Bush's Dark 9/11 Speech Calls for More Wars

On Monday night, President Bush offered yet another in a series of speeches designed to rally the country to his various wars and occupations. It was a rambling dissertation in which the president asserted that we are both safer than we were five years ago and also that we're in what "some" have called an existential "clash of civilizations."

His performance showed the degree to which this administration has become unmoored from the mundane confines of reality. But even more troubling was the fact that, reading between the lines, Bush was calling for more war, for yet more bloodshed in the final years of his disastrous presidency. That was the only conclusion one could draw if one followed his arguments to their logical end, but I wonder how many of those watching even realized it, subtly caged as it was in pretty rhetoric about "the power of freedom."

Bush promised that "the war is not over, and it will not be over until either we or the extremists emerge victorious." The "war" -- the global "war on terror" one presumes, although the president only used the expression once when predicting that Iraq would become a loyal ally in the conflict -- will continue unabated, or else we'll "leave our children to face a Middle East overrun by terrorist states and radical dictators armed with nuclear weapons."

Bush said that "America looks to the day when the people of the Middle East leave the desert of despotism for the fertile gardens of liberty," and promised that "when that good day comes, the clouds of war will part, the appeal of radicalism will decline, and we will leave our children with a better and safer world."

This comes from a president whose policies have inflamed the region and thrown gas on the fire of Islamic radicalism; according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), a respected defense think tank, the invasion of Iraq provided a "potent global recruitment pretext" for al-Qaeda and has likely increased worldwide terrorism. According to the IISS, "Christian nations' forcible occupation of Iraq, a historically important land of Islam has more than offset any calming effect of the U.S. military withdrawal from Saudi Arabia" preceding the invasion.

And while the plain fact is that "extremism" has both grown in democracies and withered away under dictatorships, the rhetoric of "democratization" was thick on Monday night. That led to the great irony of the evening, as Bush criticized 60 years of U.S. policy makers' propping up Mideast dictators -- "Years of pursuing stability to promote peace" -- as bringing about a disaster. He claimed that under his administration, we "changed our policies and committed America's influence in the world to advancing freedom and democracy as the great alternatives to repression and radicalism."

One wonders how he could manage it with a straight face. This is, after all, a man whose family's links to the Saudi monarchy goes back for generations, a president who praised Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf's "vision for a democratic Pakistan" and whose secretary of state said that America valued our "strategic relationship with Egypt" and hailed President Hosni Mubarak's "wisdom" after he announced multiparty elections and "unlocked the door for change" (Mohamed Sid-Ahmed wondered about "the fanfare" surrounding the elections given that "everybody, including the candidates, knows the results are a foregone conclusion.") This was from a president who took credit for elections in the Occupied Territories that he did nothing to bring about, and then cut off all aid to the Palestinian Authority when the results were not to his liking.

What has changed? Aside from the spin, it's difficult to say.

Of course, wrapping belligerence up in a sweet-looking package and saying that we're saving the savages from themselves is an American tradition. In his new book, "Empire's Workshop," historian Greg Grandin traces the roots of the Bush doctrine to 170 years of U.S. policy toward Latin America. The "perceived corruption that demands reform" in Latin America, Grandin writes, "was irresistible to a successive generations of Christians, capitalists and politicians." More recently, Reagan's "dirty wars" were justified with rhetoric similar to that heard by Americans on Monday evening, as "the intellectual orientation of American diplomacy in the wake of Vietnam" shifted to one in which there was an "increasing willingness of militarists to champion human rights, nation building and democratic reform."

(Grandin points out just how many of the foreign policy makers who have shaped Bush's Middle East policy are veterans of Reagan's Latin American adventures. Plus ça change …)

Bush's speech also showed that he is not only the Great Decider, he's also the Great Conflator; in just 20 minutes he lumped Iraq, Afghanistan, al Qaeda and all of the Middle East together (while carefully avoiding linking Saddam Hussein with 9/11 directly) and suggested that "winning" what are in fact a dozen disparate struggles in those countries was "the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century and the calling of our generation."

It's a simplistic and intellectually barren analysis, and it's one of the great causes of the administration's many foreign policy fumbles. As Rami Khouri, editor-at-large of Beirut's Daily Star, said recently: "the United States has mis-diagnosed the nature of the terror problem, exaggerated its threat, confused hopelessly a whole range of different groups, some of which are terrorists, some of which are doing legitimate resistance to occupation -- and basically tried to come up with a new formula that substitutes for the cold war."

Of Iraq, Bush said that "if we yield Iraq to men like bin Laden, our enemies will be emboldened," and while he never used the phrase "stay the course" -- which probably doesn't poll too well right now -- he did promise that "America will stay in the fight."

It was a typically muddled speech, but one thing was clear if one paid close attention: For the neocons driving U.S. strategy, the only answer for a ruined policy of belligerence and aggression is yet more belligerence and more aggression. It now remains to be seen if it was a piece of red meat for an increasingly skeptical conservative base, or if he'll follow through.

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