Posted by andreas from p3EE3C313.dip.t-dialin.net (18.104.22.168) on Sunday, September 29, 2002 at 12:07PM :
Weapons of mass distraction
President Bush wouldn't want to talk about the many issues which the Iraq crisis is obscuring
Observer Worldview [UK]
Sunday September 29, 2002
Just talking about invading Iraq has a very useful effect for President Bush. It stops a public debate about his catastrophic record as President. Indeed, had President Clinton or any Democrat a similar record, impeachment would already be underway.
Leave to one side President Bush's much discussed habit of walking away from international agreements and his wilful introduction of anarchy into international security. Take instead what might be central Republican tests of this administration. The President doing in the war on terrorism or the war on drugs? He would be judged on the United States' economic performance and the health of the stock market, and might be expected to uphold the financial probity of US capitalism. Yet, in all of these areas, the President's record is one of failure.
President Bush and his officials failed to give adequate priority to Al Qaeda despite much advice that they should do so. In waging the war on Afghanistan, they made several tactical blunders that allowed the enemy leaders to escape. They have not yet accounted for these errors.
The administration had plenty of advice about Al-Qaeda. In January 2001, the outgoing National Security Advisor, Sandy Berger, personally briefs Condeleeza Rice, his replacement, on a plan to stop Al Qaeda. Rice merely starts a slow process of policy review. Meanwhile various parts of the intelligence community are pushing the ideas of attacks with aircraft and terrorists engaging in flight training in the US.
These include the plan foiled by the French to fly a hijacked jet into the Eiffel Tower and the plot in the Philippines to hijack 11 passenger planes simultaneously over the Pacific as well as the now famous 'Phoenix memo' from an FBI agent warning of terrorist flight training. In response to these pushes, there is no equivalent 'pull' from the top of the administration looking for and drawing in this intelligence. The US Congress decided last week to appoint an independent commission looking into failures leading up to 9/11. In my view, a Gore administration which had failed to act would already have been drummed out of office.
In the war itself there were a number of significant operational failures. There have now been numerous reports that, after the launch of Operation Enduring Freedom, Bin Laden left Kabul for Jallalabad and the mountains beyond as part of a group of 50-100 vehicles. The US military has expended vast sums of money developing technology for tracking vehicles on the ground from aircraft. This was first developed to tackle the Soviet armies in Central Europe. The 'JSTARS' plane is the best known technology in this area. These converted Boeing civilian airliners are filled with radars and computers to operate the Joint Surveillance and Target Acquisition Radar System. The generals in command of this and other parallel systems appear to have spectacularly failed to survey and acquire targets on one of the main and highly visible routes in Afghanistan.
The attack in December on the redoubt at Tora Bora also appears to have gone badly wrong. There have been numerous reports detailing Al Qaeda leaders escaped through high mountain passes. President Bush and his commanders delegated the ground fighting to Afghan allies. Despite the supposed hardheaded realism of the Bush team, they were extremely naive in expecting that the Afghans would do an effective job for them. The Administration decided not to deploy US paratroopers or special forces to block the escape routes from Tora Bora, even though there would have been strong public support for their deployment.
In March, the US Army launched 2,000 men into an assault against Al Qaeda's mountain positions near the town of Gardez. The plan was leaked to the enemy - US forces were ambushed, their Brigade HQ attacked, and US helicopters and planes were unable to reinforce their own troops for two days due to the intensity of enemy fire. There troops had been sent in by overconfident commanders who had left their own artillery and even sleeping bags behind. Eight were killed and 70 wounded before the enemy slipped away. The death toll would have been far higher save for the body armour that the soldiers now wear.
Having failed to give priority to tackling Al Qaeda and rejected advice to do so, the Administration then failed twice to conduct competent military operations against the Al Qaeda and Taliban leadership.
Now let's look at the War on Drugs. Whatever you may think of this War, it has for years been a top priority of US conservative politicians. For years too, Afghanistan has been the main source of supply around the world. Somehow and for whatever reason the Taliban were able to reduce production by an order of magnitude to hundreds rather than more than a thousand tons a year. The Taliban had little money to offer, their military power was mainly light weapons driven on a 4x4 backed by Islamic principle and ruthlessness.
Now the international community has more than 10,000 troops in the region and has pledged billions of dollars in aid. Somehow, though this is not doing the job. According to Drugscope, production is expected to reach 1,900 tons and the UK and other Western countries will soon be flooded with cheap heroin that will destroy many thousands of lives. It would appear that although the US is now in a uniquely favourable position to shut down production by a combination of cash and coercion, President Bush has effectively chosen this moment to surrender in the War on Drugs, without putting place any alternative policy such as decriminalisation to help save his own people from jail and destitution.
Turning to economic matters let's look at President Bush's public and private economic policies. The President inherited a projected budget surplus of $313 billion for 2002. Now, a deficit of $157 billion is expected.
The chairman of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan warned in September that "Returning to a fiscal climate of continuous large deficits would risk returning to an era of high interest rates, low levels of investment, and slower growth of productivity." One reason for the deficit is that, with the recession, government income from taxes has fallen. The other reason is that the President gave away $1.3 trillion dollars in tax cuts. Middle income tax payers got a few hundred dollars; the bulk of the cuts went to the super-wealthy. In addition, the military received an additional $48 billion this year. Expect further rises in future. The Washington NGO, 'Taxpayers for Common Sense' advised that these sums would continue to grow: "given the inability of the Pentagon to set priorities among the services and end outmoded weapons programs and congressional pork barrel tendencies, the pressure will continue to grow to exceed the President's request."
So the President has by action and inaction undermined the economy and hurt the livelihood of Americans and people around the world, failed to prioritise hunting terrorists in advance of 9/11, failed to ensure that the military action that was taken was effective and surrendered in the war on drugs without having another plan. This just leaves the question of his own and his Vice President's potential financial misdeeds.
The Vice President, Dick Cheney, is now facing a civil law suit for fraud from the NGO Judicial Watch. This alleges that the Vice President and others inflated the earnings of Halliburton, a company he ran, in order to raise the share price. The Vice President has had a much lower public profile of late: he is said to have spent much of the last six months hunkered down with his lawyers preparing a defence. The President himself has yet to give satisfactory answers about his sale of shares in an oil company for a large profit just ahead of bad news which would have slashed their value. You may recall that President Clinton had to face a government investigation from an independent prosecutor for what became known as the Whitewater affair. War fever has so far protected the present leadership from such scrutiny - after all, this is not the time to weaken the government.
Without Iraq, this and other issues would loom far larger on US TV screens and perhaps negatively impact the President's Republican Party in the elections for House and Senate that take place this November. The election is very tight indeed, especially in the Senate which the Democrats control by a single vote. With a third of the seats up for election this year, there are just eight marginal states, four leaning Democrat and four Republican.
Now after this distraction, it's time to get back to those Weapons of Mass Destruction.
· Dan Plesch is author of 'Sheriff and Outlaws in the Global Village' and Senior Research Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (www.rusi.org. He writes a monthly online commentary for Observer Worldview - you can read his previous pieces here. Additional research by Avnish Patel.
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