By Robert Buzzanco
Mr. Buzzanco, Professor of History, University of Houston, is the author of several books and articles on Vietnam War.
If enemies of the United States had gotten together a few years ago to devise a plan to damage America and undermine its global position–diminish its power and credibility, drag it into a stubborn war, harm its relations with allies, create international financial disarray, run up huge deficits, create political openings for the Europeans and China to exploit and become equals in global economic matters, motivate terrorists, bring the U.S. image in the Middle East to its nadir, restrict civil liberties at home, and so forth–they would have been hard-pressed to create a program that would be more effective than the Bush administration’s policies on these issues of war, terrorism, and global economics have.
Indeed, if one is an “enemy” of the U.S., then he/she would have to be heartened that Bush has pursued this agenda and would have to be elated that the war in Iraq continues today. Given enough rope, Bush may hang not only himself, but American influence and credibility, and the global economy. Like a “sleeper” agent, or Laurence Harvey’s famed character, Sgt. Raymond Shaw, in The Manchurian Candidate, George W. Bush, the ultimate insider, is doing more to damage America than Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Hassan Nasrallah, the Syrians, the Iranians, or any other enemy du jour, ever could.
In the immediate aftermath of 9/11 the United States had the sympathy and respect of much of the world. The outpouring of goodwill was unprecedented in the post-Vietnam period, and the United States stood alone as a military and economic power. When Bush responded to the September attacks a month later with the invasion of Afghanistan, where al Qaeda leaders were hiding out, the world community and U.S. populace supported him.
But, beginning in mid-2002, when he returned to his obsession with Iraq, the worm began to turn. Using politicized intelligence and outright lies, the Bush administration, congress and the media all went along with the invasion of Iraq, beginning in March 2003. Consequently, in what we can now see was a remarkably short time, the amity and power accrued after 9/11 melted away.
Although today much of the criticism of Bush and his policies comes from liberals, and Bush is quick to take shots at the “cut-and-run crowd” or “Defeatocrats,” what’s most striking is how much harm his military and economic policies have done to our national interests. Indeed, the number of conservatives now publicly repudiating Bush is testimony to how far he has strayed from the values he claimed to profess himself with regard to keeping America strong. If anything, George Bush has pursued a program inherently hostile to the conservative ideals he boasted about when running for office, and we have all suffered as a consequence.
Bush’s legacy is already particularly troubling with regard to America’s credibility and image in the world, our national security and the so-called war on terror, and the U.S. and global economy. In these areas, U.S. policies, in particular since September 11th, 2001, have left us precarious and vulnerable.
The U.S. standing in the world has probably never been lower than it is now in the wake of the dismal war in Iraq. Not only is anti-Americanism rampant in the Middle East, but U.S. enemies like Bin Laden and Nasrallah now dominate the political discourse of the region with great credibility on the so-called Arab Street. Even in Europe, the American image and influence is fading, and travelers may feel uncomfortable abroad, or, more seriously, American tourists and businesses fear boycotts or actual violence, as in Madrid or London in the past few years, and that seriously dampens the U.S. ability to influence other nations.
Ironically, Bush claimed to have launched the war in Iraq to protect American security, but it has had the opposite effect. American troops are stretched thin and lack adequate supplies, and the U.S. is facing its worst manpower crisis since the Vietnam era. Meanwhile, the number of military officials publicly speaking out against this administration’s war in Iraq is staggering, discomfiting and unprecedented.
Even more frightening, Bush has actually increased the global threat of terrorism. In October 2002, well before the invasion of Iraq, the Central Intelligence Agency warned that military action in the Middle East would foment serious resistance and actually recruit more terrorists. By going after Iraq, the Agency warned, the U.S. would be ignoring the “root causes” of terror–such as continued crisis in Afghanistan, the Israeli-Palestine conflict, and internal dissent in Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries–while getting tied down in a peripheral area.
By 2004, that prediction had come true, with even the CIA Director Porter Goss admitting that Iraq had become a “cause for extremists” as daily attacks in Iraq had already more than doubled over the previous year. Just this past Spring, the State Department was more bleak, identifying over 11,000 terrorist incidents in 2005 which killed almost 15,000 people, a four-fold rise over 2004 and were mostly the work not of al-Qaeda but new, smaller and “difficult to detect” groups, which were able to exploit the war to entice new members.
While Bush’s policies in Iraq daily bring reports of Iraqis and Americans killed and abducted, some of the worst consequences are yet to be fully felt, namely the potentially devastating economic effects of the war. Bush and Rumsfeld promised a war on the cheap, somewhere in the area of 100 but no more than 200 billion dollars. Already, those figures have been surpassed and economists are now estimating that the costs of operations in Iraq, along with costs for rehabilitating wounded American soldiers and reconstruction, could easily reach the one trillion, or more, mark.
Despite these huge appropriations, Chief of Staff Peter Schoomaker charged this past September the army did not have enough money to fight the war in Iraq. More ominously, as the war in Iraq drags on, the U.S. position in the global economy has become more precarious. To pay for the war in a period of massive tax cuts for the rich, Bush has borrowed more than any president in history and run up record deficits, a strange approach for an alleged conservative. The U.S. debt ceiling has risen to a stunning $9 trillion, the current accounts deficits rose above $200 billion, and trade deficits jumped to record highs, as have gas prices at home.
Much of the U.S. debt is held by China, whose own economy has erupted and now presents a serious challenge to U.S. influence in markets all over the world. In fact, China has just reached $1 trillion in currency reserves, more than one-fifth of all global reserves. While the U.S. is spending about $8 million per hour in Iraq and its foreign reserves are being depleted by about $80 million per hour, the Chinese are hourly adding $30 million. China could now purchase all the gold sitting in the vaults of the world’s central banks, twice over, according to the Economist.
Obviously, the U.S. is in a much more delicate and dangerous position today–politically, militarily, and economically–than it was prior to the Iraq invasion. National prestige and national security have suffered, and the economic impact will be felt for years. At home, the emphasis on Homeland Security and the Orwellian-titled Patriot Act have restricted our freedoms and liberties. The United States, its soldiers, and its people have suffered because of this war, because of Bush’s entire program. Meanwhile, American enemies and rivals–in the Middle East, in China, and elsewhere–have more power, prestige, and wealth than any of us could have imagined just a few years ago.
Given these conditions, there is now great reason for all Americans, including, if not especially, Republicans and conservatives, to demand an end to these policies in Iraq and at home that are making life more dangerous and costly. Some years ago, during the Vietnam War, Richard Nixon said that “Vietnam cannot defeat or humiliate the United States. Only Americans can do that.” It seems like George Bush has accomplished precisely that all these years later.