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[casi] Beleaguered Bush dragging U.S. into quagmire

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Assyrian News Watch
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Assyrian Chaldean Syriac


The [Toronto] Star

Jul. 24, 2002. 01:00 AM

Beleaguered Bush dragging U.S. into quagmire

By Richard Gwyn

A FEW WEEKS back, Zahir Shah, the former king of Afghanistan who was
brought back to Kabul  he has a palace in the capital but no actual
powers  to provide at least an image of continuity, talked with an Italian
reporter form La Stampa in what he thought was an off-the-record

As always, it's when people aren't talking from a script that they're most
likely to talk the truth. The war against the remnants of the Taliban and
Al Qaeda had become, "stupid and useless," remarked the ex-king. "The
sooner it is ended the better."
Two recent news items confirm just how prescient was the old guy despite
his age and his many years in exile.
The first is the report that Afghan civilian deaths as a result of U.S.
over-reliance on high technology  the same
push-a-button-from-a-safe-distance tactics that resulted in the deaths of
four Canadian soldiers  has now reached more than 400, with many more
wounded, sometimes seriously.

The second is this week's announcement in Washington that American troops
will take over from Afghan soldiers responsibility for the security of
President Hamid Karzai, the country's ruler who was appointed to that post
(nominally, he was elected locally) by Washington.

Call it the Vietnamization of the war against terror.

The Americans come in as heroes and saviours, full of confidence and of
firepower. They stay on, originally for only a few months, in order to get
the job done properly. As the months go by, though, they get increasingly
involved in the hopelessly complex local politics. Local warlords, who are
concerned with their power and not with the American war aims, quickly
learn how to manipulate the outsiders, such as by getting them to knock off
their local enemies.

The quick, decisive victory over the Taliban and Al Qaeda of last fall is
turning into a quagmire; morally, politically, even militarily, with the
Americans and their allies (including the Canadian contingent)
conspicuously failing to catch any terrorists, let alone either Osama bin
Laden or Mullah Omar.

History never repeats itself exactly, of course. The American public is
totally behind the war on terror. (Although it should be remembered,
support for the war against the Viet Cong was overwhelming in its early
But the underlying factors remain the same. One of Lyndon Johnson's
problems in the late 1960s was that his attempt to give Americans both guns
and butter  all-out war but no tax increase to pay for it  failed, with
the cost of the war in Vietnam causing inflation and economic stagnation at

This time around, Bush has to cope with corporate scandals and a depressed
stock market. Unlike Johnson, he didn't cause this economic pain. Like
Johnson, he's incapable of curing it.

Entirely aside from the fact that Bush (and many of his cabinet ministers)
are products of the very same crony capitalism that they are now
deploring  including using many of the same insider information tricks to
make their personal fortunes  Bush simply doesn't have the energy to both
fight terrorism and fight corporate corruption.

As happened with Johnson, economic problems are now starting to erode
Bush's public support. Not seriously yet, but for the first time his
numbers are trending downward.

The difference, over the decades, is that the U.S. today has no rival in
the world. But omnipotence brings temptation as well as opportunity. The
U.S. back then limited its activities to Vietnam itself. Today, under Bush,
the U.S. is extending itself all over the globe, to the Philippines, to
Pakistan, to Georgia, to Yemen, and now to Palestine.

Bush is trying to do too much, or, in the case of the economy, is doing
nothing because he is doing too much elsewhere.

It's possible to spot just one clear way out of this morass: To go even
deeper into it.

This is what Bush is going to do by his attack  probably early in the new
year  on Iraq. It won't be a walkover as in Afghanistan. But it will
provide Bush with a clear victory, like the one over the Taliban and Al
Qaeda. And he'll have Saddam Hussein's head at the end of it, to distract
Americans from the fact that he failed to catch either bin Laden or Omar.

That's when he'll pronounce a victory and bring the troops home. That the
conditions which have been a principal cause of the terrorism  poverty,
repression, humiliation, hopelessness  will continue unchanged, and sooner
or later will cause more terrorism, won't matter. He'll be out of the

This, in the end, is why he'll go into Iraq. Not to fight terrorism (Iraq
is a shadow of its former self) but to get himself out of his quagmire.

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