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Bush's bluff and bluster
on terror war

Editor’s note: Mr. Klayman is Chairman of Judicial Watch, which has several ongoing legal cases against terrorists. This article is written in his personal capacity.

While talking a good game since Sept. 11, the Bush-Cheney administration has not put words into action and is actually on the verge of a major blunder in its “war” against terrorism and its own efforts to be re-elected in 2004.

Following the horrific attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, President George W. Bush boastfully promised to swiftly take Osama bin Laden “dead or alive.” But he left the job to a timid general named Tommy Franks, who not only ran the war safely from his cozy headquarters in Tampa, Fla., but would not, undoubtedly at the president’s direction, risk taking casualties in routing out al-Qaida in the mountains of Afghanistan.

The result: Bin Laden paid more than we did to Afghan mercenaries whom the administration “hired” to do our job, and he was allowed – along with the Taliban’s Mullah Omar, his comrade in terrorism – to ride out of the country unscathed. To date, our hapless intelligence agencies and military leaders have located neither, much less brought them to justice. One and a half years later, they remain on the loose to carry out even more deadly terrorist attacks against the United States. In effect, all that we accomplished in Afghanistan was to scatter the cockroaches worldwide, and now they are more difficult to find and kill. In order to “cover its derriere,” this helps explain why the government has been increasingly issuing more extreme predictions of likely attacks on American soil.

While simultaneously promising to bring Saddam Hussein to justice, the United States was also slow to move against him. In the many months since Sept. 11, the Bush-Cheney administration has waged a propaganda war, but taken no action – unless you consider asking the predominantly socialist, America-hating countries of the United Nations to conduct weapons inspections to be action. After the Bush-Cheney administration walked into the quicksand of the United Nations, Saddam Hussein outsmarted the U.S. government yet again by hiding all of his weapons of mass destruction, most likely, according to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, in Syria. He has also used the opportunity to wage a propaganda war among other Arab states, other third-world nations and our European and Asian allies, effectively claiming that it was hypocritical for America to precipitously go to war against Iraq when North Korea, a rogue state which admittedly has nuclear weapons and threatens to use them, is not subject to this treatment.

Now, a recent Knight-Ridder poll shows that most Americans are opposed to war with Iraq unless it gets the United Nations’ blessings. Because of the political stakes involved, the Bush-Cheney administration, loath to risk the fallout from a unilateral war that might not go as well as planned, is unlikely to move any time soon against Iraq. Instead, in what is an obvious on-going bluff, each day the Bush-Cheney administration issues more “leaks” about its so-called plans to remove Hussein from power. Just last Monday, the Pentagon published detailed information in major newspapers about the specifics of its claimed efforts to locate the dictator to kill him in the event of war. If the president is sincere, the United States would not be telegraphing its military strategy to the enemy. With this hapless bluff and bluster since Sept. 11, Hussein has had one and a half years to work contingency plans that could touch off catastrophe in the event his country is finally attacked.

Sure enough, recent statements by the Bush-Cheney administration suggest that there is now no timetable to move militarily against Iraq and that war, if it ever occurs, will not be for at least another 10 months to allow United Nations’ weapons inspectors to complete their dubious job.

While obvious, it is now clearer than ever that the end game of the Bush-Cheney administration is to obtain whatever results are possible through United Nations’ inspections. Politically, particularly given the domestic opposition which has built up over time to unilateral action, the president will not risk the fallout of war casualties and retaliation given that his re-election is on the line in 2004. By delaying quick military action by the United States against Iraq following Sept. 11, the Bush-Cheney administration thus not only gave Saddam Hussein time to wage his own effective propaganda war, but also plan for retaliation that could be catastrophic to American and European assets and interests. The Bush-Cheney administration’s apparent decision to allow the United Nations’ inspections to run their course is a tacit admission that it has “blown it.”

But even worse, to get the United Nations to conduct inspections, the Bush-Cheney administration had to repeatedly threaten war and appear ready to do it. Along with the Wall Street business scandals, this has destabilized U.S. and foreign stock markets, prolonging and deepening a recession that ironically threatens the president’s re-election. A recent CNN/Time Warner poll, taken around New Year’s, shows that only about 15 percent of the population now think that terrorism is the most important government issue for 2003; about 60 percent say fixing the economy is more important.

Couple all this with what is apparently a selective approach to the war on terrorism – other real threats like North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iran are for now off-limits due to military incapability, international politics and/or their ties to American economic interests – and the Bush-Cheney administration finds itself living on a precipice of potential “ballot box” discontent that it is not doing enough to truly fight terrorism, while simultaneously destabilizing the economy. And, as discussed in Judicial Watch’s recent book, “Fatal Neglect – The U.S. Government’s Continuing Failure to Protect American Citizens from Terrorists,” the Bush-Cheney administration has not been aggressive enough in preparing our homeland security for the eventuality of further September 11s.

In sum, the president needs to stop hesitating and become much more aggressive in taking further action to fight terrorism at home and abroad. And, he cannot do so effectively by keeping certain terrorist states off-limits. By listening to his father, Colin Powell or other pacifists in his administration, George W. Bush has squandered an opportunity to strike bin Laden, the Taliban, and Saddam Hussein quickly and decisively, and now, as the administration’s previously effective public-relations campaign is finally wearing thin, he must be prepared to pay the political price of his dithering. Regrettably, the American people must also now be prepared to pay an even higher price for government indecisiveness and delay.