Bush's Global War on Radicals
by Robert Parry
The United States will never win the "war
on terror," in part, because George W. Bush keeps applying
elastic definitions to the enemy, most recently expanding the
conflict into a war against Muslim "radicals and extremists."
With almost no notice in Official Washington,
Bush has inserted this new standard for judging who's an enemy
as he lays the groundwork for a wider conflict in the Middle East
and a potentially endless world war against many of the planet's
one billion adherents to Islam.
Indeed, it could be argued that the "war
on terror" has now morphed into the "war on radicals,"
allowing Bush to add the likes of Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada
al-Sadr and the leaders of Syria and Iran to his lengthening international
Bush's twists and turns in defining the
enemy in the "war on terror" started more than five
years ago, in the days immediately after the 9/11 attacks. Amid
the nation's anguish, Bush spoke in grandiloquent and quasi-religious
terms, vowing to "rid the world of evil," a patently
absurd task that never received the ridicule it deserved.
But Bush then settled on a more practical
aim, defeating "terrorist groups of global reach." Though
that formulation still presented some problems of definition -
what does "global reach" exactly mean? - at least it
offered measurable terms.
A "terrorist," by definition,
is someone who commits violent acts against civilians to achieve
a political goal. "Global reach" narrowed the enemy
even more by excluding local forces that attacked civilians from
the same country or a nearby region.
These parameters made sense because they
spared the U.S. military from intervening in every local struggle
where some rebel or paramilitary force may have committed an atrocity,
but one that didn't threaten U.S. national interests. The United
States also was freed from having to pick sides in conflicts where
both sides accuse the other of "terrorism."
In other words, Bush's early goal of defeating
"terrorist groups of global reach" was narrow enough
to be achievable.
The war, in effect, targeted al-Qaeda
and similar organizations that not only embraced terrorism as
a tactic but had the capability to reach across international
boundaries to inflict civilian casualties, like the 9/11 attacks.
Bush also added to his hit list governments, like the Taliban
in Afghanistan, that harbored these terrorist groups.
However, after the quick U.S. victory
over the Taliban in winter 2001-02, Bush shifted the war's focus
in two important ways:
First, the war against "terrorist
groups of global reach" transformed into the "global
war on terrorism," an important distinction.
Suddenly, U.S. Special Forces were not
responsible for just defeating al-Qaeda and a few other groups
with global ambitions but were instead waging a global war against
a variety of terrorist groups that presented threats mostly to
local authorities. Some were "home-grown terrorists"
with no links to al-Qaeda or other international organizations.
Second, Bush decided to settle some old
scores with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, who was despised by
Bush's neoconservative advisers who dreamt of remaking the Middle
East into a land of passive Arabs who would take direction from
Washington and accept peace terms from Tel Aviv. So Arabs wouldn't
think this was all about them, Bush coined the phrase "axis
of evil" that lumped together Iraq, Iran and North Korea.
To further meld Bush's "war on terror"
with the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration also hyped
and fabricated evidence to link the secular Hussein to Islamic
terrorists allied with al-Qaeda's Osama bin Laden, though in reality
the two were bitter enemies. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com's
Insurgency or Terror?
Since 2003, after the U.S.-led invasion
toppled Hussein and an Iraqi insurgency emerged to fight the occupying
army, the U.S. news media has lent a hand in blurring the American
public's distinctions between the Iraq War and the "war on
Iraqi insurgent attacks on U.S. soldiers,
especially the deadly roadside bombs, often were described as
"terrorist" incidents by the American news media, though
the attacks didn't fit the classic definition of "terrorism."
Just recently, as I was listening to my
car radio, a CNN newscast came on to report that an American soldier
had been killed in Iraq by a "terrorist sniper." By
definition, however, the shooting of a soldier occupying a foreign
country - though horrible on a human level - is not an act of
"terrorism," since no civilians are involved.
Yet, in the sloppy vernacular of the U.S.
press corps, the word "terrorism" came to mean any violent
act that officials in Washington didn't like, a kind of geopolitical
curse word. CNN and other U.S. news outlets apparently understood
they would pay no price for pandering to what they took to be
the "pro-American" attitude.
By waving the loaded word "terrorism"
around, however, the U.S. news media helped the Bush administration
misrepresent the threat facing U.S. troops in Iraq and elsewhere.
Now, Bush is broadening the war's parameters
yet again, depicting the goal of his Middle East policy as defeating
"radicals and extremists," categories that are even
more elastic than the word "terrorist."
At a joint news conference with British
Prime Minister Tony Blair on Dec. 7, Bush said, "I believe
we're in an ideological struggle between forces that are reasonable
and want to live in peace, and radicals and extremists."
Bush has repeated this formulation in
other recent public appearances, including at his news conference
of Dec. 20 when he portrayed the fight against "radicals
and extremists" as a long-term test of American manhood.
He vowed to show them "they can't run us out of the Middle
East, that they can't intimidate America."
In other words, the war against "terrorist
groups of global reach," which became the "global war
on terrorism," now has morphed into what might be called
the "global war on radicals and extremists," a dramatic
escalation of the war's ambitions with nary a comment from the
U.S. news media.
So, under Bush's new war framework, the
enemy doesn't necessarily have to commit or plot acts of international
terrorism or even local acts of terrorism. It only matters that
Bush judges the person to be a "radical" or an "extremist."
While the word "terrorism" is
open to abuse - under the old adage "one man's terrorist
is another man's freedom fighter" - the definition of "radical"
or "extremist" is even looser. It all depends on your
point of view.
Bush the 'Extremist'
Indeed, many people around the world consider
Bush - if not a "terrorist" - at least a "radical"
and an "extremist," representing not traditional conservative
American principles but rather a radical and extremist view of
presidential power that includes his presumed right to invade
any country he wishes around the world.
Bush's decision to set wider parameters
for this global war also represents a grave threat to the American
Republic because Bush has asserted that he, as Commander in Chief,
must hold "plenary" - or unlimited - powers as long
as the conflict continues.
In effect, Bush's theories of unlimited
presidential power obviate the rule of law, congressional checks
and balances, and the "unalienable rights" - such as
habeas corpus guarantees to a fair trial - built into the
U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
By stretching the definition of the "war
on terror" into something so elastic that it has no discernable
shape and no determinable end, Bush and his successors will get
to set aside the Constitution indefinitely, essentially creating
an American autocratic system for the foreseeable future.
So, this "new kind of war" -
as Bush's supporters call it - will require not only the lives
of tens of thousands of American soldiers but will deform the
U.S. government beyond recognition, ultimately making it an international
pariah state disgraced by having forsaken its own ideals of justice
In the end, Bush's vision of the future
also means the United States must turn its back on the Founding
Fathers, who were considered "radicals" and "extremists"
in their own age because they rejected the "divine right
of kings" and insisted that all people are created equal
and are endowed with "unalienable rights."
Ironically, as President Bush asserts
his "plenary" powers and sweeps away America's founding
principles, he will do so in waging his own "war on radicals
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra
stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His
latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty
from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com.
It's also available at Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost
History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'