The Bush Administration: Aiding the Terrorists? (And, Why They Really Hate Us)
- by Derek Seidman
It has been a mantra repeated over and over again by George W. Bush and his administration: the world is a safer place because of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq. The usual explanation goes something like this:
"The world changed on September the 11th, and since that day, we have changed the world. We are leading a steady, confident, systematic campaign against the dangers of our time. There are still terrorists who plot against us, but the ranks of their leaders are thinning, and they know what fate awaits them…
"Today, because America has acted, and because America has led, the forces of terror and tyranny have suffered defeat after defeat, and America and the world are safer…Today, because America and our coalition helped to end the violent regime of Saddam Hussein, and because we're helping to raise a peaceful democracy in its place, the American people are safer." 1
Or, as Bush recently put it in an interview with Barbara Walters:
"… Saddam was dangerous and the world is safer without him in power… The removal of Saddam Hussein has made America safer because a dictator, a tyrant, a thug, with whom we had been at war in the past, who was destabilizing a vital part of the world, who was paying the families of suicide bombers, is no longer in power.. And he no longer has the capacity to reconstitute a weapons program. … Yes, it's worth it."2
With language like this, the president doesn't really need to back up his claims with any evidence. This is his style. He uses language that taps into peoples fears in order to gain their faith and trust, and he simplifies and lies about reality to make his way of thinking seem like common sense. "Either take the word of a madman, or defend America. Given that choice, I will defend America every time." Who can argue with that? Never mind if I was wrong. I am strong, decisive, good, and I did the right thing, even if it was wrong.
Now even the president's own cohorts are contradicting the administration and saying what many critics of the war have said all along: the war and occupation of Iraq have galvanized Islamic radicals, increased their numbers, provided them with new training grounds and technical capacities, and vindicated their general worldview.
A recently released and highly-publicized report by the National Intelligence Council (NIC), a key CIA think tank, states that Iraq has become the training ground for a new generation of terrorists. Before it was Afghanistan; now, Iraq.
The report reads, "Iraq and other possible conflicts in the future could provide recruitment, training grounds, technical skills and language proficiency for a new class of terrorists who are "professionalized" and for whom political violence becomes an end in itself."
Says the NIC Chairman, Robert L. Hutchings: "At the moment [Iraq] is a magnet for international terrorist activity." David B. Low, the national intelligence officer for transnational threats, stated that Iraq is providing terrorists with "a training ground, a recruitment ground, the opportunity for enhancing technical skills… There is even, under the best scenario, over time, the likelihood that some of the jihadists who are not killed there will, in a sense, go home, wherever home is, and will therefore disperse to various other countries."3
Fighting terrorism in Iraq? War on Terror? Even by the government's own admission, Iraq has become the main haven, the new breeding ground for international Islamic terrorism.
The NIC report comes on the heels of another report released by the Defense Science Board (DSB), a key Pentagon advisory group that contains volunteers chosen by Donald Rumsfeld himself.4 The Bush administration is fond of telling the American people that "they hate us" because of our freedoms, our values, and our way of life. It makes sense for them to explain things this way: if the "war on terror" is painted as part of a much-touted "clash of civilizations", then we surely cannot back down to those who will stop at nothing to destroy us. We need to keep starting wars, keep up military spending, keep people afraid.
The report by the DSB flies in the face of these simplistic explanations. Unfortunately, the findings of the report received very little press coverage-not surprisingly. It is worth quoting in length. The DSB report states that:
"American direct intervention in the Muslim World has paradoxically elevated the stature of and support for radical Islamists, while diminishing support for the United States to single-digits in some Arab societies.
"Muslims do not "hate our freedom," but rather, they hate our policies. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the longstanding, even increasing support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, and the Gulf states.
"Thus when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy. Moreover, saying that "freedom is the future of the Middle East" is seen as patronizing, suggesting that Arabs are like the enslaved peoples of the old Communist World - but Muslims do not feel this way: they feel oppressed, but not enslaved.
"Furthermore, in the eyes of Muslims, American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq has not led to democracy there, but only more chaos and suffering. U.S. actions appear in contrast to be motivated by ulterior motives, and deliberately controlled in order to best serve American national interests at the expense of truly Muslim self-determination.
"Therefore, the dramatic narrative since 9/11 has essentially borne out the entire radical Islamist bill of particulars. American actions and the flow of events have elevated the authority of the Jihadi insurgents and tended to ratify their legitimacy among Muslims. Fighting groups portray themselves as the true defenders of an Ummah (the entire Muslim community) invaded and under attack - to broad public support.
"What was a marginal network is now an Ummah-wide movement of fighting groups. Not only has there been a proliferation of "terrorist" groups: the unifying context of a shared cause creates a sense of affiliation across the many cultural and sectarian boundaries that divide Islam.
"Finally, Muslims see Americans as strangely narcissistic - namely, that the war is all about us. As the Muslims see it, everything about the war is - for Americans - really no more than an extension of American domestic politics and its great game. This perception is of course necessarily heightened by election-year atmospherics, but nonetheless sustains their impression that when Americans talk to Muslims they are really just talking to themselves. 5
This excerpt from the DSB report is self-explanatory, and it confirms what critics of US foreign policy towards the Middle East have been saying all along: US policy and intervention has increased support for Islamic fundamentalism and created more ill-will towards the US; Muslims don't "hate our freedom", but rather, they hate our policies, including and especially our support for Israel and for despotic regimes; US intervention is hypocritical and self-serving, and it impedes rather than advances Muslim self-determination; and that our policies have elevated what was a "marginal network" of Islamic fundamentalism to a highly-unified "Ummah-wide movement of fighting groups."
This all contrasts pretty sharply with proclamations of "They hate us because of our freedom", "Iraq is better off now", and "The world is a safer place" (indeed, the report states that, "The official take on the target audience has been gloriously simple.") Actually, the most stunning thing about this report isn't that it got a few things right in answering the question of "Why they hate us", but rather that it doesn't acknowledge the truth to these perceptions that Muslims have.
While Bush and Company sticks to simplistic and emotionally-appealing mantras that contradict the findings of its own researchers, and while its think-tanks try to understand how to reverse the odd perceptions that Muslims have towards the US, opponents of the war need not be so lost and confused.
People who are active in opposing the war and occupation should make every effort to delegitimize the government and its professed foreign policy rationales and aims-and we should use their own words, like those contained in the reports cited above, to help do it. We need to win over our fellow people with sound arguments, which will increasingly make more sense as the situation in Iraq becomes bleaker. We need to explain, patiently and powerfully, that our government's actions are increasing the threat of terrorism, and we need to kill the assumption that fighting terrorism is our government's key priority (actions speak louder than words).
A recent Gallup poll (January 12) found that 50% of Americans polled now believe that sending US troops into Iraq was a mistake, as opposed to 48% who say it was not (at this same time last year, 59% said it was not a mistake). 59% said things in Iraq are not going well, as opposed to 40% who are more optimistic. The ever-deteriorating situation in Iraq will force many more Americans to question our policies in Iraq and the Middle East. This will create a context in which people be more receptive to the demands and explanations of antiwar activists. Our explanations of "why the hate us", of the consequences of the "War on Terror" and the true motives behind it, will become more welcomed and understandable. But we need to work hard, be in it for the long haul, be patient, have undaunted confidence in ourselves and our arguments, and not look for any short-cuts or easy solutions.
Derek Seidman is co-editor of Left Hook (www.lefthook.org). He lives in Providence, Rhode Island, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. President Bush Discusses Progress in the War on Terror, July 12, 2004
3. Iraq New Terror Breeding Ground, Washingtonpost.com, 1/14/05; for the NIC report, from which I have quoted, see:
4. Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Strategic Communication, September 2004,
5. pgs. 40-41, http://www.acq.osd.mil/dsb/