Tuesday, December 22, 2015

What Francois Hollande Learned from George Bush and Obama Did not

It took a terrorist carnage in Paris to make the French discover the wisdom in US actions post 9/11 and for their president Francois Hollande to discover his inner George W. Bush. When a socialist French president echoes words used by a Texan Republican American president we can be sure we are living in a new era of common sense prevailing over pompous platitudes. On the other hand when an American president nonchalantly says, after a carnage in California, that he misjudged how anxious his citizens are because he does not watch cable TV, we can be equally sure that the desire for a moral halo is outstripping a dire need of sense of urgency. Amidst these two scenarios stands the divisive figure of George Bush.

The Bush that Hollande discovered and echoed was the post 9/11 but pre-Iraq war Bush. That sunny fateful Tuesday morning is etched in my memory. It was a morning when the words "the world will never be the same again" stopped being a trite cliche and became a new emphatic reality. It was the day when an age of American innocence ended. Bush who had assumed office under a cloud of derision and lack of mandate became the voice of America in a moment that he certainly would not have wished nor hoped for but he rose to the occasion. Nancy Gibbs of Time magazine wrote archly that history came down in a fell swoop and lifted him. When Bush left office with his legacy in tatters as the nation reeled under the greatest recession since the Great Depression he and many of his supporters felt that history will judge him kinder with the passage of time as it has done to Harry Truman. Their hopes were answered, sadly, when Paris felt the sting of terrorism.

Image from http://www.usnews.com/cmsmedia/3e/d07fa8ab4e693d9657bcc69b7223dd/40985FE_DA_130425bush2001.jpg 
Bush said "we are at war" and many guffawed pointing out that it was impossible for a nation state to be at war against a rag-tag motley group of non-state actors. Theoreticians trotted out to chortle that it was neither a war and even if it was war it cannot be won because it lacks a definition of what would constitute a 'win'. The Bush doctrine has now been vindicated by Hollande.

It is fully to George Bush's credit that he recognized that 9/11 was indeed war. Osama Bin Laden had indeed declared war against the US, only thing is unlike Clinton now the US had a president who understood that Bin Laden meant business. That a motley group of religious fundamentalists with an amoeba like structure spread across the globe could be considered an entity and waged war against was the recognized with an instinctive genius that Bush was never recognized for.

Bush, unlike Obama who needs to watch cable TV to learn what his citizens felt, channeled the rage of Americans and gave expression to the resolve that the country wanted to see in it's leader. With his arm slung over a fireman, standing over the rubble of World Trade Center, with a bull horn Bush declared "I hear you, the world hears you and those who did this will hear from us". Asked what his aim was he bluntly said, in Churchillian manner, "there's a poster out west in Texas 'wanted dead or alive'". There was no waffling, no lecturing, no elaborate reasoning just a blunt statement of the desired outcome. Time magazine columnist Lance Morrow was searing in his column calling for a 'purple rage' and advising grief counselors to stay away.

On a day when the fires were still smoldering in New York City and Washington D.C. Bush said America was attacked by those who detested her for her way of life and what she stood for. The naysayers chuckled that the attacks had nothing to do with the terrorists antagonism towards American ideals. Tellingly Hollande used those same words and said Paris was attacked for what she stood for.

Bush understood keenly that this was a different war and that the usual paradigms of war, valid for several millennia, will not suit this new war, this new manichean struggle of the 21st century. "There would be no surrender or signing aboard a ship" predicted Bush. Unlike Obama who needed a do-over of his Oval office speech against ISIS Bush delivered a new doctrine speaking from Oval office saying "we'll make no distinction between terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them". He called it a "war on terror".

Bob Woodward quotes at length Bush's speech to the Congress and the nation. Watched by "80 million" Americans Bush declared "our grief has turned to anger and anger to resolution. Whether we bring our enemies to justice or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done". As for the new nature of the conflict Bush advised Americans that they "should not expect one battle bust a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have seen. It ma include dramatic strikes visible on TV, and covert operations, secret even in success". Where Bush was quick to identify the nature of the enemy and help the country resolve itself for a lengthy conflict Obama was keen to ridicule the nature of ISIS by calling them a 'varsity JV team'.

Brussels and Europe at large have recognized that their cities have become sanctuaries for terrorists. It is not without reason that Hamburg was were the 9/11 plotters gathered to plot their heinous crime. A bin-Laden could not have operated without impunity but for the sanctuary provided by Kabul.

Hollande, learning from Bush, has vowed that France will cut off the oxygen for terrorist operations by choking the money flow. America due to its pre-eminent position in the world of finance could leverage institutions at its command to identify and stifle the flow of money that financed terrorist operations. When treasury secretary announced the presidential proclamation Bush flew into a rage because he wanted to make the announcement himself in order to impress upon everyone the central role money plays in terrorism and by making the announcement himself he wanted to show the world that he was deathly serious. Again, this was Bush's own idea with an instinctive realization of what the country was against and an awareness of the tools available at his disposal.

In response to the racist bigotry that is being unleashed by Donald Trump and Ted Cruz in the crazed GOP primaries both Obama and Hillary Clinton have discovered the virtues of how Bush faced the conflict by demonizing the terrorists while consciously and steadfastly refusing to demonize an entire religion or an entire people. Woodward points out how Bush repetitively emphasized that it was not a war against the Afghans or Islam. Bush, Woodward says, wanted the first bombs to dropped over Afghanistan to be food packets. Outreach to children and women of Afghanistan were key elements of Bush policy. Bush even made it a point to invite a Muslim cleric to the memorial service at the National Cathedral.

Americans have forgotten how ill organized the country was just before 9/11 and the changes that Bush ushered in. The FBI and CIA were prevented by law from exchanging intelligence, the president could not make a secure telephone call from Air Force One, while Bush Sr could go to war in 1991 with off-the shelf plans there were no off-the-shelf plans for this war, the military had been under equipped, human intelligence sorely lacked, the laws for snooping were outpaced by technological advances that the terrorists took advantage of and much more. Make no mistake Obama has retained many of Bush's security policies and has actually took the drone warfare policy to levels that even Bush demurred to do.

Bush gathered an international coalition before he went to war, something that even the French have no bothered to do with their air strikes. As much as Bush wanted to present a globally united front in the war against terror he was aware that there will be a day when the US will carry the burden alone as it does now. Obama cried from rooftops that the US lost international prestige under Bush's watch but he has been both unwilling and incapable of stitching together any meaningful coalition to carry on the Afghan operations that he found himself necessary to continue with a troop addition.

While Hollande learned from the Bush who went after bin-Laden Obama is eager to avoid being the Bush who went after Saddam Hussein. Unfortunately Obama took his caution to such an extreme that even his own Secretary of state blithely told an interviewer that "do not do stupid stuff cannot be the organizing principle of a great country". This week yet another former Secretary of defense who served under Obama went on the record to say what a detached war time president Obama is. Apparently during cabinet meetings to discuss the threat of ISIS Obama would get busy checking messages on his blackberry. Talking to left leaning public broadcaster PBS Obama blamed media coverage of the attacks in Paris and California for fueling anxiety amongst the public. 'Media coverage' is what Obama thinks is responsible for citizens feeling anxious after two brazen and heinous attacks. Thank god he was not in the presidency when Pearl Harbor was attacked.

A former administration official went on record to say that Obama dithered on cutting off the oxygen of money supply to ISIS, the oil wells, worrying about the damage to the environment. Finding political courage to kill bin-Laden, while commendable, does not compare to doing what it takes to win a war against a merciless enemy. Obama, it is now becoming increasingly evident, is no war time president. I shudder to think of what an Obama would have done before D-Day or at Stalingrad or before Hiroshima.

Obama, like many in America and elsewhere, saw Bush exclusively through the prism of the Iraq war and the mistakes of the doctrine of pre-emptive war. That is a sad mistake for even in a war as plagued by mistakes as the Iraq war was there came a moment when Bush discovered leadership, albeit much belatedly. While everyone including his own 'Iraq study group' advised Bush to cut and run from Iraq he resolved that he will not abandon Iraq to chaos and announced the surge under David Petraeus. The Iraq 'surge' was a success that Obama threw away and yielded a vacuum that ISIS was only too glad to fill in.

It is still too early to say who will take over from Obama but I'm sure that at this point anybody but Obama would prosecute the war against ISIS much better. Hillary Clinton may even be a better Commander in Chief than Obama himself.


Raja M said...

Bah. Humbug!

Fifteen of the 19 hijackers of 9/11 were Saudis (2 from UAE, 1 each from Egypt and Lebonon), and there was ample evidence and to this day, there was no evidence that Iraq was anyway related to 9/11 events. Subsequent reports (both from UK and US) have laid bare the evidence to connect Saddam to 9/11 was non-existent, when Bush was actively promoting it (9/11 reports, Blair reports).

Bush, at the nudging of Cheney and neocons, plunged this country into war with Iraq which has cost us blood - hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, four thousand US soldiers killed, tens of thousands of US soldiers maimed-, treasure - nearly a trillion dollars in direct costs alone-, and time - a decade of war. What was the result? We handed the power to Shih in Iraqi south - Maliki (after the failed attempts at installing Chalabi), and strengthened the hand of Iran in the region. The current destablisization in the middle east is a direct offshoot of Bush's misguided, macho war.

This is the legacy of Bush that will be written in history.

ISIS has 9000 soldiers, mostly from the former Sunni dominated Iraqi Republican Guard (that was dismantled by Paul Bremer), as its fighting core, which is put together with extortion, theft of oil, extreme religious identity, and brutality to enforce discipline and fear. ISIS has no airforce, no navy, no capacity to manufacture weapons, and as a military organization - is no way equal to any modern military force. Their only hope and strategy is to draw us in to a ground war that they can successfully exploit.

Obama's strategy is right on. What do the republicans recommend? All the republican presidential candidates say loudly, that their bombing will be more intense (and yuuge) than Obama, their support for Kurds who fight ISIS will be more ardent. On the substance, there is no one, with the possible exception of Hillary Clinton and Lindsay Grahm, that they are willing to commit troops.

It is embarassing blather. For a US president not to conflate a religion with a small sect of extremists is not something special, but a basic requirement. The fact that republican presidential candidates are ignorant of this, is a reflection of the sad state of their party, not of the country.

It is amazing to witness the type of fever that living near a swamp can induce.


PS: You state: "A former administration official went on record to say that Obama dithered on cutting off the oxygen of money supply to ISIS, the oil wells, worrying about the damage to the environment."

Is there a reference?

anilkurup59 said...

Conceding the pale nature of Obama's presidency vis a vis as the commander in chief when an evil force like the ISIS and Islamic terror is brazen, the post has given Bush Jr an aura that he seldom deserves.
Didn't we all know about Bush's vanishing act immediately after the 9/11 attacks? So much for a war-time CEO. As for the reaction later in Afghan or Iraq it was pathetic and criminal with no basics as to put to rest the raison d'être for the antagonism that the USA let solidify against it not just in the Islamic world but even in friendly European and third world countries. The legacy of Bush is what we stand on now, where no one and no part of the world is insulated.