Asked last week whose idea it was for the US to invade Iraq, longtime Bush adviser Karl Rove pondered for a moment and then said, "I think it was Osama bin Laden's." At last, the truth revealed.
After some positive initial signs from the US' surge strategy in Iraq – a drop in deaths and violent incidents as well as several Baghdad neighborhoods returning to life in March – has come the deluge. Last Wednesday a series of car bombs across the Iraqi capital killed nearly 200, the deadliest day of violence in almost a year. The next day the UN announced that 4 million Iraqis had been displaced by the fighting; two million have left the chaos-ridden country and another two million relocated to safer provinces. A week prior radicals struck at the heart of the foreign presence when a suicide bomber exploded his payload in the cafeteria of the Iraqi Parliament inside the International Zone (formerly the Green Zone), killing two Iraqi parliamentarians. That same day insurgents blew up the much-loved Sufiyaa Bridge, sending dozens of cars as well as a revered monument and another chunk of vital infrastructure into the Tigris. To top it off, Shiite leader Moktada Al-Sadr broke a weeks-long silence only to rouse thousands of anti-American protesters and pull his six followers from the governing coalition, essentially shattering any chance of a legitimate power-sharing deal anytime soon. Taken together, the developments drove US Senator (D-Nevada) Harry Reid to pronounce the Iraq War "lost."
Four years after President Bush declared victory defeat in Iraq seems more inevitable by the day. The true mission was establishing and nurturing a stable democracy as a bulwark against the proliferation of Islamic extremism in the region. Yet this democracy is wafer thin and the war in Iraq has resulted in more extremism, terrorism, and anti-Americanism around the globe, according to a recent study by Peter Bergen and Paul Cruikshank and major surveys by Pew Research and Transatlantic Trends.
Indeed, an objective observer might wonder if it is not Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Condelleeza Rice that have had the President's ear these last few years, but Osama bin Laden. Nearly every major foreign policy decision since 9/11 has played right into the hands of Al Qaeda and its fundamentalist ilk, beginning shortly the attacks on New York and Washington with inflammatory pronouncements about religion. The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq followed, the former widely accepted but since bungled, the latter against UN wishes and the international community. Secret prisons, permanent detainees, torture, failure to capture or find the Al Qaeda leader, stunning plans to invade Iran mysteriously finding their way into the press...the list is endless, and almost always with Islam in the crosshairs. The Bush administration's five plus years of sustained bumbling and stumbling likely represent the most damaging foreign policy and the most finely calibrated bad PR campaign in the history of modern politics. Just whose side is this guy on? Rove's recent claim prods us to take a closer look at one distinct possibility:
The evening of Tuesday, September 11, 2001. Bush is on the horn to a mysterious friend in the Hindu Kush.
W: Hey 'Sama, what gives? You didn't tell me you were gonna knock those towers down!
OBL: Yes, it was a great success. Now you must whip up American anger and come after us in Afghanistan.
W: How do I do that?
ObL: Start with a forceful comment, something to convince people that America needs to take action, and that you mean business. I know: refer to the Crusades.
W: Ooooh, yeah. I'll talk about eradicating the evildoers. Then I'll call in the cavalry and smoke out those terr'ists.
February 2003, as the US' Iraq war plans become reality.
W: The entire world is against me!
ObL: Just as we planned.
W: Oh, yeah.
ObL: Now, don't mind the UN, or those surrender monkey Frenchman and their peace-loving brethren. Just start the bombing and move towards Baghdad, wreaking shock and awe as you go. And dump those post-Saddam reconstruction plans that the State Department recently sent you.
W: Which plans?
April 2004, Osama commends his prize pupil.
ObL: George, job well done with Abu Ghraib -- the mental abuse, the hoods, the electrodes and wiring, the sly release of the photos. And I have to say, the leash was an inspired touch.
W: Hey, you really think so, Sam?
ObL: My name is Osama...
W: It just came to me while walking my dog the other day. Barney doesn't much like that leash, so I figured either would Iraqis.
ObL: Good thinking.
November 2006. At his lowest moment, Bush turns to a trusty pal.
W: Sam, we lost the election. Those weak-kneed tree-huggers won.
ObL: Yes, I noticed.
W: You get Fox News in the cave?
ObL: No, I…
W: Oh but dadgum, nevermind. Our good times together may be coming to an end, my old friend.
ObL: That's why I've come up with another plan.
W: You're always cooking up something, you sneaky caveman. What is it?
ObL: That Iraq Study Group report will be released soon. Toss it out.
W: Done. I don't trust that Jim Baker anyway. Shifty-eyed.
ObL: Then announce that you'll be making a decision on Iraq in January – let people enjoy their holidays.
W: The holidays! I almost forgot. Y'know, I love Christmas, Sammy.
ObL: It's Osama.
W: I get dressed up as Santa and nibble on some spice cookies and Laura…
ObL: Stay with me, George.
ObL: In January you announce a re-commitment to the war in Iraq: a troop surge to secure Baghdad. It'll appear as if you're redoubling your efforts at restoring stability and security.
W: But isn't that what people want me to do?
ObL: Here's the twist: you won't commit enough troops to make any difference. Just 20-25,000, or so.
W: Well I'll be. Sounds like another one of your winners, Sammy. But...
ObL: What is it?
W: The people aren't going to like me after this here war goes belly-up. What about that?
ObL: Sacrifices have to be made, George. Think of the 72 virgins.
W: That's a lot.
ObL: Take as many as you like.
W: Can do.
It was mid-2002 and the US had just lost another opportunity at capturing the elusive Al Qaeda leader when the US President rang up his wily mentor. The following chat ensued, versions of which have been repeated several times in the intervening five years.
W: You're so slippery! My boys had you pinned and then suddenly – poof! – they don't. How do you do it?
ObL: I'm not in Tora Bora, George. I'm in Bora Bora.
W: Whoa, that's right. Brain freeze! I was there once myself, years ago. The music had me shaking my groove thing all night, although the illicit substances may have helped. But I have a serious question for you: do you like mo-ji-tos, Sammy?
ObL: George. Stay focused.
ObL: Why did you call?
W: Shoot the breeze.
ObL: Well, it's good you did. Sometime this week you'll announce that I've slipped through your fingers. Again. And that I'm still at large. And maybe ask your VP to toss in something about Islamic extremism being an existential threat to the American way of life. A little hyperbole never hurt.
W: You know what, Sammy? This terrorizing is fun.
ObL: Tell me about it.