Friday, October 29, 2004

Learning Deficiency 

We are of course more than entitled to seethe and bluster over the munitions Bush allowed to be stolen and the mass murderer Bush allowed to escape, but let us not in our rage overlook the small fry. From Daniel Benjamin, author of The Age of Sacred Terror:
Why didn't the Bush administration kill Abu Musab al-Zarqawi when it had the chance? . . . .

It is impossible to see that refusal as anything other than an enormous blunder. This week Zarqawi claimed responsibility for executing 49 Iraqi army recruits. Since shortly after Saddam was toppled, Zarqawi's Tawhid wal Jihad group has been astonishingly effective at undermining the U.S. occupation. These operatives have killed wholesale, with a long string of car and truck bombs to their credit, and they have killed retail, with the videotaped executions of hostages, which have become must-see TV in the Muslim world and are driving contractors and NGOs out of the country. There is no reliable tally of Zarqawi's victims, but it would not be surprising if it was over 1,000. The issue of why no attempt to get him was made has become even more pungent since President Bush began pointing to Zarqawi in response to Sen. John Kerry's contention that Iraq was a diversion from the war on terror . . . .

After 9/11, senior officials such as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, simply refused to believe the assessment of the intelligence community that Iraq had no hand in the attack and that al-Qaida operated independently of state support. In the Pentagon's conduct of operations in Afghanistan, the overwhelming focus was on unseating the Taliban, the effective state power, while less attention was paid to pursuing al-Qaida, which had just killed nearly 3,000 people on American soil. Thus we had the debacle at Tora Bora, where our subcontractors, the militias of Afghan warlords, allowed Osama Bin Laden to escape.

Similarly, the relentless focus on Saddam Hussein has led to the removal from Afghanistan of key intelligence and special operations assets, including much of the elite commando unit Task Force 5. This, like the case of the pulled punch against Zarqawi, suggests that the Bush team continued to believe that states were the key threats in the post-9/11 world; terrorist groups could easily be swept up after the rogue nations had been dispatched. The much vaunted doctrine of pre-emption was employed against Iraq—a state that was effectively deterred from attacking the United States—while undeterrable terrorists were left to their own devices.

It seems never to have occurred to President Bush and his advisers that in a globalized world, where borders are porous and technologies of massive destructiveness are available, hidden networks can be far more dangerous than a state, which can be threatened and contained. Yet that surely has been the lesson of the last three years. It is an added irony that the administration's inability to fully assimilate the threat from "non-state actors" is leading, thanks in part to Zarqawi, to the failure of its effort to reinvent Iraq as a stable democracy in the Middle East.

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