You probably already knew this, but sometimes it's nice to get affirmation that yeah, you were right. A recently released study by the non-partisan Rand Corporation titled How Terrorist Groups End shows that young Mr. Bush's anti-terror strategy hasn't significantly undermined al Qaeda's capabilities.
As news goes, that's hardly shock or awe, is it?
The study asserts something else you already knew: the Bush administration made a mistake in using the phrase "war on terror," as it erroniously suggests that a solution to terrorism is to be found on a battlefield. "Terrorists should be perceived and described as criminals, not holy warriors," write the report's authors, Seth Jones and Martin Libicki. "In most cases, military force isn't the best instrument," says Jones, the chief writer and a terrorism expert. In Muslim countries, the report says, there should be a "light U.S. military footprint or none at all." The report states that al Qaeda is "strong and competent," and that it has adapted and reorganized over time, "making it a more dangerous enemy."
The Rand report only contains one clinker, but it's a big one. Its conclusion that Bush's strategy hasn't undermined al Qaeda suggests a faulty assumption: that Bush's strategy was intended to undermine al Qaeda. The Bush strategy, in fact, had nothing to do with al Qaeda—or terrorism—whatsoever.
As Jim Lobe pointed out in his July 29 Lobelog.com column "Neo-Cons Make Their War Aims in Iraq Clearer," the most illustrative aspect of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki's insistance on a U.S. troop withdrawal timetable has been the neoconservative cabal's reaction to it, which has been reminiscent of the collision between the Wicked Witch of the West and a bucket of water. Lobe regales us with analysis of comical ha-ma-nas from the Wall Street Journal, Max Boot, and Freddie and Kim Kagan, but it was Charles Krauthammer's spit take that exposed the hegemons' full agenda.
Neocon anointed presidential candidate John McCain, Krauthammer asserts, would consolidate America's victory in Iraq by forming a permanent occupation agreement with Maliki's government that would "provide the U.S. with the infrastructure and freedom of action to project American power regionally, as do U.S. forces in Germany, Japan and South Korea."
Their Beautiful Ugliness
Krauthammer's version of a McCain presidency mirrors the vision outlined in the September 2000 neoconservative manifesto Rebuilding America's Defenses. "While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification," the neocons argued, "the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein."
A larger, permanent military footprint in the geographic center of the Middle East would create a "worldwide archipelago," rounding out the global fortress established after World War II and during the Cold War. (It has all but escaped notice, by the way, that America has maintained its robust force presence in Europe and Asia throughout the current wars in Southwest Asia. This explains in no small part why an extended deployment of around 150,000 troops has "stretched to the breaking point" a force with an end strength of over two million.)
The neocons knew America would be hesitant to back their scheme "absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event–like a new Pearl Harbor." The 9/11 attacks gave them the fuzzy pretext they were looking for, but the Iraq invasion was not about terrorism, nor is the neoconservatives' current gambit to insert another pliant accomplice in the oval office who is happy to keep U.S. troops in Iraq for "a hundred years," "a thousand years," or "a million years."
What a World, What a World
The neoconservative movement grew out of the Cold War. It's little wonder, then, that they're attempting to create Cold War II in the Middle East.
It's likely true that, as the Bush administration insists, no nation poses a greater challenge to us than Iran. That, however, only goes to illustrate how few challenges—at least military ones—we actually face. Iran's military budget is less than one percent the size of ours. The Bush administration's assertions that Iran seeks nuclear weapons and is arming militants in Iraq have been disproven time and again. Iran's conventional forces hardly pose the kind of threat to its Gulf region neighbors the administration would like you to think they do. Its army has never operated more than a few miles from its border, and that was during an eight-year stalemate against the Iraqi army we twice cut through like hot butter. Iran's navy would sink of natural causes before it could engage anyone beyond the Persian Gulf or its coastal waters in the Caspian Sea and Gulf of Oman, and its air force's wings were clipped when we stopped selling them spare parts for their top-of-the-line fighter jets. Moreover, Iran's exterior geographic position and mountainous terrain make it next to useless as a base of operations from which to dominate the Middle East militarily (that's one of the main reasons we invaded Iraq and not Iran).
In all, the greatest threat Iran poses is a president who says a lot of stupid, incendiary things in public, and who are we to throw stones on that score?
Yet Iran plays an important role in the Bush administration's Korea model. The neocons can justify a significant military presence in an Iraq that's analogous to South Korea and faces a constant threat from an Iran that equates to North Korea and is backed by a China that is, in fact, the actual China.
But as we have discussed, Iran is what former Central Command chief William Fallon "ants" to be "crushed" when the time comes. And despite the neocon mantra that says China is emerging as a peer military competitor, it's really just a paper dragon. As head of U.S. Pacific Command Admiral Tim Keating says, "the Chinese are behind us. Unmistakably, they know it. In their words—I'm quoting some of them—they're 25 years behind us." Neocons also make lots of scare noise about how China has made double digit increases in defense spending since 1989, but it still spends 10 percent or less on defense than we do.
So while the neocon stratagem seeks to maintain large troop presence in Iraq and preserve exorbitant defense expenditures that account for more than half the federal budget, it has nothing to do with waging war on terror, and nothing to do with waging war against another country either.
It has to do with whether they can fool enough of the people enough of the time a third time around, and unless somebody drops a house on them, they just might get away with it.
Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword . Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books), a lampoon on America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now. Also catch Russ Wellen's interview with Jeff at The Huffington Post and Scholars and Rogues.