9/11 Plus Seven

The events of the past seven years have yielded a definitive judgment
on the strategy that the Bush administration conceived in the wake of
9/11 to wage its so-called Global War on Terror. That strategy has
failed, massively and irrevocably. To acknowledge that failure is to
confront an urgent national priority: to scrap the Bush approach in
favor of a new national security strategy that is realistic and
sustainable -- a task that, alas, neither of the presidential
candidates seems able to recognize or willing to take up.

On September 30, 2001, President Bush received from Secretary of
Defense Donald Rumsfeld a memorandum outlining U.S. objectives in the
War on Terror. Drafted by Rumsfeld's chief strategist Douglas Feith,
the memo declared expansively: "If the war does not significantly
change the world's political map, the U.S. will not achieve its aim."
That aim, as Feith explained in a subsequent missive to his boss, was
to "transform the Middle East and the broader world of Islam

Rumsfeld and Feith were co-religionists: Along with other senior Bush
administration officials, they worshipped in the Church of the
Indispensable Nation, a small but intensely devout Washington-based
sect formed in the immediate wake of the Cold War. Members of this
church shared an exalted appreciation for the efficacy of American
power, especially hard power. The strategy of transformation emerged as
a direct expression of their faith.

The members of this church were also united by an equally exalted
estimation of their own abilities. Lucky the nation to be blessed with
such savvy and sophisticated public servants in its hour of need!

The goal of transforming the Islamic world was nothing if not bold.
It implied far-reaching political, economic, social, and even cultural
adjustments. At a press conference on September 18, 2001, Rumsfeld
spoke bluntly of the need to "change the way that they live." Rumsfeld
didn't specify who "they" were. He didn't have to. His listeners
understood without being told: "They" were Muslims inhabiting a vast
arc of territory that stretched from Morocco in the west all the way to
the Moro territories of the Southern Philippines in the east.

boldly conceived action, if successfully executed, offered the prospect
of solving a host of problems. Once pacified (or "liberated"), the
Middle East would cease to breed or harbor anti-American terrorists.
Post-9/11 fears about weapons of mass destruction falling into the
hands of evil-doers could abate. Local regimes, notorious for being
venal, oppressive, and inept, might finally get serious about cleaning
up their acts. Liberal values, including rights for women, would
flourish. A part of the world perpetually dogged by violence would
enjoy a measure of stability, with stability promising not so
incidentally to facilitate exploitation of the region's oil reserves.
There was even the possibility of enhancing the security of Israel.
Like a powerful antibiotic, the Bush administration's strategy of
transformation promised to clean out not simply a single infection but
several; or to switch metaphors, a strategy of transformation meant
running the table.

When it came to implementation, the imperative of the moment was to
think big. Just days after 9/11, Rumsfeld was charging his subordinates
to devise a plan of action that had "three, four, five moves behind
it." By December 2001, the Pentagon had persuaded itself that the first
move -- into Afghanistan -- had met success. The Bush administration
wasted little time in pocketing its ostensible victory. Attention
quickly shifted to the second move, seen by insiders as holding the key
to ultimate success: Iraq.

Fix Iraq and moves three, four, and five promised to come easily. Writing in the Weekly Standard,
William Kristol and Robert Kagan got it exactly right: "The president's
vision will, in the coming months, either be launched successfully in
Iraq, or it will die in Iraq."

The point cannot be emphasized too strongly: Saddam Hussein's
(nonexistent) weapons of mass destruction and his (imaginary) ties to
Al Qaeda never constituted the real reason for invading Iraq -- any
more than the imperative of defending Russian "peacekeepers" in South
Ossetia explains the Kremlin's decision to invade Georgia.

Iraq merely offered a convenient place from which to launch a much
larger and infinitely more ambitious project. "After Hussein is
removed," enthused Hudson Institute analyst Max Singer, "there will be
an earthquake through the region." Success in Iraq promised to endow
the United States with hitherto unprecedented leverage. Once the United
States had made an example of Saddam Hussein, as the influential
neoconservative Richard Perle put it, dealing with other ne'er-do-wells
would become simple: "We could deliver a short message, a two-word
message: 'You're next.'" Faced with the prospect of sharing Saddam's
fate, Syrians, Iranians, Sudanese, and other recalcitrant regimes would
see submission as the wiser course -- so Perle and others believed.

Members of the administration tried to imbue this strategic vision with
a softer ideological gloss. "For 60 years," Condoleezza Rice explained
to a group of students in Cairo, "my country, the United States,
pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region here in
the Middle East -- and we achieved neither." No more. "Now, we are
taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations
of all people." The world's Muslims needed to know that the motives
behind the U.S. incursion into Iraq and its actions elsewhere in the
region were (or had, at least, suddenly become) entirely benign. Who
knows? Rice may even have believed the words she spoke.

In either case -- whether the strategy of transformation aimed at
dominion or democratization -- today, seven years after it was
conceived, we can assess exactly what it has produced. The answer is
clear: next to nothing, apart from squandering vast resources and
exacerbating the slide toward debt and dependency that poses a greater
strategic threat to the United States than Osama bin Laden ever did.

In point of fact, hardly had the Pentagon commenced its second move,
its invasion of Iraq, when the entire strategy began to unravel. In
Iraq, President Bush's vision of regional transformation did die, much
as Kagan and Kristol had feared. No amount of CPR credited to the
so-called surge will revive it. Even if tomorrow
Iraq were to achieve stability and become a responsible member of the
international community, no sensible person could suggest that
Operation Iraqi Freedom provides a model to apply elsewhere. Senator
John McCain says that he'll keep U.S. combat troops in Iraq for as long
as it takes. Yet even he does not propose "solving" any problems posed
by Syria or Iran (much less Pakistan) by employing the methods that the
Bush administration used to "solve" the problem posed by Iraq. The Bush
Doctrine of preventive war may remain nominally on the books. But, as a
practical matter, it is defunct.

The United States will not change the world's political map in the ways
top administration officials once dreamed of. There will be no
earthquake that shakes up the Middle East -- unless the growing clout
of Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas in recent years qualifies as that
earthquake. Given the Pentagon's existing commitments, there will be no
threats of "you're next" either -- at least none that will worry our
adversaries, as the Russians have neatly demonstrated. Nor will there
be a wave of democratic reform -- even Rice has ceased her prattling on
that score. Islam will remain stubbornly resistant to change, except on
terms of its own choosing. We will not change the way "they" live.

In a book that he co-authored during the run-up to the invasion,
Kristol confidently declared, "The mission begins in Baghdad, but it
does not end there." In fact, the Bush administration's strategy of
transformation has ended. It has failed miserably. The sooner we face
up to that failure, the sooner we can get about repairing the damage.

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