What about the next pre-emptive war?

October 17, 2004|By G. Jefferson Price III

PRESIDENT BUSH was caught in the turbulence of his own spin in last week's final debate with Sen. John Kerry.

Accusing the president of taking his focus off of the hunt for Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan to go after Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Mr. Kerry made this accurate observation:

"Six months after he said Osama bin Laden must be caught dead or alive, this president was asked, `Where is Osama bin Laden?' He said, `I don't know. I don't really think about him very much. I'm not that concerned.'"

Trapped, though he may not have realized it, the president denied ever having said such a thing.

"Gosh, I don't think I ever said I'm not worried about Osama bin Laden," Mr. Bush said. "Of course we're worried about Osama bin Laden. We're on the hunt after Osama bin Laden. We're using every asset at our disposal to get Osama bin Laden."

Wrong on both counts.

For one thing, at a news conference March 13, 2002, as the Bush administration already was beating the drums against Iraq, Mr. Bush was asked why he wasn't talking about bin Laden much anymore.

The president responded, "So I don't know where he is. I just don't spend much time on him ... We haven't heard much from him and I wouldn't necessarily say he's at the center of any command structure.

"And, again, I don't know where he is. ... I truly am not that concerned about him. I know he is on the run. I was concerned about him when he had taken over a country. I was concerned about the fact that he was basically running Afghanistan and calling the shots for the Taliban."

Thanks to the Annenberg Political Fact Check at the University of Pennsylvania for reminding us what Mr. Bush did say, which included the assertion that the United States did not invade Afghanistan so much to get bin Laden as to make sure he wasn't running Afghanistan any more.

The other count on which Mr. Bush was wrong in last week's debate was his assertion that the United States is "using every asset at our disposal to get Osama bin Laden."

The United States is not using every asset at its disposal to catch bin Laden. A far greater portion of American assets has been devoted since 2003 to the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

In order to justify that war, the Bush administration depended on concocted intelligence that Mr. Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction -- probably nuclear weapons -- which posed an imminent threat to the United States. Bunk!

And it depended on the equally concocted assertion that there was a tie between Mr. Hussein and the 9/11 attacks that bin Laden masterminded against America. More bunk!

In order to support the war in Iraq -- and to face down the criticism that Iraq was a distraction from the real war on terror -- it was necessary to pretend that bin Laden wasn't the central, arch-villain any longer, that he was somehow irrelevant since Afghanistan had been freed of his Taliban hosts.

Mr. Bush calls his plan to fight terrorism "a comprehensive strategy." With the war in Iraq as its centerpiece, I find the strategy incomprehensible.

Afghanistan has held its first-ever election, one in which women voted, which is a good thing, and it would not have happened without the U.S. invasion of that country. But bin Laden is still at large, probably somewhere in Afghanistan or Pakistan. So the mission in Afghanistan is not accomplished.

Iraq is in a hellish condition. Every day brings news of more car bombings, rocket and grenade attacks that have killed thousands of Iraqis and hundreds of Americans. Some day there will be elections in Iraq, too, probably with prominent Baathists in the mix. But elections in Iraq will not help America to recover the lost lives, the squandered billions of dollars and the loss of international stature in Iraq.

Mr. Bush persists in the assertion that these are the prices paid for his war against terrorism, his "comprehensive strategy to not only chase down al-Qaida ... but to make sure that countries that harbor terrorists are held to account."

More Iraqs?

It's being said that Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry don't differ much on what's necessary to extricate America from Iraq now that we're there. What Americans should consider in this country's free election 16 days from now is which of these men is likelier to take us into another pre-emptive war somewhere else and which will stay focused on the real, abundantly justified war.

G. Jefferson Price III is a former editor and foreign correspondent for The Sun.

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