How the Bush Family's Blunders Helped to Lay the Groundwork for the Hebdo Massacre
France can’t afford to make the same mistakes George W. Bush did. Here’s why:
Back in 1919, after World War I was over, economist John Maynard Keynes was part of the delegation writing what would become the Treaty of Versailles. That treaty required Germany to repay the other European countries more money than Germany had, and authorized invasion of Germany if they failed.
Keynes was so infuriated by the stupid overreach of the Treaty he resigned from the delegation, and then wrote an entire book, published in 1920, about how the Treaty was so harsh on Germany it would lead to a second world war within a generation.
Tragically, Keynes was right. Acknowledging that the rise of Hitler and the death of tens of millions of people in World War II was predictable —and that Keynes was right in predicting it—in no way justifies Hitler or the Nazis. But that knowledge of one of the main causes of WWII has guided policymakers well in the nearly a century since then.
Similarly, examining the factors that made Islamic terrorism more likely in no way condones it; if anything, if we look at this history with a clear eye we can work to prevent it in the future.
So, what are the events that led to the murder of 12 people in Paris at Charlie Hebdo?
Back in the first year of the Reagan administration, the United States gave half a billion dollars to a group of Wahabist Muslim fundamentalists, led by a Saudi named Osama Bin Laden, to push the Soviets out of Afghanistan. We call it “Charlie Wilson’s War.”
A year later, Maggie Thatcher was becoming hugely unpopular in the UK because of her busting that nation's largest union and her promotion of massive privatization schemes. To regain her popularity she decided to have a "small war" with Argentina over the Falkland Islands. When she won that short war, her popularity soared.
This was not lost on Reagan’s advisers In 1983, Reagan had his own "small war" in Grenada; his popularity went up and he was re-elected in 1984—and continued funding to Bin Laden and friends.
In 1989, Bin Laden, Reagan and by-then-president G.H.W. Bush won; the Soviets left Afghanistan and shortly thereafter Bin Laden moved back home to Saudia Arabia.
By 1990, President George H.W. Bush was getting nervous about his own re-election—conservatives were upset over tax increases (“Read my lips!”)—so he decided to do what Thatcher and Reagan had done to get re-elected: have a “small war.” He looked the other way as Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and then declared the Gulf War against Hussein for invading Kuwait (convincing Congress to go along with the perjured phony "babies being thrown out of incubators" testimony before Congress by the teenage daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador).
In order to fight that 100-hour “small war,” Bush put an Air Force base in Saudi Arabia for staging air strikes.
After Bush's small war, he imposed sanctions on Iraq that eventually killed at least 300,000 children, largely because of the ban on chlorine to purify drinking water.
Meanwhile, Bin Laden was getting itchy. He hated Saddam Hussein because Iraq was a secular nation: women could drive, go to school, walk about with their heads uncovered, and people could drink alcohol and dance.
In 1992, Bin Laden raised a small army of true believers to attack Saddam Hussein in Iraq across the Saudi/Iraq border, but the King of Saudi Arabia had him arrested and deported to Sudan.
In 1996, Bin Laden moved his operations to Afghanistan where he pulled together a few thousand hardcore true believers for his “training camp,” which was apparently funded by Saudi billionaires.
By this time, Bin Laden had moved the target of his ire from Iraq to the United States, because after the Gulf War was over we kept our Air Force Base there, and American military women were driving and showing their elbows, while men were drinking alcohol and listening to music and watching porn. In Bin Laden’s mind, this was an unacceptable defilement of the holy land that is home to Mecca and Medina.
In 1997, Bin Laden began preaching against the USA because of the Prince Sultan Air Force Base. (It would be closed by G.W. Bush in 2003.)
Bill Clinton was president, and next year the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) called for a military attack on Iraq, saying a "Pearl Harbor-like event" would be necessary for the American people to buy into it. (The plea letter to Clinton was signed by Jeb Bush, among others.)
By August 1998, President Clinton was clear that Bin Laden was plotting something bad for America, so, with Operation Infinite Reach, Clinton tried to blow up Bin Laden and one of his weapons factories. Republicans ridiculed him on the floor of the House, saying he was trying to "wag the dog" to change the subject from Monica Lewinski.
For the rest of his term, Clinton continued to try to take out Bin Laden over the loud objections of Republicans; he was not successful.
In 2000, George W. Bush was awarded the presidency in part because his brother, Jeb (then governor of Florida) threw 50,000 to 80,000 African-American voters off the rolls, and in part because of unprecedented and unconstitutional intervention by the Supreme Court.
This left George W. Bush, when he was sworn in as president in 2001, a largely unpopular and viewed-as-illegitimate president, a situation compounded by an economy sinking into recession.
The outgoing Clinton administration had warned the incoming Bush, Cheney and Rice that their biggest threat was going to come from Bin Laden, but Bush decided that was just Clinton trying to justify his “wag the dog” to divert attention from Monica. He appointed Dick Cheney as head of the White House Counterterrorism Task Force, but it was such a low priority that Cheney’s task force didn’t even bother to meet until September 2001.
Cheap heroin was fueling crime and HIV problems in the United States, Europe and Russia, and it was pretty clear that most was coming from the bumper opium poppy crop in Afghanistan. Bush gave $43 million to the Taliban to burn the poppy fields and they did, raising the worldwide price of heroin and stopping many ODs and HIV infections.
And then came the event the Clinton administration had so worried about: 9/11/2001.
Across the world, people showed up in solidarity with the USA, even including downtown Tehran, Iran.
The Taliban offered to arrest Bin Laden, but Bush rejected the offer and commenced a full-bore invasion of the second poorest country in the world (annual GDP of $2 billion/year). Protesters, world leaders and commentators called on Bush to use Interpol and police around the world to bring the perpetrators of 9/11 to justice, but he saw his opportunity for a “small war” just like his Dad’s and Reagan’s.
But it wasn’t a small war. Tens of thousands of people died, and millions were displaced. The Taliban was evicted, Afghanistan became a failed state, and next year Bush moved on to fulfilling his brother’s PNAC recommendation: invading Iraq in 2003.
After taking down the Hussein administration in a matter of weeks, Bush sent his fellow Andover alumni, L. Paul Bremmer, to Iraq to try a great Libertarian experiment; Bremmer fired most all of the army and shut down the roughly 50% part of the Iraqi economy that was state-owned industry, waiting for the "magic of the free market" to work.
When, instead of magic we got looting of the museum and revenge killings, Rumsfeld famously said, "Democracy is messy!"
As the Iraqi people realized how they'd been screwed by Bush, they begin to fight back—something we called "insurgency."
Bush initiated a brutal crackdown to stop the insurgency, with the Abu Ghraib prison at the center of that crackdown.
Thus, in 2007, in Paris, France, ChÃ©rif Kouachi saw the pictures from Abu Ghraib and was so inflamed he tried to travel to Iraq to fight against the Americans; he was busted by the French and convicted of promoting terrorism, going to prison.
Meanwhile, our destruction of Iraq and Afghanistan—now two failed states because "Libertarian/Friedman" economics didn't work there any better than it did in Chile—spread to other countries in the region. Particularly after statements like General Boykin’s comments about how Jesus was a “real God,” but Muslims were idol-worshippers, it became increasingly clear to Muslims in the region that the west was at war with them.
From that day to this, the US has been running drone strikes in the region, killing civilians and further inflaming and recruiting for Muslim radicals.
Forty years ago, Europe had a terrorist problem, with groups like the Red Brigades in Italy, the IRA in Ireland, GRAPO in Spain, the Baader-Meinhof Gang in Germany, and the 17 November Movement in Greece. In 1978, the Red Brigades even kidnapped and killed the former Prime Minister of Italy, Aldo Moro.
Instead of declaring war, the various countries of Europe dealt with their terrorists through criminal and police actions. And other than Maggie Thatcher, none of the leaders felt the need to have a “small war” in a faraway land in order to raise their political capital and get re-elected.
So here we are, with a couple of French Muslims believing they can pull a Bin Laden and that the French will respond as stupidly as George W. Bush did to 9/11.
France—and the western world—is facing a moment not unlike the one Keynes faced in 1919: “How do we deal with a rogue faction (in this case a religious faction) that has created havoc around the world?” Do we “hit them hard” and punish them, the way we did Germany in 1920 with the Treaty of Versailles? Or do we help them transition to civilization, as we did in our second bite at the German apple after World War II with the Marshall Plan?
Many will say this is a highly imperfect analogy: Germany was defeated in World War I, and Muslim fundamentalists willing to use terror are far from defeated right now. But if Germany was truly “defeated” in 1920, it didn’t take long for them to recover, largely because we punished them so harshly the people of Germany rallied around a leader who told them they were the “victims” of the rest of the world.
The United States has already spent or committed to spend over $2 trillion (and maybe as much as $4 trillion) to “defeat” the heirs of the tiny band Bin Laden commanded in 2001. Not only has it not worked, but the early Salafist fundamentalist movement willing to use terror has metastasized across the world.
Hundreds of thousands of Muslims are dead, millions displaced with their lives devastated and their homes lost. All the result of Bush's failed response to 9/11.
If we had spent a tiny fraction of that building schools and hospitals, roads and rails across Afghanistan and Iraq, they wouldn’t be failed states and we probably wouldn’t have a “Muslim terrorist” problem of anything close to the proportions we have now.
As George Santayana famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Let’s not repeat the Bush blunder. Instead, let’s learn from history and take down terrorists with police and people power, as Europe did in the ‘70s and ‘80s, instead of using bombs and drones. And then let’s help bring that region of the world into the 21st century.
The world—and the United States—will be safer and more secure for it.