Vol. 4 Num 241 Wed. January 28, 2004  

Bottom line
Is America any safer as claimed by President Bush?

On 20 January, in a 54-minute address before a joint session of the Congress, President Bush claimed that his policies made America safer from terrorist attacks. He made a defiant defence of the Iraqi war and urged the Americans to stick to him for his policy to keep America safe and secure.

The question is will the majority of Americans be convinced with his claims? His address is of a leader who is seen to be vulnerable. The latest polls show that he commands 49 percent of popular vote dropping him from 53 percent in mid-December.

One of the Democratic contenders and winner of Iowa primary Senator John Kerry immediately criticised his address and said: " There's just two different worlds here -- the world the President talks about and the world that Americans are living." Another Democratic contender North Carolina's John Edwards (second place in Iowa) said:

" The President is not talking about two Americas we have: the two public school systems, the two health care systems, two different governments, and how we're going to build one America that works for everybody."

It seems that President's claim stands on shaky grounds. Although American mainland has not been subject to any terrorist attacks since September 11, 2001, it is doubtful whether America is safe and in this connection the following four factors deserve mention:

First, the President makes links between capture of Saddam Hussein and America being a safer place from terrorist attacks. However the reality is that war on Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein was planned long before. Early this month, the former US Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill of the Bush administration has revealed that President Bush began planning to forcibly oust Saddam Hussein within days of becoming President in January 2001, nine months before the attacks of September 11. This clearly demonstrates that there was no link between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda terrorist network.

Second, despite the upbeat assessment given by the President on Iraq, the country is indeed in a mess. It has become a safe haven for Islamic militants including Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters. Almost every day American soldiers are killed. US policy in Iraq has first annoyed Sunnis and now the majority Shi'ites.

The Grand Shi'ite Cleric Ayatollah Ali al Husseini al Sistani has demanded election before transfer of power to Iraqi people in June. In recent days it is reported that CIA officers warned the administration that Iraq might be on a path to civil war unless the demand is peacefully sorted out. The US has landed itself in a catch 22 situation. If the US administration bows to Shi'ite demands, a fundamentalist Islamic regime is likely to emerge. If it does not, a civil war may engulf Iraq. That is the last thing the Bush administration had envisioned in Iraq.

Third, it is imperative to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict if there is any hope left to make America safer. The American "road map" to peace for Israel-Palestinian conflict is in tatters. President Bush cannot afford to annoy Israeli Prime Minister Sharon who is being strongly supported by US Jewish and Christian Right lobbies in the US. Thomas Friedman in The New York Times recently wrote: " The Bush team destroyed the Iraqi regime in three weeks and has not persuaded Israel to give up one settlement in three years. To think the US can practise that sort of hypocrisy and win the war of ideas in the Arab Muslim world is a truly dangerous fantasy."

Israel's defiance has made most Arab Muslim people in the region turn against America. Israel has been deploying US-supplied lethal weapons against them. Frustration and desperation among many Arabs are growing and the explosive situation makes for a potential breeding ground for recruitment by Al-Qaeda network.

Fourth, Osama bin Laden and his number two Egyptian Ayman Al-Zawahiri who are alleged to be behind the September 11 attacks have not been captured. The Taliban chief Mollah Omar has also eluded capture. The elimination of Talibans appears to be short-lived because they are regrouping and fighting back against the Karzai government in Afghanistan.

Outside of Kabul, people in rural areas live in fear of attacks by Talibans. Even Kabul is not free from Taliban attacks and in recent times a bomb exploded near the UN office in Kabul. More significantly there are recorded tapes alleged to be the voice of Bin Laden promising future attacks on American interests. The UN officers in Kabul reportedly said that Taliban was likely to return with vigour unless funds were made available to the Karzai government. Only 20 percent of the promised funds have been disbursed.

In addition to the above, the greatest weakness of President Bush appears to be his credibility to many people in his country. Trust and credibility of politicians are paramount. Once credibility is lost, it is very hard to restore it. David Corn, the Washington editor of "The Nation" published a book titled " The Lies of G.W. Bush" (Crown Publishers, New York: 2003) and in that book he listed the following:

Mischaracterising intelligence and resorting to deceptive arguments to whip up public support for war on Iraq.

Misrepresenting the provisions and effects of the tax cuts.

Offering misleading explanations -- instead of telling the full truth -- about the September 11 attacks.

Misleading statements about connections to corporate crooks.

Presenting deceptive claims to sell controversial policies on environment, missile defence, social security, medicare and energy.

The author in his introduction of the book records a damning verdict that the President "has mugged the truth, not merely in honest error, but deliberately, consistently and repeatedly." To the author, all American Presidents have often lied, but President Bush appears to relentlessly abuse the truth and thereby misled the American people to advance his own political interests and agenda.

Many American people appear to realise that President's policy on war against terrorism and weapons of mass destruction is deeply flawed. Fighting terror with war is like fighting fire with petrol. War is fuel to terrorism, not a deterrent and cannot make America safe from attacks. American people now travel abroad less and live under permanent threat of terror. Many perceive that the world has become less safe with unwanted war on Iraq.

In the past, the Presidential elections were fought primarily on domestic issues. Rarely security issues were the subjects of debate in election campaigns. This election seems to depart from the earlier ones because security has become one of the dominant themes that will engage voters. One writer after listening to the State of Union address reportedly said that President Bush has attempted to sell that "war is peace, freedom is slavery and ignorance is strength".

There is no doubt that President Bush's penchant for unilateralism has made the world order upside down. At the World Economic Forum at Davos (Switzerland) on 23rd January UN Secretary General Kofi Annan alluded to the present volatile world situation in the following words: " In just a few short years, the prevailing atmosphere has shifted from belief in the near-inevitability of globalisation to deep uncertainty about the very survival of our tenuous global order. Collective security and the role of the world body itself were under serious strain." Once again the proponent of unilateralism in fighting global terrorism is censured.

Barrister Harun ur Rashid is a former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.