Questions today from longtime White House reporter Helen Thomas caused White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan to declare that she opposes the war on terrorism. His response caused one of Thomas's colleagues, Terry Moran, to leap to her defense.
Here is the exchange from the official transcript:
HELEN THOMAS: What does the President mean by "total victory" -- that we will never leave Iraq until we have "total victory"? What does that mean?
SCOTT McCLELLAN: Free and democratic Iraq in the heart of the Middle East, because a free and democratic Iraq in the heart of the Middle East will be a major blow to the ambitions --
THOMAS If they ask us to leave, then we'll leave?
McCLELLAN: I'm trying to respond. A free and democratic Iraq in the heart of the broader Middle East will be a major blow to the ambitions of al Qaeda and their terrorist associates. They want to establish or impose their rule over the broader Middle East -- we saw that in the Zawahiri letter that was released earlier this week by the intelligence community.
Obviously, McClellan was very, very distressed by Thomas' question as he never gets back to actually answering it. Thomas' question to McClellan is infuriating to him because if America does not succeed in establishing a “free and democracatic” Iraq, there is apparently no "Plan B". Neither McClellan here nor the Administration in general appears to have any kind of back-up plan to use in case the Iraqis have no enthusiasm for the plans that have been made for them. And of course, McClellan's assertion that al Qaeda "...want[s] to establish..." their rule or his assertion that the establishment of a certain kind of Iraq will be a setback to them is sheer, flat-out mind-reading. If the US had any sort of insight into al Qaeda's intentions or plans, it would have been able to stop their attacks on Saudi Arabia, Spain, England, etc. Any claim by the Bush Administration that they know with any certainty what al Qaeda wants or desires is just plain wishful thinking.
Juan Cole makes some very sensible comments in response to Bush's October 6th speech. Here, he responds to the idea that al Qaeda is attempting to take over Iraq:
"The murderous ideology of the Islamic radicals is the great challenge of our new century. Yet, in many ways, this fight resembles the struggle against communism in the last century. Like the ideology of communism, Islamic radicalism is elitist, led by a self-appointed vanguard that presumes to speak for the Muslim masses . . ."
It is not important that al-Qaeda ideology is Leninist. What is important is that Lenin and his successors had a state, the Soviet Union, which was a superpower. Bin Laden is a fugitive. Al-Qaeda not only does not have a state, it doesn't have really good places to hide. It is ridiculous to attempt to scare the American people into thinking that there is this huge, Soviet-style challenge out there, when in fact "al-Qaeda" is a few hundred or at most a couple thousand local misfits and fanatics. The enemy is fishermen in Mombasa, Bedouin first-generation intellectuals in the Sinai, British school teachers meeting in a gym in Leeds, part-time seminarians in Indonesia. This asymmetrical enemy is not like Soviet communism. It is like the Baader Meinhoff gang and other small terrorist organizations.
Is democratizing Iraq the only possible route to a more peaceful Mideast? Cole loses patience with Bush here.
"Some have also argued that extremism has been strengthened by the actions of our coalition in Iraq, claiming that our presence in that country has somehow caused or triggered the rage of radicals. I would remind them that we were not in Iraq on September the 11th, 2001 -- and al Qaeda attacked us anyway. The hatred of the radicals existed before Iraq was an issue, and it will exist after Iraq is no longer an excuse. The government of Russia did not support Operation Iraqi Freedom, and yet the militants killed more than 180 Russian schoolchildren in Beslan" . . .
This argument is stupid. That Iraq is not the only grievance of the radical Muslim fundamentalists is obvious. The converse is not true, that Iraq does not matter. I agree with Bush that it is not useful to worry about the crackpot reasons for which al-Qaeda says it does things. But what we want to avoid doing is to spread around sympathy for al-Qaeda-like ideas.
The point about the US military occupation of Iraq is that it serves to convince Muslim publics that the al-Qaeda leaders were right to see the US as an imperialist, domineering power that wanted to take their lands, rape their women, humiliate their men, and steal their oil. We needed to avoid doing things that would help al-Qaeda recruit a new generation of trained activists. By going into Iraq in this way, the Bush administration has vindicated Bin Laden in the eyes of many Muslims. [emphasis added]
No, obviously, democratizing Iraq is not the only possible way forward. Cole also discusses al Qaeda's ambitions:
"Second, the militant network wants to use the vacuum created by an American retreat to gain control of a country, a base from which to launch attacks and conduct their war against non-radical Muslim governments. Over the past few decades, radicals have specifically targeted Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan, and Jordan for potential takeover."
Yeah, except that at no point have the radical Muslim fundamentalists ever come anywhere near taking over any of those countries. It is like saying that the Weathermen dreamed of a revolution against the US government in the late 1960s. So what? Small fringe groups dream big dreams.
Translation: Establishing al Qaeda's control over the broader Middle East ain't gonna happen in any event.
THOMAS They also know we invaded Iraq.
McCLELLAN: Well, Helen, the President recognizes that we are engaged in a global war on terrorism. And when you're engaged in a war, it's not always pleasant, and it's certainly a last resort. But when you engage in a war, you take the fight to the enemy, you go on the offense. And that's exactly what we are doing. We are fighting them there so that we don't have to fight them here. September 11th taught us --
THOMAS It has nothing to do with -- Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11.
McCLELLAN: Well, you have a very different view of the war on terrorism, and I'm sure you're opposed to the broader war on terrorism. The President recognizes this requires a comprehensive strategy, and that this is a broad war, that it is not a law enforcement matter.
What this exchange demonstrates is that McClellan and the Bush Administration are very, very confused concerning the War on Terrori Bush and his spokespeople have never distinguished exactly what the WOT is all about. Apparently, it's a war against a tactic or form of fighting, i.e. terrorism. So they throw in 9-11 whenever and wherever they get the chance. Problem is, they also continually drag Iraq and Afghanistan into the picure whenever they think they can get away with it. But there's zero proof that Iraq ever had anything to do with terrorism. Iraq under Hussein committed many great and terrible acts of evil to be sure, but to say they used acts of terrorism or aided groups that did so is a thesis that's badly in need of evidence. US intelligence agencies have had several years to look for that evidence and have consistently come up dry.
What exactly is the WOT all about? Beats me.
Personally, I've always compared 9-11, not to Pearl Harbor, but to the Reichstag Fire because the immediate effect of it was primarily domestic. The Bush Administration used it to push for the Patriot Act, a serious assault on the US Constitution. Jose Padilla was imprisoned amidst the sense of panic that 9-11 created and his case remains one where the government claims that it has the right to toss American citizens into jail without any checks, balances, rights or avenues of appeal. Padilla's case endangers all Americans because the precedent it creates applies across the board to all of us. Bush's attempt to have the US military take overall control of New Orleans about a week after the levees burst and his suggestion that the military could quarantine whole regions in the event Avian Flu breaks out are very, very disturbing events that continue to give many American citizens the impression that Bush and Company are doing their very best to turn America into a dictatorship.
I'd like to be wrong about that. I sincerely hope I am.