Try as they will, Conservatives have not really been able to make a good argument that Obama, by moving away from the failed foreign policies of the Bush Administration, has in reality made America less safe. Instead they have responded with a series of knee jerk reactions aimed at the obstruction and rejection of anything and everything that Obama has either done or proposed. Conservatives have fallen back on the now hackneyed idea that they alone are the ones who can keep America safe and that the Democrats in general and liberals in particular will, or deliberately want to, weaken America. In his last book “A Time to Fight” James Webb, decorated Vietnam veteran; former Reagan era SECNAV; Republican turned Democrat; and now Senator from Virginia, devoted an entire chapter to explaining how such an argument by Republicans was no longer tenable or one that they can legitimately promote. Obama has in reality kept in place much of the prior Administration’s policies and procedures that are embodied in the Patriot Act, the wiretapping law and the continued operation of Guantanamo. To date the Obama Administration has recaptured an American merchant ship from Somali Pirates and, in concert with federal and local authorities, uncovered a possible terror ring based in New York and Denver.
Anyone who has followed closely the events surrounding the War in Iraq knows that it is not, and was not, the central front in the Global War on Terror (GWOT). Rather, it is the trans Afghanistan-Pakistan border where the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks are and it is here that they continue to operate putting together attacks on London, Madrid, etc. It is from this region that they continue to attack our troops in Afghanistan and beyond that have destabilized large parts of Pakistan. Thus the point has already been proven. The central front in the G.W.O.T. is where the enemy is and not where Bush, Cheney, Coulter, Limbaugh, Malkin, O’Reilly or any other Conservative defines it to be. The ironic thing is that Bush’s invasion of Afghanistan was the only brilliant move of his eight years in office. He then went on to drop the ball by invading Iraq and leaving the enemy alone, allowing Al Qaeda to regroup and become as dangerous as they were on 9/10/01. There have been volumes written to the point that the invasion of Iraq did nothing to make America safer. The conclusion of the 9/11 Commission Report states that Iraq had played no part in the attacks of 9/11 and Bush himself would later admit so publicly and on national television. Seeing as it is generally agreed that Iraq was never a factor in the 9/11 attacks, and that Al Qaeda remains open for business on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, there is not much more to say in disproving Conservative claims that the actions of the present Administration, as currently carried out in Iraq, will necessarily jeopardize American security interests. If America is attacked by a resurgent Al Qaeda would that be the fault of the Obama Administration or a result of George Bush’s failure to consolidate his initial victory in Afghanistan? Had we spent 800 billion dollars in Afghanistan instead of Iraq what threat if any would we now face? While it is true that Obama has taken ownership of the trans AFPAK conflict, its also true that he inherited from the Bush Administration a set of circumstances there, which are fraught with difficult and dangerous choices, none of which are clear-cut or that guarantee American success.
Many Conservatives will go to the grave insisting that invading Iraq was the right thing to do because they fail to see that their ideas as to what makes America either safe or a great nation may not in fact be always and everywhere valid. There are those on the right who continue to try to make the case that we could have eventually won in Vietnam because we never lost a major combat action against the Communists. They will insist on this very narrow historical fact while at the same time being blind to, or ignoring the reality that Communism in Indochina, at that time, was a vehicle for the achievement of nationalist aims. In their myopic focus on combat capabilities they will continue to ignore the fact that successive South Vietnamese governments were too corrupt to act as a foundation for democracy. They will insist that “American Exceptionalism” would triumph over a people that first took up arms against a foreign invader a thousand years before William the Conqueror left Normandy to invade England in 1066.
If America is attacked again, it won’t automatically be the fault of the Barack Obama. What if the attacker was motivated to strike because of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo or the loss of a family member during the occupation of Iraq? What if that attacker was moved to action as a result of the policies of the Bush Administration rather than Barack Obama’s decision to reduce troop levels in Iraq? Would that attack be attributed to the current administration or the last? Conservatives have made a big deal about saying that during the Bush years we were not attacked again, but as Richard Wolfe of Newsweek pointed out, terror attacks skyrocketed worldwide after we invaded Iraq. What about those American service personnel that were killed or wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan at the hands of those motivated to action by the invasion of Iraq, don’t they count as Americans that have been attacked? More to the point, this country was attacked when the Republicans controlled the Presidency, Congress, and the majority of statehouses. As David Sanger points out in his latest book, “The Inheritance”: “The plan for dealing with al Qaeda had been sitting on Condoleezza Rice’s desk on the morning of September 11, waiting for discussion.” In the final analysis it is almost impossible for Conservatives to make the argument that their policies have made us safer seeing as, according to the Center for International and Strategic Studies, the number of people recruited into Islamic terror organizations soared exponentially after the invasion of Iraq thereby dramatically increasing the number of our potential enemies. Conservatives like Ann Coulter would claim that Bush created “a flytrap for Islamic crazies in Iraq”, whereby they could be dispatched with by American forces. It would be more accurate to say that we created a trap of our own within which our troops were needlessly put in harms way for the sake of some misconceived NeoConservative pipe dream. Is it cheaper for a radicalized Muslim to scrape together the cost of a one way ticket to the United States, procure a passport and visa and then forage about this country in search of a terror cell or is it economically and in practical terms more effective to come up with bus fare to Syria and then walk across the border and join in an ongoing insurgency where one could even be paid to carry out attacks against Americans?
We were susceptible to an attack on 9/11 because, among other things, we never thought this sort of thing could happen. We became infinitely safer just by paying attention to security threats thereafter. If we get hit again it may very well be the case that we did so because we did not take the time and spend the money to “harden” critical strategic components of our infrastructure like rail systems, water and power supplies, ports and most importantly chemical plants. Have the failed policies of the Bush era created an opportunity for someone radicalized and now prone to action as a result of those policies to actually carry out an attack on America? If, in the words of Homeland Security expert Stephen Flynn, had we spent billions on infrastructure defense instead of wasting those resources in the Iraq misadventure, we would be infinitely safer. Who then would we legitimately blame for another attack on America, Barack Obama or George Bush and the NeoConservative claque that led us into the Iraq misadventure in the first place?
Steven J. Gulitti
New York City