Vice President Dick Cheney gave his stump speech in Utah on Wednesday, attempting to rally the Republican faithful while the national spotlight remained on the Democrats. Rebecca Walsh reports:
Cheney said terrorists are as determined to destroy America as the “Axis powers” of Germany, Italy and Japan during World War II. Borrowing a quote from the 9-11 Commission’s report on the terrorist attacks of Sept. 2001, the vice president said the terrorists are “sophisticated, patient, disciplined and lethal.”
“This enemy is perfectly prepared to slaughter anyone man, woman and child to achieve its ends,” Cheney said. “This is not an enemy we can reason with. This is an enemy we must vanquish.”
Although it may be true that al-Qaeda is as determined to destroy the US as the Axis Powers were in World War II, this observation is a Himalayan exaggeration if it is meant to suggest a parallel. Al-Qaeda is a few thousand fanatics mainly distributed in a handful of countries. If Zacharias Moussaoui and Richard Reid are any indication, a lot of them are one step away from from collecting old soda cans on the street in their grocery carts while mumbling about the radios the government implanted in their asses.
So while their determination may be impressive (or just creepy), they are not comparable to the might of three industrialized dictatorships with populations in the tens of millions. Some 13 million men served in the German army (Heer) alone between 1935 and 1945. (And WW II killed 55 million persons, not 3 thousand).
I repeat, al-Qaeda proper only has a few hundred fighters, those who pledged allegiance personally to Bin Laden, and a few thousand if you count other Afghan Arabs and their ideological soul mates. Most of them are not wealthy or trained or competent, and a lot are just crackpots. (Read an account of the misadventures of Richard Reid again). September 11 was possible mainly because Ramzi Bin al-Shibh lucked out and managed to recruit some high-powered engineering Ph.D. students in Hamburg who knew something serious about kinetic energy. The organization does not have a lot of persons of that caliber, though Cheney has done everything in his power to make them easier for al-Qaeda to recruit.
These few thousand scruffy terrorists are not comparable to the Axis in any significant dimension except maybe “determination” (which they share with all kinds of cults around the world, including Aum Shinrikyo).
The question that I have, though, is why, if Dick Cheney is in fact so desperately worried about al-Qaeda, he hasn’t done more about it. Of the 1000 or so al-Qaeda operatives who fled to Pakistan, 500 or so have been captured, almost all of them by the Pakistani military. Although there are 20,000 US troops in Afghanistan, they have captured no top al-Qaeda leaders at all to my knowledge. In fact, it is difficult for me to understand what exactly they are doing there. The Pushtun warlords all around them are selling $2 billion of heroin annually to Europe, to which you would have thought the US might object (and isn’t it likely some of the $2 billion is going straight to al-Qaeda?)
Usamah Bin Laden and Aiman al-Zawahiri, who sat down in a room and planned out September 11 are still free. They are still plotting against the US and its allies. Chatter suggests that the bombings in Istanbul were encouraged by al-Zawahiri.
So let’s get this straight. The US has 138,000 troops stuck in Iraq, which was no danger to the US homeland. They are mainly fighting local clansmen who had never before had any beef with the US, prior to the American invasion of their country.
If Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri are the SS of the age, then why aren’t 138,000 US troops combing Waziristan for them? Why haven’t they been captured?
If al-Qaeda is the equivalent of the WW II Axis, why didn’t the US liaise with Moroccan and Spanish security to prevent the Madrid bombings? How many FBI and CIA operatives do we even have in Rabat and Casablanca? Does Cheney even know the name of the Moroccan minister of intelligence? There is no evidence that he is making the fight against al-Qaeda any sort of top priority.
Cheney is lying again. Iraq is obviously a much greater priority for him than is fighting al-Qaeda. All the country’s military resources are being sunk into Iraq. Silly decisions are made on macho grounds like deciding to besiege Fallujah or arrest Muqtada al-Sadr (from both endeavors Cheney had to slink away with his tail between his legs, because political considerations got in the way of mere application of massive force).
Why is Iraq a bigger priority for Cheney than is fighting al-Qaeda? Because there are corporate profits to be made in Iraq. There are virtually none in Afghanistan or the Pakistani tribal regions. Cheney wants to crucify the Bill of Rights on the cross of “national security,” but has avoided doing the one thing that would make us both free and safe. That is developing a serious counter-insurgency plan for the Middle East that wins hearts and minds and deals effectively with asymmetrical threats. All his emphasis has been on dealing with governments, like that of Iraq, which can be defeated militarily, and the defeat of which unlocks national resources for American companies to exploit. The problem is that those governments do not pose a threat to the US mainland. To the extent that there is a threat, it comes from a shadowy network of radical Islamist guerrillas. Cheney is doing virtually nothing about them.
Not only has Cheney failed to win hearts and minds, but Bush/Cheney policies have made the US less popular than ever in the Middle East. In the past two years, positive views of America have dwindled alarmingly. The Washington Post reports of the recent Zogby poll,
“In 2002, the single policy issue that drove opinion was the Palestinians; now it’s Iraq and America’s treatment, here and abroad, of Arabs and Muslims,” said James Zogby, who commissioned the report with the Arab American Institute.
In Zogby’s 2002 survey, 76 percent of Egyptians had a negative attitude toward the United States, compared with 98 percent this year. In Morocco, 61 percent viewed the country unfavorably in 2002, but in two years, that number has jumped to 88 percent. In Saudi Arabia, such responses rose from 87 percent in 2002 to 94 percent in June. Attitudes were virtually unchanged in Lebanon but improved slightly in the UAE, from 87 percent who said in 2002 that they disliked the United States to 73 percent this year.
Those polled said their opinions were shaped by U.S. policies, rather than by values or culture. When asked: “What is the first thought when you hear ‘America’?” respondents overwhelmingly said: “Unfair foreign policy.”
And when asked what the United States could do to improve its image in the Arab world, the most frequently provided answers were “Stop supporting Israel” and “Change your Middle East policy.”
Those people being polled are the recruitment pool for al-Qaeda. You want to get them on America’s side, not drive them further away. Bush/Cheney have completely alienated them. And, no, you can’t just scare them or beat them into submission. Cheney’s plan to conquer Iraq has been implemented. After defeating the Iraqi army hands down and pouring a sixth of a million of troops into the country, the US still hasn’t managed to scare or cow the Iraqis into submission. The lesson the other Arabs take away from the mounting toll of dead and wounded US troops is that America can be taken on, if not on the battlefield, then with guerrilla tactics.
Hey, we were trying to convince them that we can’t be taken on with those methods, and that there isn’t any need to do so anyway since the US poses no danger to them. Instead, Bush/Cheney have actually managed to convince the few Muslims who had positive views of us to change their minds!
Four more years of this kind of “success,” and we really will be in danger.