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War on What?
by Bill Berkowitz
June 21, 2004

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Panel Finds No Qaeda-Iraq Tie -- (New York Times)
Probe rules out Iraq-9/11 links - (BBC)
Panel Says No Signs Iraq Aided Qaeda Plots on U.S. -- (Reuters)
9/11 Panel Disputes Iraq Link to Attacks -- (AP)
9/11 staff: No al Qaeda cooperation with Iraq -- (CNN)
9/11 Panel Finds No Collaboration Between Iraq, Al Qaeda -- (Washington Post)

The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks has finally spelled it out for President George W. Bush, vice president Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his colleagues at the Pentagon, Secretary of State Colin Powell and his buds at the State department and the American public: There was no "collaborative relationship" between Iraq and al Qaeda.

President Bush’s reaction? “Iraq had weapons of mass destruction” has become “Iraq had weapons of mass destruction programs.”

"There was a relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda," Bush said after a Thursday meeting with his Cabinet at the White House. "This administration never said that the 9-11 attacks were orchestrated between Saddam and al Qaeda," he said. "We did say there were numerous contacts between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, for example, Iraqi intelligence agents met with (Osama) bin Laden, the head of al Qaeda in the Sudan."

Moving on.

In Sec Def-speak, here’s what we think we now know about the current state of al Qaeda and President Bush’s permanent “war against terrorism.” According to Attorney General John Ashcroft, al Qaeda is planning to hit the U.S. hard sometime this summer or possibly before the November election. Homeland Security chief, Tom Ridge isn’t so sure.

We know that al Qaeda or al Qaeda-like groups have stepped up their operations in Saudi Arabia, killing and kidnapping civilians at will. And we think we know, judging from Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld’s recent remarks during a trip to Asia that the Pentagon is thinking about new fields to plow in the war against terrorism.

We know that President Bush has become reticent about mentioning Osama bin Laden (although he did mention his name Thursday): While the poster boy for Team Bush’s war against terror has not yet been found, he has basically gone missing from the president’s recent speeches. Also disappeared are the macho pledges to capture the outlaw terrorist “dead or alive,” and other such Bushian bromides as “he can run but he can’t hide” and “bring it on.”

Although the president appears reticent to about bin Laden, two recent bestselling books and Michael Moore’s new film pay close attention to one humongous sticky wicket -- the bin Laden family’s longtime relationship with the Bush family. Craig Unger’s “The House of Saud, the House of Bush,” and Kevin Phillips’ "American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush," take the wraps off this mutually rewarding relationship, while Moore’s award-winning film, Fahrenheit 9/11, promises to be a documentary to remember.

Make no mistake; the president hasn’t lost interest in finding Osama bin Laden -- witness the major military operation currently going on along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border. In fact, bin Laden’s capture before the November election would be a coup for Bush. The reason for the president being uncomfortable talking about bin Laden and al Qaeda might be contained in a recent report -- which claims that despite having lost nearly 2,000 militants and nearly half of its top 30 leaders, al Qaeda is alive and well and capable of unleashing any number of terrorist attacks.

According to “Strategic Survey 2003/4,” issued by the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies, Al Qaeda is continuing to recruit terrorists and perhaps plan actions in North America and Europe, some that may involve “weapons of mass destruction.” It also appears to be serving as a model for other terrorist groups that are springing up across the globe.

What of the future of the “war against terrorism”? During a recent trip, Sec Def Rumsfeld had a lot to say about possible future U.S. actions. As keynote speaker at the International Institute for Strategic Studies' annual Pacific security conference, known as the "Shangri-la Dialog" in Singapore, Rumsfeld pointed out that while the U.S. and its allies have been somewhat successful in combating terrorism, they may be losing the broader struggle against Islamic extremism, the source of terrorism. What isn’t known, Rumsfeld said, is whether the "zealots and despots" interested in destroying the global system of nation-states are turning out newly trained terrorists faster than the United States can capture or kill them. "Terrorists can attack at any time, in any place, using any conceivable technique," he pointed out. "It is impossible to defend at every moment against every conceivable technique, in every conceivable location."

Rumsfeld also noted, in a rather startling admission, that "It's quite clear to me that we do not have a coherent approach to this.”

The Secretary of Defense warned the locals that US forces would be opening up a new front in the war on terrorism in Southeast Asia "pretty soon" because "we cannot wait for another attack and expect to defend it."

Judge for yourself whether the following report from the New Straits Times indicates a “coherent" or coordinated approach:

“In its grand design to step up its ‘war on terror,’ the United States came up with the Pan Sahel Initiative, where American special forces train armies in countries such as Mali, Niger, Mauritania and Chad to guard their porous borders against arms smuggling, drug trafficking and the movement of transnational terrorists.

“It also hatched the Regional Maritime Security Initiative to interdict suspected terrorists, pirates, human traffickers and drug peddlers on the high seas. One is a land-based scheme stretching from the Horn of Africa to the Western Sahara. The other is a sea-based plan covering the oceans between the west coast of the US and the east coast of Africa. Both exemplify the American strategy of opening new fronts in the war on terror and the penchant for relying on military force to solve political problems, while ignoring the larger issues involved.”

According to the New Straits Times, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister said that while his country was concerned about terrorism, it wasn’t interested in any deployment of U.S. military forces. "Terrorism cannot be bombed into submission... tackling terrorism requires denying militancy its psychological oxygen of hatred, mistrust and deprivation," Najib said.

Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, who is responsible for security affairs, also made it clear that Thailand wasn’t interested in U.S. troops. “There is no reason for the US to deploy troops. It's usual for the US to comment on such things but we can manage the situation,” he said.

We don’t know whether the objections of these countries will be heeded by the Bush Administration. We do know, now, that the recent State Department report on terrorist incidents will be corrected to more accurately reflect the increase in terrorist incidents during the past year. And we know that the “war against terrorism” is not the success Team Bush would have the public believe it is. We believe the Secretary of Defense when he says that the “war against terrorism” has no “coherent approach.” For now, that’s all we need to know.

Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His column Conservative Watch documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right.

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