All posts by )

    Bush’s speech. When we listen to the contrast between hawks & doves (roughly republicans and democrats, especially as seen by matched pundits post-speech), we see them arguing past one another. As irritating as the democrats’ political spin may be to a hawk, the narrow & superficial approach is understandable if we assume, as many of them do, that this is only a “war.” Indeed, since it isn’t real, it is best analyzed as political ploy. Dots going back to, what, 1983 in Beirut and moving on to the German hostages today do not cohere to them. Nor do they read the fatwas, listen to the speeches in Iran or watch the celebrations in Gaza – these are not parts of one implacable foe. Hawks see a pattern; doves do not. That the doves’ arguments fall into the cheapest of partisan arguments arises from the fact that they do not see this as, well, important. So, they fall back on old cliches – speaking of offering peace rather than war without feeling a need to define who that peace would be with and how it would be accomplished. Bush recognized that difference, but made his own stance clear:

    September 11th, 2001 required us to take every emerging threat to our country seriously, and it shattered the illusion that terrorists attack us only after we provoke them. On that day, we were not in Iraq, we were not in Afghanistan, but the terrorists attacked us anyway – and killed nearly 3,000 men, women, and children in our own country. My conviction comes down to this: We do not create terrorism by fighting the terrorists. We invite terrorism by ignoring them. And we will defeat the terrorists by capturing and killing them abroad, removing their safe havens, and strengthening new allies like Iraq and Afghanistan in the fight we share.

    He further distinguishes between these two points of view.


    He acknowledges “[t]his loss has caused sorrow for our whole Nation – and it has led some to ask if we are creating more problems than we are solving.” Then he describes how he believes that question should be answered:

    That is an important question, and the answer depends on your view of the war on terror. If you think the terrorists would become peaceful if only America would stop provoking them, then it might make sense to leave them alone.

    This is not the threat I see. I see a global terrorist movement that exploits Islam in the service of radical political aims – a vision in which books are burned, and women are oppressed, and all dissent is crushed. Terrorist operatives conduct their campaign of murder with a set of declared and specific goals – to de-moralize free nations, to drive us out of the Middle East, to spread an empire of fear across that region, and to wage a perpetual war against America and our friends. These terrorists view the world as a giant battlefield – and they seek to attack us wherever they can. This has attracted al Qaida to Iraq, where they are attempting to frighten and intimidate America into a policy of retreat.

    The terrorists do not merely object to American actions in Iraq and elsewhere – they object to our deepest values and our way of life. And if we were not fighting them in Iraq … in Afghanistan, in Southeast Asia, and in other places, the terrorists would not be peaceful citizens – they would be on the offense, and headed our way.

    Perhaps hawks see with paranoia, but I would suggest it is gravitas. More than that, hawks sense this is not a fight our children (weakened by our abdication of an elder’s responsibility to promote and protect our beliefs) should have to fight against an ideology that has in the meantime been strengthened not only by that abdication but by another generation’s madrassa training. Our opponents believe our children are better dead than free (at least free in the way we define freedom). But our belief is broad, too – we believe freedom is the right of the very people who find our use of it so offensive. Given the ballot, they may want to limit that freedom in ways we do not, but that is their choice. It is not too optimistic to assume they will enjoy that taste of freedom, besides they are far more likely to vote than shoot.

    Irritated Update: Of course, the “other” side demonstrates another perspective quickly.
    Less slanted later NY Times. Of course it does seem a little picky to complain that Bush took the concluding (and therefore resolving) lines from Longfellow, rather than the ones that, clearly, this writer prefers. (This is reporting?) Also, of course, they point to their own story, foregoing any reference to its relation to the book publication. This juxtaposition would be central to the discussion if the shoe were on the other foot.

     

    16 Responses to “The President’s Perspective”

    1. Craig R. Harmon Says:

      The President is wrong, I fear. The enemy does only attack after provocation and did on 9/11. Of course one has to go back quite some ways to find the beginning of the provocation. We are heirs to Western Christianity and the crusades that the enemy interpret as military attacks upon Islam. There was the downfall of the Ottoman Empire and the piecemeal break-up of lands under empirical rulers. There was the placement of infidel troops in such places, holy to them, as Saudi Arabia. UBL has been kind enough to remind us of all of these, and many more, prior provocations. We chose, however, none too rationally, I think, to begin history at 9/11/2001. Our enemy have somewhat longer memories than we.

      None of this changes the fact that we are in this fight because 9/11 could not be ignored. If war was what UBL wanted, he certainly knew and used a very efficient means of obtaining his goal. However, ignoring the provocation that the enemy has so helpfully provided for us of such limited historical memory and simply saying that we were not in Afghanistan or Iraq but they struck us anyway is a mistake, I believe. First of all, it misstates our enemy’s position quite bald-facedly and while there may be a legitimate reason for such propaganda, it would help Americans to see that no amount of appeasement can set aside our enemy’s animus; their memories are too long and their interpretations of history, too warped. Levelling with the people might put this present struggle into the same sort of historical perspective that our enemy has and show the futility of running away from the fight. Second, it isn’t convincing because too many Americans know some of the laundry list of complaints that the jihadis have against the West and, thus, it feeds the “Bush lies at every turn” crowd. If there’s one thing Bush needs right now with the American people is credibility.

    2. James d. Says:

      Too often people forget that the dots connect at least as far back as Beruit in 1983. They had a memorial service at the Cathedral in Baltimore on Sept. 11, 2003, for the anniversary. The governor, mayor, and prominent clergy of all faiths were there. An excellent service, under-reported, under-advertised and under-attended, of course.
      But Gov. Robert Erhlich (sp?) made it a point to list every possible terrorist attack, starting with 1983 and including a number of attacks that did not include Americans (acknowledging Israel, for instance). After listening to the events, the dates and the casualties (and how many there were before Sept. 11), it showed that to treat the war on terrorism as simply a reaction to 9/11, or to downplay it as such, is close-minded to an extraordinary degree.
      The funny thing is that even with that pattern in mind, there are different ways to go about things, even ways that differ from the Bush approach. None of those ways including ignoring the problem, however.

    3. Sandy P Says:

      We (still) exist and say no – that is the provocation.

      Why not start in 1970 w/Arafat giving approval of killing of our ambassadors and/or 1979?

    4. Ginny Says:

      Mr. Harmon is quite helpful but I long ago gave up on anyone actually reading the fatwas (in which, given OBL’s lengthy memory not surprisingly, the Palestinian/Israeli conflict played quite minor parts). Instead, from the beginning, people on the left have projected their own vision – America as oppressor. All they want, such people who phone into NPR say, is “freedom.” Of course, looking at the religious restrictions of the Taliban or the secular authority Saddam exercised, freedom doesn’t seem exactly the word. Virtue, perhaps. Or order.

    5. RIZALIST Says:

      While no one can deny the long history that has been mentioned, perhaps it would be useful to equate the EXPERIENCE of September 11 for present day Americans to that of their parents and grandparents in Pearl Harbor. There too, there was a long period in Europe and Asia when Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan attacked others. But it took Pearl Harbor to mobilize America in earnest in the fight against Fascism. At least in the metaphor to Terrorism that GWB employed Sunday apropos of September 11. Brilliantly I might add. Thanks for indulging these comments.

    6. Neal Phenes Says:

      We have been waiting (on pins and needles) for the Democrat official position on how to fight (or not fight) terror or how to extricate ourselves from Iraq. Now, Nacy Pelosi has advised us that we will not hear the Democrat position after all all this time.

      The WaPo reports:

      House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said yesterday that Democrats should not seek a unified position on an exit strategy in Iraq, calling the war a matter of individual conscience and saying differing positions within the caucus are a source of strength for the party.

      Pelosi said Democrats will produce an issue agenda for the 2006 elections but it will not include a position on Iraq. There is consensus within the party that President Bush has mismanaged the war and that a new course is needed, but House Democrats should be free to take individual positions, she sad.

      “There is no one Democratic voice . . . and there is no one Democratic position,” Pelosi said in an interview with Washington Post reporters and editors.

      No unified position? Their rhetoric sure speaks in one voice. They are for withdrawal except when there is a vote to place their voice in an official record. They do not have “one voice”? Not until they are told what it is through polling and their politicos. Not standing for something. I thought their error has been exactly that!

    7. Jay Says:

      This analysis is largely correct. The notion of connecting the dots back to 1983 in Beirut, and viewing Muslims as a vast unified conspiracy sounds nuts to people who prefer to avoid wars (“doves”) rather than enter into them (“hawks”). I’m one of those people; I opposed this war. I (wrongly, now, in my view) opposed the first Gulf War. I supported the invasion of Afghanistan–and thought that enterprise was executed extremely well. I also think they got lucky; I don’t think they realized how hated the Taliban were.

      My opposition to the first Gulf War is illustrative. It didn’t, at the time, seem to me important which authoritarian government sold oil to world markets. I understood, and found compelling but not ultimately persuasive, that the expulsion of Saddam from Kuwait was more about showing a commitment to allies than about oil.

      So, yes, the reflexive reaction that wars are almost never worth their enormous costs reflects two fundamental ways of viewing the world. 1) It’s not nearly as dangerous as hawks say it is. 2) Wars inevitably have unintended consequences.

      WRT the first issue, no, I do not see a vast Muslim conspiracy to rule the world. I see one Islamist state, formed in part in reaction to hawkish support for an authoritarian regime. I see one small group of radicals, who are in conflict with the Islamist regime. Lacking the assets of a state, I don’t see them as a threat that justifies even the metaphor of “war.” I also don’t see them going away.

      WRT the second, I see the unintended consequences in today’s newspaper. The US is in the process of creating a new islamist state in southern Iraq. Just as supplying stingers to al qaeda through the pakistani secret service turns out to have been short-term thinking, deposing Saddam turns out to be leading to some unintended consequences.

      It is very hard to make a case that this war was the best way to depose Saddam and impose a representative government on the Iraqis.

    8. Craig R. Harmon Says:

      Given Saddam’s iron grip on the country, Jay, what was the better solution? I’m not arguing that Bush hasn’t made a hash of much of the Iraq campaign but what war of any extended length ISN’T mostly hash?

    9. TM Lutas Says:

      At the Peace of Westphalia, we outlawed the sort of organization that Al Queda is. Groups that willy-nilly cross borders, support their friends and smite their enemies yet have no actual territories themselves were to be exterminated. Take a look at the history of the Thirty Years War and its predecessors and you’ll see why.

      The Peace of Westphalia predates the formation of the United States of America. We have never had to deal with such groups because our predecessors eliminated them across the western world where they had caused such havoc before we ever emerged into independence.

      Now we have to deal with such a thing and we are slowly coming to the realization that such groups don’t have to be all that big to create large disruptions in the present international system. Westphalianism is dead and Al Queda wants to take us back to a pre-westphalian age by provoking the formation of their mirror image as the state proves itself impotent in the face of their challenge. The formation of Australian counter-gangs to Lebanese muslim gangs in Sydney is our future writ small in the present.

      The system is slowly unraveling and the band plays on.

    10. Tyouth Says:

      Rationalizing OBL and his ilks motives (Craig goes back a millenium, with some seriousness, I believe) at all is ridiculous and buys into radical islam’s propaganda.

      The only analogy that reasonably applies is that of a homocial maniac coming toward you: Institutionalize the crazed bastard if you can but kill him if you must.

    11. Ginny Says:

      Tyouth, Probably I shouldn’t speak for Craig Harmon, but I think his point is not to rationalize what they did but rather to observe that their reasons are not what most of us consider rational and have been scraped together to buttress an anger they feel. sure, he thinks Bush should level with the public about those reasonz, but in doing so, he will demonstrate that OBL (and those who reason as he does) are crazy by our standards: Harmon’s words: First of all, it misstates our enemy’s position quite bald-facedly and while there may be a legitimate reason for such propaganda, it would help Americans to see that no amount of appeasement can set aside our enemy’s animus; their memories are too long and their interpretations of history, too warped.

    12. Craig R. Harmon Says:

      Thank you, Ginny. That was my point exactly.

    13. Jay Says:

      Given Saddam’s iron grip on the country, Jay, what was the better solution?

      He didn’t have an iron grip on the country. The no-fly zones had effectively freed the Kurds and greatly loosened his grip on the south. The sanctions plus Clinton’s cruise missile attacks had ended his weapons program. It was absolutely clear, in March ’03 that he posed no threat to the US or the region as a result of the inspectors’ work.

      The real problem was that sanctions were having deleterious effect on the country and could not be maintained indefinitely, while not really hurting Saddam himself all that much. And it’s certainly true that the threat of attack led to the reintroduction of the inspectors. But Saddam was giving ground, and I think the continued use of diplomatic pressure coupled with an international military presence could have driven him out of power. I certainly think that the inspectors should have been permitted to continue their work to prove Blix’s contention that there may have been no weapons to be found.

      It’s clear, by the way, that Bush feared that proof–he started the invasion without all the troops that had been planned for being deployed. (Remember, Turkey had refused basing rights.) The only reasonable explanation for that is he feared the inspectors would demonstrate that his reason was a pretext.

    14. Jonathan Says:

      Jay wrote:
      The sanctions plus Clinton’s cruise missile attacks had ended his weapons program. It was absolutely clear, in March ’03 that he posed no threat to the US or the region as a result of the inspectors’ work.

      These are your opinions, not clear facts. There was plenty of circumstantial evidence that Hussein continued to work on WMD of various types, he had a history of using WMD, and he was not cooperating with the inspectors. Bush believed at the time, reasonably I think (and I think that his rationale continues to be reasonable in hindsight), that the USA could not afford to run the risk of not invading, even if we were unsure about Hussein’s possession of WMD.

      . . . But Saddam was giving ground, and I think the continued use of diplomatic pressure coupled with an international military presence could have driven him out of power. I certainly think that the inspectors should have been permitted to continue their work to prove Blix’s contention that there may have been no weapons to be found.

      I don’t think there’s any evidence that you are right. We had been imposing sanctions for years and Hussein was gaining ground diplomatically (as the Oil for Food scandal later confirmed). For years we imposed every pressure short of invasion, and not only was Hussein not driven from power, he was consolidating his power. And he was blocking the inspectors at every turn, so I don’t see how they could conceivably have been “permitted” to do proper inspections.

      It’s clear, by the way, that Bush feared that proof–he started the invasion without all the troops that had been planned for being deployed. (Remember, Turkey had refused basing rights.) The only reasonable explanation for that is he feared the inspectors would demonstrate that his reason was a pretext.

      Bush feared — rightly — getting tied up in the UN for years while anti-American tools like Blix and paid-for allies of Hussein argued procedural points. You can’t plan an invasion and then put it off indefinitely. You have to either follow through or give up the chance. Bush did the reasonable thing given the risks facing the USA. Your argument ignores the geopolitical context which made invasion reasonable, namely the need to impose accountability on terrorist-backing regimes, of which Iraq was, at the time, the ripest target.

    15. Jay Says:

      These are your opinions, not clear facts. There was plenty of circumstantial evidence that Hussein continued to work on WMD of various types, he had a history of using WMD, and he was not cooperating with the inspectors.

      You are entirely incorrect here. The UN inspectors’ last report to the Security Council said, very clearly that there was no nuclear program at all, that they hadn’t found any weapons, and that there might not be any. The Security Council agreed with this assessment–Bush pulled a resolution declaring Iraq in violation off the table that he had said he would force to a vote regardless of “whip count.”

      Keep in mind that the primary intelligence sources for the claims made by Powell at his UN presentation were the inspections done pre-1998.

      As for cooperating with the inspectors, Blix said, in that same March report that there had been early problems, but that Saddam was currently cooperating.

      Your argument ignores the geopolitical context which made invasion reasonable, namely the need to impose accountability on terrorist-backing regimes, of which Iraq was, at the time, the ripest target.

      And that is also simply false to fact, unless you consider this war a payback for money sent to families of Palestinian suicide bombers.

      And he was blocking the inspectors at every turn, so I don’t see how they could conceivably have been “permitted” to do proper inspections.

      Again, this is simply false to fact. The threat of US invasion had changed his tune. The inspectors themselves said that the Iraqis were cooperating. You can claim that that threat of invasion could not have been maintained for long enough to have completed the inspections, but I don’t think that’s accurate. They’re certainly doing much more difficult and expensive duty than that right now.

      Endlessly repeating false claims doesn’t make them true. And it interferes with policy debate. How can you figure anything out if you refuse to accept inconvenient facts?

    16. Jonathan Says:

      Endlessly repeating false claims doesn’t make them true. And it interferes with policy debate. How can you figure anything out if you refuse to accept inconvenient facts?

      Good points.