Tuesday, November 29, 2005

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Title: BUSH'S LOST YEAR , By: Fallows, James,
Atlantic, 10727825, Oct2004, Vol. 294, Issue 3
Database: Academic Search Premier

BUSH'S LOST YEAR

Contents
THE PRELUDE: LATE 2001
WINTER 2001-2002: WAR ON THE CHEAP
SPRING 2002: CHAOS AND CLOSED MINDS
SUMMER AND FALL: THE ONE-FRONT WAR
WINTER: MISREADING THE ENEMY
WHAT HAPPENED IN A YEAR
By deciding to invade Iraq, the Bush Administration
decided not to do many other things: not to
reconstruct Afghanistan, not to deal with the threats
posed by North Korea and Iran, and not to wage an
effective war on terror. An inventory of opportunities
lost

I remember distinctly the way 2002 began in
Washington. New Year's Day was below freezing and
blustery. The next day was worse. That day, January 2,
I trudged several hundred yards across the vast
parking lots of the Pentagon. I was being pulled apart
by the wind and was ready to feel sorry for myself,
until I was shamed by the sight of miserable, frozen
Army sentries at the numerous outdoor security posts
that had been manned nonstop since the September 11
attacks.

I was going for an interview with Paul Wolfowitz, the
deputy secretary of defense. At the time, Wolfowitz's
name and face were not yet familiar worldwide. He was
known in Washington for offering big-picture
explanations of the Administration's foreign-policy
goals — a task for which the President was unsuited,
the Vice President was unavailable and most other
senior Administration officials were, for various
reasons, inappropriate. The National Security Adviser,
Condoleezza Rice, was still playing a background role;
the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, was mainly
dealing with immediate operational questions in his
daily briefing! about the war in Afghanistan; the
Secretary of State, Colin Powell, was already known to
be on the losing side of mos internal policy
struggles.

After the interview I wrote a short article about
Wolfowitz and his views for the March 2002 issue of
this magazine In some ways the outlook and choices he
described then still fit the world situation two and a
half years later. Ever at the time, the possibility
that the Administration's next move in the war on
terror would be against Iraq, whether or not Iraq
proved to be involved in the 9/11 hijackings, was
under active discussion. When talking with me
Wolfowitz touched briefly on the case for removing
Saddam Hussein, in the context of the general need to
reduce tyranny in the Arab-Islamic world.

But in most ways the assumptions and tone of the
conversation now seem impossibly remote. At the
beginning of 2002 the United States still operated in
a climate of worldwide sympathy and solidarity. A
broad range of allies supported its anti-Taliban
efforts in Afghanistan, and virtually no international
Muslim leaders had denounced them. President Bush was
still being celebrated for his eloquent speech
expressing American resolve, before a joint session of
Congress on September 20. His deftness in managing
domestic and international symbols was typified by his
hosting an end-of-Ramadan ceremony at the White House
in mid-December, even as battle raged in the Tora Bora
region of Afghanistan, on the Pakistani border. At the
start of 2002 fewer than 10,000 U.S. soldiers were
deployed overseas as part of the war on terror, and a
dozer Americans had died in combat. The United States
had not captured Osama bin Laden, but it had routed
the Taliban leadership that sheltered him, and seemed
to have put al-Qaeda on the run.

Because of the quick and, for Americans, nearly blood
less victory over the Taliban, the Administration's
national security team had come to epitomize
competence. During our talk Wolfowitz referred to "one
reason this group of people work very well together,"
by which he meant that Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, and
many others, including him self, had collaborated for
years, from the Reagan Administration through the 1991
Gulf War and afterward. From this experience they had
developed a shared understanding of the nuances of
"how to use force effectively," which they were now
applying. In retrospect, the remarkable thing about
Wolfowitz's comment was the assumption — which I then
had no reason to challenge — that Bush's
foreign-policy team was like a great business or
sporting dynasty, which should be examined for secrets
of success.

As I listen to the tape of that interview now,
something else stands out: how expansive and unhurried
even Wolfowitz sounded. "Even" Wolfowitz because since
then he has become the symbol of an unrelenting drive
toward war with Iraq. We now know that within the
Administration he was urging the case for "regime
change" there immediately after 9/11. But when
speaking for the record, more than a year before that
war began, he stressed how broad a range of challenges
the United States would have to address, and over how
many years, if it wanted to contain the sources of
terrorism. It would need to find ways to "lance the
boil" of growing anti-Americanism, as it had done
during the Reagan years by supporting democratic
reform in South Korea and the Philippines. It would
have to lead the Western world in celebrating and
welcoming Turkey as the most successfully modernized
Muslim country. It would need to understand that in
the long run the most important part of America's
policy was its moral example — that America stands for
things "the rest of the world wants for itself."

I also remember the way 2002 ended. By late December
some 200,000 members of the U.S. armed forces were en
route to staging areas surrounding Iraq. Hundreds of
thousands of people had turned out on the streets of
London, Rome, Madrid, and other cities to protest the
impending war. That it was impending was obvious,
despite ongoing negotiations at the United Nations.
Within weeks of the 9/11 attacks President Bush and
Secretary Rumsfeld had asked to see plans for a
possible invasion of Iraq. Congress voted to authorize
the war in October. Immediately after the vote,
planning bureaus inside the Pentagon were told to be
ready for combat at any point between then and the
following April. (Operation Iraqi Freedom actually
began on March 19.) Declaring that it was impossible
to make predictions about a war that might not occur,
the Administration refused to discuss plans for the
war's aftermath — or its potential cost. In December
the President fired Lawrence Lindsey, his chief
economic adviser, after Lindsey offered a guess that
the total cost might be $100 billion to $200 billion.
As it happened, Lindsey's controversial estimate held
up very well. By this summer, fifteen months after
fighting began in Iraq, appropriations for war and
occupation there totaled about $150 billion. With more
than 100,000 U.S. soldiers still based in Iraq, the
outlays will continue indefinitely at a rate of about
$5 billion a month — much of it for fuel, ammunition,
spare parts, and other operational needs. All this is
at striking variance with i the pre-war insistence by
Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz that Iraq's oil
money, plus contributions from allies, would minimize
the financial burden on Americans.

Despite the rout of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, terror
attacks, especially against Americans and Europeans,
were rising at the end of 2002 and would continue to
rise through 2003. Some 400 people worldwide had died
in terror attacks in 2000, and some 300 in 2001, apart
from the 3,000-plus killed on September 11. In 2002
more than 700 were killed, including 200 when a bomb
exploded outside a Bali nightclub in October.

Whereas at the beginning of the year Paul Wolfowitz
had sounded expansive about the many avenues the
United States had to pursue in order to meet the
terror threat, by the end of the year the focus was
solely on Iraq, and the Administration's tone was
urgent. "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam
Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction," Vice
President Cheney said in a major speech to the
Veterans of Foreign Wars just before Labor Day. "There
is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our
friends, against our allies, and against us." Two
weeks later, as Congress prepared for its vote to
authorize the war, Condoleezza Rice said on CNN, "We
do know that [Saddam Hussein] is actively pursuing a
nuclear weapon ... We don't want the smoking gun to be
a mushroom cloud."

On the last day of the year President Bush told
reporters at his ranch in Texas, "I hope this Iraq
situation will be resolved peacefully. One of my New
Year's resolutions is to work to deal with these
situations in a way so that they're resolved
peacefully." As he spoke, every operating branch of
the government was preparing for war.

September 11, 2001, has so often been described as a
"hinge event" that it is tempting to think no other
events could rival its significance. Indeed, as a
single shocking moment that changed Americans'
previous assumptions, the only modern comparisons are
Pearl Harbor and the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
But as 9/11 enters history, it seems likely that the
aftermath, especially the decisions made during 2002,
will prove to be as significant as the attack itself.
It is obviously too early to know the full historical
effect of the Iraq campaign. The biggest question
about post-Saddam Iraq — whether it is headed toward
stability or toward new tyranny and chaos — may not be
answered for years.

But the biggest question about the United States —
whether its response to 9/11 has made it safer or more
vulnerable — can begin to be answered. Over the past
two years I have been talking with a group of people
at the working level of America's anti-terrorism
efforts. Most are in the military, the intelligence
agencies, and the diplomatic service; some are in
think tanks and nongovernmental agencies. I have come
to trust them, because most of them have no partisan
ax to grind with the Administration (in the nature of
things, soldiers and spies are mainly Republicans),
and because they have so far been proved right. In the
year before combat started in Iraq, they warned that
occupying the country would be far harder than
conquering it. As the occupation began, they pointed
out the existence of plans and warnings the
Administration seemed determined to ignore.

As a political matter, whether the United States is
now safer or more vulnerable is of course ferociously
controversial. That the war was necessary — and
beneficial — is the Bush Administration's central
claim. That it was not is the central claim of its
critics. But among national-security professionals
there is surprisingly little controversy. Except for
those in government and in the opinion industries
whose job it is to defend the Administration's record,
they tend to see America's response to 9/11 as a
catastrophe. I have sat through arguments among
soldiers and scholars about whether the invasion of
Iraq should be considered the worst strategic error in
American history — or only the worst since Vietnam.
Some of these people argue that the United States had
no choice but to fight, given a pre-war consensus
among its intelligence agencies that Iraq actually had
WMD supplies. Many say that things in Iraq will
eventually look much better than they do now. But
about the conduct and effect of the war in Iraq one
view prevails: it has increased the threats America
faces, and has reduced the military, financial, and
diplomatic tools with which we can respond.

"Let me tell you my gut feeling," a senior figure at
one of America's military-sponsored think tanks told
me recently, after we had talked for twenty minutes
about details of the campaigns in Afghanistan and
Iraq. "If I can be blunt, the Administration is full
of shit. In my view we are much, much worse off now
than when we went into Iraq. That is not a partisan
position. I voted for these guys. But I think they are
incompetent, and I have had a very close perspective
on what is happening. Certainly in the long run we
have harmed ourselves. We are playing to the enemy's
political advantage. Whatever tactical victories we
may gain along the way, this will prove to be a
strategic blunder."

This man will not let me use his name, because he is
still involved in military policy. He cited the
experiences of Joseph Wilson, Richard Clarke, and
Generals Eric Shinseki and Anthony Zinni to illustrate
the personal risks of openly expressing his dissenting
view. But I am quoting him anonymously — as I will
quote some others — because his words are
representative of what one hears at the working level.

To a surprising extent their indictment doesn't
concentrate on the aspect of the problem most often
discussed in public: exactly why the United States got
the WMD threat so wrong. Nor does it involve a problem
I have previously discussed in this magazine (see
"Blind Into Baghdad," January/February Atlantic): the
Administration's failure, whether deliberate or
inadvertent, to make use of the careful and extensive
planning for postwar Iraq that had been carried out by
the State Department, the CIA, various branches of the
military, and many other organizations. Rather, these
professionals argue that by the end of 2002 the
decisions the Administration had made — and avoided
making — through the course of the year had left the
nation less safe, with fewer positive options. Step by
step through 2002 America's war on terror became
little more than its preparation for war in Iraq.

Because of that shift, the United States succeeded in
removing Saddam Hussein, but at this cost: The first
front in the war on terror, Afghanistan, was left to
fester, as attention and money were drained toward
Iraq. This in turn left more havens in Afghanistan in
which terrorist groups could reconstitute themselves;
a resurgent opium-poppy economy to finance them; and
more of the disorder and brutality the United States
had hoped to eliminate. Whether or not the strong
international alliance that began the assault on the
Taliban might have brought real order to Afghanistan
is impossible to say. It never had the chance, because
America's premature withdrawal soon fractured the
alliance and curtailed postwar reconstruction. Indeed,
the campaign in Afghanistan was warped and limited
from the start, by a pre-existing desire to save
troops for Iraq.

A full inventory of the costs of war in Iraq goes on.
President Bush began 2002 with a warning that North
Korea and Iran, not just Iraq, threatened the world
because of the nuclear weapons they were developing.
With the United States preoccupied by Iraq, these
other two countries surged ahead. They have been
playing a game of chess, or nerves, against America —
and if they have not exactly won, they have advanced
by several moves. Because it lost time and squandered
resources, the United States now has no good options
for dealing with either country. It has fewer
deployable soldiers and weapons; it has less
international leverage through the "soft power" of its
alliances and treaties; it even has worse
intelligence, because so many resources are directed
toward Iraq.

At the beginning of 2002 the United States imported
over 50 percent of its oil. In two years we have
increased that figure by nearly 10 percent. The need
for imported oil is the fundamental reason the United
States must be deferential in its relationship with
Saudi Arabia. Revenue from that oil is the fundamental
reason that extremist groups based in Saudi Arabia
were so rich. After the first oil shocks, in the
mid-1970s, the United States took steps that reduced
its imports of Persian Gulf oil. The Bush
Administration could have made similar steps a basic
part of its anti-terrorism strategy, and could have
counted on making progress: through most of 2002 the
Administration could assume bipartisan support for
nearly anything it proposed. But its only such
suggestion was drilling in the Arctic National
Wildlife Refuge.

Before America went to war in Iraq, its military power
seemed limitless. There was less need to actually
apply it when all adversaries knew that any time we
did so we would win. Now the limits on our military's
manpower and sustainability are all too obvious. For
example, the Administration announced this summer that
in order to maintain troop levels in Iraq, it would
withdraw 12,500 soldiers from South Korea. The North
Koreans, the Chinese, the Iranians, the Syrians, and
others who have always needed to take into account the
chance of U.S. military intervention now realize that
America has no stomach for additional wars. Before
Iraq the U.S. military was turning away qualified
applicants. Now it applies "stop-loss" policies that
forbid retirement or resignation by volunteers, and it
has mobilized the National Guard and Reserves in a way
not seen since World War II.

Because of outlays for Iraq, the United States cannot
spend $150 billion for other defensive purposes. Some
nine million shipping containers enter American ports
each year; only two percent of them are physically
inspected, because inspecting more would be too
expensive. The Department of Homeland Security,
created after 9/11, is a vast grab-bag of federal
agencies, from the Coast Guard to the Border Patrol to
the former Immigration and Naturalization Service;
ongoing operations in Iraq cost significantly more
each month than all Homeland Security expenses
combined. The department has sought to help cities
large and small to improve their "first responder"
systems, especially with better communications for
their fire and emergency medical services. This summer
a survey by the U.S. Conference of Mayors found that
fewer than a quarter of 231 major cities under review
had received any of the aid they expected. An internal
budget memo from the Administration was leaked this
past spring. It said that outlays for virtually all
domestic programs, including homeland security, would
have to be cut in 2005 — and the federal budget
deficit would still be more than $450 billion.

Worst of all, the government-wide effort to wage war
in Iraq crowded out efforts to design a broader
strategy against Islamic extremists and terrorists; to
this day the Administration has articulated no
comprehensive long-term plan. It dismissed out of hand
any connection between policies toward the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict and increasing tension
with many Islamic states. Regime change in Iraq, it
said, would have a sweeping symbolic effect on
worldwide sources of terror. That seems to have been
true — but in the opposite way from what the President
intended. It is hard to find a counter-terrorism
specialist who thinks that the Iraq War has reduced
rather than increased the threat to the United States.

And here is the startling part. There is no evidence
that the President and those closest to him ever
talked systematically about the "opportunity costs"
and tradeoffs in their decision to invade Iraq. No one
has pointed to a meeting, a memo, a full set of
discussions, about what America would gain and lose.

THE PRELUDE: LATE 2001
Success in war requires an understanding of who the
enemy is, what resources can be used against him, and
how victory will be defined. In the immediate
aftermath of 9/11 America's expert agencies concluded
that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda were almost
certainly responsible for the attacks — and that the
Taliban regime in Afghanistan was providing them with
sanctuary. Within the government there was almost no
dispute, then or later, about the legitimacy and
importance of destroying that stronghold. Indeed, the
main criticism of the initial anti-Taliban campaign
was that it took so long to start.

In his book Against All Enemies the former terrorism
adviser Richard Clarke says it was "plainly obvious"
after September 11 that "al Qaeda's sanctuary in
Taliban-run Afghanistan had to be occupied by U.S.
forces and the al Qaeda leaders killed." It was
therefore unfortunate that the move against the
Taliban was "slow and small." Soon after the attacks
President Bush created an interagency Campaign
Coordination Committee to devise responses to
al-Qaeda, and named Clarke its co-chairman. Clarke
told me that this group urged a "rapid,
no-holds-barred" retaliation in Afghanistan —
including an immediate dispatch of troops to
Afghanistan's borders to cut off al-Qaeda escape
routes.

But the Administration was unwilling to use
overwhelming power in Afghanistan. The only authorized
account of how the "principals" — the big shots of the
Administration — felt and thought at this time is in
Bob Woodward's books Bush at War (2002) and Plan of
Attack (2004), both based on interviews with the
President and his senior advisers. To judge by Bush at
War, Woodward's more laudatory account, a major reason
for delay in attacking the Taliban had to do with
"CSAR" — combat search and rescue teams. These were
meant to be in place before the first aerial missions,
so that they could go to the aid of any American pilot
who might be downed. Preparations took weeks. They
involved negotiations with the governments of
Tajikistan and Uzbekistan for basing rights, the slow
process of creating and equipping support airstrips in
remote mountainous regions, and the redeployment of
far-flung aircraft carriers to the Persian Gulf.

"The slowness was in part because the military weren't
ready and they needed to move in the logistics
support, the refueling aircraft, all of that," Richard
Clarke told me. "But through this time the President
kept saying to the Taliban, 'You still have an
opportunity to come clean with us.' Which I thought —
and the State Department thought — was silly. We'd
already told them in advance that if this happened we
were going to hold them personally responsible."
Laurence Pope, a former ambassador to Chad, made a
similar point when I spoke with him. Through the late
1990s Pope was the political adviser to General Zinni,
who as the head of U.S. Central Command was
responsible for Iraq and Afghanistan. Pope had run war
games concerning assaults on both countries. "We had
warned the Taliban repeatedly about Osama bin Laden,"
he told me, referring to the late Clinton years.
"There was no question [after 9/11] that we had to
take them on and deny that sanctuary to al-Qaeda. We
should have focused like a laser on bin Laden and
taking down al-Qaeda, breaking crockery in the
neighborhood if necessary."

The crockery he was referring to included the
government of Pakistan, which viewed the Pashtun
tribal areas along the Afghan border as ungovernable.
In the view of Pope and some others, the United States
should have insisted on going into these areas right
away, either with Pakistani troops or on its own —
equipped with money to buy support, weapons, or both.
This might have caused some regional and international
disruption — but less than later invading Iraq.

It was on October 6, three and a half weeks after the
attacks, that President Bush issued his final warning
that "time was running out" for the Taliban to turn
over bin Laden. The first cruise-missile strikes
occurred the next day. The first paramilitary teams
from the CIA and Special Forces arrived shortly
thereafter; the first regular U.S. combat troops were
deployed in late November. Thus, while the United
States prepared for its response, Osama bin Laden, his
deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri, and the rest of their ruling
Shura Council had almost two months to flee and hide.

Opinions vary about exactly how much difference it
would have made if the United States had killed or
captured al-Qaeda's leaders while the World Trade
Center ruins were still smoldering. But no one
disputes that the United States needed to move
immediately against al-Qaeda, and in the most complete
and decisive way possible. And there is little
disagreement about what happened next. The military
and diplomatic effort in Afghanistan was handicapped
from the start because the Administration had other
concerns, and it ended badly even though it started
well.

WINTER 2001-2002: WAR ON THE CHEAP
By the beginning of 2002 U.S. and Northern Alliance
forces had beaten the Taliban but lost bin Laden. At
that point the United States faced a consequential
choice: to bear down even harder in Afghanistan, or to
shift the emphasis in the global war on terror (GWOT,
as it is known in the trade) somewhere else.

A version of this choice between Afghanistan and
"somewhere else" had in fact been made at the very
start of the Administration's response to the 9/11
attacks. As Clarke, Woodward, and others have
reported, during the top-level meetings at Camp David
immediately after the attacks Paul Wolfowitz
forcefully argued that Saddam Hussein was so
threatening, and his overthrow was so "doable," that
he had to be included in the initial military
response. "The 'Afghanistan first' argument prevailed,
basically for the reasons that Colin Powell
advocated," Richard Clarke told me. "He said that the
American people just aren't going to understand if you
don't do something in Afghanistan right away — and
that the lack of causal connection between Iraq and
9/11 would make it difficult to make the case for that
war."

But Afghanistan first did not mean Afghanistan only
Clarke reminded me that he had prepared a memo on
anti-terrorism strategy for the President's review
before September 11. When it came back, on September
17, Clarke noticed only one significant change: the
addition of a paragraph asking the Defense Department
to prepare war plans for Iraq. Throughout the fall and
winter, as U.S. troops were deployed in Afghanistan,
Bush asked for and received increasingly detailed
briefings from General Tommy Franks about the forces
that might later be necessary in Iraq. According to
many people who observed the process the stated and
unstated need to be ready for Saddam Hussein put a
serious crimp in the U.S. effort against bin Laden and
the Taliban.

The need to reserve troops for a likely second front
in Iraq was one factor, though not the only one, in
the design of the U.S. battle plan for Afghanistan.
Many in the press (including me) marveled at America's
rapid move against the Taliban for the ingenuity of
its tactics. Instead of sending in many thousands of
soldiers, the Administration left much of the actual
fighting to the tribes of the Northern Alliance.
Although the U.S. forces proved unable to go in fast,
they certainly went in light — the Special Forces
soldiers who chose targets for circling B-52s while
picking their way through mountains on horseback being
the most famous example. And they very quickly won.
All this was exactly in keeping with the
"transformation" doctrine that Donald Rumsfeld had
been emphasizing in the Pentagon, and it reflected
Rumsfeld's determination to show that a transformed
military could substitute precision, technology, and
imagination for sheer manpower.

But as would later become so obvious in Iraq, ousting
a regime is one thing, and controlling or even
pacifying a country is something else. For a
significant group of military and diplomatic officials
within the U.S. government, winning this "second war,"
for post-combat stability in Afghanistan, was a
crucial step in the Administration's longterm efforts
against al-Qaeda. Afghanistan had, after all, been the
site of al-Qaeda's main training camps. The Taliban
who harbored al-Qaeda had originally come to power as
an alternative to warlordism and an economy based on
extortion and drugs, so the United States could ill
afford to let the country revert to the same rule and
economy.

In removing the Taliban, the United States had acted
as a genuine liberator. It came to the task with clean
hands and broad international support. It had learned
from the Soviet Union the folly of trying to hold
Afghanistan by force. But it did not have to control
the entire country to show that U.S. intervention
could have lasting positive effects. What it needed,
according to the "second war" group, was a sustained
military, financial, and diplomatic effort to keep
Afghanistan from sinking back toward chaos and thus
becoming a terrorist haven once again.

"Had we seen Afghanistan as anything other than a
sideshow," says Larry Goodson, a scholar at the Army
War College who spent much of 2002 in Afghanistan, "we
could have stepped up both the economic and security
presence much more quickly than we did. Had Iraq not
been what we were ginning up for in 2002, when the
security situation in Afghanistan was collapsing, we
might have come much more quickly to the peacekeeping
and 'nation-building' strategy we're beginning to
employ now." Iraq, of course, was what we were ginning
up for, and the effects on Afghanistan were more
important, if subtler, than has generally been
discussed.

I asked officials, soldiers, and spies whether they
had witnessed tradeoffs — specific transfers of
manpower — that materially affected U.S. success in
Afghanistan, and the response of Thomas White was
typical: not really. During the wars in Afghanistan
and Iraq, White was Secretary of the Army. Like most
other people I spoke with, he offered an example or
two of Iraq-Afghanistan tradeoffs, mainly involving
strain on Special Forces or limits on electronic
intelligence from the National Security Agency.
Another man told me that NSA satellites had to be
"boreholed" in a different direction — that is, aimed
directly at sites in Iraq, rather than at Afghanistan.
But no one said that changes like these had really
been decisive. What did matter, according to White and
nearly everyone else I spoke with, was the knowledge
that the "center of gravity" of the anti-terrorism
campaign was about to shift to Iraq. That dictated not
just the vaunted "lightness" of the invasion but also
the decision to designate allies for crucial tasks:
the Northern Alliance for initial combat, and the
Pakistanis for closing the border so that al-Qaeda
leaders would not escape. In the end neither ally
performed its duty the way the Americans had hoped.
The Northern Alliance was far more motivated to seize
Kabul than to hunt for bin Laden. The Pakistanis
barely pretended to patrol the border. In its recent
"after-action reports" the U.S. military has been
increasingly critical of its own management of this
campaign, but delegating the real work to less
motivated allies seems to have been the uncorrectable
error.

The desire to limit U.S. commitment had at least as
great an effect on what happened after the fall of the
Taliban. James Dobbins, who was the Bush
Administration's special envoy for Afghanistan and its
first representative in liberated Kabul, told me that
three decisions in the early months "really shaped"
the outcome in Afghanistan. "One was that U.S. forces
were not going to do peacekeeping of any sort, under
any circumstances. They would remain available to hunt
down Osama bin Laden and find renegade Taliban, but
they were not going to have any role in providing
security for the country at large. The second was that
we would oppose anybody else's playing this role
outside Kabul. And this was at a time when there was a
good deal of interest from other countries in doing
so." A significant reason for refusing help, according
to Dobbins, was that accepting it would inevitably
have tied up more American resources in Afghanistan,
especially for airlifting donated supplies to
foreign-led peacekeeping stations in the hinterland.
The third decision was that U.S. forces would not
engage in any counter-narcotics activities. One effect
these policies had was to prolong the disorder in
Afghanistan and increase the odds against a stable
government. The absence of American or international
peacekeepers guaranteed that the writ of the new
Karzai government would extend, at best, to Kabul
itself.

"I can't prove this, but I believe they didn't want to
put in a lot of regular infantry because they wanted
to hold it in reserve," Richard Clarke explains. "And
the issue is the infantry. A rational military planner
who was told to stabilize Afghanistan after the
Taliban was gone, and who was not told that we might
soon be doing Iraq, would probably have put in three
times the number of infantry, plus all the logistics
support 'tail.' He would have put in more
civil-affairs units, too. Based on everything I heard
at the time, I believe I can make a good guess that
the plan for Afghanistan was affected by a
predisposition to go into Iraq. The result of that is
that they didn't have enough people to go in and
stabilize the country, nor enough people to make sure
these guys didn't get out."

The Administration later placed great emphasis on
making Iraq a showcase of Islamic progress: a society
that, once freed from tyranny, would demonstrate
steady advancement toward civil order, economic
improvement, and, ultimately, democracy. Although
Afghanistan is a far wilder, poorer country, it might
have provided a better showcase, and sooner. There was
no controversy about America's involvement; the rest
of the world was ready to provide aid; if it wasn't
going to become rich, it could become demonstrably
less poor. The amount of money and manpower sufficient
to transform Afghanistan would have been a tiny
fraction of what America decided to commit in Iraq.
But the opportunity was missed, and Afghanistan began
a descent to its pre-Taliban warlord state.

SPRING 2002: CHAOS AND CLOSED MINDS
Early 2002 was the Administration's first chance to
look beyond its initial retaliation in Afghanistan.
This could have been a time to think broadly about
America's vulnerabilities and to ask what problems
might have been overlooked in the immediate response
to 9/11. At this point the United States still had
comfortable reserves of all elements of international
power, "hard" and "soft" alike.

As the fighting wound down in Tora Bora, the
Administration could in principle have matched a list
of serious problems with a list of possible solutions.
In his State of the Union speech, in late January,
President Bush had named Iran, Iraq, and North Korea
as an "axis of evil." The Administration might have
weighed the relative urgency of those three threats,
including uncontested evidence that North Korea was
furthest along in developing nuclear weapons. It might
have launched an all-out effort to understand
al-Qaeda's strengths and weaknesses — and to exploit
the weak points. It might have asked whether relations
with Pakistan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia needed
fundamental reconsideration. For decades we had struck
an inglorious bargain with the regimes in those
countries: we would overlook their internal repression
and their role as havens for Islamic extremists; they
would not oppose us on first-order foreign-policy
issues — demonstrating, for instance, a relative
moderation toward Israel. And the Saudis would be
cooperative about providing oil. Maybe, after serious
examination, this bargain would still seem to be the
right one, despite the newly manifest dangers of
Islamic extremism. But the time to ask the question
was early in 2002.

The Administration might also have asked whether its
approach to Israel and the Palestinians needed
reconsideration. Before 9/11 it had declared a
hands-off policy toward Israel and the PLO, but sooner
or later all Bush's predecessors had come around to a
"land for peace" bargain as the only plausible
solution in the Middle East. The new Administration
would never have more leverage or a more opportune
moment for imposing such a deal than soon after it was
attacked.

Conceivably the Administration could have asked other
questions — about energy policy, about manpower in the
military, about the fiscal base for a sustained war.
This was an opportunity created by crisis. At the top
level of the Administration attention swung fast, and
with little discussion, exclusively to Iraq. This sent
a signal to the working levels, where daily routines
increasingly gave way to preparations for war,
steadily denuding the organizations that might have
been thinking about other challenges.

The Administration apparently did not consider
questions like "If we pursue the war on terror by
invading Iraq, might we incite even more terror in the
long run?" and "If we commit so many of our troops
this way, what possibilities will we be giving up?"
But Bush "did not think of this, intellectually, as a
comparative decision," I was told by Senator Bob
Graham, of Florida, who voted against the war
resolution for fear it would hurt the fight against
terrorism. "It was a single decision: he saw Saddam
Hussein as an evil person who had to be removed." The
firsthand accounts of the Administration's
decision-making indicate that the President spent most
of his time looking at evidence of Saddam Hussein's
threat, and significant but smaller amounts of time
trying to build his coalition and hearing about the
invasion plans. A man who participated in high-level
planning for both Afghanistan and Iraq — and who is
unnamed here because he still works for the government
— told me, "There was absolutely no debate in the
normal sense. There are only six or eight of them who
make the decisions, and they only talk to each other.
And if you disagree with them in public, they'll come
after you, the way they did with Shinseki."

The three known exceptions to this pattern actually
underscore the limits on top-level talks. One was the
discussions at Camp David just after 9/11: they led to
"Afghanistan first," which delayed rather than
forestalled the concentration on Iraq. The second was
Colin Powell's "You break it, you've bought it"
warning to the President in the summer of 2002: far
from leading to serious questions about the war, it
did not even persuade the Administration to use the
postwar plans devised by the State Department, the
Army, and the CIA. The third was a long memo from
Rumsfeld to Bush a few months before the war began,
when a campaign against Iraq was a foregone
conclusion. As excerpted in Plan of Attack, it listed
twenty-nine ways in which an invasion could backfire.
"Iraq could successfully best the U.S. in public
relations and persuade the world that it was a war
against Muslims" was one. "There could be higher than
expected collateral damage" was another. But even this
memo was couched in terms of "making sure that we had
done everything humanly possible to prepare [the
President] for what could go wrong, to prepare so
things would go right," Rumsfeld explained to Bob
Woodward. And its only apparent effect was that Bush
called in his military commanders to look at the war
plans.

Discussions at the top were distorted in yet another
way — by an unspoken effect of disagreements over the
Middle East. Some connections between Iraq policy and
the Israeli-Palestinian dispute are obvious. One
pro-war argument was "The road to Jerusalem runs
through Baghdad" — that is, once the United States had
removed Saddam Hussein and the threat he posed to
Israel, it could lean more effectively on Ariel Sharon
and the Likud government to accept the right deal.
According to this logic, America could also lean more
effectively on the Palestinians and their supporters,
because of the new strength it would have demonstrated
by liberating Iraq. The contrary argument — "The road
to Baghdad leads through Jerusalem" — appears to have
been raised mainly by Tony Blair. Its point was that
if the United States first took a tougher line with
Sharon and recognized that the Palestinians, too, had
grievances, it would have a much easier time getting
allied support and Arab acquiescence for removing
Saddam Hussein. There is no evidence that this was
ever significantly discussed inside the
Administration.

"The groups on either side of the Iraq debate
basically didn't trust each other," a former senior
official in the Administration told me — and the
people "on either side" he was speaking of all worked
for George Bush. (He, too, insisted on anonymity
because he has ongoing dealings with the government.)
"If it wasn't clear why you were saying these
skeptical things about invading Iraq, there was
naturally the suspicion that you were saying [them]
because you opposed the Israeli position. So any
argument became suspect." Suspicion ran just as
strongly the other way — that officials were steadfast
for war because they supported the Israeli position.
In this (admittedly oversimplified) schema, the CIA,
the State Department, and the uniformed military were
the most skeptical of war — and, in the view of war
supporters, were also the most critical of Israel. The
White House (Bush, Cheney, Rice) and the Defense
Department's civilian leadership were the most pro-war
— and the most pro-Israel. Objectively, all these
people agreed far more than they differed, but their
mutual suspicions further muted dissenting views.

At the next level down, different problems had the
same effect: difficulty in thinking broadly about
threats and responses. An obscure-sounding
bureaucratic change contributed. At the start of his
second term Bill Clinton had signed FDD 56, a
presidential decision directive about handling
international emergencies. The idea was that, like it
or not, a chaotic world would continually involve the
United States in "complex contingency operations."
These were efforts, like the ones in the Balkans and
East Africa, in which soldiers, diplomats, relief
workers, reconstruction experts, economists, legal
authorities, and many other officials from many
different institutions would need to work together if
any of them were to succeed. The directive set up a
system for coordinating these campaigns, so that no
one organization dominated the others or operated
unilaterally.

When it took office, the Bush Administration revoked
this plan and began working on a replacement. But
nothing was on hand as of September 11. For months the
response to the attacks was managed by a variety of ad
hoc groups. The Campaign Coordination Committee, run
by Richard Clarke and his colleague Franklin Miller,
oversaw strategies against al-Qaeda. The new Domestic
Preparedness Committee, run by John Ashcroft's deputy,
Larry Thompson, oversaw internal-security measures.
And the "principals" — Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell,
Rice, Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet,
and a few others, including Wolfowitz, Powell's deputy
Richard Armitage, and Cheney's aide Lewis "Scooter"
Libby — met frequently to plan the showdown with Iraq.
There was no established way to make sure that State
knew what Defense was doing and vice versa, as became
disastrously obvious after the fall of Baghdad. And
there was no recognized venue for opportunity-cost
discussions about the emerging Iraq policy, even if
anyone had wanted them.

In the absence of other plans, initiative on every
issue was increasingly taken in the Pentagon. And
within the Pentagon the emphasis increasingly moved
toward Iraq. In March of 2002, when U.S. troops were
still engaged in Operation Anaconda on the
Afghan-Pakistani border, and combat in Iraq was still
a year away, inside the government Afghanistan had
begun to seem like yesterday's problem. When asked
about Iraq at a press conference on March 13, Bush
said merely, "All options are on the table." By that
time Tommy Franks had answered Bush's request for
battle plans and lists of potential bombing targets in
Iraq.

The more experienced in government the people I
interviewed were, the more likely they were to stress
the importance of the mental shift in the spring of
2002. When I asked Richard Clarke whether preparations
for Iraq had really taken anything crucial from
Afghanistan or other efforts, he said yes,
unquestionably. "They took one thing that people on
the outside find hard to believe or appreciate," he
said. "Management time. We're a huge government, and
we have hundreds of thousands of people involved in
national security. Therefore you would think we could
walk and chew gum at the same time. I've never found
that to be true. You've got one National Security
Adviser and one CIA director, and they each have one
deputy. The same is true in Defense. Interestingly in
terms of the military, both of these wars took place
in the same 'CINCdom'" — by which Clarke meant that
both were in the realm of Tommy Franks's Central
Command, rather than in two different theaters. "It
just is not credible that the principals and the
deputies paid as much attention to Afghanistan or the
war against al-Qaeda as they should have."

According to Michael Scheuer, a career CIA officer who
spent the late 1990s as head of the agency's anti-bin
Laden team, the shift of attention had another
destructive effect on efforts to battle al-Qaeda: the
diversion of members of that team and the Agency's
limited supply of Arabic-speakers and Middle East
specialists to support the mounting demand for
intelligence on Iraq. (Because Scheuer is still on
active duty at the CIA, the Agency allowed him to
publish his recent book, Imperial Hubris, a harsh
criticism of U.S. approaches to controlling terrorism,
only as "Anonymous." After we spoke, his identity was
disclosed by Jason Vest, in the Boston Phoenix; when I
met him, he declined to give his name and was
introduced simply as "Mike.") "With a finite number of
people who have any kind of pertinent experience,"
Scheuer told me, "there is unquestionably a sucking
away of resources from Afghanistan and al-Qaeda to
Iraq, just because it was a much bigger effort."

Scheuer observed that George Tenet had claimed early
in 2003 that there was enough expertise and manpower
to handle both Iraq and al-Qaeda. "From inside the
system that sounded like a very questionable
judgment," Scheuer said. "You start with a large group
of people who have worked bin Laden and al-Qaeda and
Sunni terrorism for years — and worked it every day
since 9/11. Then you move a lot of people out to work
the Iraq issue, and instead you have a lot of people
who come in for ninety days or one hundred and twenty
days, then leave. It's like any other profession. Over
time you make connections. A name comes up, and
there's nothing on file in the last two years — but
you remember that five years ago there was a guy with
that name doing acts in the Philippines. If you don't
have an institutional memory, you don't make the
connection. When they talk about connecting the dots,
the computers are important. But at the end of the
day, the most important thing is that human being
who's been working this issue for five or six years.
You can have the best computers in the world, and you
can have an ocean of information, but if you have a
guy who's only been there for three weeks or three
months, you're very weak."

Laurence Pope, the former ambassador, told me that
Iraq monomania was particularly destructive in the
spring of 2002 because of the opportunity that came
and went in Afghanistan. "There was a moment of six
months or so when we could have put much more pressure
on the tribal areas [to get al-Qaeda], and on
Pakistan, and done a better job of reconstruction in
Afghanistan," he said. "In reality, the Beltway can
only do one thing at a time, and because of the
attention to Iraq, what should have happened in
Afghanistan didn't."

So by the spring, after six months in which to
consider its strategy, the Administration had
radically narrowed its choices. Its expert staffers
were deflected toward Iraq — and away from
Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea, Israel-Palestine, the
hunt for bin Laden, the assault on al-Qaeda, even
China and Taiwan. Its diplomats were not squeezing
Pakistan as hard as possible about chasing al-Qaeda,
or Saudi Arabia about cracking down on extremists,
because the United States needed their help — or at
least acquiescence — in the coming war with Iraq. Its
most senior officials were working out the operational
details of a plan whose fundamental wisdom they had
seldom, if ever, stopped to examine.

SUMMER AND FALL: THE ONE-FRONT WAR
President Bush's first major statement about his
post9/11 foreign policy had come in his State of the
Union address. His second came on June 1, when he gave
the graduation speech at West Point. It carefully laid
out the case for a new doctrine of "pre-emptive" war.
Bush didn't say "Iraq" or "Saddam Hussein," but his
meaning was unmistakable. "Containment is not possible
when unbalanced dictators with weapons of mass
destruction can deliver those weapons on missiles or
secretly provide them to terrorist allies," he said.
"We cannot put our faith in the word of tyrants who
solemnly sign non-proliferation treaties and then
systemically break them. If we wait for threats to
fully materialize, we will have waited too long." A
few weeks later Condoleezza Rice presented a fuller
version of the concept, and Dick Cheney hammered home
his warnings that Saddam Hussein had, beyond all
doubt, acquired weapons of mass destruction. In
September, Donald Rumsfeld said at a news conference
that the link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda was
"not debatable." By October, Bush had practically
stopped referring to Osama bin Laden in his press
statements; he said of Saddam Hussein, "This is the
guy that tried to kill my dad."

The Democrats still controlled the Senate, but on
October 11 Majority Leader Tom Daschle led John Kerry,
John Edwards, and twenty-six other Democrats in voting
to authorize the war. (Authorization passed the Senate
77-23; most Democrats in the House voted against it,
but it still carried there, by 296 to 133.) Democratic
officials were desperate to get the vote behind them,
so that in the impending midterm elections they could
not be blamed for hampering the war on terrorism — in
which, the Administration said, war in Iraq played an
integral part.

The Cyclops-like nature of the Administration's
perception of risk became more evident. Uncertain
evidence about Iraq was read in the most pessimistic
fashion; much more reliable evidence about other
threats was ignored. Of the three members of the "axis
of evil," Iraq had made the sketchiest progress toward
developing nuclear weapons. In October, just before
the Iraq War vote, a delegation of Americans in
Pyongyang found that North Korea's nuclear-weapons
program was actually up and running. As the weeks wore
on, North Korea became more and more brazen. In
December it reactivated a nuclear processing plant it
had closed eight years earlier as part of a deal with
the United States. Soon thereafter it kicked out
inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency
and announced that it would withdraw from the Nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty. North Korea was dropping
even the pretense that it was not developing nuclear
bombs.

Meanwhile, in August of 2002, an Iranian opposition
group revealed the existence of two previously secret
nuclear facilities, in Natanz and Arak. The first was
devoted to uranium enrichment, the second to
heavy-water production, which is a step toward
producing plutonium. Months before the vote on war
with Iraq, then, the United States had very strong
indications that Iran was pursuing two paths toward
atomic weaponry: uranium and plutonium. The
indications from North Korea were at least as strong.
If the very worst pre-war suspicions about Saddam
Hussein's weapons of mass destruction had turned out
to be true, the nuclear stakes would still have been
lower than those in North Korea or Iran.

"How will history judge this period, in terms of the
opportunity costs of invading Iraq?" said John Pike,
the director of GlobalSecurity.org, when we spoke. "I
think the opportunity cost is going to be North Korea
and Iran. I mean, in 2002 it became obvious that Iran
has a full-blown nuclear-weapons program under way, no
ifs or buts. For the next eighteen months or so,
before it's running, we have the opportunity to blow
it up. But this Iraq adventure will give blowing up
your enemies a bad name. The concern now has to be
that the 'Iraq syndrome' will make us flinch from
blowing up people who really need to be blown up."

Bombing North Korea's reactor has never been an
option, since North Korea has so many retaliatory
forces so close to Seoul. But whatever choices the
United States had at the beginning of 2002, it has
fewer and worse ones now. The North Koreans are that
much further along in their program; the U.S. military
is under that much more strain; international
hostility to U.S. policies is that much greater. "At
the rate North Korea is pumping out bomb material,"
Pike said, "the Japanese will realize that the missile
defense we've sold them will not save them. And they
will conclude that only weaponizing their plutonium
will enable them to sleep easily at night. And then
you'll have South Korea and Taiwan ..." and on through
other ripple-effect scenarios. Pike says that the
United States has little leverage to prevent any of
this, and therefore can't afford to waste any more
time in acting against North Korea.

"Are we better off in basic security than before we
invaded Iraq?" asks Jeffrey Record, a professor of
strategy at the Air War College and the author of the
recent Dark Victory, a book about the Iraq War. "The
answer is no. An unnecessary war has consumed American
Army and other ground resources, to the point where we
have nothing left in the cupboard for another
contingency — for instance, should the North Koreans
decide that with the Americans completely absorbed in
Iraq, now is the time to do something."

"We really have four armies," an Army officer involved
in Pentagon planning for the Iraq War told me.
"There's the one that's deployed in Afghanistan and
Iraq. There's the one that's left back home in Fort
Hood and other places. There's the 'modular Army,' of
new brigade-sized units that are supposed to be
rotated in and out of locations easily. There's the
Guard and Reserve. And every one of them is being
chewed up by the ops tempo." "Ops tempo" means the
pace of operations, and when it is too high, equipment
and supplies are being used faster than they can be
replaced, troops are being deployed far longer than
they expected, and training is being pared back
further than it should. "We're really in dire straits
with resourcing," he said. "There's not enough armor
for Humvees. There's not enough fifty-caliber machine
guns for the Hundred and First Airborne or the Tenth
Mountain Division. A country that can't field heavy
machine guns for its army — there's something wrong
with the way we're doing business."

"The stress of war has hit all the services, but none
harder than the Army," Sydney Freedberg wrote recently
in National Journal. "The crucial shortfall is not in
money or machines, but in manpower." More than a third
of the Army's 500,000 active-duty soldiers are in Iraq
or Kuwait. Freedberg referred to a study showing that
fifteen of the Army's thirty-four active-duty combat
units were currently deployed overseas, and wrote,
"That means that nearly as many units are abroad as at
home, when historical experience shows that a
long-term commitment, as with the British in Northern
Ireland, requires three or four units recuperating and
training for each one deployed." In the long run the
U.S. military needs either more people or fewer
responsibilities. At the moment, because of Iraq, it
has very little slack for dealing with other
emergencies that might arise.

WINTER: MISREADING THE ENEMY
President Bush's first major speech after 9/11, on
September 20, 2001, was one of the outstanding
addresses given by a modern President. But it
introduced a destructive concept that Bush used more
and more insistently through 2002. "Why do they hate
us?" he asked about the terrorists. He answered that
they hate what is best in us: "They hate what we see
right here in this chamber — a democratically elected
government... They hate our freedoms — our freedom of
religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote
and assemble and disagree with each other." As he
boiled down this thought in subsequent comments it
became "They hate us for who we are" and "They hate us
because we are free."

There may be people who have studied, fought against,
or tried to infiltrate al-Qaeda and who agree with
Bush's statement. But I have never met any. The
soldiers, spies, academics, and diplomats I have
interviewed are unanimous in saying that "They hate us
for who we are" is dangerous claptrap. Dangerous
because it is so lazily self-justifying and
self-deluding: the only thing we could possibly be
doing wrong is being so excellent. Claptrap because it
reflects so little knowledge of how Islamic extremism
has evolved.

"There are very few people in the world who are going
to kill themselves so we can't vote in the Iowa
caucuses," Michael Scheuer said to me. "But there's a
lot of them who are willing to die because we're
helping the Israelis, or because we're helping Putin
against the Chechens, or because we keep oil prices
low so Muslims lose money." Jeffrey Record said,
"Clearly they do not like American society. They think
it's far too libertine, democratic, Christian. But
that's not the reason they attack us. If it were, they
would have attacked a lot of other Western countries
too. I don't notice them putting bombs in Norway. It's
a combination of who we are and also our behavior."

This summer's report of the 9/11 Commission, without
associating this view with Bush, was emphatic in
rejecting the "hate us for who we are" view. The
commission said this about the motivation of Khalid
Sheikh Muhammad, whom it identified as the "mastermind
of the 9/11 attacks": "KSM's animus toward the United
States stemmed not from his experiences there as a
student, but rather from his violent disagreement with
U.S. foreign policy favoring Israel." In discussing
long-term strategies for dealing with extremist groups
the commission said, "America's policy choices have
consequences. Right or wrong, it is simply a fact that
American policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict and American actions in Iraq are dominant
staples of popular commentary across the Arab and
Muslim world." The most striking aspect of the
commission's analysis is that it offered any thoughts
at all about the right longterm response to Islamic
extremists. The 9/11 Commission was one of several
groups seeking to fill the void left by the
Administration's failure to put forward any
comprehensive battle plan for a long-term campaign
against terrorism. By its actions the Administration
showed that the only terrorism problem it recognized
was Saddam Hussein's regime, plus the al-Qaeda leaders
shown on its "most wanted" lists.

The distinction between who we are and what we do
matters, because it bears on the largest question
about the Iraq War: Will it bring less or more Islamic
terrorism? If violent extremism is purely vengeful and
irrational, there is no hope except to crush it. Any
brutality along the way is an unavoidable cost. But if
it is based on logic of any sort, a clear
understanding of its principles could help us to
weaken its appeal — and to choose tactics that are not
self-defeating.

A later article will describe insights about
controlling terrorism. For now the point is the strong
working-level consensus that terrorists are "logical,"
if hideously brutal, and that the steps in 2002 that
led to war have broadened the extremists' base. In
March of 2003, just after combat began in Iraq,
President Hosni Mubarak, of Egypt, warned that if the
United States invaded, "instead of having one bin
Laden, we will have one hundred bin Ladens." Six
months later, when the combat was over, Rumsfeld wrote
in a confidential memo quoted in Plan of Attack, "We
lack metrics to know if we are winning or losing the
global war on terror. Are we capturing, killing or
deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day
than the madrassas [Islamic schools] and the radical
clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against
us? ... The cost-benefit ratio is against us! Our cost
is billions against the terrorists' costs of
millions." Six months after that, as violence surged
in occupied Iraq, the International Institute for
Strategic Studies, in London, reported that al-Qaeda
was galvanized by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. As
of mid-2004 it had at least 18,000 operatives in sixty
countries. "Al Qaeda has fully reconstituted [and] set
its sights firmly on the USA and its closest Western
allies in Europe," the report said. Meanwhile, a
British parliamentary report warns that Afghanistan is
likely to "implode" for lack of support.

"I have been saying for years, Osama bin Laden could
never have done it without us," a civilian adviser to
the Pentagon told me this summer. "We have continued
to play to his political advantage and to confirm, in
the eyes of his constituency, the very claims he made
about us." Those claims are that the United States
will travel far to suppress Muslims, that it will
occupy their holy sites, that it will oppose the rise
of Islamic governments, and that it will take their
resources. "We got to Baghdad," Michael Scheuer said,
"and the first thing Rumsfeld said is, 'We'll accept
any government as long as it's not Islamic.' It draws
their attention to bin Laden's argument that the
United States is leading the West to annihilate
Islam." The Administration had come a long way from
the end-of-Ramadan ceremony at the White House.

WHAT HAPPENED IN A YEAR
To govern is to choose, and the choices made in 2002
were fateful. The United States began that year
shocked and wounded, but with tremendous strategic
advantages. Its population was more closely united
behind its leadership than it had been in fifty years.
World opinion was strongly sympathetic. Longtime
allies were eager to help; longtime antagonists were
silent. The federal budget was nearly in balance,
making ambitious projects feasible. The U.S. military
was superbly equipped, trained, and prepared. An
immediate foe was evident — and vulnerable — in
Afghanistan. For the longer-term effort against
Islamic extremism the Administration could draw on a
mature school of thought from academics, regional
specialists, and its own intelligence agencies. All
that was required was to think broadly about the
threats to the country, and creatively about the
responses.

The Bush Administration chose another path. Implicitly
at the beginning of 2002, and as a matter of formal
policy by the end, it placed all other considerations
second to regime change in Iraq. It hampered the
campaign in Afghanistan before fighting began and
wound it down prematurely, along the way losing the
chance to capture Osama bin Laden. It turned a blind
eye to misdeeds in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, and to
WMD threats from North Korea and Iran far more serious
than any posed by Saddam Hussein, all in the name of
moving toward a showdown with Iraq. It overused and
wore out its army in invading Iraq — without
committing enough troops for a successful occupation.
It saddled the United States with ongoing costs that
dwarf its spending for domestic security. And by every
available measure it only worsened the risk of future
terrorism. In every sense 2002 was a lost year.

"Let me tell you my gut feeling," a senior figure at a
military-sponsored think tank told me recently. "In my
view we are much, much worse off now than when we went
into Iraq. That is not a partisan position. I voted
for these guys."

"The plan for Afghanistan was affected by a
predisposition to go into Iraq," says Richard Clarke.
"The result is that they didn't have enough people to
go in and stabilize the country, nor to make sure [bin
Laden and his associates] didn't get out"

The shift of attention to Iraq had another destructive
effect on efforts to battle al-Qaeda: the diversion of
the CIA's limited supply of Arabic-speakers and Middle
East specialists to support the mounting demand for
intelligence on Iraq.

Bush began 2002 with a warning that North Korea and
Iran, not just Iraq, threatened the world with nuclear
weapons. Because it lost tune and squandered
resources, America now has no good options for dealing
with either country.

As a political matter, whether we are now safer or
more vulnerable is ferociously controversial. But
among national-security professionals there is
surprisingly little controversy. They tend to see
America's response to 9/11 as a catastrophe.

~~~~~~~~

By James Fallows

James Fallows, has written two previous cover stories
on Fifty-first State?" (November 2002), which won the
National Magazine Award for Public Interest.

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Source: Atlantic, Oct2004, Vol. 294 Issue 3, p68, 13p
Item: 14386277



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Yahoo! Mail - PC Magazine Editors' Choice 2005
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