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Generating Crises and Pretending to Solve Them

Generating Crises and Winning Votes by Pretending to Solve Them

By Ivan Eland*
November 26, 2003


President Bush’s first political ad for the 2004 campaign indicates that he will play on post-September 11 public fear to attempt to convince voters not to change presidents in the middle of a national security “crisis.” Yet such opportunism is a classic case of a politician contributing to and exacerbating a crisis and then taking advantage of it politically.

In following that strategy, President Bush is taking a page from the playbook of his closest friend in the Middle East -- Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Recall that before the Israeli election of February 2001, Sharon, then a candidate, made a provocative visit to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem -- on which sits a mosque sacred to Moslems. That visit sparked the current Palestinian Intifada and allowed Sharon, who promised to take a hard line against the uprising, to get elected. Moreover, Sharon has few incentives to make peace with the Palestinians because the continued mayhem allows him to tout himself as the only man tough enough to guide Israel when security threats loom.

Similarly, to justify invading Iraq, President Bush and his neo-conservative advisors took advantage of public angst in the wake of September 11 to imply a specious link between the already demonized Saddam Hussein (as a result of the first Gulf War) and the 9/11 attacks. The president later had to disavow that link. Even the September 11 attacks resulted from Osama bin Laden’s publicly-stated anger at the U.S. government’s meddling in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East, which the Bush administration continued after it came into office in 2001. During the 2000 campaign, George W. Bush promised “a more humble foreign policy” but did nothing after taking office to implement it and instead, after 9/11, took a 180-degree turn to the even more expansionist doctrine of “pre-emptive war.” So the Bush administration was at least partially responsible for the original crisis, has exacerbated it greatly and will now attempt to turn it into a Bush reelection victory.

In reality, the pre-emptive strategy has not been very pre-emptive at all. The Bush administration, twisting and hyping pre-war intelligence information, invaded the sovereign nation of Iraq, which posed no imminent threat to the United States. The war in Iraq, according to American, European and Asian officials, is acting as a recruiting poster for Islamic terrorist groups worldwide that are loosely affiliated with al Qaeda -- such as Jemaah Islamiyah in Indonesia. American and European intelligence officials noted that the killing and capturing of Al Qaeda leaders are not keeping up with additions to the ranks of radical Moslem youth willing to undertake suicide strikes. In a private memo that was recently leaked to the press, that same concern was expressed by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumseld when he wrote, “Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas [radical Islamic schools] and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?” He continued, “Is our current situation such that ‘the harder we work, the behinder we get?’”

Yes Mr. Secretary, the Bush administration’s hyper-interventionist foreign policy has led to a recent rash of terrorist attacks in Indonesia, Pakistan, Morocco, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Turkey. Also, authorities foiled attacks that were planned on U.S. military and diplomatic compounds in Bosnia, Italy and Morocco. More important, stirring anger in the Moslem world by invading an Islamic nation without provocation makes future terrorist attacks on the American homeland more likely.

The political ad tries to take advantage of a major threat to American citizens largely created by their own government and exacerbated greatly by the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq. The ad shows President Bush, in his State of the Union speech, ominously warning: “It would take one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known.”

So American citizens, who innocently expect their government to provide for their security rather than undermine it, better hope that government intelligence and security bureaucracies are perfect. Even the agencies admit that every terrorist attack cannot be deterred, prevented or stopped. But it’s worse than that. After those same bureaucracies failed on September 11, they were given more personnel and more funding—making them even more unwieldy and redundant. The agencies are accustomed to squaring off against foreign governments that are even more bureaucratic than Uncle Sam--not terrorist groups that are agile, secretive, only loosely coordinated, and can morph into new forms rapidly.

What is the solution to the rising threat of suicidal terrorism? No perfect solution exists to a problem of the government’s own making, but voters should start by holding U.S. administrations responsible for causing the problem and making it worse. And the first way to get out of the hole is to stop digging. Instead of the hyped, pre-emptive and counterproductive war on seemingly everyone, the U.S. government should conduct a more humble military policy overseas to avoid stirring the hornets’ nest of retaliatory terrorism. In addition, the United States should concentrate on low profile international law enforcement efforts to bring Al Qaeda terrorists to justice.


*Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute in Oakland, CA., and author of the book, Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy: Rethinking U.S. Security in the Post-Cold War World. For further articles and studies, see the War on Terrorism and

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