It’s staggering to think that as we march toward a seventh year at war, Iraq (let alone Afghanistan) is hardly an issue on the campaign trail. Of course, nobody has forgotten about the war. But there’s been no substantive debate on it, either.
John McCain, echoing many conservatives, regularly touts the supposed gains of the “surge.” Upon his return from visiting Iraq, he declared, “We’re succeeding. I don’t care what anybody says. I’ve seen the facts on the ground.” Barack Obama even grudgingly conceded, at one point, that the “surge” was working. And when liberals do challenge President Bush’s war policy, they complain not about its goals, but about the crushing financial cost.
The war’s a backburner issue in the campaign because — strange as it may sound — critics and cheerleaders of the President’s policy judge it by the same spurious benchmark. They focus myopically on whether insurgents have been kicked out, for the time being, from one street, in some neighborhood of Baghdad. If that’s success, then the issue can be pushed out of mind.
But nobody would have bought that as a vision of success, in the devastating aftermath of 9/11. And nobody should buy it now. The only rational benchmark for success is whether Washington’s policies have made the lives of Americans safer from the threat of Islamists. Judged by that standard, Bush’s war policy is an abject failure.
Bush vowed to “pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism,” and warned that either “you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” Bush’s war policy, however, was not to target the greatest threat, but instead to minister to those in greatest need. It was to show compassion to oppressed Iraqis and Afghans, to raise them out of poverty, to give them elections.
Six-plus years into a “war on terror,” Washington has done nothing to counter the spearhead of the global jihadist movement, the Islamic Republic of Iran. The United States has allowed it to grow stronger. Iran races to acquire nuclear weapons; it taunts and threatens our naval vessels; it arms and trains insurgents in Iraq in attacking Americans; it backs jihadists across the region — all with impunity.
What about Iraq? Four thousand-plus U.S. troops died so that hostile Iraqis could elect a new gang of anti-Americans to sit in Baghdad’s parliament. Iraq’s government is still dominated by Islamist groups, which still operate death squads, and it is still deep, deep in Iran’s pocket.
Across the Middle East, Washington campaigned for elections in the strongholds of various Islamist groups — such as Hamas and Hezbollah — that it should have worked to destroy. Many people, true to their ideological beliefs, voted to give these groups more political power. Naturally, the jihadists feel encouraged. According to a new study, the Iranian-backed Hamas has amassed at least 80 tons of explosives in Gaza since 2007, and it has also got its hands on anti-tank weapons. So expect another Islamist war emanating from the terrorist proto-state of “Hamas-stan,” which Bush’s policy helped create.
In Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to the U.S. National Intelligence Director, al Qaeda is gaining in strength and prepping new recruits who can blend into American society and attack domestic targets. Jihadists are now fighting to re-conquer Afghanistan, and to “Talibanize” large patches of Pakistan. The Afghan-Pakistan border, reports the National Intelligence Director, “serves as a staging area for al-Qaeda’s attacks in support of the Taliban in Afghanistan as well as a location for training new terrorist operatives, for attacks in Pakistan, the Middle East, Africa, Europe and the United States.”
This is what Bush’s war policy has achieved: an enemy that has no fear of us, that spits in our face, and that is gearing up to kill more of us.
This is what a “compassionate” war policy, aimed not at defeating our enemies but at serving the welfare of Iraqis and Afghans, had to achieve. It is a policy that put their lack of freedom and lack of wealth ahead of our moral right to end the threat of Islamist aggression. Bush’s policy held that it was our duty to enable these hostile peoples to vote their political conscience — while evading the fact that so many avidly support jihadist goals.
Shame on Republicans for promising to stay the same disastrous course and toss thousands more troops onto the sacrificial pyre of Iraq. Shame on Democrats for squandering the opportunity of a campaign year to offer us a real Plan B — an alternative policy that would actually combat state-sponsors of terrorism.
Each of us deserves — and should demand — more of our leaders. We deserve a foreign policy that truly upholds our right to security.