GOP strays from war on terror

By Joel Lanceta

“Waving the bloody flag” was an old publicity tactic of the GOP during U.S. elections in the late 19th century to continually remind the public which party won the Civil War and sacrificed its sons’ lives to keep the Union together. This propaganda method actually worked quite well for the Republicans during and after the Reconstruction era, even when their candidates were far below mediocre.

Today, the GOP is still waving the bloody flag for President Bush, continually reminding the American electorate that it was this president and this party that led the nation to overcome the September 11th attacks and to a future victory in this war on terrorism.

But could the GOP have prevented the bloody flag from being as bloody as it is now? As new revelations from the bipartisan 9/11 commission on Capitol Hill and the book Against All Enemies by former counter-terrorism official Richard Clarke came out this week, America now needs to see exactly what were the major mistakes, what were the signs that were missed, and who is accountable for that national tragedy. As the dots are connected, the public might see that the dots do not point to Iraq, a conclusion gravely overlooked by the current Bush administration.

If Bush, Condelezza Rice, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfield, and all the rest in the Bush administration did sincerely place terrorism as a high priority and did all that they could to deal with al Qaeda, then they cannot be blamed. A considerate and protective government would try everything to prevent national tragedy. But, if Clarke’s allegations that the Bush administration did not deem al Qaeda an adequate threat are true, and they instead were concentrating more on a preemptive war on Iraq, the American public should be aware of it.

I’m not calling for the partisan bitching or finger-pointing that Bill O’Reilly believes the 9/11 commission will degrade to. What I, like much of the American public, want to know is the truth about what the government was doing before September 11th and how it can help prevent any future attacks. But Clarke’s accusations of Bush’s negligence regarding al Qaeda seem to have some truth when reflecting on the current administration’s Middle East policy.

At the start of 2003, the Taliban was overthrown in Afghanistan; Osama bin Laden was cornered within the mountains surrounding Pakistan; and officials from the United States, United Nations, Russia, and the European Union had outlined a plan aimed at bringing about peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Then President Bush and the powers that be opted for a war with Iraq. Invading Iraq, even if it was in the name of toppling dictator Saddam Hussein, undermined American credibility, the U.S. agenda in the Middle East, and more importantly, the war on terrorism.

First of all, there is no, or I have yet to see any, definitive proof that Saddam’s regime had any hand in the September 11th attacks. Before the war, Vice President Dick Cheney proclaimed that the administration had evidence of a link between Saddam and al Qaeda; since then this claim has been downplayed. British Prime Minister Tony Blair was scrutinized by the war-weary British Parliament for the “sexed-up” WMD reports and the lack of the al Qaeda-Saddam link. While Bush can jest about the WMD at Republican fundraisers, Americans are seriously pondering how Iraq fits into the puzzle of the war on terrorism.

Second, the masterminds and the culprits are out in the mountains of Afghanistan, and the army is redirected to Iraq? As President Bush stubbornly and obsessively insists Iraq is key to the fight against terrorism, average Americans continue to risk their economy and their lives for an ambiguous cause in Iraq, while Pakistan is stuck fighting al Qaeda, the real enemy in the war on terrorism. It wasn’t until the hope of Pakistani soldiers capturing Ayman al-Zawahri, Osama bin Laden’s second-in-command, last weekend, that attention shifted back to Afghanistan. Two thousand marines have been re-stationed from Iraq to Afghanistan, but will it be enough to capture the rest of the al Qaeda leaders?

Third, the Bush administration has halfheartedly attempted to secure peace between Israel and Palestine. The Road Map to Peace took a backseat to Iraq until its introduction a month after the invasion of Baghdad, and even then the Bush administration has only indifferently tried to implement it. For a country that has much to gain internationally if it brokers a deal for the creation of a free Palestinian state while maintaining the integrity and independence of Israel, the United States has currently done little as a mediator. Solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be key to any Middle East policy; in prioritizing it lower than Iraq, Bush has allowed the Middle East to destabilize even further. The strike that killed Hamas leader Ahmed Yassin drove one of the last nails in the coffin of the “Road Map.” As Americans realize now, the Middle East revolves around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; U.S. officials might see their own agenda in Iraq thwarted because the Shiite Grand Ayatollah, a major power player in Iraq, sees Yassin’s death as a crime and might not want to work with an ally of Israel.

This is only a criticism of the current war on terrorism. For all I know, the Bush administration seriously considered the al Qaeda threat before September 11th, but now, the focus has shifted to Iraq. It must be brought back to al Qaeda and to the Middle East conflict. We must find out whether or not the focus was lost long before September 11th. That is the purpose of the 9/11 commissions. We must resolve the truth and stay true to the war on terrorism. We owe our future children lives without the same fear of terrorism that permeates our lives today. Moreover, we owe it to those who lost their lives or are risking their lives to fight terrorism.