Bush losing global war on terror

To consider whether US President George W Bush is winning his “global war on terror” (GWOT) five years after Al Qaeda’s devastating 9/11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon, one has only to look at the news of the past few days.

In Afghanistan, where the war began, NATO and US forces are struggling to cope with a resurgent Taliban whose guerrillas have killed some two dozen Western troops, including two US soldiers in a suicide bombing in Kabul last Friday, since September 1.

NATO’s US commander, Gen. James L Jones, admitted last Thursday that the alliance was going through a “difficult period” and needs as many as 2,500 more troops, as well as additional aircraft, to bolster ongoing operations in southern Afghanistan, significant parts of which have reportedly fallen under the effective — if not yet permanent — control of the Taliban.

The news out of Iraq, which both Osama bin Laden and Bush agree should be considered the “central battlefield” in the war between the West and radical Islamists, is hardly more encouraging. Hopeful assertions by senior officials earlier this year that as many as 30,000 US troops could go home by this fall if security improves have yielded to the fact, confirmed by the Pentagon late last month, that there are now 140,000 troops in theatre due to growing sectarian violence and ethnic cleansing in Baghdad.

Bush himself has seemed in recent appearances to recognise that Iraq is doing badly. After long insisting that the country was making “progress” on a variety of fronts, Bush has dropped the word from his Iraq vocabulary and focused instead on the potentially catastrophic consequences for the war on terror if the US withdraws. While devastating Lebanon, whose 2005 “Cedar Revolution” had been hailed by Bush as a landmark in his efforts to “transform” the Middle East, the war effectively elevated Hezbollah to hero status — including, significantly, for the region’s increasingly popular Sunni Muslim Brotherhood. It also bolstered the positions of its chief sponsors, Syria and Iran, which, along with Hamas and Hezbollah,

Bush recently lumped together with Al Qaeda as “Islamic fascists.”

To many critics, Bush’s expansion of his terrorist target list beyond Al Qaeda, and particularly to Iraq and perceived enemies of Israel, has been one of the great strategic mistakes in the conduct of his war on terror by effectively transforming what was originally a terrorist criminal conspiracy led by Al Qaeda with the tacit support of the Taliban to a “wide war extending from Lebanon through Afghanistan,” as Amb James Dobbins, Washington’s top envoy in negotiations during and after the Afghanistan war, recently put it.

Washington might still have been able to limit the damage by engaging Syria and Iran, as well as other regional powers, in efforts to stabilise Iraq after the war — as it had with Afghanistan’s neighbours, including Iran, after the ouster of the Taliban. But, given its drive for “moral clarity” and over-confidence in military power, it rejected the two countries’ overtures. “Five years after 9/11, the US is losing the war on terrorism,” declared Flynt Leverett, who headed the Middle East desk at the National Security Council during Bush’s first term, at a forum at the libertarian CATO Institute here last Friday. — IPS