On the campaign trail, George W. Bush repeatedly notes that his administration is achieving progress in the war in Iraq and in the so-called war on terrorism. “We’re succeeding,” Bush declares. And he says, “We’re safer now.” Both statements, though, have a shaky basis in fact. They comprise an isn’t-it-pretty-to-think-so fairy tale that Bush is relying upon to retain control of the White House. And since truth, nuance, or a hardheaded recognition of reality might interfere with his reelection, Bush finds no need for them.
Against an enemy like al Qaeda–actually the enemy is now a global Islamic jidhadist movement difficult to track and target–there is no way to determine definitively if the United States is indeed “safer.” The country certainly seemed safe in the years between the first World Trade Center bombing and September 11. Bush’s “we’re safer” declaration is based on assertion not proof. Saddam Hussein, a despicable tyrant (but one who did not pose an immediate threat to the United States), is out of power. Yet the invasion of Iraq has sparked an expansion of the fundamentalist forces that consider America the number-one target. And if the enemy is expanding, can one say that the threat facing the United States is diminishing? With US troops stuck in Iraq and the United States’ standing in the world unquestionably tarnished, it is tough to define “safe,” let alone claim an increase in safety. And Bush’s parallel claim–“we’re succeeding”–has been undermined by recent revelations and reports.
The news of the day–that the Bush administration failed to secure 380 tons of explosives at an Iraqi military site after being warned before the war about these explosives, which could be used to demolish buildings and detonate nuclear weapons–shows the peril of declaring success in Iraq. Hussein might be in jail, but these explosives are now in circulation…somewhere. For years, international nuclear inspectors had watched over the materials and kept some of the stockpile under lock and key. But after the invasion, the US military did nothing to safeguard this site–as it did little to secure nuclear materials elsewhere–and the explosives vanished. There is a technical term that covers such a foul-up: oh shit. If terrorist enemies of the United States have come into 760,000 pounds of such powerful explosives, how would Bush rate that on his success-o-meter?
The missing explosives disclosure is only the latest in a series of reports that continue to raise alarming questions about recent trends in Iraq. It’s not just that the insurgency is mounting more attacks each week. Recently, American officials in Baghdad boosted their estimate of the strength of the insurgency. Earlier intelligence reports concluded the insurgents numbered between 2,000 and 7,000. Now military and intelligence officials believe there are 8,000 to 12,000 resistance fighters–and thousands more sympathizers and covert accomplices. On Friday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that the current surge in violence “is not news” and “we predicted [the number of attacks] would go up…as we move towards the Iraqi elections.” This is the standard Bush administration line: bad news is really a sign of good news. Elections are getting close, so violence is going up. But here’s an alternative explanation: there are more attacks in Iraq because there are now more attackers. Have Bush or Rumsfeld considered that? If so, not in public. The insurgents do not seem on the run, and their brutal strikes against the nascent Iraqi security forces appear to be growing in size and intensity. The insurgents have thoroughly penetrated the Iraqi security forces, and US reporters in Iraq note that American troops routinely distrust the Iraqi forces.