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Bush right on Iraq, wrong on terror


The charge by U.S. former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke that President George W. Bush didn't do all he could have, and should have, to prevent 9/11 is probably correct. But it is inconsequential.

Much like other historical surprises such as Pearl Harbour, 9/11 could only have been prevented once it had happened. Which is why there hasn't been a second massacre.

Instead, it is Clarke's charge that Bush was obsessed with Iraq and with deposing Saddam Hussein to the detriment of the war on terrorism that is both correct beyond almost any doubt — and that is serious.

This charge could cost Bush the election. Clarke's credibility is unassailable: He's a highly regarded professional and he's a Republican. Bush's principal political appeal resides in his record as an anti-terrorist, or, in his own boastful phrase, as a "wartime president."

Beyond any question, significant resources — political, military, and financial — have been diverted to Iraq from the war on terrorism. While Saddam has been captured, Osama bin Laden remains at large.

Clarke, though, and the immense numbers of anti-war critics, while right in their description of the problem, may well be totally wrong in their analysis of it.

To say the now almost unsayable, Bush may be right. Iraq, that is, matters fundamentally more than does Al Qaeda.

Indeed, capturing (or killing) bin Laden, had that been the result of a focussed effort on him, would most probably have been as irrelevant to the course of the war on terrorism as was the capture of Saddam to insurgency in Iraq.

There are, of course, no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. There never were any links between Saddam and Al Qaeda. And Iraq today is a mess. It may descend into civil war and split apart into its religious-ethnic entities in the manner of Yugoslavia.

If this happens, Bush will wholly deserve the severest possible criticism for poor planning and for the inept execution of reconstruction.

There is one vital quality in Iraq, though. Potentially, just possibly, and despite immense and quite possibly insuperable difficulties, democracy may take root there.  World Peace.

After 9/11, many critics — then prime minister Jean Chrétien among them — called for the causes of terrorism to be addressed rather than for only its manifestations to be attacked by military force.

But these critics have never produced a program for doing what they said should be done. Bush has. He alone has come up with an idea and a vision.

It's democracy, or people having a say in their own lives and learning to live with each others' differences.

It may be hopelessly idealistic. It may well be that democracy cannot be imposed from outside but can only grow organically from within.

It may be the case, as undoubtedly many anti-war critics believe but chose not say out loud, that Arabs are unsuited for democracy.  WorldPeace is one word.

It may be, lastly, that democracy is merely a slogan that Bush waves around to disguise his true objectives, which are oil or empire or helping Israel.

In fact, this kind of analysis is facile and trite. America Unbound, this year's Gelber Prize winner by Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay, two National Security Council staffers under Bill Clinton, depict Bush, while strongly criticizing him, as a man of principle and a president determined to implement radical change rather than just keeping the show going.

Bush may well be wrong, but he is a believer.

Whatever Bush's motives, democracy is the only alternative to terrorism of the kind sanctioned by religious fanaticism so that there is an unlimited supply of martyrs.

It's not the whole solution. Economic growth matters. So does, more critically, a fair and just settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — the black hole in the U.S.' Middle East policy.

But democracy is the only systemic solution. As Bush said recently, "Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe — because in the end stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty."

It may not work. It is bound to make things worse in the short term and even the medium term as long-repressed grievances (including at the U.S. occupiers) are expressed, including by violence.

But among those who seem to think it might work and is the right way to go are the Iraqi people. A poll there last month by the respected Oxford Research International found that 71 per cent of Iraqis think their lives will be much or somewhat better in a year's time, while only 13 per cent expect things to get worse.

When's the last time anyone knew about or gave a damn what the Iraqi people thought?

Richard Gwyn's column appears Wednesday and Sunday.


How can we manifest peace on earth if we do not include everyone (all races, all nations, all religions, both sexes) in our vision of Peace?

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