June 28, 2002

Suicidal States and Their Terrorist Allies

The phrase "freedom-loving" was on President Bush's lips at almost every stop of his first European tour last June. He'd developed the same practised fluency with it, despite his short time in office, that boxing promoter Don King has with the words "outrageous accusations". Whether in Madrid, Brussels, or Warsaw, there was nothing the President wanted to talk about more than freedom-loving nations, freedom-loving countries, and freedom-loving peoples. Evidently delighted after pronouncing each variant correctly in Spain, he made a point of rubbing tiny President Aznar's head for continued good luck.

There was no such talk in Goteborg, though Bush's inner voice coach Condoleezza Rice had probably informed him that Sweden is not a member of NATO. Nothing casts more doubt on a country's love of freedom than its attempts to remain independent of US command structures. And there was no sense in further exciting the Goteborg crowds, who had enough trouble keeping their pants on after hearing of Bush's plans to combat global warming with positive thinking. But the rest of Europe was told plainly that the US President planned to crumple the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty and build a National Missile Defense system, for the benefit of forward-thinking freedom-lovers everywhere.

Back home, Mr. Bush was a little vague when explaining how NMD's priority would protect freedom-loving Americans. As publicly stated by the CIA a year before he took office, and morbidly illustrated by Saudi and Egyptian militants several months after, the current US vulnerability is not to states with ballistic missiles but to "non-state entities" using "non-missile delivery means". But suppose, on a whim, that Team Bush gave a little more weight to the needs of corporate citizens than corporeal ones. Missile defence was a dandy way to keep military contracts flowing, as well as protect the supremacy of the US Pacific and Central Commands.

The Missile Threat review concocted in 1998 by Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and sidekicks outlined a few of the scenarios to be used for scaring the common folk into coughing up enough money for NMD. Most entertaining was the North Korean Sneak Attack, in which the fearsome arsenal of this Godless Communist Titan lays waste to a sleeping and unprotected America. But the report was primarily meant to influence elite opinion, and significantly noted that Japan and South Korea could develop nuclear weapons if they felt threatened. The implied nightmare for American planners is being displaced as the region's dominant power, but a little subtlety has to be shown when the potential rivals are US allies.

Bush must have got the message before his European tour that none of the NATO allies were likely to swing at the self-defence pitch for NMD, and that the Rumsfeld Commission report was suitable for domestic consumption only. The President mercifully did not try to invoke the possibility of North Korean missiles inflicting "major destruction on the U.S.", and contented himself with murky warnings that American adherence to the ABM treaty would benefit those who might "hold freedom-loving peoples hostage" or "blackmail freedom-loving countries".

"Blackmail" is the less subtle word used for power rivals who aren't allies, and "freedom", in the shorthand of Bush's advisors, means the freedom to attack any country that threatens the United States' control of the Persian Gulf. If Iran or Iraq ever developed an intercontinental missile, for example, US citizens might be reluctant to support military adventures of the type that (current Deputy Secretary of Defense) Wolfowitz habitually advocates. But with (current Secretary of Defense) Rumsfeld's magic shield in place to protect the American psyche, why, an Administration could drop as many bombs as needed to remain King of the Sandbox, and of its precious, precious oil.

It seemed that Rummy and Wolfie would, simply by having Mr. Bush chant "War on Terror" until the Congress was hypnotized, be able to graft their pet projects on to the hunt for whoever organized and financed the attacks of last September. But their inability to convince anyone outside the Administration (or everyone inside it) that the hijacked planes were part of an Iraqi or Iranian plot, even after the President diagrammed the Axis of Evil, has necessitated a new doctrine: Suicidal States and Their Terrorist Allies.

The President was in Europe again at the end of May 2002, accepting ovations for the nuclear arms reduction accord he signed with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Here was the perfect occasion to test drive the rhetorical prototype with a new ally, one within rocket-spitting distance of Iran, Iraq, and North Korea and prominent on the Enemies List of more than one militant Islamic group. Yet the Russians, inexplicably, were openly opposed to an attack on Iraq, and actively involved in the construction of a nuclear reactor in Iran. How could backward foreigners like these appreciate the intricate beauty of American design?

The new model was rolled out instead at the June 1 Graduation Exercise at West Point Military Academy, where the President tried once again to explain how building elaborate anti-missile systems and restarting the Gulf War would be synonymous with protecting Americans from terrorism. He began with a revised balance sheet:

Enemies in the past needed great armies and great industrial capabilities to endanger the American people and our nation. The attacks of September the 11th required a few hundred thousand dollars in the hands of a few dozen evil and deluded men. All of the chaos and suffering they caused came at much less than the cost of a single tank.

There was a time when Mr. Bush liked to expound on the vast financial resources necessary to carry out these attacks, the better to point a Finger of Suspicion at multimillionaire Osama bin Laden. However, this line of reasoning quickly led to the Finger being pointed at influential people in Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf monarchies, including acquaintances of the Bush family. Upon reflection, the President has decided that September the 11th was an economy class operation.

"Deterrence", he told the graduates, after refreshing himself at the well of blackmail, "the promise of massive retaliation against nations -- means nothing against shadowy terrorist networks with no nation or citizens to defend." Now, a rookie speaker might worry that these bright young military minds would leap to the corollary that shadowy terrorist networks have none of the missiles NMD is designed to intercept. But Mr. Bush had brought a safety rope, one to which he will cling from now on whenever critics demand that he drop the missile shield or the Gulf War sequel and busy himself with less glamourous tasks like keeping armed fanatics out of passenger jets:

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.

Note particularly the phrase "unbalanced dictators". Who, exactly, are the balanced dictators, against whom the new breed of unbalanced ones is to be measured? Apparently Saddam Hussein is no longer a brutal tyrant with a flair for retaining wealth and power, but a twitching suicide case ready to renounce the fleshpots of this world for the eternal glory of martyrdom. Moreover, he must now have an entire military chain of command willing to commit suicide with him, or some sort of autonomous missile launch facility in his bathroom.

The best brains of Team Bush also propose that Saddam, whose commitment to honour Allah has been somewhat overshadowed by his quest to cover every flat surface in Iraq with a giant portrait of himself, is going to hand over weapons of mass destruction to radicals demanding a "pure" interpretation of Islam. When a man's favourite sport is the purging of all possible rivals, is he likely to say "Here are those chemical and biological weapons you've been wanting, boys, to cleanse the earth of Jews, Crusaders, and corrupt Muslim leaders. But start with the Jews and Crusaders, all right?"

A few days after Bush's speech Secretary Rumsfeld was off to Brussels, taking his turn at confronting the inscrutable Europeans and admonishing them for not following the latest refinements in American Strategic Thought. Could no one else see that Iran and Iraq were pursuing these weapons in order to deliver them to terrorists, or to catch NATO off guard with a surprise missile attack? If the Allies insisted on waiting for "absolute proof", or for a less crazy threat analysis, he couldn't be held responsible for the consequences.

But the President may have been on to something with his warnings about "the perilous crossroads of radicalism and technology". Maybe there is a state which has both weapons of mass destruction and missiles capable of delivering them, a state whose intelligence service gave arms and training to the Taliban and arranged sleepovers with Al Qaeda, a state whose ruler used military force to oust an elected government and a single-minded ballot to prolong his stay, a - oh, wait, I'm thinking of Pakistan, and of Mr. Bush's Good Buddy, the General. You know, the balanced one.


  • Category : US Foreign Policy