October 22, 2004


Afghanistan, Iraq: Two Wars Collide (Barton Gellman and Dafna Linzer, October 22, 2004, Washington Post)

As the war on terrorism enters its fourth year, its results are sufficiently diffuse -- and obscured in secrecy -- to resist easy measure. Interpretations of the public record are also polarized by the claims and counterclaims of the presidential campaign. Bush has staked his reelection on an argument that defense of the U.S. homeland requires unyielding resolve to take the fight to the terrorists. His opponent, Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), portrays the Bush strategy as based on false assumptions and poor choices, particularly when it came to Iraq.

The contention that the Iraq invasion was an unwise diversion in confronting terrorism has been central to Kerry's critique of Bush's performance. But this account -- drawn largely from interviews with those who have helped manage Bush's offensive -- shows how the debate over that question has echoed within the ranks of the administration as well, even among those who support much of the president's agenda.

Interviews with those advisers also highlight an internal debate over Bush's strategy against al Qaeda and allied jihadists, which has stressed the "decapitation" of the network by capturing or killing leaders, but which has had less success in thwarting recruitment of new militants.

At the core of Bush's approach is an offensive strategy abroad that Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said complements the defensive efforts he oversees at home. In an interview, Ridge said Bush's priority is to "play as hard and strong an offense as possible," most of it "offshore, overseas."

Published and classified documents and interviews with officials at many levels portray a war plan that scored major victories in its first months. Notable among them were the destruction of al Qaeda's Afghan sanctuary, the death or capture of leading jihadists, and effective U.S. demands for action by reluctant foreign governments.

But at least a dozen current and former officials who have held key positions in conducting the war now say they see diminishing returns in Bush's decapitation strategy. Current and former leaders of that effort, three of whom departed in frustration from the top White House terrorism post, said the manhunt is important but cannot defeat the threat of jihadist terrorism. Classified government tallies, moreover, suggest that Bush and Vice President Cheney have inflated the manhunt's success in their reelection bid.

Bush's focus on the instruments of force, the officials said, has been slow to adapt to a swiftly changing enemy. Al Qaeda, they said, no longer exerts centralized control over a network of operational cells.

Perhaps the reasons are psychological--that his father headed CIA and was an ambassador--or perhaps he's just smarter than even his supporters give him credit for, but whatever the cause, thank goodness that the President ignores the intelligence and diplomatic types or we'd be chasing around an al Qaeda which, as the authors note, we effectively destroyed two years ago.

The President instead has pursued a Reaganesque strategy of transforming the Middle East and assuming that as Islamic nations evolve into liberal democratic capitalist protestant societies like the rest of us the problem of Islamicism will take care of itself.

John Kerry, of course, would follow the CIA/State model and traipse commandos around in Western Pakistan while propping up the authoritarian regimes of the Middle East, as a billion Muslims became ever more disgusted with their lives and even with life.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 22, 2004 12:19 PM

Wasn't the "CIA/State model" what got the Middle East (and us) into this mess in the first place?

Posted by: Ken at October 22, 2004 12:47 PM

Ken: I would say the current ME mess was created by the British/French division following WWI which was designed to establish and maintain their commercial interests. Since the world economy has changed, it is only natural that these obsolete arrangements should also change. The CIA/State people are the Eurosyncophants, whose time to go has also come. Though they carp on the way out, Bush is patiently purging CIA/State of these relics by attrition.

As to the article, it is unadulterated balderdash. Both we and the Israelis have proved the decapitation model effective, and if it does result in more recruits, this is irrelevant. Such untrained, poorly equipped and financed groups are unable to effectively attack the U.S. (the primary purpose of the exercise), and their local terrorism only prodes the ME countries to finally deal with them and modernize.

Posted by: jd watson at October 22, 2004 1:23 PM